Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Are we all in it together?

Reader, you know how I hate to moan. (let's set aside most of my book reviews and half of this blog and pretend that's true). But the only way to unleash the bitter and embrace the immediate wave of shame that follows is to let it out.

This is hard. You didn't need me to say that. Some of you are stuck in an apartment and haven't seen grass in over a month. Some of you are isolating alone and have had zero non-virtual human contact. Some of you have lost your income or your business and have no idea what will become of it.

Some of this moan is going to be about me me me and about how I'm especially unlucky as if that wasn't abhorrent at a time when people are dying without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. And some of it is going to cast my unluckiness as part of a wider problem as if that somehow makes it more dignified. And then I'm going to just stop and howl into the void.

Much as people are trying to push the narrative that 'We're all in this together' and that anything other than enthusiasm for the lockdown is a failure of public spirit, it's not true. If you could Quantum Leap and inhabit any life right now, apart from shareholders at Zoom, I reckon your best bit is: a) a childless aspiring author who is on furlough from his day job at British Gas; or b) any millionaire who has a nanny and whose fortune is tied up in online commerce. I reckon divorcees have it good right now too, if their break up wasn't too bitter. They get childfree time and family time - the only people with work/life balance!

Here is the bitter. I'm supposed to be on research leave right now. I'm supposed to be writing an awesome book that I'd just started getting really excited about when the lockdown started. I waited three years for this period of leave from lectures and marking so I could get back to what I truly love - writing. And now it's been taken from me. My husband is doing 'key' work. The school and nursery are closed. So I'm here every day with a 3 and 6 year old, fetching snacks, arbitrating fights, washing clothes, wiping stuff (how is there always so much to WIPE?!) and generally not writing my book. I know its a horrible thing to whine about something as egotistical, as irrelevant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things as a book, but I am bereft. It doesn't look like I'll get another chance. Even if the world miraculously bounces back from the virus, even if a vaccine appears, by leave won't come back. My next chance will be in another three years time, if I survive another three years of lecturing and marking, and by then it will probably be too late. I'll have lost the mojo. The topic will have been covered by someone else. I'll never write the book, I'll never get promoted and my intellectual adventures will be over. Oh and I know other people have written books in worse conditions, alongside two or more paying jobs and childcare, but I'm just a mortal, I get tired and when I'm tired I can't think in straight lines. I know I should just relax and enjoy the time with my kids. I know I'm really lucky that we're all healthy and our income is safe and we have a garden. And god, at least I'm not stuck at home with teenagers - that is surely worse. But I just need to stamp my foot for a moment and complain that it's not fair that this virus appeared just for the sole purpose of stealing my sabbatical.

And now I'm taking a breath and wondering is it really just me? How many other women are seeing their careers tank right now? For sure, there is a divide between those with and without young children, but plenty of men are getting affected by the childcare closures too. And yet. And yet. In how many households is the mother's job being affected more than the father's job, just because the kids always want mummy to do stuff, or just because she sees the things that need doing, or just because his job pays more than hers? The editors at the BJPS reported this month that they'd seen a complete collapse of submissions from female authors. I'm sure there are way more single-income households with a stay home mum than with a stay home dad.  I don't hear enough people talking about how this pandemic is a disaster for gender equality.

Then my mind goes to the shocking increases in domestic violence around the world. All the women who are being battered because their men are bored, anxious, frustrated, drunk. All the children who are stuck with dysfunctional families, getting hungry, forgetting all their maths, while their middle-class school mates colour worksheets, learn to bake sourdough, play mud kitchens in the garden. And all the folk from developing nations, refugee camps, warzones, who are being forgotten about by rich countries whose citizens are suddenly more interested in preventing the deaths of 1% of their own rich asses than with all the black and brown folk who die in droves every year from starvation and other entirely preventable shit.

This isn't fair. And I am self-centered and the epitome of privilege but I also hate being told that we're all in this together when its patently obvious that this medical crisis is creating a social crisis, a grisly expansion of already brutal social inequalities. We get a daily count of the coronavirus death toll. But will anyone ever count the number of lives lost, lives ruined, dreams shattered by the global lockdown?