Why, yes. This is my first post of the year in July.
I’m very lucky to have been able to read throughout the pandemic. I know that’s not been the case for everyone. Unfortunately, what eventually went instead was my ability to write. If I sat down to write even a blog post, any fragile equilibrium I’d achieved seemed to dissolve into a sticky mess. It’s probably still too soon to write about the last year and a half, but I want to get back to writing, so this is my attempt at clearing my creative drainage system. Here’s how I escaped mentally from lockdown three, mostly through books.
Each lockdown has presented a new mental challenge. The first came like a punch to my PTSD-addled brain. I did a lot of walking. That seemed to help. I indulged in all the cliches, from baking bread and feeding a sour dough starter to playing Animal Crossing on my kid’s Switch. I read a lot, stubbornly completing the Queer Horror Reading Challenge I set myself in January, before everything became horrible. I blogged about it. I was not okay, but I made it through. The second was at least finite in nature and promised to bring us better things. The third time was different. The better things had been cancelled and everything felt awful. I realised I needed to be very careful with my brain if I was going to get out the other side. I was having a lot of random whims and urges. I decided to listen to them.
First my brain said: The Regency. I’ve no idea why. Bridgerton fever hadn’t yet hit. I read Persuasion, started making Regency clothing, and researched the period so I could write in it. I came across this article about Jane Austen being the best literary cure for traumatic times and I think there’s something in it. In my case, there’s the obvious explanation of needing a bit of temporal distance from present reality. But there are parallels, too, between our turn-of-the-century era of swift change and that of the Regency. There’s the obscene wealth disparity between rich and poor, the way that technology is tearing through society, ripping up all our certainties. And the limited domestic horizons we find in Austen’s novels.
I also started craving queer non-fiction. I’ve always been primarily a reader of fiction, even though I enjoyed digging into cultural and literary theory at uni. Queer fiction has been hugely important to me, as is obvious from this blog. But oddly, this time I needed something else. So, I got a pile of queer non-fiction and made a start. What I found was a delight in feeling my brain expand out to meet the experiences and ideas of someone else. It unexpectedly made me feel less alone. It also reminded my brain of what it is capable of, at its best, when it isn’t freaking out, when it isn’t repeatedly getting stuck in fight/flight/freeze mode.
The non-fiction reading led to some honest-to-goodness academic literature of the type I hadn’t read in a while. I dipped my toe into literary trauma theory and even tracked down some queer literary trauma theory. I started asking myself some big questions about how queer folk live with both cultural and personal trauma and how we use art to do that living. I reflected on the similarities of what gay and bi men experienced historically, pre- and mid-legalisation, with what trans people are experiencing now.
Giving my brain these projects seemed to calm it the hell down. I gained some perspective. I started making plans for the future. I felt sane and calm, even optimistic at times. I started to understand, really for the first time, what therapists mean when they talk about sitting with your emotions. I could feel unhappy, uncomfortable, even downright miserable about a bad situation, but that didn’t have to be the whole story. At the same time, I could enjoy all these cool things and they would pull me through.
Of course, life has since hit again in multiple annoying and sometimes overwhelming ways. In moment of stress and trauma, I’ve forgotten these lessons a hundred times. But at least I have this to hold onto. Listening to my brain and what it needs can lead to some cool places. And more often than not, my brain food comes in book form.
I’ve started writing reviews again for work, for a new bookshop zine; my plan is to start on here again soon. I’ve been reading plenty. Maybe I need a non-fiction section on my reviews page….