- Editors' IntroductionMore Than a Virus
When we first started thinking about this Special Issue in our home country of New Zealand, we had little sense of what the future might hold. Emerging from a very strict lockdown—where one of us found herself in an isolated rural community, unable to return home, and the other was confined to a small suburban space with a dog, two children under the age of five, and a husband, and both of us with doubts as to what our jobs would look like when we were "released"—our minds were strictly focused on the pandemic and its immediate impact on our day-to-day lives.
At the same time, in the unfamiliar context of isolation, we connected with a colleague from Edinburgh, Michael Kelly—someone Annemarie knew from sabbatical trips and conferences, but with whom she had never worked. Enquiring first about his health and circumstances, the two started chatting from afar. Cherie joined in, and instead of fretting about the difficulty of undertaking research activities during lockdown, together we ended up writing a paper comparing the metaphors implemented to refer to the pandemic in our various media settings [End Page 295] (Lacey, Kelly, and Jutel 2020). We went on to author other papers together, and to establish a new research relationship.
In August 2020, after submitting this first paper, and well before any country was out of the woods with regards to the pandemic (New Zealand included), the idea that we might consider COVID-19 as a shared experience gave us pause and pushed us to develop this special issue. We wanted to explore the dialectic of commonality in the experience of the pandemic. In our own email communications, our narratives moved between intensely felt personal anecdotes that highlighted the pleasures, stresses, joys, and breaking points in each of our own lives, and a sense that we were living through what was, perhaps, the most universal of any event in modern history.
The political rhetoric of the year almost universally relied on a narrative of common experience. But, although a sense of shared experience may be a fundamental human need—and indeed may help us to get through a crisis as it unfolds—the longer-lasting meanings of our "common experience" and what it required of us remains elusive. These past 18 or so months have seen an abundance of essays that try to make meaning of the pandemic experience. Often, these essays move between highly personal experiences—the domestic minutiae of lockdown life—and an awareness of the lines of shared humanity that cross-cross the globe, drawing it close.
Of all the wonderful essays that have been written during this period, Zadie Smith's "Something to Do," from her slim collection of six pandemic essays, Intimations (2020), is a favorite. In "Something to Do," Smith reflects on the experience of trying to work in a household in which her husband is also a writer and with a four-year-old child to look after in lockdown. In what is by far the best simile we have encountered in pandemic writing, Smith reflects on what might best be described as the collective madness that drove those of us who are nonessential workers to keep trying to work and write, even as the world fell apart around us: "What strikes me at once is how conflicted we feel about this new liberty and/or captivity. On the one hand, like pugs who have been lifted out of a body of water, our little legs keep pumping on, as they did when we were hurrying off to our workplaces. Do we know how to stop?" (22) Smith's essay takes us into her domestic space and describes the pandemic from a perspective which can only be her own. Despite the fact that Smith and her husband Nick Laird happen to be two of the most respected writers on the planet in our current moment, somehow Smith's experience also feels very much like ours. Like Smith, we were also compelled keep writing and working, pug-out-of-water-like, during the lockdown period. Perhaps the drive to keep...