26 Mar 2020
Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.
As both a hypochondriac and someone with a compromised immune system, the last few weeks have been a trying time, to say the least.
After watching what's unfolded overseas, and having quite an intense conversation with my doctor, I decided to self isolate.
So 10 days ago, I went and bought what I thought was two weeks of food (lasted four days), put on my best track pants and retreated back to my house in Laingholm.
Since I work from home and live in the middle of nowhere, the first couple of days didn’t feel that different. I hung out with my pomeranian, Prince Chilli and documented the joys of isolation on my Instagram.
But on day 4 things took a turn.
My friend who I share the dog with took him to Raglan. With my sidekick gone, I had nothing to distract me from thinking about germs and things got weird.
I watched a youtube video with a surgeon demonstrating how to wash your hands properly (turns out I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time).
I was too paranoid to pick up the mail and knocked it out of the letterbox with my elbows, kicking it down the drive and into the house.
I rewatched The Wire for the 100th time and freaked out that I couldn’t remember hardly any of it.
I also got organised.
Just a man and his dog - Dominic and Prince Chilli. Photo: Laura Vincent.
I realised pretty quickly if I wanted to keep whatever semblance of sanity I had left, I needed to keep creating.
To get the ball rolling, I started running my weekly writers workshops online via Zoom. I decided to try and learn how to use the internet properly and organised some online shows.
To keep whatever semblance of sanity I had left, I needed to keep creating.
I’m also trying to break the back of a new play, which I’ve been chipping away at for almost a year now. It’s a strange feeling, writing something to be performed in public when you don’t know when you’ll see anyone in person again.
Dominic when we were still allowed outside. Photo: Tim D
Writing novels has been good training for this moment. I’ve spent months at a time locked away writing in some of the most remote parts of the world. There are a few things I’ve picked up in that time that apply to our current situation.
Firstly, slow down. The day is long, so don't do everything in the first few hours. It’s amazing how long you can make breakfast drag out for if you want to.
Another point is you’re going to eat all the food. I don’t want to encourage panic buying, but it seems like the more I buy the more I eat.
And lastly, and this might fly in the face of what a lot of people are recommending, let go of routine. I find it’s much better to be disciplined, tell yourself these are the things I’ll do today and cross them off the list as they get done, whether that's at 9am or midnight. Trying to replicate your work-week in your house is a recipe for losing it.
There’s a meme going around at the moment essentially saying, you don’t need to write a novel while you’re in isolation, which is totally true. I imagine for lots of people this will be their first chance to take a breath in years.
But using this time to be creative doesn’t have to mean undertaking a massive project. Things are going to get strange over the next month, and having an outlet for our anxieties and fears will be important.
I always tell my students to write about the things that have been going around in their head or have been on the tip of their tongue. This is the stuff that needs to get out, and in my opinion, makes the best work.
Things are going to get strange over the next month, and having an outlet for our anxieties and fears will be important.
A fun exercise is to give yourself three or four lines to get an idea out. It forces you to condense your thoughts down and get to the heart of what you're trying to say. And remember it’s fine to create something that's just for you and is never going to see the light of day.
I hope everyone stays safe and sane, and you all have some comfortable track pants.