COVID-19 has upended my life. I can’t go to my favourite restaurant, theatre or coffee shop. I can’t attend meetings of my writers group or socialize with friends.
I have been staying home long before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s the life of a freelance writer. I have been living it for a long time, so I am mentally better prepared than most people to adapt to the fast-advancing pandemic. Writers, you see, are used to working at home, alone, mostly with little or no supervision, handling deadlines, pressure and rejections from editors. Our homes are our offices. So what amounts to major hardship for the majority of the population is part of our lifestyle.
Every writer’s first concern is financial security. Our freelancing jobs, scarce as they were even before COVID-19, have begun to disappear. A newspaper editor has already told me not to bother sending in any more submissions because he has fewer pages to fill. And it’s only likely to get worse. As companies shut down, we are all going to be forced to tighten our collective belts.
As a travel writer, I depend on travel agencies and airlines — both of whom have either shut down or reduced their operations. Press trips and FAM (familiarization) tours offered to journalists have evaporated as travel has become an impossibility during the pandemic.
But while the pandemic will no doubt be a challenge for many writers, it can also serve as an inflection point.
Instead of complaining about how COVID-19 has collectively put society over a barrel, we should learn to make use of the available time in doing things we didn’t have any time before.
Sure, a tight budget will likely force us all to cut back on the infrequent luxuries, such as Chinese takeout or pizza, to which we have become accustomed.
So, instead of complaining about how COVID-19 has collectively put society over a barrel, we should learn to make use of the available time in doing things we didn’t have any time before. Think about taking an online course, learning to play a musical instrument, or reading your favourite novel. On a personal note, I have been grateful for having all the time at my disposal to concentrate on writing my third non-fiction book. Shakespeare, I am told, wrote King Lear when he was quarantined during the plague!
As a young university student, I always wanted to sport a beard, believing that it would enhance my image as an intellectual. I have grabbed this golden opportunity to grow a beard and save some coins on buying razors. A friend tells me, I hope teasingly, that I look like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Although my freedom of movement and association has been curtailed, I understand that working from home also lowers my risk of acquiring the virus. I am willing to put up with these inconveniences as my contribution to help flatten the curve.
This pandemic has presented us with a window into what many are calling the ‘new normal.’ Can you imagine a future where the humble handshake will be replaced with other more complex greeting techniques? Think about elbow knocking, or placing the right hand on one’s heart, placing both palms close to one’s chest in the form of the Indian greeting of namaste. Even Prince Charles was recently seen adopting the namaste greeting in London.
Groceries and medication can now be ordered online and delivered to our doorstep. Yet there are people who still gather in numbers, especially on warmer days, defying government’s recommendations, endangering not only their own health, but also that of the community.
Canada has successfully overcome floods, fires and other disasters. Canadians have a history of embracing a unique spirit of fortitude for thriving in tough times. I am confident that we’ll also overcome this deadly disease.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer/photographer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims. Mansoor has held senior editorial positions with newspapers in Canada, Kenya and Tanzania. For many years, he was the only newspaper owner of colour publishing mainstream newspapers in Morinville and Red Water in Alberta.