It was at the Muslim Institute Winter Gathering on 12 December 2020, regrettably virtual by necessity but still wonderfully vibrant, that writer Medina Whiteman pondered the impact on the creative process of the interminable endlessness of lockdown. She was speaking as part of a panel exploring storytelling in the age of pandemia and described how distracted from her usual productivity she had become. Searching for the right words to capture the delirium of tedium that 2020 has turned out to be, she chanced upon the perfect metaphor for the prevailing impact of lockdown on prolificacy. ‘It’s like brain fog’ she said, and almost every writer, creative and individual of an artistic disposition knew exactly what she meant.
In fact, this brain fog has been far from confined to a section of the global population that categorises itself according to any perceived imaginative ability. 2020 has been a year of unpredictability and unfathomable anxiety stretching out into every corner of the world. Extreme scenarios are being played out on every continent, often compounding already difficult circumstances as populations navigate the virus whilst in the midst of crisis brought on by poverty, conflict and disaster. The irony is not lost on me that there are many who are looking wearily at those of us jolted out of our first world bubbles. What is new to us is old to the oppressed and occupied. Life has slowed, become smaller, less tangible, and although there is no denying that for many this era has signalled a welcome pause from the frenetic pace of life, for others it has triggered psychological anguish, job insecurity and loneliness. If you’ve watched Groundhog Day, you might have felt replicated within that very premise, or perhaps stuck in the Netflix series (and who hasn’t gorged on Netflix and other streaming channels this year) Russian Doll. We’re living in an extended present which seems to be without any end in sight, with only a flicker of optimism that the promise of a vaccine offers, and obviously the vaccine is not a magic potion that will make all of this go away. Most, if not all of us, have had moments of feeling overwhelmed by this dystopian situation we find ourselves in. Those of us without caring responsibilities are sleeping more yet report feeling lethargic and fatigued. Concentration levels have faltered and for many 2020, well pretty much since March, has felt like one long blur, not unlike that period between Christmas and New Year when you don’t quite know what day it is.
Elif Shafak, How To Stay Sane In An Age of Division: The Powerful Pocket-sized Manifesto, Wellcome Collection, London, 2020
Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six Essays, Penguin, 2020