Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after spending days cooped up inside because of bad weather while holidaying in the Swiss Alps. To pass the time, Mary and her companions decided to tell ghost stories, which sparked her imagination and led her to write her most famous work.
Like many young people, when lockdown was first announced I mourned my social life and my (now cancelled) summer plans. However, after an initial slump, I realised this would be the first time since childhood where I’d have this much free time; unrestrained by uni deadlines or the incessant FOMO that often forced me to socialise in the past even if I didn’t particularly want to. I could finally start writing my Oscar-winning script, inspired by the deep and philosophical thoughts that would surely emerge during this peaceful solitude.
Two weeks in and I hadn’t moved from the couch. I’d successfully binge-watched all seven seasons of Orange is the New Black, downloaded TikTok, attended Zoom parties, and spent nearly every second refreshing Instagram to see if anyone might, miraculously, be up to something exciting. My plans for becoming the next Sofia Coppola faded away. As I scrolled endlessly through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I was bombarded by adverts for online courses and an uneasy sense of guilt settled in my subconscious.
It eventually dawned on me that it had been three weeks since the start of lockdown and there hadn’t been a single moment where I’d found myself with nothing to do. My notebooks were still in my suitcase, my camera cushioned inside an Ikea bag full of clothes I’d never got around to unpacking. The horrible reality of modern life revealed itself to me: that with the vast assortment of entertainment online it was nearly impossible to be bored. Procrastination could so very easily and sneakily expand to fill every hour of the day.
But did it really matter? There was a pandemic going on. I deserved to give myself a break. Besides, even if I did write a script, I wouldn’t be able to film it and that would only make me feel worse about the restrictions. Suddenly, an advert for a lockdown film competition appeared on my feed, looking for two-minute films. It was as though someone had heard my thoughts, or perhaps tracked my google searches. Either way, I decided I would enter the competition just so I could rid myself of the guilt, gnawing at the back of my head. A two-minute film wouldn’t require much work and there was no pressure for it to be good because I knew already that without proper equipment or willing actors it was never going to be what I envisioned.
It was the first film I’ve ever written and directed. For so long I’d been planning to write, but a fear of failure and a desire for perfection had always made starting unbearably daunting. I spent a night coming up with a storyline. As the script started to take shape, I felt a surge of excitement. It was invigorating and refreshing, the same kind of satisfaction you get from running or eating tasty home-cooked meals. Most people agree social media can be addictive and, like chocolate, it can only temporarily satisfy a hunger for stimulation. I felt like I’d finally broken free from a numb stupor, a zombified state of mind, where I’d been stuck in a cycle of excessive consumption. The process of writing and filming my script was like a mental detox.
I wonder how much more creative I would have been if I’d lived before social media existed. Making the film with my brother revived memories of childhood, before the invention of the iPhone, where we’d spent every day playing strange, imaginary games. However, everyone has to grow up and, whether good or bad, social media is here to stay — and it definitely has many pluses, especially during a pandemic. Indeed, social media has acted as a lifeline for people, allowing them to connect with friends and family and get distracted from the distressing events of the ongoing crisis. It has also been essential for creatives, providing a platform for online festivals and exhibitions as well as a space for people to sell their work and collaborate on projects. In fact, after making my film, which ended up being five minutes instead of two, I entered it online to film festivals and it won an honorary mention award at a festival based in Berlin.
Lockdown provided the worst conditions for making a film, and yet without it I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to start writing my script. I’ve learned that creative limitations can actually birth really unique ideas. I might always struggle to draw myself away from my phone, but at least now I’m aware of its power over me. Unless I actively set time aside, in the world we live in, there might never be a free moment. Perhaps Mary Shelley had it easy, but then again, she will never experience the pure joy of ordering a large pizza off UberEATS and stuffing your face while binge-watching the new series of Bridgerton on Netflix.
[Rachel MacLean – she/her – @rachelmacl.2.]
[Photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko]