The Lockdown Diaries: Week 10

by Janice Nigro

Entering double digits for weeks in lockdown in California. I think we’re beginning to come out of it. That’s about all I’m going to say because life can go on somehow for those of us without a health crisis.

Ten weeks in though and I can’t shake the strange factor. Nothing is yet routine. The beaches are open, but after all this time without them, I’ve stayed inside working this past week. Even over the holiday weekend. Surprise to me, my clients from other countries have been busy writing papers and other documents that they pass along to me for polish and discussion. Yay for them.

But if there is a theme about this last week, it’s about going outside of my comfort zone from the confines of a small apartment. Finding freedom without being free.

The work stuff. I usually have a lot of time to work on the projects my clients send me. This week I had to see how I could work under a rush deadline. Editing isn’t so difficult to do under a tight deadline. Making insightful comments on what’s missing in a document is. Just as for any other creative process, science ideas take time to stew, to percolate before they become tangible.

I only had about 48 hours to edit a piece. Science, especially in grants, can be meaty, or dense material to follow, but minor organization and polish is easy enough to do with a basic grasp of the concepts. The problem came this weekend when I was asked to write a summary about the work I was helping with. This is an impossible task if you don’t have a good grasp on the basic question. As a writer, I know for sure, the key to a piece about anything is knowing why you are writing it. Some people might be able to fake their way through it. I can’t.

I wrote a summary to get myself warmed up. Blah, blah, blah, I wrote, pretending I knew what to write. The words were uninspiring. Lead. I knew it. It helped though to force myself to write something, anything because I soon realized why it was that I didn’t know what to write about.

I sent off my version with a couple of questions and got a quick response from my client in another time zone. I told them what the problem was for me. Their response was, “Yes, I know, tell me how to fix it.”

Ugh. I stared at the screen for hours. I tried painting for a while. Then went back to staring at the screen. I stayed up until 01:00 Sunday, filling my brain with the science facts in this piece, and then decided to sleep on it. Let the magic happen.

The answer wasn’t there when I woke up. But a question was. It kept bugging me. “What was different about what this client was doing?” It didn’t seem all that different on the surface. Cutting edge technology can seem like a deflection, if your biological question isn’t clear.

Then I stepped into the shower. Pop, it occurred to me then how to put it together. Changed a few lines and the client was happy.

I was nervous for those two days that I wouldn’t be able to find a solution in such a short time for something so big. I did, though, and we both learned something.

Having managed that crisis, I now had to ask myself, “How do you charge for an idea that comes to you when you’re in the shower?”

Now for the fun stuff. Yup, I joined an art group online. I’m learning so much probably because I know very little about painting or even just color. Painting, drawing or making art in any media is one of those skills I’ve always admired in others. How do you look at a piece of stone from a mountain or a blank canvas and fill it with something beautiful? I mean my photographs are beautiful, but I so want something born from my imagination to come life on canvas.

This is not easy. Those abstract paintings you make fun of? Not easy.

I tried painting classes in Norway, in a class setting, really just to learn Norwegian. My paintings were terrible and the teacher teased me in Norwegian without my understanding his words. I made a hilarious Norwegian friend in the class who told me about the teacher, which made it all worth it to me. I also got over not stressing about the outcome in that class. Painting class was supposed to be a different exercise for my brain.

But like science, if someone can break the process down for you, you can start to produce work that even you might like. I’m shocked. Last week I did a piece that started with something I hated. That’s where I was told to start – bring out something that was in the morgue file. It turned out great (all things are relative) and when I showed people in the group how to put their art on a card, that post got more engagement than anything I’ve ever put on social media.

This artist has hit on a so-called pain point and her business idea took off like overnight, under lockdown. But let me say this, she has been working toward such a goal for years. Maybe she didn’t know it. Then Covid-19 happened, we all started to think about what was most important to us, and a new aspect to her business was born. Smart lady but she’s the real deal. She’s not just selling her artwork, she is telling us how to make our own. Teaching us to fish.

I’m not sure if it’s more fun to see the surprise endings (some end horribly) in my own paintings, or those of all the others in the group.

Let me be the first to admit that my work is not going through the pretty phase yet. I’ve not reached my orbit so to speak and not sure I ever will. In the meantime, I’m finding freedom while not being free.


Until next week…happy cocooning.


©Janice Marie Nigro/

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer ResearchPLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


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