The messages are urgent—create more art now, document your experiences in these times, don’t sweat over if what you’re creating makes sense, the world needs it, you need it. I create art, mostly short fiction, and I have to do it while battling with depression and anxiety. No, I cannot write through my depressive and anxiety episodes. I wait patiently for those rare moments of mental clarity to create art. These moments of mental clarity have become even rarer during this pandemic with my Twitter feed choked with news about yet another confirmed case of the Covid-19 virus or how testing is still inaccessible for most people or how health workers are on the frontline with limited personal protective equipments. So any attempt to write funnels into hours of staring at a blank word document until I exit the window with a What am I doing? Does the world really need this?
Away from my crushing anxiety, the world outside my window is in sharp contrast with the one inside my head. It is bubbly and almost detached from the present. This is the world I’ve grown to find solace in during these times. As part of the strategy to contain the virus, the Lagos State Government shut down schools. So, the schoolchildren in the block of apartment I live in have devised a means to keep themselves busy. Just before noon, they gather in the quadrangle and take turns teaching themselves literature, mathematics, and science. There are breaks in between and assignments. Their laughter and arguments over who got the multiplication problem wrong wake me from my afternoon nap. In the evenings, the once-busy street is filled with kids playing football. Neighbors who could go weeks without seeing each other because of their busy jobs sit in front of shops drinking beer and eating street food. It is an infectious atmosphere (no pun intended). There is a growing sense of community and a growing interest in other people’s well-being. This is something people normally do not have time for in this rise-hustle-and-grind city.
Not creating fiction of my own has also given me more time to do what I love; discovering and rediscovering the beauty of other people’s works through reading. I have tripled my reading, from published works to solicited drafts from friends. There is a comfort that comes with the assurance that someone else is writing and documenting about/through this epoch when you can’t. I am also thinking about if and how this period will leave a mark on my craft? How lasting will this mark be? Will it be me doing too much? Will it be me doing too little? And when these questions begin to overwhelm me, I look at the world outside my window and find the calmness I seek.
—April 5, 2020