By Cynthia C. Huijgens
After enduring months of lockdown and with on-going travel restrictions, you might be feeling nostalgic like me. Pining for familiar things, procrasti-baking, and singing old pop tunes like that summer hit of 1983 by English girl band Bananarama. You remember: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own…It’s a cruel, it’s a cruel, summer…”
And why not have a gloomy outlook? Many experts are forecasting a second wave of Covid-19 infection that could signal a return of those dreaded lockdown restrictions. “I sit around, trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry…” Yah, those lyrics are looping through my head.
But maybe you’re nostalgia doesn’t stretch so far back. Maybe you’ve got Taylor Swift’s 2019 chart topping hit of the same name piercing your post-Covid thoughts? “Fever dream high, in the quiet of the night, you know that I caught it.” It’s almost scary isn’t it? Things that once made you want to pull your hair out have come to represent something else, a mental escape. Who could have predicted such a cruel spring, and now a cruel summer? “Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes, what doesn’t kill me…” Okay, enough of pop lyrics.
The threat of Covid-19 remains real and we need to play safe this summer if we are to ride our way through it. The infection continues to disrupt our daily lives in myriad ways and many of us won’t be back to BWC and Maison des Crepes until things are more settled. Instead of singing schlocky 80s pop songs, I suggest a return to writing may be our greatest escape?
I polled a number of BWC members and asked them to share where they spent lockdown, how they coped with the restrictions, and how the lockdown enabled or disabled their creative writing process. Here’s what they had to say:
“I have been in my home in Brussels. The lockdown has been an enabling force for my writing and I have been very focused and productive. Ceasing my social activities, and not having to prepare and commute to work has created additional time for me to write, read and contemplate. I will finish the first draft of a manuscript in the coming weeks and get started on a novel, the idea of which has been lingering in my mind for a long time. I have also written short stories and am preparing an Amazon publication of my novel ‘She, the island’, which went out in Bulgaria in 2017. I guess all of this will keep me busy to the end of the year!””
“I sheltered in my apartment in Brussels with my boyfriend and cat. Being cooped-up was a challenge for me as it sapped my ability to concentrate. Also, allowing work and study to invade the physical space where I usually write was counterproductive. My goal is to write five new chapters before the end of the year.”
“I sheltered in a two bedroom apartment with my wife and two-year old daughter. My wife and I split childcare during the day, allowing each of us to get about a half-a-day’s work in. I wrote perhaps twenty fragmentary lines of poetry – not finished pieces – and nothing in my personal diary. That journal writing seems the most urgent to catch-up with. My plan for the year is to collect the last ten years of work into a collection that I can share with my writing contacts. I want to submit more pieces than I usually do. And then, I have absolutely no idea what is ahead for my writing.”
“I was locked at home in the Matongue Quartier of Brussels in a house without a garden. I passed from writing in the evenings to writing in the early morning. The first few days I wrote a few short stories and later on I turned my focus to writing in my diary. Work became very intense with too many videoconferences. I decided to change for a while to handwriting with, I think, successful results. I will put my diary in order for possible publication. Also, I would like to write a couple text on a different subject to ‘clean the brain’ of the many reflections about the pandemic.”
“I’m keeping inside unless I have a good reason to go out. We’re privileged in our big flat with only two cats to take care of. I’ve had some time to rethink how I want to handle my writing in terms of representation/publishing, and decided to have my manuscript copy-edited, but first perhaps a manuscript assessment. I’m currently taking part in Jericho’s online Summer Festival of Writing and absolutely loving it.”
“The crisis reached me in Detroit, Michigan on 11th of March while attending an international conference on Human Resources. Flights were stopped and it took me at least 10 days before I could return to Brussels. Being the responsible European Commission person for corporate teleworking (telecommuting) rules, I was landed with an incredibly arduous task: trying to accommodate some 30,000 expats working in Brussels, Luxembourg and 7 other sites across different European countries- each one with his/her own family problem, all looking for some sort of quick solution, amidst quarantine laws, sick elderly parents, living afar from spouse and children, transport between countries blocked, staff having family sometimes affected by the virus. Anyhow, we managed thanks to my dedicated team but it was an experience I would really not wish on anybody. As you can imagine, this affected my whole life profoundly including my writing practice, which since then has been practically non-existent.
Something worth celebrating: the English translation of my second novel was published in the UK at the end of April but sadly I haven’t had the time nor energy to promote it. I do hope in the next couple of months to catch up with this as a priority. Lastly, I sent a short story written long before the crisis to a UNESCO competition in Greece (deadline for submissions: 20th of July). I do hope to go back to some writing in the next couple of months, but it will all depend on how the crisis evolves.”
Thanks to Mimi Kunz, Xavier Queipo, Irina Papancheva, Ross Noble, Karmen Spiljak, Dimitris Politis and M.E. Grey for their contributions. BWC continues to meet via Zoom on Thursdays and on Tuesdays throughout the summer in Brussels parks and outdoor spaces. I’ll leave you with this: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own…It’s a cruel, it’s a cruel, summer…” Stay safe out there!