It seems surreal, but on this very day last year I sat down in front of my window of wonder in Carcassonne and penned the first words of my manuscript.
Surrounded by my inspiration kit – Thoth (the Egyptian god of writing), my snarling inner critic, an antique lithograph of a falcon, a small bunch of lily of the valley, my mock-up book cover and a gleaming castle on a hill – I plunged into the creative vortex from which I would emerge eleven weeks later with the first draft of my book.
In my post-bushfire, present COVID-isolation world I gaze at my photos and posts from that time in bemusement. Did it really happen? Did I truly gaze in wonder upon the pyramids of Giza and amble down Prague’s cobbled lane-ways? Did I actually imbibe that giant beer at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich and casually decide to take a day-trip to Perpignan? Was I really so brimful of confidence, energy and inspiration? Did I really live that long-held dream of writing for three months in the south of France?
Indeed I did. I have the blogs to prove it. And my manuscript, of course. But from the bunkered-down world we now inhabit it seems impossible that such a short time ago we could hop on a plane and travel the world without a care beyond possible lost luggage or a missed flight connection. The assumption of an open globe freely available to host our every travelling desire seems as ephemeral as dawn mist rising on frosted grass.
What if COVID had struck last year? What if I’d had to abandon my long-service-leave, my window of wonders, my daily baguette delight and been repatriated home to immure myself in Narooma? I’m pretty sure my book would never have seen the light of day. After so many years of anticipation, and months of over-excited preparation, I would have been beyond devastated.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about all those countless millions of people whose special dreams have been annihilated this year. The brides and grooms mourning cancelled weddings, the grandparents denied the soft touch of their newborn grandchild’s skin, the disappointed school-leavers about to take their first solo back-packing ventures into the wider world, the long-anticipated family reunions put on hold, the athletes whose arduous Olympic preparations have been set at naught.
And more somberly, I’ve been thinking about the world’s most vulnerable people for whom such dreams were never even a possibility and whose reality wrings my heart. I’m talking about the children who are living in refugee camps, favelas, shanty towns and slums where there is no running water or sewerage system let alone hand sanitiser and toilet paper. The children whose parents relied on daily subsistence earnings and are now living in desparate fear about how to feed them tomorrow. The children who live in places where there are no hospitals to speak of and where health systems already broken beyond repair have no hope of coping with a pandemic.
My job with World Vision is a great privilege, but it brings with it a necessary knowledge of the darkest implications of this new world in which we are living. Only this week the World Food Programme predicted that the number of people facing starvation could double by the end of this year to over 250 million. And World Vision released it’s own report, Aftershocks, showing that as many as 30 million children are at risk of disease and death because of the secondary impacts of COVID-19.
What do we do with our dreams when faced with such grim realities? What do we do when our window on the world is not a magical casement in Carcassonne but a relentless barrage of deadly statistics and contested views on social media feeds?
As a self-confessed chronic optimist I can usually find a silver lining in just about any situation, but even I’m struggling a bit right now. I’m clinging to the fleeting glimmers of light which are shining through the darkness – our world breathing more freely with the reduction in emissions; the surge in creative home-based artistry from everyone from ballerinas and operatic tenors to mums, dads and kids jamming together and and dancing up and down their stairs. I’m delighted by the humour of #binisoliationouting and sustained by hope and mindfulness analysis that is reminding us that this situation could be our best chance ever to reset the future.
And I’m still dreaming my book dreams. It’s been wonderful to see that online book sales have gone through the roof as the home-bound reach for literary escapism. As an insatiable reader, my mother’s greatest fear at the onset of the lock-down – and the ensuing closure of library – was that she’d run out of books. She’s since developed a wonderful relationship with a young lad at her local bookshop who is personally delivering fresh supplies to her doorstep on his way home from work.
True, authors who’s novels are being released in the time of COVID are having to adapt to virtual launches and Zoom meetings with their fans, and publishers are developing new ways of working. But I don’t think books are going to be a COVID casualty. I think, more than ever, that the world will be looking for stories of hope and possibility. Perhaps mine will be one of them …