January in review

Time always seems to take on an elastic quality in January; the month can appear to stretch so that, by its end, it’s hard to believe we haven’t really moved on and are still stuck in the middle of winter. The sense of time taking on a different meaning in January has certainly been reinforced by how much seems to have taken place in the outside world in the space of thirty-one days; already the month is divided up, in my mind at least, into the “before” and “after” of major political events and the reimposition, here, of a national lockdown. It has been a month in which feelings of fear and sadness have oscillated with those of hope and optimism. January 2021 has, it seems, been the entirety of 2020—its best and its worst—distilled down into a single month.

On a more practical level, time has become increasingly precious this month as my partner and I, like millions of other parents, juggle work, home schooling, and the challenging joy of 24/7 childcare. Here, we have returned to a pattern we adopted last spring: we divide the day into two four-hour shifts (08:30–12:30 and 13:00–17:00) for work and home schooling/childcare, come together to cook and eat at mealtimes, and try to keep on top of emails when our daughter has gone to bed (although that point in the evening has been creeping ever later). For us, this is the least-worst model, but it is, of course, far from ideal—while the time available for work has halved, the amount of work remains the same. It is a familiar frustration.

I was very fortunate at the beginning of January to take part in a virtual writing retreat organised by Dr Joanne Norcup for the Historical Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG. The retreat—which operated via Twitter and Zoom—was a great opportunity for participants to set writing goals, report on their progress, and, at the end of the retreat, to discuss strategies and to share hints and tips. I have tried, as far as possible, to maintain the momentum the retreat gave me. The retreat was also helpful in reminding me that, while the length of my working day has been halved as a result of home schooling, I am still able to devote four uninterrupted hours to research and writing each working day—something that feels like a real privilege under the circumstances.

Progress reduced to its basic unit of measurement: words per day.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, I have been increasingly less productive (at least in terms of raw word count) as time has progressed. In November, I was averaging 930 words per day. By December, this had reduced to 865, and in January it was down to 650. By and large, this is a simple function of having less time each day in which to work, but is also—perhaps inevitably—the consequence of the accumulating fatigue that each week of home schooling adds. Trying to write a historical monograph in four-hour bursts is also far from ideal; I find it takes me at least an hour each day to get back into the rhythm and thinking from the previous day and that I only really begin to hit my stride when it’s time to stop. All that being said, I am closing in on the 25,000-word mark. Although this is a welcome (although entirely arbitrary) milestone, it is giving me some cause for concern; currently each of those 25,000 words is part of the book’s first empirical chapter which is, itself, a long way from being finished. At this stage, however, I am putting that worry to the back of my mind and focusing on moving the book forward, certain in the knowledge that a good deal of restructuring will be required at a later stage. Looking ahead to February, my main task will be to bring this Caribbean chapter to a final close and to turn, then, to follow Macintosh to India.

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