Thursday, July 29, 2021

Salma Hussain : Writing a Novel in Captivity: A Writer’s Day in the Decade that is Covid-19

If one were to attempt to write a novel trapped in a quarantine bubble with two pint-sized humans, one working-from-home room-mate/co-parent/Netflix companion/fellow prisoner and one surly four-footed feline, here is how one such typical day might unravel:

Wake up early. Do nothing but proceed to writing table.  Toothpaste, dirty sock, stray toy, cat cuddles be damned. Write wildly, freely, unabashedly for an hour or two (depending on how early you managed to get up). Hear the stirrings of mini-humans and proceed to washroom. Shower. Brush teeth. Stretch. Head to the kitchen and enjoy a hot breakfast with the little munchkins and bleary-eyed room-mate aka dishwasher companion. Set up the little creatures on their e-devices. Settle down with own e-device within supervising distance (but not interacting distance) and plug in headphones. Read for the next three hours. Intersperse reading time with breathing techniques and Buddhist mantras as elementary-aged children challenge your budding nirvana state with:

“Moooom! What’s two times three?”
“MOM! How do you spell cat?”
“Mama, why is she staring at me?!”

“Hey mom! Mom! Mom! Heya mommity mom! I dropped the hairbrush in the toilet.”

Enter lunch-time. Throw wilting produce, lentils and haphazard collection of Indian spices into pot. Stir for thirty minutes! Waah bey wah! As good as granny-ji’s lovingly-made khichri back in the motherland. Wheedle children into eating home-cooked goodness inspired from the motherland. Receive retching sounds. Accept defeat. Construct North-American looking sandwiches. Wash and cut fruit. Draw the line at mac and cheese. Now their turn to accept defeat.

Nudge the children back into basement and back onto e-devices. Log on across the internet for thirty minutes of you-time – yoga delivered by a young, attractive not-Indian. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are a lotus. Suffering is inevitable. Pain brings growth. Yes. Yes.


Zone out repetitions of “let’s circle back to number four on our agenda,” from the upstairs level and “Mom! The cat threw up again” from the lower level. Mutter fuckity fuck under your breath. Spend the last ten minutes in the shavasana position delivered by the not-Indian. Inhale first they colonize you, you uncivilized savage then they culturally appropriate and commodify you, and you pay handsomely for this experience you deluded fool. Exhale. Turn your mind to other things and freak out about the self-imposed deadlines on your novel. Despair. Despair deeply. Snap out of it. Roll to your side and slowly rise.

Make a hot drink. Suddenly (and this is to happen suddenly every single day) the children are released by the underpaid, overworked guardians/overlords of their remote-schooling institutions and the hot drink is to go cold. Encourage a game of chess with the heathens that emerged from your yoo-ha. Perhaps a comfy session of quiet reading, my sweet darlings? Admit defeat as they hit each other with stuffies and jump on the sofa. Drag them out into the cold for a walk. Despair that you live in a climate with only two and three quarter months of good weather. Wave at fellow ghoulish neighbours from a six foot distance. Smile serenely. We are ok. We are ok. Far from boiling point. We are ok.

Return to hot dinner prepared by the one you promised til-death-do-us-part-but-no-one-said-anything-about-a-global-pandemic. Homework-time. Piano-practice-time. Do-you-think-your-cousins-in-Lethbridge-are-free-for-facetime time. The one who they made you promise in-sickness-and-in-health-but-no-one-said-anything-about-seeing-his face-every-single-day-for-every-single-hour-since-March-2020 puts them to bed and story times them so now you can squeeze out another two hours of writing, revising, imagining, creating and recreating. Arise from writing table feeling victorious. Glorious. Another day managed. Another day conquered. Tally up your words and fill your chest with pride and joy. Eye them words like the jewels they be.

Forget that you are an overworked, underpaid artist. Merrily deal with that dirty sock, the stray toy, the needy cat and those pearly whites.

Inhale. Exhale.
Rinse. Repeat.




Salma Hussain’s prose and poetry has appeared in filling Station, Line, Other Voices, NOW magazine and in the anthology, Homebound: Muslim Women Poetry Collection (Outburst Press). She won the International Festival of Authors’ Litjam short story competition in 2018 and her debut novel for kids (and kids-at-heart), THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN (Penguin) comes out in May 2022.

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