On the piece of paper in front of me, I had written “What is the best thing that could possibly happen to your protagonist? How could that then turn out to be the worst possible thing?”
This was a few mornings ago now. I was sitting at the desk in my loft, wearing a pair of pants and a t-shirt, and I was trying to come up with as many different answers as I could to the question above – part of my little daily routine where I read a chapter of Robert McKee’s book Story and extrapolate some kind of creative exercise from it.
Anyway, at some point I looked at my phone to check the time. Wow, I thought. I’ve been doing this for nearly two hours. Jesus, that’s flown by.
I smiled, and then a pleasant thought hit me. I am really loving this lockdown. I’m actually getting on with things for once. And I’m stressing about bullshit a lot less. And it’s true. By and large, I am enjoying this period of my life. It could be that with all the chaos I’ve stopped paying attention to what is out of my hands. I don’t know, but I feel lighter somehow.
I savoured these thoughts for a few seconds, before they started to take a different, much uglier direction. What the fuck are you talking about? You shouldn’t be enjoying this. How dare you? People are dying. God, you’re self-centred.
Before I knew it, my mind had tailspun. I felt very, very guilty for enjoying myself at the same time as there was tragedy in the world. In the days that passed, I kept returning to this moment, tossing and turning over it, trying to work out how I really felt. And eventually I came to a sort of peace about it. I’ll summarise:
It’s okay to enjoy yourself, whatever is going on around you. If you are enjoying yourself, it is a sign that you are engaged in something that means something to you. This is different to pleasure, which relates simply to your senses. Enjoyment is deeper than that.
You are free to feel guilty or ashamed, and as though you enjoying this lockdown period is somehow a selfish act of disrespect. Just don’t think for a second that your guilt or shame is going to do anything to help COVID-19 to stop spreading, infecting, and killing.
It is the guilt and shame that is truly self-centred. Not the enjoyment.
Now, you might be feeling awful. You might not have enjoyed one solitary second of the last few weeks. And if this is the case, my heart goes out to you. I hope you find some peace.
But if you have, and part of you feels funny about it, I want you to know that it’s okay. It’s okay to enjoy yourself. You didn’t choose this. Why should you feel guilty for making the best of it in a way that is hurting absolutely nobody?