Towards the end of March, my friend Gillian Shirreffs and I had a highly-caffeinated Zoom chat. This led to a writing project designed to see us through lockdown.
Gillian and I are both writers. (She’s a novelist. I’m a poet.) We’re both studying for PhDs. (She’s in Glasgow and I’m in Edinburgh.) Also, we both have MS.
We wanted to think of something
- to keep ourselves occupied through the long locked-down days
- to distract us in the dark days when the weight of news and anxiety feels heavy
- gentle enough to fit round our workloads, energy and fluctuating symptoms
Reaching out through writing
And so, our shared Google Docs were set up. We decided we both wanted to write every day. A day’s writing can be just a couple of sentences. Heck, it can be a single word. The quantity and, to be completely honest, occasionally the quality are unimportant. What is important is that we write something, anything, and reach out to each other every day.
The project pretty quickly evolved into two projects, each with its own shared document. The first document has become a space where we write whatever we feel the need to talk about on that day. It’s become part-journal and part-pen pal letters.
We can write about MS there, and occasionally we do, although most of the time we don’t. A bonus of both of us having MS is the unspoken understanding, not needing to explain.
Sharing memories and new routines
More often we write about daily lockdown life – how to negotiate social distancing during daily walks, the joy of securing a supermarket delivery slot, what’s for dinner. We write about the way we live now but, as we have settled into new routines, increasingly we’re sharing memories and anecdotes from before Covid-19.
Birdsong, beloved dogs, imaginary party planning, crowds, sunlight, disastrous teenage pen pal exchanges…if we’ve thought about it, chances are we’ve written about it.
Certainly, I’m finding real benefit to the project, and I think Gillian is too. After all, like me, she opens the documents and writes in one or the other every day. Without doubt, the project gives structure to our days.
It’s something familiar in a world that is both strange and repetitive. The document is a space to be silly, or grumpy, or sentimental. It’s a space to rant, a space to reflect.
Sharing deepens our friendship
So, why not just keep a journal? A big part of the enjoyment for me is opening up the documents each day to see what Gillian has written.
As I wrote on 10 April: ‘Every day is Advent now. Each morning brings its own treat, but - oh! - your words are so much better than tiny, rationed chocolates that taste of their cardboard windows.’
Or as Gillian wrote on 15 April: ‘Humanity helps. Reaching out across a google doc at a time when aloneness is a shared experience...Writing helps.’
Through the shared document, we prod each other with our words. Rather than revisiting the same ideas over and over in a journal, we find new inspiration and riff on each other’s musings. This project kindles new ideas, keeps us creating, keeps us going. This project deepens our awareness and deepens our friendship.
Where’s the cherry red Audi TT going?
And the second document? In the second document we are writing a novel. We have no idea where it’s going and neither do the characters, last seen hurtling down the M8 in a cherry red Audi TT. Yet, we are having a lot of escapist locked-down fun, throwing plot twists and curves at each other day by day.
That’s literally a whole other story.
Georgi's poetry and MS study
I'm also running a poetry and multiple sclerosis study at the University of Edinburgh.