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Playing while the ship sinks

April 2, 2020

Famously, the band on the Titanic played while the legendarily ill-fated ocean liner sank to calm the guests. While we’re in extraordinary times – social distancing, one form of lock-down or another, schools closed, working from home, furloughed, or worse – hobbies and pastimes can seem like frivolities from another era, but they’re more needed than ever.

I rediscovered running, what, some fifteen years ago after a period of exceptional busyness at work. Work was thankless, relentless, and multiplied like topsy. Running was something I could control, a pressure valve.

Now, working from home, only discipline can create a proper barrier between work time and home time. There’s even a (slightly crappy) meme doing the rounds at work:

In 1665, the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to the Bubonic Plague, forcing Isaac Newton to work from home. During that time he developed calculus and the theory of gravity. It was his annus mirabilis! What are you planning to do?

Shitty work inspo meme

Sure, Newton might have made hay while the sun shone, but did he have a thousand-and-one back-to-back Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Teams meetings? Did he have to homeschool his kids? Did he have the lurching existential dread of the daily death toll and a news update every thirty minutes and the endless churn of doom prophets on social media? Did he have to craft some less-glib form of words than ‘Dear so-and-so, I hope you’re not ill so I can chase you for that thing I asked you for in the absolute eternity ago that was last Tuesday’?

The idea that whatever you’re doing – be it work or home – has to be some kind of great magnum opus of monumental significance is hugely harmful. Now more than ever we should be embracing the little things that we enjoy, whether they’re going to revolutionise the world, or just kill a little of this strange time and give us back a little control.

I’ve been enjoying running for the sake of getting into the fresh air and getting away from my desk. I’ve finally sorted through a box of wires I’ve been carting around for ever, and in the process established the kind of retro video game set-up that would have had my circa-2001 self in awe. I’ve started writing again – a handwritten journal to process all the dark stuff, this long-neglected blog, and an utterly inconsequential fiction about a cafe. I’ve made some time for sketching and doodling.

None of this is groundbreaking; none of this is going to change the world. Probably very little of it will see the light of day. But while the boat’s sinking, the most the majority of us can do is stay safe, stay sane, and play on.

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