I am writing this from the not-too-distant past. Once this blog is published, lockdown restrictions may have passed and we may all be out hugging and dancing freely on the street – although I doubt it…
Stage three restrictions lifted in Victoria on Tuesday at midnight this week. The die-hards amongst us ventured out of their homes to make late-night visits to friends and family. Braved the wintery Melbourne weather, to share a drink or a chat that didn’t involve being plugged into technology.
I waited, patiently (or impatiently, as the day wore on) for my turn to come. And, finally it did. On Wednesday afternoon, my children and I got the hell out of our house and, even more excitedly, out of our suburb, to visit a mate in Preston for homemade pizza and WINE/S.
The friend we visited is a long-standing one. A woman I’ve shared houses, parties, world travel, artistic adventures and childrearing stories with, but never a pandemic. Nope, a pandemic with all its associated anxiety, isolation and restrictions was unchartered territory. My friend is an artist too, visual rather than writerly, and once we’d bribed our kids outside with a bag of chips, we spoke feverishly about the projects we’d been working, or not working, on.
For the past two months we’d communicated via phone or Zoom. Tried to find a corner of the house that was private and unoccupied to exchange ideas and woes. Both of us, mothers, who had suddenly found ourselves thrust back into the domestic chaos we thought we’d mostly escaped once our children hit primary school. A reality which revolved around washing and cleaning and meeting the endless demands of others. Servitude. Not to mention, the expectations around homeschool and our paid work as teachers. At the end of each day, we commiserated, there was almost no energy left for our creative selves. Mostly, we just wanted to collapse into bed.
But amongst all this, the conversations we shared kept a flicker of our creative selves alive. Through the act of talking, we stoked the metaphorical fire that drove us to writes novels and, in my friend’s case, animate. We talked about the tasks we were working on, slowly, yes, but working on nonetheless… in the wee morning hours before the household woke or late into the night. Snatched moments, held greedily close, because our souls demanded it.
And we weren’t the only ones doing this. Other writerly women I spoke with, especially mothers of young children, were doing the same. Carving out space in puzzlingly busy days. It heartened me, for instance, to meet every Saturday night, drink in hand, with my writers’ group on Zoom. A gang of seven women whom I regularly share life and writing projects with. As a group, we traverse both literary and personal landscapes, celebrating and commiserating each other’s successes and failures.
During lockdown, this connection to each other and our literary world felt more necessary than ever. For that hour or so, we were more than just mothers or cleaners or teachers. We were writers. We discussed manuscripts in progress, exchanged industry news and egged each other on, however that might look in isolation.
Early in May, I listened to author and historian, Clare Wright, being interviewed on radio station 3RRR about the importance of maintaining these connections. It seemed my predicament was hardly unique. Women writers Clare knew, had found their creative lives suddenly stifled by household chores. For many, she continued, this experience was ‘triggering’. I wanted to weep, leaning over the dirty breakfast dishes in our kitchen sink, as I listened to her. In a few brief sentences, she had validated my experience, the fears and frustrations I’d tried but often failed to verbalise, because frankly, it felt bratty. After all, wasn’t the ENTIRE world suffering. Yet here Clare was, telling me my sadness was understandable. That my anger at not having the space and time to write was valid. I wasn’t alone, I already knew that, but hearing it called out across the airwaves, certainly helped.
And, sharing a non-virtual pizza and wine with my old mate, was even better. For the first time in weeks, a ray of hope warmed my soul. Our artistic selves still existed, slightly musty and wrinkled, perhaps, but well within reach. After a couple of glasses, we were even able to hypothesis that something good might eventually come out of lockdown. Surely, we would emerge, more determined, more technologically savvy, more widely read… Mmmm, we both fell silent. ‘Or just better cleaners’, I suggested finally, before pouring each of us another big glass of red.
Emily Brewin is a Melbourne author. Her first novel, Hello, Goodbye, was published in 2017 and her second, Small Blessings, in 2019, both with Allen & Unwin. Her short stories have been published in a number of anthologies, including We’ll Stand In That Place and Other Stories by Margaret River Press and the Bristol Short Story Prize anthology. She has written for The Age, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Archer, Feminartsy, The Victorian Writer and Mamamia. She is currently working on her third and fourth novels.