The heading is dramatic, but it’s not far from the truth, my truth at least. I am one of the fortunate ones who hasn’t had to work on the frontlines of healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic. I haven’t had to stock supermarket shelves, only to see them emptied in minutes by frenzied shoppers fearful of running out of pasta and toilet paper. I haven’t had to drive London buses, ferrying key workers to and from their jobs. All I had to do was stay at home. I didn’t have any income or government help and my bills were (and still are) piling up as all my styling work was cancelled overnight, but I had a home, I had my children and I had money for food. When life itself is threatened by an invisible and deadly virus, it quickly becomes crystal clear what is actually important in life.
As an introvert I wasn’t fazed by the idea of having to stay at home. That bit was easy. In fact, I enjoyed those first few weeks of government mandated lockdown a bit more than it’s probably appropriate to admit. My creativity and resourcefulness kicked into high gear within days. On social media two tribes quickly formed. On one side the message was “You may never get this time again so enjoy doing nothing! You don’t need to learn a new language or to play a new instrument. It’s ok to binge watch Netflix”. On the other side the message was “You may never get this time again so make shit happen! Try that sourdough bread recipe, redecorate that bedroom, paint that still life”. You can guess which tribe I fell into. There was a bit of backlash toward the do-ers, some shaming even, as if those who were keeping busy (and sane) by being creative were trying to make others feel bad. But it was never about that. My chronic busy-ness was just a way of coping with my own fear and despair for the future. Some people cope by watching boxsets, others cope by making stuff. They’re both totally acceptable and equally useful.
Like a lot of freelancers, I am used to being a self starter. Without the security of a full time job I am always, always thinking of new ways to use my skills to make a living. Partly because I like making money (there is no magical money tree after all) and partly because I’m inexplicably driven to do it. At heart I guess I’m an entrepreneur, always thinking of the next big idea. You know how you hear of businesses selling for gazillions of pounds/dollars and you wonder why the now filthy rich former owner has already started a new company when they clearly never need to work again? I think that would be me. Yes I’m driven by money (and I would certainly enjoy my gazillionaire status) but more than that I’m driven by the bit that comes before you make the money. I’m driven by the promise of something, the possibilities. I guess I’m always chasing that dangling carrot!
Lockdown changed the rules for many. Suddenly freelancers who weren’t getting any financial help had to be even more creative to try to bring in some cash. We had to take it all online to still be visible. Luckily for me I’d already built a good online presence and connecting with my followers became a lifeline financially, creatively and emotionally. And I tried it all in an effort to keep my business afloat: I sold my books via Instagram; I painted and drew postcards and bookmarks, selling them far and wide; I offered remote interiors consulting; I made interiors videos for Instagram; I designed online courses. I just kept doing and trying and creating (with the occasional off day/week where I lost my mojo and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel). All that ‘doing’ gave me a purpose at a time when the future was uncertain.
Even though none of the ideas I dabbled in have yet to grow into my next big business, the dabbling itself was an essential part of the process. I’m not now an established artist, selling my prints to millions. Nor am I suddenly selling out online courses (although they haven’t yet launched so that carrot still dangles enticingly ahead of me…) But for me lockdown was a strangely safe space to dabble in creativity with literally nothing to lose.
If there is a lesson to be learned (aside from the obvious don’t eat weird shit at wet markets) it is this: Do your own thing. If you’re a creator, create. If you need to chill, chill. And most importantly if the world seems like it’s ending, remain hopeful.