So there’s been a meme going around during coronavirus quarantine to the tune of “When Shakespeare was quarantined during the plague, he wrote King Lear,” presenting this fact as a level of productivity for us to aspire to. There have been all sorts of hot takes on whether this is at all a healthy pressure to put on ourselves in a time of crisis, but there’s one aspect of the argument that I’m not sure I’ve seen addressed. At the time, (if I’m remembering my history right) William Shakespeare was already a blockbuster playwright and an established shareholder in a successful theatre company that he wrote for pretty much exclusively. Which is to say, he had money in his pocket and institutional support, and knew that it was basically a done deal that whatever he wrote during the theatre closures would get performed and earn him more income when the playhouses opened back up. So the faster he wrote, the quicker he would start making money again once things blew over.
I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve actually been pretty damn productive during this thing. Working on two different projects at once, getting a decent chunk done every day or thereabouts. My secret? Just as the virus was starting to spread internationally, I received a grant that gives me just enough per month to keep food in my belly, the internet on, and a roof over my head. Also, both of those projects aren’t on spec (the way I usually wrote before this), they’re commissioned by theatre companies who are actively awaiting the scripts. I don’t have to worry about basic things so my brain is free to create. I’m INCREDIBLY lucky.
So if you’re out there wondering where your next meal is coming from, or having to go out and risk your own health and the health of those you love every day just to know where that meal is coming from, and are still able to put anything at all out into the world, I stand in complete awe of you. And if you can’t get anything to come out of your brain right now because it’s processing grief and worrying about much more basic needs, there are seasons for everything so be gentle with yourself. I know a lot of that has already been said in a dozen different ways, but just thought I’d add my voice to the choir saying, yes, situation and context matter here. Be faithful to yourself in the way your particular circumstances dictate. Don’t strive to be Shakespeare. Be you. The specific, lovely, messy human you are. Let this time deepen your understanding of who you are individually and how that ties into who we are collectively. That’s the gift you can give the world right now. It’ll probably contain fewer archaic words that don’t mean what they used to than King Lear, and for that we can all be grateful 😉