Almost every day I sit down to write at my dining table. Like so many things about this year, and this season, it’s both familiar and strange.
The table always catches people’s attention. Visitors comment on it, often while running an open hand over the smooth, satin surface.
“Where’s it from?” they ask, or “What’s it made of?”
“American walnut,” I say, “designed in Singapore, modelled after a mid-century Danish style, with a smooth satin finish.”
It’s been our dining table in Singapore and Tokyo, and now in London. Through the bad times and the good.
I usually like each item of stuff to have a few uses. A dining table is for eating. OK, maybe for homework, sometimes. But I’d been happy for the table to sit unused most of the day, only coming to life at mealtimes.
This pandemic season forced me to let go of that cherished ideal. Living with isolation and quarantine, with the many fractures in our connection to the outside world, has changed the table’s role.
This is the 21st blogpost I’ve written since going into isolation back on March 9. For every one of them I’ve put my iPad on a little stand, fired up the wireless keyboard, taken a sip of water, run my hands over the tabletop, and then started writing.
I sit only a few metres from the front door. This is kind of convenient, since having everything delivered to our home means the doorbell rings at least three or four times a day, and sometimes more than that just during the morning writing session. Each time I must stop writing, walk to the entranceway, take off my indoor slippers and put on the outdoor ones that live on the mat, don a face mask and open the door. Then I repeat the process in reverse, wash my hands thoroughly, and return to the table.
The writing position is also a few metres from the kitchen, where I spend the largest slice of each week, cooking meals, baking bread, and preparing our home-made bacon and smoked salmon.
This isn’t the kind of writing environment I suggest people create, whenever people ask me what kind of writing environment they should create. No matter how good each writing session is, or how many notes I have around me as I write, I have to pack it all up to make room for lunch. And the feeling of being trapped between the ever-ringing doorbell and the perpetually demanding kitchen is too much sometimes.
Even on the good days.
On the mornings where it seems pointless to resist the impending doom, fuelled as it seems to be by so many collective failures of imagination and intelligence, the beloved table feels like a trap.
But still I return every morning, wearing cotton jinbei, a sort of Japanese pyjama, with drawstring shorts, and a top that ties at the waist. I fight the urge to doomscroll through the news, or surf music videos on YouTube, and I try to write.
My rule is I can take any day off writing, but it can’t be today, and it can’t be two days in a row. Mostly, I’ve been able to obey this rule.
Looking back over my writing this season reveals some repeating motifs. There’s been a lot of self-reflection, a lot of concern about having a good frame of mind, and a lot about how to make the most of this time.
My theme for 2020 has been momentum. At the start of the year I was thinking about it in terms of a big project, writing my next book. I didn’t want to get bogged down. But now momentum means something much smaller. Just going on, day to day, and not losing hope.