Kindness is a topic I’ve written about a lot, and one I will no doubt return to, but this pandemic has thrown into sharp relief, I think, just how necessary kindnesses big and small are, not just to the recipient, but to the giver.
I admit, I don’t always find it easy to accept generosity from people. Since this blog has recently been populated with posts about getting presents from people, you might not believe that, but wait it’s true! While I do love being spoiled – take me for lunch or buy me a present, and I’m gonna be thrilled and love you for ever – I also struggle with the idea of needing help that comes in more practical forms. When I broke my arm it took me weeks to admit I needed friends to help with things like shopping and cooking; when I moved into my new place I slept on the sofa for a week, not wanting to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to assemble my bed.
It’s easy to see needing help as failing. I am an independent, successful woman! There’s nothing I cannot do! And this independence can be tangled with other aspects of my personality and career as a single woman, as a writer, as a freelancer. If I admit I am worried about money, does that not only cast doubt on my talent (if I was good, I’d be richer!) but also my career choices (why don’t I have a proper job?), my lifestyle (why don’t I have a husband!), my sense of self (am I too lazy to be successful? Too untalented? Delusional?) Does it, in fact, make me a big fat failure who deserves all the penury I get?
I admit I have been remarkably blessed by kindness during lockdown. A few wobbles aside, I’m coping with the isolation relatively well, since I am used to living and working on my own. While work has dried up to a worrying degree, I’m not (yet) facing the same kind of ‘can I pay the rent?’ terrors that many in my sector face (and that I would be facing were I still in my much more expensive Brighton home – yay for Northern rent levels!). A steady stream of lovely friends have brought me groceries, sent me gifts, cooked me food (yes! remember the lovely friend who brought me a homemade veggie lasagne?) and supported me by buying my books or contributing to my Ko-fi. I have regular Zoom chats with pals and have used the free time given by my theatre work drying up to catch up with people I would normally only see once every year, if that. It might not be as good as face-to-face contact, but it’s also creating some habits I want to keep going well after this has passed.
But I still find myself occasionally flinching when people ask how I am, or about work – if I admit I am worried, will that make me seem weak? Cast doubts on my professional savvy? Will spelling out my concerns somehow make them materialise, and make a worrying potential future a concrete reality? It’s silly – rationally, I know it’s silly – but it still feels very real. And I also know I’m not alone in this. I know freelancers terrified to admit work has dried up because they worry it will reflect badly on them and lead to even harsher droughts in future. I know single people going mad with loneliness and afraid to admit it because they worry it makes them look like tragic losers, and mums struggling with home schooling, feeling like terrible parents. But we’re all in unchartered waters – there’s no shame in admitting when we’re floundering.
I’m not sure I have any answers to this. My own favourite way of cheering up friends – well-applied random giftage – has been ruled out by my current financial circumstances, so I have been focusing my energies where I can. I make an effort to message friends regularly, I use my social channels to promote my friends’ art and indie businesses, or to support organisations and venues I believe in, and I have been trying to do at least some of my lockdown shopping with local, indie businesses, in the hope that my custom, meagre as it is, contributes to them weathering the storm. And though I am Practically Useless in Every Way (no, really, I am), the one talent I do have is writing, so I have used my now-expansive free time to help friends with everything from revamping their CVs for a post-Corona world to creating website content to writing letters to MPs to lobby for support packages for their industries.
You might feel like you’re not in a position to help anyone else – and you really might not be, which is no reflection on you, we all need to cope as best we can – but you also might not realise just how much sending that joke to a friend meant to them, or messaging your favourite author about how their book cheered you up makes their day, or that sharing your friend’s Etsy shop on your Instagram led to some sales that really helped their business. And while we should avoid the pressure to strip our souls bare for the edification of others, sometimes just being honest about our struggles frees others to admit to their own.
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Newcastle-based rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1