Setting Sail

When I think of the word “coronavirus”, I become conscious of my lungs.

I feel the head of a sail tied around my vocal chords, the luff drawn down the mast of my spine, tack tied to the pit of my stomach. Tobacco-stained, slightly ragged, it thrashes in anxious winds, snapping this way and that, twisting over on itself, knots within knots.

The breath has cultural and spiritual significance. It is the physical centre of many Eastern religious practices. The virus attacks this centre, the very system that produces breath, the effluence that marks the space between the living and the dead. It poisons the red roots that give us this life.

If we are to take this virus seriously as creatives, then we should know it for what it is, for what it does, and face it head-on. In his essay I, Coronavirus, Bayo Akomolafe calls it Mother, and identifies her as creator and destroyer, clearing the air of our carbon decay while tearing apart our lungs [1]. His tone is awe-struck, perhaps over-awed. Maybe that’s just how I read it.

But it is this frame of emphasis, and how he moves it around, that is most compelling. If I were to compliment it with an image, it would be a pair of pneumonic lungs. You’d feel the plunging effort of your breath while looking at it. For me, this writing is my struggle for breath.

Sometimes I confuse the words convalescence and convulsion with one another. In lockdown this was a dangerous mistake; there were moments I got so twisted up inside that I thought I’d turn inside out, my sail folding over me like a winding sheet.

The more I try to write these posts, the more it dawns on me that an autoethnographic account cannot be sanitised. Fooling yourself only muddies the page, warps the frame, obscures the image.

Apparently nearly everything else can be sanitised: hands, worktops, floors, promises, expectations, statistics. Communication. This is the “official” narrative of the virus, and all things are to be cleansed of impurity as long as it exists; the ritual must continue again and again and again. An alms-giving to empirical science and dismal economics.

Lungs filling up with whitewash. It doesn’t improve the image. It doesn’t help inspire the creative id. I must be honest.


I work two jobs, one during the day as an undertaker and pallbearer, the other at night as part of the transfer team for the coroner. This means I usually deal with old people and funerals during the day, young people and overdoses at night. As one might expect, these jobs can be both dangerous and interesting, not always, but they have that potential, especially during these “trying times”.

During the peaks of the pandemic, the workload could be overwhelming. I would often work on call with my day job late into the night, only to have to attend a call from the other early in the morning. The pattern would cycle around to the next day and I would go home and try to write something for my course before the next call. Rarely would something be written.

At those peak times the mortuary would be full of coffins on sets of load-bearing wheels, they would overflow into the cold rooms, into the chapels, into the embalming room, into the workshop. Staff would push themselves between the fleet, shuttling them back and forth, only to encoffin more of the deceased, more for the voyage. We’d go out to care home after care home, hospital after hospital. We’d go to people’s houses and secure their recently-passed to carry stretchers and struggle down the stairs with a strained air of dignity as the family looked on, gasping in our masks, steaming up our face-shields, sweating in our Personal Protective Equipment. It became routine.

Apart from my recent financial woes, at least you could call it a living. Or maybe you shouldn’t.

I speak of this because it was my experience of the pandemic. It didn’t really help my creativity. It got in the way, and it seemed to make my writing cold and anemic (I sent a weird piece declaiming the merits of solitude to a writing competition, which they coolly passed over with Wittgensteinian-esque silence).

When I had time off, I usually didn’t know how to spend it in a way favourable to recuperation. I would pace around my bedroom, back and forth. After a while I started pacing around the kitchen and dining room, until someone else living here said I looked like a caged animal. So I went outside.

I would take a walk around the block and eventually it became my route. I would pass things along the way that would make me think; a vacant, neglected playground, a murder of crows cackling in the arms of leafless trees, a pond full of rubbish near a place called “The Keep”. A plant tray sat on a garden wall with a sign on it saying “Help Yourself”. There was nothing in it. For a while this is what I noticed. It took me a while to see the good in things, but my route was a kind of “detox”.

That walk was more of a boost to my creativity than the surreal absurdities of funeral care during a global pandemic. My sail only fluttered, breathing became easy, the image formed clearly in my mind.

Two very nice people on my course have recently produced a blog called the Elpis Anthology. Soon they will be showcasing pieces of writing from that anthology based on the theme of Hope, which looks to be more than what you’ll get here. Please take a look, and thank you for reading.

[1] Bayo Akomolafe, I, Coronavirus: Mother, Monster, Activist (2020) <> [accessed 7 May 2021].

The view from my bedroom window is a sweeping scene of the woodlands of Stanmer Park. From my bed I can sit back and see where the tips of the trees touch the sky, where each trunk is a silver pencil mark in the fog and the shade of the land turns from fern green to honeydew, to thick strips of barley brown.

If I start early enough, I can watch the sky bleed its warm gold down the fingers of the tree tops, over the roof shingles spotted with blue green algae, feel the split beams of light glow in patches on my face. By mid-morning this light will usually pass into a dullness, like the world has forgotten itself, before a recollection, or a rebellion to its loss, cracks the sun over an afternoon in full flow. As I watch I feel myself within that sky, as if the yolk had burst in my own chest. I watch as if commuted on rays of light, laid to rest, for a while, on the shoulders of the horizon.

O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold this swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright. [1]

I can’t imagine Shakespeare in lockdown; wearing a face mask, queuing for the last pack of toilet paper, whooping and banging a pot for the NHS. Of course I can’t. I can’t imagine him being anywhere or doing anything. He is just a pattern of vague impressions on my unconscious; of general culture, of a simple education, of limited personal experience with his work. However him, sitting back, watching a day rise to its feet, that I can imagine. That was why the words came to me.

It was a Monday. As rare as poetic moments are for me, I didn’t hurry from my bed to search for a pen or a notebook. There was no pressing need or excitement to catch anything, because I didn’t want to reach out for something only to lose it again, or to be disappointed by it on closer inspection, or to have it open up into something more difficult, more hurtful, more confusing. I was hungover, and I felt relieved that I was, because it meant I had an excuse not to try. Everything is about trying now. Lockdown is about trying while slowly being restrained and smothered and contorted into painful and unfamiliar shapes in familiar places.

A lockdown cannot be said to have worked until your thoughts and behaviours have been locked down. Until you have been locked down. So while I thought of Shakespeare’s black ink and the love that may have shone from it, I did not look for my notebook. I was locked down.

Yet today I am trying. Today I am writing. What has happened to cause this change?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure. In fact, I’m asking myself the same thing. But at least this seems to be the thread of a beginning; I am able to write because I am asking myself.

There is a research method, a way of exploring the qualitative experiences of one’s self, called autoethnography. It is an approach where the writer locates themselves in an experience and relates it, with the intention of constructing a narrative, a record of themselves within a particular time and space [2]. An autoethnographer writes such an account with the awareness that the social and cultural spaces they exist in leave impressions upon them, and that therefore they must conduct their research with honesty and care, and with respect given to the limitations of a subjective narrative [3].

Autoethnographers may emphasise different aspects of the practice; some may weigh an importance on the self (the -auto of the term), some on the sociological connection (-ethno) and others on the application of the research process itself (-graphy) [4]. The element that distinguishes it from journaling or diary writing, is that the approach is investigative; there is a method of application, there are data to be collected (that of the experience), and there is the outcome of writing a relatable account of experience.

What experiences? They can be on any topic, some autoethnographers have written on the experience of surviving cancer [5], on being an adoptive mother [6], or have given a character portrait of their grandmother [7]. The point that we should try not to vary on, however, is the honesty of our account. We should try to be true to ourselves, to respect our research, and more importantly, to do our stories justice. Adhering to this simple principle can prove to be very difficult, as I will explain in future posts.

So I am able to write because I am asking myself. I am my own subject of research. It has given me a voice, for now.

I am an autoethnographer. Anyone can be.

So if you, the reader, are struggling during lockdown, and want to be creative, and are searching for a way back to your creative voice, why not sit down and give the most direct account of how you feel right now?

I have given you something of my own account above. I was as honest as I could be. Show me the window to your horizon. More importantly, show it to yourself.

[1] RSC, William Shakespeare: Complete Works (London: MacMillan, 2008), p.2446.
[2] Norman K. Denzin, ‘Analytic Autoethnography, or Déjà Vu all Over Again’, Journal of Contemporary Autoethnography, 35.4, (2006), p.419.
[3] Carolyn Ellis, ‘Heartful Autoethnography’, Sage, 34.5, (2005).
[4] Sarah Wall, ‘Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography ‘, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 7.1, (2008), p.39
[5] Carolyn Ellis, ‘Heartful Autoethnography’, Sage, 34.5, (2005).
[6] Sarah Wall, ‘Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography ‘, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 7.1, (2008), 39
[7] Carol Rambo, ‘Impressions of Grandmother: An Autoethnographic Portrait’, Journal of Contemporary Autoethnography, 34.5, (2005)









Our Journey Beyond Four Walls

On the 23rd of March, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the British public “must stay at home, and that certain businesses must close” [1]. In that moment, the UK joined the rest of the world in a wave-like motion; a bunkering down and a turning inward of billions of people, necessary to avoid the threat of a global pandemic that swept its own figures over the earth, pouring through our cities, our communities, our bodies.

It was called the coronavirus, but virologists knew it as a variant of severe acute respiratory-syndrome related coronavirus, shortened to SARS-CoV-2, and a variant successor of earlier SARS epidemics that had spread through Asia [2]. We in the UK knew the acronym, if only that.

Earlier SARS epidemics eventually stopped in their tracks. This time it was different.

This blog will be my attempt at tackling a particular aspect of the lockdown experience. My experience. I am going to tell stories of creativity, burn-out, depression, inspiration, whatever happened and whatever continues to happen. Such an idea may seem slight in the foreground of such exhausting, difficult and tragic times, but I believe it to be necessary.

For those of us who believe in the value and beauty of creative work, as an art of communication, as an act of care and an area of exploration, the strictures of lockdown inevitably had an effect on our work. Besides this, it undoubtedly had an effect on our minds, our mental health and our routines. Self-preservation could seep into the language of self-care; feeling the corners of our social lives shrinking around us can make us feel desperate, reduced to our base elements.

But it could also lead to new forms of expression. Silence and solitude bring forth introspection, and allow us to pose new questions to ourselves. To work with these questions, to turn them into speech and words and pictures, is to locate ourselves within a space and come to terms with it. To become a wave turning inward is to pass over a familiar shore again and again, lifting its silt, pulling at its shape. A new familiar becomes…

So this means that I am also looking for your stories. As I share my own, I extend this invitation to you, and encourage anyone reading to submit their own pieces of art that might be relevant to the question of inspiration in the time of lockdown! Feel free to post or comment below.

Along the way I will be discussing the creative approach of autoethnography, and promoting interesting ways to encourage exploration in your writing.

Thanks for reading, let’s venture out on a journey beyond…

[1] Full Fact. 2021. When did lockdown begin in the UK? – Full Fact. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 March 2021].

[2] Gorbalenya AE, Baker SC, Baric RS, de Groot RJ, Drosten C, Gulyaeva AA, et al. (March 2020). “The species Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus: classifying 2019-nCoV and naming it SARS-CoV-2”Nature Microbiology5 (4): 536–544


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