My process for writing stories consists of a last-minute dash to a deadline, and a timely set of triggers.
The first trigger was my intermittent social anxiety meeting COVID. Unlike its usual manifestation, COVID brought out an interesting new angle as the pandemic unfolded, where emerging from lockdown produced the curious experience of feeling I’d forgotten how to acknowledge strangers. As a bit of a country girl, this had always been one of my points of pride against an ever screen-attentive world, yet here I was suddenly fretting as another person came down the street opposite me and I did not know how to acknowledge them. The pandemic had painted other people as potential risks – to not venture close to in any way.
The second trigger was one week where I stumbled into a YouTube rabbit-hole uncovering cases in history where people had lived without human interaction for years, such as children raised by wolves or a daughter locked away in a Victorian-era attic. I felt I understood a little of their wildness and utter bewilderment when brought back into society. Of course it would be overwhelming.
The third trigger was a particular image I came across while doom-scrolling Instagram. I wish I could find it again, because I tried and can’t. It was a realistic-styled piece of commercial art from the 50s, depicting a sea of businessmen and women dressed in suits, furs and statement hats propelled into peak hour traffic, each in motorised glass capsules. The capsules arched tall around them as they stood. No-one was looking at each other; they were just blinkered strangers edging through the traffic.
The fourth and fifth triggers were my slow consumption of the Netflix series Black Mirror, as well as the feature Ready Player One. These inspired a tech-driven dystopia, which felt much closer to reality as the world-wide lockdowns forcibly imposed a retreat to cyber space for me and the people around me.
And with that, I started to imagine what it would be like if this pandemic had been going on unrelenting for decades. Particularly, from the perspective of a generation of people growing up and knowing nothing else: how they would interact with others, how they would live, and how they would view the risk-laden Outside. Perhaps they had never been there. Perhaps everything was technologically enhanced to make the perpetual inside bearable – like food, exercise and school.
The final trigger was the flood of video pouring out of social media and becoming the trendy way to communicate. It felt very one-sided and showy, which Amanda Palmer had already summed up so well - “There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen. One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen.”
I remember before my Nanna passed away a few years ago, we would visit her in her nursing home. She would look up with clouded unseeing eyes and hold out her hand to touch ours. I think that seeing is an act of the soul, and when it happens, it is a faultless connection.