At the time, my culture website – ramonadepares.com – was finally taking off, a project that I had dreamed of forever and worked on for the best part of the previous year. My idea for Malta to finally have a digital portal 100% dedicated to cultural journalism seemed to be turning into reality, and it was exhilarating and scary at the same time.
If you had asked me what my biggest fear was, my answer would have been likely to be: growing faster than I can cope with. Then COVID-19 hit. And suddenly, my dream was in danger of dying at an even faster rate than it had taken off.
By March, self-isolation became a reality for the majority of people around me, including artists. All events for the foreseeable future, including all those I had been working on, were cancelled. I embraced this new development in a flurry of activity – an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out. So determined was I not to let this unexpected hurdle stop my trajectory, that I decided that the only way to deal was by creating. I couldn’t let a pandemic stop my plans! Never mind that it had stopped the plans of millions around the world, I was determined that it would not happen to me.
Thus started what I now look back upon as my ‘hyper’ phase. During the first three weeks of isolation, if I was not working, I was writing or creating social media content. Poetry, motivational posts, videos… I viewed it as my own, personal #covidchallenge. I needed to create something every single day just to make me feel that I was not wasting my life.
It took me a while to recognize this flurry of activity for what it really was – a (thankfully minor) case of anxiety. Zero activities mean zero revenue for the entire arts community, although I was lucky enough to have another source of income. But what I had not realized before this, is that in reality the biggest worry is not about the loss of revenue. It about being forced to hit the pause button with respect to a major aspect of our very identity.
Artists and culture practitioners thrive on socializing. The arts community is very much about physical presence. From attending an average of five cultural or social events a week, I was suddenly facing the television set every night. I suspect I speak for most of us when I say that this enforced isolation was somehow even more frightening than the financial drought.
Being part of this community is about maintaining a strong presence. It’s the only way we bond. What would happen to us now that we could only bond through Zoom, Skype or Facebook? Would our friendships shrivel and die? Would we all have to start rebuilding our professional lives from scratch, when things went back to normal? Would we be – shock, horror – forgotten?
Happily, now that a couple more weeks have passed I can see that this is not necessarily true. We are more resilient than we appear. The collective of quirky souls that is the arts community in Malta has somehow rallied and, in many ways, we are making a bigger effort to connect. Touching from a distance, as singer Ian Curtis would have put it. And yes, we are still creating, and taking those creations to cyberspace. As for me, I’ve decided to take a less furious approach. To enjoy the bouts of creativity when they knock, and to stop being so hard on myself when I’m just not feeling it.
Words by Ramona Depares.