The answer to that question, on Day 52 of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, is, precious little. While everyone else is busy Instagramming themselves while simultaneously clearing their lofts, growing vegetables from seed and reading 400-page tomes, I've... er... cooked, walked and early-adopted and -abandoned Houseparty.
However, if I haven't yet tackled War & Peace or A Suitable Boy, I have been enjoying some literary fare, served up in the more palatable form of a virtual literary festival. Listening to conversations with Robert Webb, Ian Rankin and Carol Drinkwater, to name but a few of the Lockdown LitFest authors, I wondered why I felt so much calmer and taken out of my news-troubled, Twitter-agitated monkey mind than when I tried some of the tools created for that very purpose - the Headspaces and Mindsets of the app world.
Conversations meet us on a level, rather than putting us in the inferior pupil position, struggling to do as our guru bids. Like certain radio programmes and podcasts, a sustained Lockdown Litfest discussion provides a window into another’s world. Robert Webb characterises the literary festival experience as ‘book lovers listening to authors bang on about their latest book’, but actually it’s what goes on in the shadows of the book spotlight that I find more revealing and more nourishing. The real stories behind the stories.
Sharing our stories is fundamental to the human experience. They transport and inspire us; they help us make sense of our own lives, and feel less isolated in our ramshackle attempts to attain a fulfilled existence.
Carol Drinkwater’s session is of the transporting kind. Covid-19 melts away as she relates how she was swept off her feet by her French film producer husband and embarked on a new life in the tumbledown Provencal villa and Olive Farm of her books.
Kate Spicer’s talk about the kind of addiction that keeps you bumping along just shy of rock bottom, held resonance for me, a phone/information junkie. When others are seen to be functioning, and even successful, it’s easy to think you’re alone in your failings - and a solace to find out that you’re not.
While the lit talks are not full-on confessionals, the fact that they’re recorded now, while we’re on lockdown, gives them a certain edge that taps into the prevailing mood tinged with anxiety and unease. We get a direct insight into how others are coping with this enforced clipping of wings and the uncertainty of business not as usual.
Although many writers, of course, already live something of a lockdown existence, working in isolation from home or the shed, the pandemic turns out to be a bit like the pram in the hall for desiccating the creative juices. In some cases it literally results in a buggy in the hall, or a child at your elbow, with the closure of schools and nurseries. Robert Webb, father to an eight- and ten-year-old, says he’s managing to get through a bit of admin, but ‘otherwise I’m not really settling down to anything.’
If these most productive of writers are finding themselves distracted and unfocused, then it lets the rest of us off the hook.
Now, what was I going to do today?