After waking up to an orange sky on January 1, I didn't think 2020 could get much more dystopian - but I wasn't counting on a global pandemic.
Life is pretty good in my 'bubble', but it's also filled with contradictions. I'm flat tack with my paid work, and bitterly envious of everyone who seems to have time to bake bread and learn new crafts ... but I'm also so grateful to have a job. I'm following 'the rules' to protect my health ... but in my efforts to stay two metres away from an oncoming pedestrian, I slipped on some slime and smashed both my elbows (I had just had surgery on one of them). I'm experiencing the little griefs that come with being on lockdown ... but I'm so lucky to live in a country where most of us won't lose people we love.
Being in the midst of a shared, global experience, trying to simultaneously acknowledge my personal disappointments and my privileges ... it's discombobulating, to say the least. It also feels hard to help. I cared for a self-isolating family member for two weeks, I've taken a couple of older neighbours under my wing, and I've made a donation to a local food bank ... but it doesn't feel like there's much I can do to be of practical use.
My Bruce Goes Outside picture book (which I've worked on, on and off, for about two years), and Pet, my collection of short stories (which I've worked on, on and off, for many more years than that) will still be published this year ... but quite when, or quite how I will celebrate their releases, I'm not yet sure. I hope that in-person friends and snacks will be involved.
I decided to illustrate each of the stories in Pet with a little black and white thumbnail image, and working on these in the evenings has been a welcome break from the computer screen. Above are two of my favourites so far - a kitten and a couple of possums. The stories are relatively dark, so I'm trying to make the pictures as cute as possible as a counterbalance.
I have also applied for funding to turn Pet into a podcast series. If my application is successful, perhaps that will be a little way in which I can support others - even if it's only by giving them the ability to take a mental break from COVID-19 for a little while. (I know I am appreciating podcasts for that reason at the moment!)
He waka eke noa. I hope you're all doing okay.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.