Experiences of 2020

Rachel - Magazine Editor & Communications Officer

On day 7 of lockdown I wrote this: I was supposed to spend the weekend writing that book I've always wanted to write, but I can't bring myself to open the Word Document on my laptop. Isn't this what I wished for? A quarantine-shaped excuse to finish the book. But now it's the Word Document that's holding me hostage and the whole world won't be released until I comply with its demands: to finish the damn thing. Then I remind myself that this is a pandemic, and not a writing retreat.

204 days later, I still haven't opened the Word Document. And I'm trying really hard to not be hard on myself for not working hard on it. For the first fortnight of lockdown I went into survival mode to distract myself from the collective trauma of the pandemic. I climbed up Arthurs' Seat every morning before work, trying to keep up the pretence that I am healthy and invincible at 24-years-old while breaking news alerted me of the soaring death tolls.

I've been living alone for the majority of this year, and have consequently realised how much I depend on friends and family for nourishment and inspiration. Everything feels lighter when I'm in their company. This year I've learned that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I distinguish between the showy squares of Instagram which capture happy couples are perfecting sourdough bread and what happens behind the scenes. When restrictions eased, I made active decisions about who I let back in, and the company I keep.

Creative progress has certainly slowed this year, but it has made me reflect on whether how much I take on is sustainable. I co-edit a feminist arts magazine called The Debutante which is my pride and joy. The magazine investigates the legacies and continued relevance of women surrealists in contemporary artistic practice. Issue 2, which published in October 2020 (a few months delayed for obvious reasons), explores artistic journeys across borders, seas and psychological landscapes, and confronts ecological and transnational crises. My co-editor and I are still learning a lot from what 2020 brought to the fore. With the resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, and given how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted under resourced communities, issue 2 strives to be more intersectional in its feminist approach. It's part of a wider learning process, and it's by no means enough.

I will finish that book, but I won't touch it this year. I'm focusing on creative projects which bring me (remotely) closer to people, as I rely on that contact and connection to maintain good mental health. It's still in its early formation but I'm starting up a writing column called 'Scottish Women Curators'. This will be a space to conduct feminist interviews about curators' career journeys, challenging curatorial conventions and discuss fantasy exhibitions. I love forming bonds with inspirational people, and learning from their experiences. Watch this space!

You can find Rachel on Instagram at @rachel.ashenden / @scottishwomencurators or email her on rl.ashenden@gmail.com for potential collaborations.