I am sitting in a borrowed office chair in our kitchen. It is late morning. Soft light slants through the trees, dancing on the wall, as the occasional rusting leaf twirls to the ground.
I’m not sure where the year has gone. How has time actually passed, despite the wild world we’re now living in? I ask myself this question all the time.
When I last wrote on this blog — or on social media full stop — it was spring, and those leaves were only just starting to unfold in fresh green from their buds. Now everything is beginning to turn brown, a bit dry, tired of being bright. The tall thistles above our sunken garden are shrinking back in on themselves, leaving thin stems and wizened leaves. Winter is on its way.
Back in March, as the pandemic accelerated in the UK and we went into lockdown, I found out that I was losing my job in international marketing. I was fortunate to pick up a temporary contract with an adjacent team, so since April I’ve been creating social media content almost exclusively about coronavirus.
Although I’ve been blogging alongside a nine-to-five job since 2013, it began to feel impossible to sustain the space and strength needed for everything: endless headlines; my job itself; worry for family members who couldn’t work from home; grandparents going in and out of hospital; trying to stay in touch with friends; and interacting with people I’d mostly never met on social media. It was clear to me what needed to be shelved on that list.
Along with these anxieties — which we’ve all been dealing with in different guises — was the knowledge that I would have to formally apply for my new job after the summer, in order to make it permanent. It was hard to forget this fact, even during a week spent on the west coast, enjoying special but distant moments with family.
Both the assessment and interview for the role were at the start of September. The night before the assessment, I barely slept. I went into the session with ashen eye-sockets and a failed mindset. Like everything else during lockdown, it was all online, and entirely a blur.
Later that week was the interview, and I’d slept better. Three people, only one of which I’d met (digitally) before, looked back at me from my laptop as I tied myself in conversational knots about the conflict I felt as a social media manager in the age of Cambridge Analytica. Afterwards, my notes scrambled around me, I thought, what did they want? I wasn’t sure. I resigned myself to what I believed was the inevitability of unemployment, again.
My birthday weekend came and went, a trip back west to sit in my parents’ garden under a shelter my father had rigged up with tarpaulins and our rusting childhood climbing frame. It was perfect — but it couldn’t quite bury the worry.
On the Monday afternoon, after an endless morning, my manager finally called me. “So”, he began, and I shrank, “I’ve got good news”. Really, I said. Really?
And so as I sit here, the dappled sunlight turning into a heavy rain shower, the knowledge that we are at least okay for a little while feels like a huge exhalation. Months of stress, of putting pressure on myself, comparing my life now to the one I had before — dotting about the central belt interviewing people, sharing Scotland with the world, spending weekends walking and eating, how easy and light it used to seem — have come to a close in some ways.
Yet anxiety does continue. Socialising, going to shops and restaurants, returning to some sort of ‘new normal’ — these are things I’m not quite comfortable doing yet. So as introverts, my partner and I are leaning in to our special skill: being alone, and enjoying it. Some weekend mornings we make bacon rolls and I create bad latte art with frothed milk, and we sit at our kitchen table, pretending we’re at a café. It doesn’t feel so different, apart from missing the hum of other lives in the background, but we have each other.
Another change that continues is staying a step or two back from social media in my personal life. Although what fuelled this was the emotional overflow from my job, after spending the last 5 months posting nothing I feel better for it. Lately I’ve been reading more books about digital minimalism, and I’m considering quitting some platforms entirely — if not, at the very least, drastically changing how I use them.
Not using social media has also changed how I feel about taking photos. I’ve spoken here before about the links between photography and social platforms, and how the pressure to ‘create content’ can create an addiction that takes true pleasure away from using your camera. I’ve somewhat reclaimed that happiness in the last few months: I’ve only taken my DSLR out twice, but the two times I have have helped me notice, even more deeply, the beauty on my doorstep.
That sort of immersive experience — where there’s no inbuilt objective to share, just one to create — is praised by many creative people. Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about it in her book Big Magic, and so does computer scientist Cal Newport in his book Deep Work (Cal’s blog is great too). Thanks in large part to the pervasive distractions that social media provide, we’ve all become pretty bad at switching off and enjoying being creative for nobody else but ourselves. I want to learn that skill again.
Back in spring, I wrote a nearly 2,000-word piece about slower travel for Hidden Scotland’s first print magazine. After months of stress and work, and being dragged into the endless content hurricane of Instagram, taking the time to disconnect, research, and choose my words carefully for this article was one of the most challenging yet rewarding things I’ve done this year.
I want to do that more often; I want to write and reflect and share thoughtfully, rather than race to create morsels of content that people swallow and scroll past in an instant. Writing in this way — deeply getting into your work, with no distractions — can feel almost transcendental at times. At the very least, it’s an escape from the reality of life in 2020, which in itself is a good reason to try. Right?
Another way to escape, for me anyway, is walking. The afternoon after the job assessment, we drove west to the town where my grandmother grew up. Through the cobbled streets, past the abbey, and across the fields we put one foot in front of the other to drown out the noise.
Autumn is here. It’s in the air, as I wear a jacket for the first time in months. It’s in the bright berries in the hedgerows, the lines and curves of the combine harvester, and the hay bales it has birthed. It’s in the leaves, golds and oranges and reds seeping like watercolour from the trees.
My favourite time. And still my favourite season; still something to hold close with or without coronavirus.