I write this from our home in Amsterdam, entering our third week of quarantine. A quarantine that could last well over 12 weeks minimum, according to the latest news reports.
As I type, the overriding thought going through my mind right now is: what the fuck am I doing?
Hear me out. It’s not as existential as it sounds.
After endless news watching on all devices, incessant amounts of video calling for work, endless video calls with friends and family, regular exercise and a strange indoor happy hour with a weird array of leftover spirits at 6pm, I’m starting to grow tired of my desperate scramble for a sense of routine and normalcy.
In the 14 days that have passed, my positive "can do" waves of optimism are waning, overtaken by feelings of acceptance and even pathos.
This is not a normal time. There’s nothing we can do to control that. And that’s OK.
A little over a fortnight ago, I was travelling all over for work, from New York to Seoul. When at home in the Netherlands, most of my time was spent at the office, in client meetings or plotting in restaurants and bars with friends and colleagues.
The sudden stillness this lockdown has imposed on myself and my family is deafening.
I’m sure it has been for you, too, reader.
It has forced me to stop dead in my tracks and ask "What the fuck am I doing?" in all aspects of my life.
Under the shadow of a looming recession and, even more seriously, the societal challenges that will make the difference between life and death in the coming weeks, asking myself this question has actually been my major silver lining so far.
You should be asking yourself exactly the same question if you haven’t already. Here’s why.
First, and quite abruptly, I’ve been forced to ask myself: what the fuck have I been doing with my home life all this time?
So often playing second fiddle to the needs of work and the requests of clients and employees, my relationships at home have suddenly become pivotal to keeping the aforementioned on track.
Full disclosure: I run my creative consultancy, Soursop, with my wife Lucy. And this actually means even less time devoted to our personal relationship, because of the demands of running a business.
Suddenly, we not only have the time to reset the balance, but it has become essential to keeping our business going.
Spending 100% of our time together pretty much means that we also have to get on and re-engage on so many levels. In confronting all the stuff that’s all too easy to ignore when everything is "normal", we’re finding a new level of sync.
We don’t have kids, but those of our friends on lockdown with their little ones have echoed this. It’s fucking tough going, but who knows if we would have ever got the chance to really work at all of this if we hadn’t been forced to?
A second quite frightening realisation is asking myself: what the fuck have I been doing with my time? I have been surprisingly productive when I put my mind to it (partly to keep boredom at bay).
I’m questioning all of the "Really busy" responses to "How are you?" I so often give.
I’m getting done what I’d usually achieve in a 10-hour working day in less than four or five hours, just because I’m spending more time doing and less time chatting.
As the meme goes: "Turns out that meeting really could have been an email."
And as Microsoft claimed last year, perhaps a four-day working week might not only be possible, but actually more efficient.
This leads me on to a third revelation in less than two working weeks. Why the fuck am I avoiding the projects I love and the people who emailed for help? Suddenly, I can legit spend time pursuing the projects that don’t pay and help the people I had politely turned away because of time restraints.
I’ve got three documentary projects in development already: one around youth resistance in Kashmir, one about an extraordinary engineer in Ethiopia and one around SoundCloud rap fans across the US.
It’s been so gratifying just to pursue something purely because you’re interested in it, with no other motive than seeing it come to life. It’s also allowed me to reconnect with directors, writers and artists from my former life in feature film, TV and editorial in a totally new context. And it actually didn’t eat as much time as I thought it would.
Likewise, while for now our business continues, for others, especially in the world of production, paid work has ground to a halt. For a lot of our freelance friends, a huge sense of uncertainty and anxiety has appeared pretty much overnight. While we can’t offer answers, we can reach out and listen, empathise and help work through others’ thoughts and concerns.
Even in a mentoring capacity for younger people in the industry, making time to pass on tactics, contacts and honest advice has been rewarding to say the least. It makes me realise that when all is said and done, we are in a people-first industry.
Most importantly, perhaps, I’ve gained some real perspective by asking: why the fuck am I taking this so seriously?
My sister is a doctor in the NHS working at St Thomas’ in London, specialising in geriatric care. She’s preparing for the most daunting challenge she will probably ever face in her career. She’s going to be forced to make incredibly tough decisions in a healthcare system that is going to be tested to breaking point.
Listening to her, apart from being a total inspiration, offers a heavy dose of perspective about what is essential and what is not right now.
Whatever we do to keep ourselves occupied in the coming months, with all the anxieties and challenges this throws up, by staying at home and sacrificing our small part we are supporting something much bigger.
Without life, there is no life to live and certainly no products to sell or people to entertain.
So ask yourself the bigger questions during this reset. In our short time on this planet, should we be wasting time doing things that aren’t really going to make us happy in the long run? And what are the things that actually make us happy, when all is said and done?
Look, I’m not a "mercury in retrograde" person, and I’m sure that when we eventually get back to business as usual I will probably read this back and laugh at it.
I’m not going to unlearn the habits of a lifetime in a few weeks.
And I’m not going to be able to maintain all the "good" habits I do pick up when the rules of the game return with all of their usual antics.
But at least I can ask myself "What the fuck am I doing?" more regularly and more honestly. Perhaps it will help me break out of the patterns of normalcy that often hold me back – in the fullest sense of the word.
And perhaps it will make us all think "You know what, fuck it" a little more often.
Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock is co-founder of Soursop