Spot the difference
There is so much to notice that’s different right now and yet, I believe, if we don’t make the effort to write about the changes they’ll seep into the subconscious and this moment will be lost forever.
Take this photograph, taken at the Tempelhof airport in Berlin over the weekend. Yes, yes, we just ‘went somewhere’ for the first time since the coronavirus changed our world and made it suddenly so much smaller. Built by the Nazis in 1927, Tempelhof was once one of the 20 largest buildings on earth but closed in 2008. It’s a desolate yet imposing place where silence echoes in the abandoned arrivals hall, the corridors and the hangars. That the departure board showed no departures and no arrivals was no surprise. That the 20 of us taking a guided tour had been asked to used hand-sanitizer and don our face masks on arrival felt stifling and strange in the airless indoor spaces thick with summer heat. I found it challenging and hated how breathless it made me and how flustered. I frequently had to lift the metal strip at the top away from the bridge of my nose and let the heat escape. Unless I was careful to arrange my glasses so that they sat onto of the cloth they’d steam up. Every now and again I’d check no one was looking, turn my back on the group, and pull my mask away from my face for a few moments to remind myself how to breathe normally again. I felt wicked.
In the Netherlands, where I live, facemasks are currently only compulsory on public transport. In Germany they must be worn every time you go inside a café to pay or use the loo, in shops, service stations, museums and galleries. Dropped facemasks litter pavements like hastily removed g-strings; they hang from bicycle handlebars and rearview mirrors and drape from the branches of lime trees. I noticed them because this is currently a new phenomenon but soon these discarded cloth masks will become so normal they become invisible. Like we no longer notice how plastic bags litter the roadside, that graffiti now decorates the trains and that Mars bars are much smaller. Everyone has a facemask to hand over there and as we sat at pavement cafés for every meal, we were no longer startled by having to scan a QR code to see the menu, to fill in a form with our address for contact tracing purposes or that the wait staff wore masks while the customers were spared.
In the beginning each time you encounter the handgel, the masks, the duct tape dividing lines on the pavement and the signs on every shop door declaring whether you need to take a basket and how many people are allowed inside, your heart picks up the pace. You learn to live with a heightened level of anxiety and panic rises each time you realise you rubbed your eye without washing your hands first. But soon it won’t be like that.
It’s too easy to take elements of ‘the new normal’ for granted. I have become used to queuing outside the supermarket and never using cash. But it won’t be long until the day I leave the house without wearing my face mask like a necklace will make me feel strangely naked and I’ll be mortified.
So write about it in your journal, scribble a poem, write your own Life in The Day account of your typical working day. Be mindful of what has changed. Pay attention. Notice things and please write them down while they are fresh. Consider what the discarded facemasks look like, take photographs, keep a record. That’s what writers do.
In praise of needs must
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to a Book Reveal party for Life in the Camel Lane by my friend, Doreen Cumberford. Doreen’s book, about life in Saudi Arabia, was inspired by the many years she spent there and so there were attendees from all over the world on the Zoom call. Doreen’s book came out while she was ‘misplaced in Mexico’ and unable to celebrate her newly published ‘baby’ in person in Denver, Colorado as she had planned. Zoom was the next best thing. Or was it actually a better thing?
In the 14 weeks or so since the world went into lockdown, things have changed. We have had to think differently about the way we live and the way we do business and Doreen’s Book Reveal is a great example of the positive impact acting differently has had. Before now, book launch parties had typically been live and local events. Now ‘needs must when the devil drives’ as the saying goes, which means that something is necessary but unpleasant. I didn’t want to run my workshops and writers’ circles online via Zoom. I had been resistant to it for years. I liked running them from home in a room with real people, a flipchart and chocolate covered raisins. But when the chips were down and I had no choice, I took a deep breath and dived in. And you know, it’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay because now people can attend my events who are not restricted by the cost of travel. My costs are reduced so I can afford to run things for free or for less money. Everyone wins.
Doreen’s Book Reveal, as I said, had over 50 attendees from all over the world. As she read from her book, her inspired and knowledgeable book publicist, Mary Walewski, of www.buythebookmarketing.com took a look on Amazon and saw that already Life in the Camel Lane was the #1 New Release on Amazon in the Middle East Travel category.
Mary Walewski is a great example of someone else who has embraced the ‘new normal’ and found a way to make gold out of the current situation. A Book Reveal party is not the only idea she has up her sleeve and if you would like to watch her webinar on ‘social distance marketing for authors’ then you can see it by clicking the image below:
So much good stuff online
This lockdown has made such a massive difference to the way I do business and the way I reach out to my 'tribe'. If you are reading this now, then yes, that's you!
If it hadn't been for Lockdown I'd never have started my regular In Conversation chats with my favourite wise folk and wordsmiths. You do know that I've spoken to Amanda Graham about the healing power of journalling, to Anne Rainbow about editing your work and creating compelling story arcs, to Tom Evans about combatting writer's block and, next week it's how to get started as a poet with Anthony Anaxagorou. I record them all and put them on my website for you to watch at your leisure. But, if you can make it to a session when it is broadcast live you get your chance to ask questions about the things that matter to you. Don't miss out. Please keep an eye on my Virtual Events page.
Then, every Friday at 5 there's the fun, informal and very friendly Speedwrite Live sessions. Someone picks a topic and we all write for ten minutes and then share with the group. With attendees coming from Mexico, Washington DC, Switzerland, London and other parts of the world it's just a lot of fun. It doesn't matter whether you are a good writer or not. Age is not a barrier either, three of our regulars are over 80 and one of them is my own mum! For most it's the highlight of their week. Register for free via my Virtual Events page.
By the time you read this I'll have run more than 12 sessions so far. Once every two weeks for two hours you'll meet with the same group of people, who, so far have come from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, Seoul, Penang, Washington and Rwanda, and there's a bit of learning, two writing exercises and lots of sharing. The goal? To help writers find their voice and grow in confidence. The Wednesday sessions are full but there are places on a Tuesday still available from 3-5pm CET. Same deal, go see my Virtual Events page. This one isn't free, but is great value for money.
"Powerful, enjoyable and transformative," is how Jeremy describes his experience.
Life Story Jar Webinars
Want to stay motivated as you write your family stories down to ensure they are not forgotten? These monthly sessions are £20 and will kick start the process you have promised yourself you'd do for years but never got round too. Yes, you guessed it – sign up via Virtual Events.
SPICE up your life stories
At last I'm taking my popular, effective, 3-hour practical workshop online. Come and learn how to write compelling accounts of your real life experiences so you can use them in novels, short stories, memoir and non-fiction. See what Mel said when she did the course a while back. So, I'll be running this online on Tuesday 28th July from 2-5pm Central European Time. Cost £30. Register via Virtual Events, of course.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer