The Reading and Creative Writing group finds novel ways to meet during social distancing
By John Mackay, Group Leader
What’s the similarity between E. M. Forster – author of the classic 1910 novel Howards End – and a piece of cheesecake? Well, leaving aside my favourite dessert for the moment, Forster’s much-quoted phrase ‘Only connect’ makes a plea for different parts of society and individuals to be interlinked. His books frequently emphasise the value of personal relationships.
The idea of connecting has acquired fresh importance in these highly unusual times. A potentially deadly virus has forced people around the world to remain indoors and distance themselves from loved ones. Of course, remote working was a thing long before Covid-19 reared its head on these shores, but now we’re all doing it, frantically trying to bridge impossible geographical gaps with the help of a laptop and an increasingly overburdened internet connection.
The concept of remoteness does not sit easily with our Reading and Creative Writing group, where the dynamic of the sessions during so-called normal times at Ecas is very much one of vigorous discussion and uproarious laughter. Physical presence and emotional connections are crucial. How could we make the switch to becoming an email group, where interactions are effectively virtual and silent?
Well, in short, we become more creative. We share links to virtual tours of galleries, such as the Louvre in Paris where digital images provide a stimulus for writing, or online streams of plays previously performed at London’s National Theatre and Hampstead Theatre.
There are quick and quirky writing exercises. In response to a request for a 26-word story in alphabetical order, using every letter, one of the group produced this memorable piece:
A big caterpillar dances every Friday going home in July kissing lizards making nice ordinary people question really stupid things under view with X-ray yellow zits.
Also, a round of applause for the writer who circumvented the tricky ‘x’ factor by imagining ‘xtreme zebras’.
We had a go at writing a 14-line poem where every line ends with the same word. Not as easy as it sounds, but a special mention to the member of our group who made us view the humble ‘coo’ in an entirely new light. This stemmed in part from a news story we shared about the residents of a town in Derbyshire who gather on their doorsteps and in their windows every evening to engage in a ‘two-minute cattle chorus’. In other words, they all moo very loudly.
Whether you’re mooing or writing – or doing both at the same time – the point is that being remote does not have to mean being removed. Some of our members make good use of the group emails simply to send out a friendly greeting, or check everyone else is OK. Small gestures are hugely important.
And the cheesecake? Last week, my downstairs neighbours left a large slice outside my door after a home-baking session. Food for the body and the mind: only connect.