2020. Sigh… Not the year anyone really signed up for, is it?
Some of us are blessed with comfortable homes we don’t feel trapped in, private gardens to relax in, adoring pets that provide a sort of in-home therapy, and family we actually get along with! Maybe working from home has also been a relatively easy adjustment, perhaps even a welcome change.
For me - in the first month or two anyway – there was appreciation for the slower pace. I felt released from the relentlessness of my self-imposed schedule. And many others felt the same way. Friends and family who were normally too busy to chat, now had more time to spend with me on Skype/Zoom, and my relationships actually experienced a boost of reconnection.
But social distancing has changed the way we approach everyday activities, like taking a walk, buying groceries, visiting the dentist, and for me, most devastating of all, giving hugs! Worse still, the invisible threat of contagion by asymptomatic carriers has changed how we look at our fellow humans.
Between the threat of war, the pandemic, and the migration of killer hornets (Are you kidding?!), the first half of 2020 already has all the makings of a B-rated apocalypse film, or a revised edition of the ten Egyptian plagues.
I can just imagine the movies that are going to come out (once Hollywood reopens): shows about virus-mutated zombies and biochemical warfare. Will books be a bit more thought-provoking? Maybe tell the stories of those most affected by the pandemic?
A member of my writers' group is near completing a book about grief. Brenda Fullick Wise lost her husband five years ago and found purpose in sharing her road to healing from the deep pain. It is a beautiful series of anecdotes and life lessons from someone who understands grief intimately and wants to help others cope with its lingering intensity. Her work is relevant and meaningful. In 2020. In general.
But what about us fiction novelists? Spending one’s time as a writer whose genre focuses on escapism can feel rather irreverent during an international pandemic. And when the characters wear petticoats and attend balls, such writing can feel downright frivolous. It is contrary to one’s thoughts within a social crisis to imagine carriage rides along pretty tree-lined avenues.
So why do I still do it? Why do I put aside my daily concerns and continue painting worlds that seem out of touch with our present reality? The answer is quite simple.
Firstly, our world is always in some form of crises. Perhaps nothing has touched it worldwide like this since 1945, but the truth is that, at any given time, a multitude of countries will experience war, famine, drought, or some form of social instability. Often these nations suffer in the background and go largely unnoticed by us. But the daily struggles for them are real. Within our own borders, communities may be dealing with difficulties that are invisible to those of us who remain untouched by similar issues. Maybe right next door there are individuals striving to keep poverty, ill-health, loneliness at bay. Whatever form they take, crises — whether personal, local, or international — remain. All that changes, is whether our lives feel touched by these or not.
As such, 2020 startles us because we are all affected simultaneously, which intensifies our awareness of the situation. Perhaps this tells us that we are not aware enough the rest of the time. We live too much in our own cocoon. We do not trouble our thoughts unless we are directly affected. Knowing this, should I ever feel comfortable writing giddy romance when the world spins wildly?
The fact is that most of us become utterly overwhelmed to be always thinking of the world in all its raw truth. We glimpse at it through the news sometimes, but then prefer to shut that door again. And we escape its relentless presence.
So it is with all forms of escapism, including books. We allow our minds to occupy a place that is pleasant, a distraction from whatever awaits us when the book is put down. Even reading horror will provide this escape, because it is not real to us, it is not our horror.
Even as I write of love and adventure, I am experiencing an escape from my own worries. And I am offering to share that compartment of pleasant distraction with my readers. Writing in 2020, even in its most lighthearted form, remains purposeful and meaningful. That is what drives me to write even as chaos continues around me. That is why I can — I must — continue to do so.
And I consider it a great privilege to share it with you.