Lockdown Diaries Part 3

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 40 No. 5, May 2020

Sanctuary asked conservationists from different areas of work (researchers, writers, photographers and filmmakers) how the COVID19 lockdown has impacted them and their work and how they are advocating for wildlife and the environment while staying indoors. In the third part of our series, writer, editor and author, Sejal Mehta, tells us how she is staying inspired and creative during the lockdown.

Sanctuary: How are you managing your time between work and home, to stay productive, while also focusing on your mental health?

Sejal: To be honest, it took me a bit to find a rhythm. For the first week or so, I was grappling with the news, the collective trauma of the world, the guilt of having it better than most in the country, all of that. Not to mention the absolute train-wreck of dedicated writing time between housework. But gradually, I have found a balance -- news capsules were to be taken once a day, not 24/7, days allotted to tasks / lists of chores (cooking + bills + salaries) / sacrosanct writing time (this became non-negotiable, even it meant only sitting at my desk and reading up). I am also constantly being asked by interested people, where they can donate during the lockdown, so I spent some time creating a constantly-developing document that includes organisations I personally know and trust so people can facilitate, donate, with suggestions from a trusted network.

Sanctuary: How are you translating your work to move completely online?

Sejal: I am in the middle of a research phase for a long-form writing project. The virus -- and the restrictions that it correctly demands -- has put a massive obstacle in my path. No interviews, no travel, no site visits, so I am doing the next best thing -- reading everything I can find on the subject, and making notes for when I can leave the house, and city. For Marine Life of Mumbai, we're doing fun activities, like quizzes. We are doing virtual walks with archival footage so people can see the sea, the sunsets, the city, and the shore creatures. Attempts at more personal writing are, well, slow and sporadic, but I hope to do better. Snaggletooth (my merchandise) is on hold, because deliveries cannot go out. When I feel slightly more creative, I'll make more sketches.

Sanctuary: What are some old habits you've lost after the lockdown began and new habits you've gained (these can be work-related or otherwise)? Can you share some that you've found particularly useful in helping overcome personal obstacles?

Sejal: I've begun to read again, something I haven't been able to for years. I've started making actual notes about things that fuel growth, across genres. If I read something that makes me think, I pause to actually make connections. For example, I was reading Cities and Canopies, and now I've been attending online webinars and if there are plant/tree references, I am literally taking the trouble to cross reference. I know this seems basic, but I was shocked at how superficial my knowledge intake had gotten, from quick reading and bite-sized news. 

I have off days that require a superhuman effort to even sit at the desk or pick up a book -- those days I don’t force myself to do much, or anything at all. It’s okay to be unproductive on some days; we are not machines, or contestants in a race. In a crisis, I always reach for the funnies. Be it books, shows, podcasts, I find humour a massive relief. As humans, we have a tremendous propensity to laugh (we also deflect through humour, but that's for another story). So I am literally re-reading Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods), consuming 'Schitt's Creek' and listening to ‘The Moth’, a podcast that tells stories across genres.

A bat roosting site that Sejal observes from her window across the street, hoping fervently that this time of extreme prejudice against bats passes soon. 

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