Coronavirus Diaries: The Dublin writer who's 'sheltering in place' in an eerily still New York

For this Dublin-born writer, social distancing means coming to terms with New York's eerie stillness — and avoiding the subway at all costs 


The irony of suffering from writer’s block while having nothing but time to tackle the long-form projects I always said I would get around to is not lost on me. As a Pisces cooped up solo, it seems my only consistent hobby at the moment is daydreaming (very on brand) — no matter how many idealistic to-do lists about said projects I jot down each morning.

Writing for publications and brands is my 9-5, and like so many others around the world, the steadiness and future of my work is now compromised and unclear. That sense of uncertainty is likely why I am feeling lethargic and uncreative when it comes to putting my thoughts on paper. Yet it’s probable that the overarching reason I can’t seem to find enjoyment in writing right now is because the very city that never ceases to inspire me is currently “on pause.

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On Sunday, the streets of SoHo, which are usually a veritable zoo of activity, looked like a scene from a Spaghetti Western before a showdown between two bandits takes place: bare, silent, tense. The roads, normally awash with yellow cabs, honking cars and harried cyclists, are now barren save for the odd food delivery messenger, urgently rushing up and down on a push bike. Every storefront on every block, save for those deemed “an essential service”, is boarded up and closed for the foreseeable future. It’s the type of calmness that’s jarring, particularly for a metropolis that is known for infamously never resting. 

While the city landscape is one thing, it’s the subway that feels particularly dystopian. Being in an unsettlingly empty cart underground while the only other commuters are wearing Blade Runner-esque face masks is enough to give even the most resilient person goosebumps. If I really have to get somewhere, even if it’s a two-hour walk away, I’d rather the air and the step count.  

Speaking of steps, I’ve rediscovered the simple (and free!) joy of running with a solid, deep house playlist for company. I am almost embarrassed that I didn’t take advantage of living 30 seconds from the East River walkway before this period, and I now savour and appreciate the backdrop on a whole new level. With 30,000 gyms across the U.S. shuttered, the population's collective return to running is certainly evident and it’s refreshing to see the diversity in age, race, body shapes and fitness abilities. When it boils down to it, we’re all just trudging along trying to keep our physical and mental health ticking over right now. 

To fill the days, when I’m not procrastinating on a deadline or pitching editors borderline begging for work, I’m trying to slot in my favourite restorative workouts to pass the time between meals: Melissa Wood’s app is a library of gentle-but-fire-emoji Pilates and yoga flows for only a tenner a month, and I’m enjoying Taryn Toomey’s legendary and transformative method, The Class, via streaming.

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Turning my phone off for intervals allows me to clear just enough head space to write an article, instead of losing hours looking at quarantine memes. I’m catching up on shows I previously abandoned due to lack of time, like The Morning Show. Or just some therapeutic and familiar episodes of Sex and the City (season four, with Aidan, will always bring me comfort) when I just need some background noise.

I’m also reading an advance copy of Stephanie Danler’s new memoir, Stray, which is so searingly honest in its descriptions of her drug use and childhood that it can gut you at times. The author, known for her equally-addictive debut novel, Sweetbitter, is one whose work makes me remember why I want to be a writer in the first place.

If anyone is looking for a book or show to get lost in, I can vouch for the latter. Podcast wise, I’ve almost made it through every episode of Hilary Kerr’s Second Life, in which she speaks to inspiring female founders about their career changes. Who knows, maybe this week will be the clean slate I need to actually take heed of their inspirational trajectories and hit up one of those lofty, aforementioned long-form projects I’ve been dossing on. 

Just two weekends ago — which admittedly seems like last year — I celebrated my birthday with friends in some of my favourite bars in the East Village and Williamsburg. I marked another year older and bolder, feeling like I had little worries in the world, despite whispers of what could come as the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed earlier that week.

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On Friday evening, I joined those same pals and we had the same laughs, although this time it was via a virtual House Party. If you don’t have the app, I wholeheartedly recommend it. There were vodka shots, music, slagging matches, a game of Heads Up — and genuine conversations about peoples’ worries and fears as we all grappled with losing work or financial stability in some way. It felt like a testament to how important and salvational your friendships are, even if it’s via screens for the time being.

New Yorkers, the natives and the blow-ins, are workhorses and we typically pride ourselves (sometimes to our detriment) on our ability to never slow down. I’m taking this inflicted pause as a rare opportunity to reassess and reconfigure what’s actually important. If nothing else, this period of downtime has already allowed me to think about the value I should be adding to the world going forward.

This extended time at home with my thoughts is also highlighting the importance of life’s simple things and placing a new weight on how I must appreciate them when the world starts turning again. In the meantime, seek what restores you, call your people, ground yourself, and try to calm your overthinking. Oftentimes, pressing pause helps us to better understand the overall storyline.      

If you want to be featured anonymously in our Coronavirus Diaries series, contact [email protected]

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