To self-isolate, perchance to write

(Previously published in The Sault Star but still pertinent today)

It’s mostly Shakespeare’s fault.

Those of us in the writing biz cringe when we are told that we should be churning out masterpieces from our COVID isolation instead of scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Didn’t the Bard of Avon concoct three of his most beloved and respected dramas, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, while fleeing the Black Plague? So why are some of us playing Candy Crush all day?

To be fair, just about every time Shakespeare put quill to parchment there was a plague going on. It cropped up intermittently for more than a century in Elizabethan England. 

A bust of Shakespeare sits in a hotel window in Stratford-upon-Avon, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. REUTERS/Carl Recine

Whenever an outbreak of the rat-borne disease prevented him from sucking up to sponsors and shilling ticket sales at the Globe Theatre, Will spewed out another masterpiece from his forced confinement.

London was hard hit, but Stratford didn’t escape unscathed. So for Shakespeare, it was a plague on both his houses.

Anyway, in some people’s minds any old pandemic should generate almost as much art as it does death.

Critics might scream that Edvard Munch painted some of his most memorable works during the Spanish Flu.

Or they’ll let it drop that Isaac Newton came up with his theory of gravity during a retreat from the plague. At the same time Newton also invented calculus, a subject I never gave a fig for in high school.

Boccaccio wrote his plague-themed Decameron and Daniel Defoe produced A Journal of the Plague Year while in isolation. 

And so on and so on.

Fair to say most would-be scribblers have more in common with Hemingway, who found himself quarantined with his sick child, his wife and his mistress, and produced nothing but empty liquor bottles.

The thing is, people who make writing their full-time job might not even have noticed that there’s quarantining going on. It’s business and life as usual.

For writers, there’s never much more to do during the day but write. Yet because they’re very creative they find lots of other stuff to fill the time.

The only benefit COVID has had for writers is to make their lifestyle more socially acceptable.

Suddenly writers are not the only people with questionable personal hygiene, erratic snacking habits and a tendency to drink before noon. 

Since some writers trend toward weirdness, they rarely find themselves in gatherings of more than five people. So social distancing comes naturally to them.

The rest of the world is also spending inordinate amounts of time revising tweets, spreading conspiracy theories online, choosing our 10 favourite albums and following trails to nowhere on YouTube.

Many a life is passing to the sound of a relentless TikTok.

In this COVID world, a writer’s day-to-day existence doesn’t seem as eccentric as it once did. We have lots of bedfellows in our strangeness.

‘Od’s truth, I’ve been fairly prolific during this time of stasis, chugging out newspaper columns at more than my usual rate.

But as for the other, more “serious” writing to which I sometimes aspire, I’m afraid it has been much ado about nothing.

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