Register Sunday | August 9 | 2020

Conversations in Quarantine: Charlotte Gill

This interview is part of a series of conversations with Canadian authors about how they're coping with the pandemic, how they're writing—or not writing—and what life is like for them now.

Charlotte Gill is a faculty member for the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia, as well as the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program at the University of King's College. She is the Rogers Communication Chair at the Banff Centre, and the author of Eating Dirt, an award-winning book about tree-planting.

In late March, she sent out a tweet asking people to share pictures of their workspaces—as is, without having been prepped for Pinterest. Over one hundred people responded!

andrea bennett: What did your life look like before the pandemic, and what does it look like now?

Charlotte Gill: My existence is typically pretty low-key. I live in a remote community on the upper Sunshine Coast of BC, where I spend quite a bit of time outside. I'm a telecommuter—I teach writing online in a few places. And then I squeeze my own writing in between those commitments. Soft pants are my world.

ab: Earning an income as a freelancer often involves some amount of financial uncertainty. How have you historically navigated that, and how are you navigating it now? Does financial uncertainty affect your ability to be creative?

CG: Although the shape of my daily routine hasn't shifted that much since COVID-19, I've lost a fair chunk of work due to cancellations or just general uncertainty. My spouse's business is all but closed. But in a way, preparation for lumpy finances is cooked into the freelancer life because gigs fall through or pay late all the time. I feel lucky to have a few income streams. A lot of people have lost 100 percent of their income, and that’s brutal.

ab: What made you ask people to share pictures of their workspaces—and would you mind showing us a few of your favourites?

CG: One day at the start of the lockdown, when my workspace had really reached its nadir of chaos, I just threw this invitation out on Twitter for others to share their offices, nooks, beds—wherever they had been working. No tidying, no staging of props. It was a fun, positive distraction.

Some favourites: 

ab: One last question: when I think of tree-planting—a thing you did very well for many years—I think a bit about the monotony of the task of planting, planting, planting. I think that sense of monotony is something a lot of people are struggling with right now. Do you have any suggestions for what to do to get out from under it? (And keep planting, or writing, or tackling one's mountain of dishes for the 98,783rd time?)

CG: Believe me, I'm having just as much of a hard time focussing right now as anyone else. It's difficult to continue to work on old projects or to pitch new ideas when it all seems so small and banal compared to what's going on around us, or what might be in the future. I'm suddenly awash in time, which would otherwise be incredibly precious, but it's hard to write, for a lot of us, I'm guessing. It's probably a great time for taking a creative leap in one's writing, or trying a new genre. I'm reading, taking notes, reminding myself to appreciate the simple things.