When I had my namesake blog, I used to write a post every December 31st and look back on the year, then set a number of resolutions for the year to come. I did this for about 6 years just before I moved to the UK, and then gave it up, not least because I never actually did anything about my resolutions. The posts were mostly a reflection, a melancholy one, on the time passed and it did me good to think there was a plan.
A few weeks ago I wrote this. It’s a post about what happens when fundamental, structural change happens and it’s a post rooted in deep, deep anxiety. Since then, I have all but stopped writing, have posted occasionally on social media but have been in anguish about it, and it’s all come to a head in the last few weeks when, with London having gone back into a near-lockdown, me getting a random bout of idiopathic tinnitus and my partner getting sick with what I can only assume is COVID.
Change is scary for me, especially when I cannot control the coordinates of change. In this particular time it’s been terrifying to realise that the very threads of my existence are no longer within my control but in the hands of people who don’t really seem to know what they’re doing. There are three areas of concern for me, things that keep me up at night and make it impossible to concentrate meaningfully on doing the stuff I’m passionate about:
The macro-context of COVID management in the UK → having started with a sense of a shared responsibility — I did my part and the government did theirs and this would all work out, I am now mired in doubt about what it is that I should be doing and whether the government really knows what they are doing. The balance of responsibility has shifted significantly towards the authorities, because I feel unprepared to make decisions based on the information I have.
Let’s talk about that statement for a second. I feel I cannot do much because I have been given too much contradictory information. This is a key feature of the past couple of months in the UK. There are so many threads of information circulating, and please understand that I don’t mean conspiracy theories or unverified stuff, that it’s become near impossible to understand much. To give you one example: a week ago, all our building received a letter saying that a rapid testing community centre was opening one block down from our house. I walked and got tested the next morning, it took 7 mins and I came out with a negative. My partner got sick a few days later so I went again to take another test just to see if this was COVID and I may have it too. I queued for 2h and came out negative again, only to get home to a notice that the centres were to be closed because 1 in 3 tests had provided false negatives. Was I negative? I did not know. Was I supposed to stay home? I did not know. Was my boyfriend infected? We did not know. We eventually ordered a PCR testing kit online and are still waiting for results. Meanwhile, news has reverted on the community testing centres, with experts in Liverpool and Kent Universities saying they’re actually useful. So what next? This is just one example of how reading news for me has triggered an impossibility to do my part. I am no longer sure whether I can do anything and would gladly just lock myself in the house but for my sanity.
So, reverting to the original argument, I started this year with a sense of shared responsibility with local and national authorities but information management on the topic of COVID has rendered me mentally inert, leaving me in the hands of a government which is, by all counts, unable to make the correct decisions either.
The need to be moving forward in a moment where everyone is telling you to stay put → I have, in the past months, spent an inordinate amount of time “passing time”. This is different from being bored which, as we have all read, is highly beneficial and recommended. Being bored means there is nothing to do not from lack of options, but because there is a certain laziness and leisure involved. Being bored is having a choice between a number of things and not fancying any. Being bored does not want to push time forward but rather to revel in the stillness and inertia of the moment. Compare it with the “passing time” we’ve all had to do as we stay locked indoors, stealing a moment of respite from Zoom meetings and childcare. This felt different because the implied time passing was done so we can get over this, and move to a time when this was no longer our reality. Passing time in COVID was an acceleration towards the time when we went back to our normal lives.
I’ve spent much of this year making plans as if life was returning to normal. Mostly booking train rides and hotels and cancelling them. But largely, I have tried to behave as if this was not going to defeat me, and I could get on with my life as I had planned. However, after September, all that got more difficult. Somehow, something changed and things started to not work the way I was expecting. More often than I had planned, events got ahead of me, things were cancelled without my knowledge, people decided to change their minds, plans were accelerated leaving me behind or stalled, making it impractical for me to tag along. By November, I found myself wondering if my own plans were going to stand the “passing of time” and by December I was beginning to doubt that I had made the right plans.
And before you jump to conclusions, no, these were not holiday plans. They were plans about where to live, how to work, where and how long to travel, what to pursue intellectually, etc. Today, I am unsure about these as I was when I first made them, and it’s not because I think they are no longer beneficial to me but simply because I am unsure whether the world around me will make it possible for me to pursue them anymore.
And yet, I feel the need to move forward in a time when everything is uncertain. When making decisions is near impossible. When we’re all “passing time” until the time we can be normal again. Which is, in itself, a fallacy.
Where my profession is going and how we’re going to get there → in the context of the wider conversation, this may seem an unimportant point but for me it’s never been less important than other aspects of my life. My job has, at times, defined me and it continues to be a huge part of who I am. I am not ashamed of that and while it’s generated some measure of extra anxiety, I believe it’s also made me engage with the craft more meaningfully. I find it hard to understand how you can contribute to something you have no personal stake in.
I also wrote this a few months ago. I was in despair about my writer’s block and I feel comfortable enough today to say that it was caused less by lack of inspiration and more by the absolute terror that I would get slated on Twitter. I used to be Twitter’s biggest fan but in the past year I have started to feel what other people have been complaining about for a while now: gratuitous meanness, a sort of pleasure in pointing out where people are wrong, ad hominem attacks and especially a community of people whose primary concern is to discuss positions, firings and hirings, block one another and primarily NOT discuss anything that had to do with the job. This all came to a head when I RTed a thread started by a marketing “guru”, suggesting it was worth reading and could stimulate further good conversation only to be told off by the same guy in the most aggressive manner.
All of this resulted in me feeling uncomfortable to write anything without extensive research and especially feeling scared to voice opinions. So I stopped writing and posting and started writing fiction on a substack to keep the habit going.
But this raises an even bigger question for me: how am I going to get better at what I am doing and how is what I’m doing going to evolve if we as a community are not talking about anything except to point out how wrong everyone else is? In marked contrast with all this, a research paper by Les Binet on Share of Search was widely discussed and for a moment, it felt like there was great, meaty chatter to get involved in.
We have a lot of things to contend with in this profession. The dismantling of old operating models, the fact that lots of money will have to go to building different types of infrastructures possibly to the detriment of our ability to do advertising the way we’re used to, the introduction of new concepts that we promote to clients but often cannot explain to ourselves, the fact that marketing is still mired in contradictions about measurements and ROI, all of this makes for a most exciting field to be in. The more sensible approach would be for us to work together to advance it.
That’s all really. I’ve been thinking about all of this for the past 5 days of being inside, reluctant to go out because my partner might need to self-isolate. I also have a sore throat and last night had a bit of a fever. Could be nothing, but I can’t tell anymore. So I don’t really have any resolutions, I have wishes.
I wish for clarity.
I wish for inspiration.
I wish for enthusiasm.
I wish for camaraderie.
I wish I could see my mom and dad and my two best friends.
And I hope in 2021 I can be bored for at least 5 days.