Covid Lockdown 2020. Like the rest of the country my two younger boys were doing their learning at the kitchen table. My husband was working in the office upstairs, my eldest home from his first year in uni and leaving me without those precious hours during the day for writing. I spent most of the first weeks on the verge of tears at the idea of pressing pause after waiting so long to have space in my day to do it. The kitchen table is my writing space.
Pre-Covid changes, I would settle my anxieties by sea swimming with salt-keen friends each morning after dropping my middle son at his specialist provision. Post-Covid, not only does driving specially for swimming contradict my consideration for limiting my CO2 footprint, it was hard to know if it was allowed, so I only swam when we’d cycled to the beach or combined with the supermarket shop.
I needed to find a way to keep my anxiety in check as well as find time to write if I was going to have any hope of meeting my MA deadlines. I’m a recovering insomniac, who wakes at every floorboard creak, with two boys who struggle to sleep. My middle son (autism) talks to himself, processing his day, until 11pm. My eldest is mostly silent all day long and then, come 11pm, he switches on, plays guitar, piano, and chats online. He had his own deadlines to meet finishing his first year remotely. We’d just spent an intensive four years working towards his dream of studying composition at uni, living independently. It isn’t easy to get home tuition, where tutors come into the home, the only way he could manage it, sorted out. He couldn’t access school because of his physical response to the environment; noise levels, artificial lighting, busy corridors, expectations to behave a certain way all made his body shut down. His anxiety was overwhelming and physical. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep but would crash after 36 hours of being awake. He couldn’t talk. He only felt safe in his room.
What saved him was music. I made it my priority to do what was needed to help him rebalance his ability to cope in the outside world. He went to music workshops, concerts, had one-to-one lessons. It was a world where he could be himself on his own terms and be with others. Through it all, I was happy to focus on his needs, because I was nurturing my long-held dream. His determination to compose, not paralysed by potential failure, was a major inspiration. Slightly ironic that once I had taken this leap into prioritising my own creativity he came home three months early. His routine, essential. I needed to find some other way to make time. The only space left was in the early hours of the morning. I love getting up early but I struggle to manage it on little sleep.
But I couldn’t give up writing. Not even temporarily. Luckily for me my youngest sleeps early and is up about 6am. He isn’t quiet. I used to hear him, groan at being woken again, and stay in bed happy to drift in and out of sleep until I had to get up. I started forcing myself up and gradually it has become my thing. I get up just after my youngest. There’s something about writing immediately, with the early morning light scorching the window, which pushes me forward. Just like my eldest son uses the night time as his sacred creative space; the knowing that everyone else in the world, even when we know most of the world is on a different time frame, just getting up or sipping afternoon coffees, in our small part of the world, our centre of the universe, the world is asleep. There is a quiet. A stillness. Everyone’s nervous systems are switched off. This cavity, this void, in time just for us to focus on our work. Early morning writing is just like this.
And it is everything I need to feel whole. When I close my laptop down at 8am, like I am just about to do, and go pour pancake mix in the pan to feed my hungry boys, I can do the rest of the day, I can face it all, because I made the space for myself.
Stephanie is a writer, translator and parent-carer studying a Creative Writing MA at Lancaster. Previously she co-founded a series of community garden and woodland projects. She lives in Cornwall with her family, four cats and ten alpacas.