Last week Canadian Writers Abroad reported on writers who opted to stay put. This week we hear from those whose plans were interrupted by COVID-19. D. W. Wilson had plans to return to the UK with his wife, but they are now in Regina. “We had tried to make a beeline for the UK in late March, but abandoned ship legit an hour before the plane took off because we were concerned about the NHS being overloaded.” Merilyn Simonds writes that although Mexico is better for her health in winter, she left her home in San Miguel to fly back to Canada. Simonds points out that isolation isn’t much different from the regular course of a writer’s life: “It was a hard decision [to leave] and I don’t suppose I’ll ever know if it was the right one. As it turns out, I think it is equally easy in both countries to be reclusive, which is, after all, a usual condition for writers. I look forward to completing another draft of my new book during this isolation.”
Isabel Huggan has had her plans completely thrown off by the virus. Below, she writes about what happened when she left her home in France to pay a visit to Canada. She’d planned for a month touring British Columbia to see family and friends — a trip that did not pan out.
“Be careful what you wish for,” advises an old writer friend of mine, who says he has often wished for the absolute freedom to do nothing but stay home and read and write and think (not necessarily in that order). No outside obligations, no social life pulling him out the door, no work routines other than his own. Well, here it is, that great freedom, and it’s not quite what he might have imagined, as regimented isolation also comes coloured with fear and grief and a strange kind of fatigue from so much time in the same place, in the same mental and physical space.
I’ve been thinking about a return to Canada, thinking of selling my beloved old house in France and coming back to spend my final years in my native land. It has been a “thought” — rather like a wish — for some time now. However, when a trip back to Canada at the end of February has resulted in social isolation in Toronto with no sense of when I can return to my usual life in France, I am frankly thrown off course.
What happens next? How will the imagined scenario, in which my hopes and wishes have so far existed, change? Will the future bear any resemblance to my vague plans? So far, no one I know has fallen ill. Because I was ill — and because of my age fall into the “vulnerable category” — I have been tested for COVID-19 and found to be negative. So I am lucky, I am fortunate, and not a day passes that I do not say my Gratitudes. I am actively looking for positive moments in all this and strangely enough, finding them.
Where I am billeted — in a house left vacant by a friend who died last year — in the city, I am close to a park where it is permissible to walk, keeping a good distance from others of course. In this house is a bookshelf full of books I have not read, so now comes the time for SHOCK DOCTRINE, among others. I find it hard to write anything much myself without falling into worn-out language when I focus on this particular situation, and so am turning my thoughts to other topics than the pandemic… although truthfully, what else is there to think about than the pandemic?
I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time reading The Guardian to glean as much as I can about the situation around the world, and I must say that one of my Gratitudes is that I am indeed in Canada during this period, especially by comparison with so many other countries. I trust our prime minister, I trust our government, I trust the people around me here in Toronto… and I trust that we are all doing our best… staying home and, if we go out, wearing masks. Yes, I am glad to be here.
- San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival.
- Isabel Huggan reviews Strangers in the House by Candace Savage in Literary Review of Canada.
- About Le Mas BlancWriter’s Retreat.
- Hire D.W. Wilson to edit your work.
- Tony Thorne on Coronaspeak.