My hand is cramped from getting used to handwriting again – personal events, thoughts, and feelings as we move to quarantine that is (at least at the time of writing) currently only self-imposed. From Twitter, I see this is the fashionable approach to Covid-19 house arrest. But, of itself, this kind of reflection really does ground you – helps you see clearly.
I’ve always struggled to keep a journal with any kind of regularity. This was especially the case during my doctorate. Despite being urged to do so, by various mandatory-training courses (most of which I missed because they did not pay, and I’d rather go make lattes for customers so that I could eat and stay homeful), I just didn’t connect with this ostentatiously egoistic conversation. One of the problems with my paper record keeping is my atrocious handwriting. My online efforts fared no better, not least because, in 2015, both my main and my backup laptops shuffled off this mortal coil. In fact, the netbook nearly took me with it, because its fan broke and it would regularly heat to almost 100 degrees Celsius: I recall a few nightmares of being engulfed while I slept, not-waking fused to cheap, melted plastic and precious metals. I was also broke as hell, so had to get my parents to front me some money to afford a new laptop (“are you in that dire straits that you don’t have £160 for a laptop?”; yes, yes I was). I was only able to pay them back, because my sister, working at a supermarket at the time (before her graphic-design career took off), managed to get a double staff discount on the budget ‘everything machine’ – cheers, sis. On the 21st of November 2015, I tried to resume the online-diary practice:
“It makes you think, doesn’t it?” Uncle Colin asks rhetorically. We’re walking back from the KAOS production of Sister Act, in which my cousin/Colin’s nephew Anthony was playing the male lead. We’re talking about (gran)dad. He’s dying. Maybe a couple days to go – who knows? But yes, it does! To die with your family at your side is a blessing. To die without achieving your goals – tragic. This is what I “think”. My goals: a book, published, in my name. Whether criticism or fiction, I cannot say. But I know in my heart that finishing this PhD is absolutely essential. For what separates published writers from the wannabes: fundamentally, the drive, nay, the habit! to complete. the. manuscript! If I cannot do it under the (admittedly liberal) time/format-strictures of academia, how may I finish anything scaffold-less?
I know my path: lit. review, chapter by xmas; 2 chapters next year; revise in the summer as I visit the stateside archives; 3rd year writewritewrite. This is achievable – as millions before me have proven. I now have the drive and the means (technologically, in blue) to work like I’ve never worked before so that, with my heart’s last breath, I would say I’d given it my all.
And I did. I tried to pay no heed to my fatalistic dramatics. I got a routine. Grandad did die, as did others. The Order of Service so slight and fragile a document. Words on the page took on a new significance, more vital and enduring. And, I suppose, this is the place in which we now find ourselves.