Skip to main content

Finding connection

By May 10, 2020May 22nd, 2020No Comments


Before Covid-19 isolation began, Sarah Maria Griffin had begun building a community in a shared office. Now back working from her home, she writes about how watching YouTube journallers is in a small way helping her to feel less alone


In the months before all this began, I moved into an office. A shared space with a group of women. Tall windows, high ceiling. Plants. Good company. This was something I had wanted for a long time, having worked for myself and by myself for the vast majority of my adult life: a sense of quiet, ambient belonging.

It was a huge deal, in that it wasn’t a huge deal. It was just something really nice that happened. In the enormous image of things that have been lost during the time of Covid, it is just one tiny fractal. I feel an intense need to preface any slight mourning I do of my life before with this understanding of the big picture we find ourselves in: my father had Covid-19, I am not without perspective of what the virus has done and is doing as we stay in our homes.

However, I felt as though just before all of this I had achieved something resembling a routine, a rhythm, a sense of place. I was happy to go into the building every day, happy to see the women I sat with. I miss them. Working from home had, over the years, changed me from a gregarious twenty-something into a 30-year-old who had very limited social energy, who was wary, bad in groups. In finding this office, I was ready to leave this behind, the cramped walls of the terrace house, the stark lack of natural light, the days and sometimes weeks, where I would see nobody but my husband.

In the new tilt of the pandemic, I am here again. I am safe, I am healthy, but I am back within the four walls where my mental health crumpled like paper, and by the time I ironed myself out and folded myself back into a human shape again, I was different – to myself, almost unrecognisable. This new shape was the one I took into the office. It matched, perfectly. In working from home – doing jobs that previously required my presence in other rooms via video, chipping steadily away at my next novel – I am trying to placebo the things I liked about that space into my new environment.

Some of these things are healthy: I have a plant now. A Monstera, unspooling oily new leaves every day, tilting towards the window. I text one of the girls from the office every day, tiny sentences. How are you pal, alright friend, how you holding up – tiny threads of retained connection. How easily that could have been lost, how every short nudge holds power: I have not forgotten you. It’s not the same as sitting across the room, but it’s something.


The strangest thing – perhaps the least healthy, or saddest, I can’t tell – I have picked up in the space my disappearing office routine left behind is a fixation on a strain of YouTube video that I had previously been opposed to the idea of at all. In the way of the algorithm, one popped up in my recommended bar and I followed it, pliant, then found myself obsessed.

This is how the internet works, really, a series of fishing hooks, our mouths open, hungry. Look, I’m trying to find a fancy way to tell you I’m really into journaling YouTube now. I’m lonely, everything is terrible, and videos of other women assembling their diaries, opening mail, and sorting through stationary are really helping me feel less like I’m cracking up. There’s no gentle segue into this statement. I am unpacking my obsession with it as it the obsession grows. Right. Let me tell you how this works.

At my desk, as I face into another long day of trying to keep my career together in the face of an international emergency, I put YouTube on whatever screen I am not directly using. Phone, or laptop. I prefer my phone because that means I won’t pick it up and get distracted. I put on one of several YouTubers with benign, twee sounding names that often include the words ‘rainbow’ or ‘milk’. My YouTubers sit at their desks, which are immaculately laid out. The light is often almost golden. There is gentle, unobtrusive music. I do not see their faces, only their environments – their hands. To me, these women are largely just disembodied hands, and I want to make it clear that I do not find this disturbing, but rather, deeply comforting.

There is none of the intense ‘hi guuuuys’ or ‘I missed you sooo much’ of standard YouTube parlance, there is no forced break in the fourth wall. They are not pretending to be my friends, or monologuing at me as though we have so much to catch up on. Like, no we don’t, Tana. We really don’t.

They are not attempting to recruit me – and in this flippancy, have entirely recruited me. They often do not say a single word: text appears on screen to acknowledge what they are doing, sometimes. They’re just busy, and I am busy beside them. I imagine that off camera a microphone is positioned carefully so that the viewer can hear the intensity of every snip of a scissors, every turn of a page, every pull of washi tape off an ornate, delicate roll. The slightly fiddly noise of taking a sticker off a sheet with your forefinger and thumb, the almost indescribable whisper of a perfectly manicured fingernail extracting page from page.

I don’t think I experience ASMR from this – an audio sensory meridian response, described as kind of feeling like tingles all over your body that many people receive from various household noises and voices. There’s a lot of YouTube dedicated to this. I have, thus far, not experienced any tingles from the journaling noises. I just find the sounds, in lieu of voices, give a strange sense that I am not alone here. I am not listening to a performance, rather watching somebody meticulously and carefully complete a task, and the soundscape is of this precision.

Sometimes they open packages sent to them by other YouTube journallers, and a network becomes clear. They make one another packages full of sweets and stationery – my favourite channel has a journal dedicated to different kinds of chocolate from around the world, and people often send her local favourites. Cadbury Caramel Koalas from Australia, Kinder Milk from England. Those are her favourite, and sometimes she makes a little heart shape with her hands when she discovers them hidden in a package. I’m happy for her, and the mail she receives. Her cup of tea steams in the corner of the screen. She has a plastic flick-knife that she uses to unpack the boxes. The paper crinkles, pleasing, as though it is just there beside me.

The side effect of this new company, these busy, bodiless ghosts in my phone, is that I am learning efficiency from them. I have been working a lot with print, paper and stationary recently and the presence of these videos has coincided with this (I imagine this is my recent print-oriented Google search terms curving them towards me in my algorithms) – and out of the corner of my eye I watch the order with which they conduct their journaling and I feel as though I am catching it, and implementing it in my own work.

It is slow, and not oriented towards purchasing things – more organising what I already have in a way that is pleasing. Developing tiny rituals around my creativity that I previously never really had time for. Using the stickers I’d been saving, needlessly, for a special occasion on my work-notebook instead. Every page is a special occasion for these journallers, so why not me, too? Why work on plain paper when you could stick a flower in the corner and make it feel a bit better?

These are channels of dedicated aesthetes. They pour themselves a cup of herbal tea, stir it with a small, clinking spoon, and they sit and make empty journals beautiful. Often they don’t write in English, which is an even greater relief to me: there is a boundary, a privacy there. I can’t really see them, they can’t really see me, but there is this gorgeous illusion forged between us at this desk.

I have exactly the kind of company I need: an impersonal, sensory company. I admire these women so much in their own sense of boundaries, too. I do not have to feel anything when I watch them, only that I am less alone. I recognise how absolutely inhuman this sounds, too, to say that I am filling my desk with ghost-women who craft beautiful things but ask nothing of me. Like this is a kind of digital gothic in itself, which is why I am compelled to write about it, like a confession, like what the hell have I come to?

But I am not alone in my love of these journallers: hundreds of thousands of people watch them fill their notebooks. They are a strain of Youtube celebrity of their own, a subculture which I have only scraped the surface of. I’m still in the first blush of love with them, the first weeks of their company. They do not give me what the office before gave me: a sense of camaraderie, growing friendship, iced coffee, chicken nuggets on a Friday, a place where I could pull my headphones out and say ‘Is this a stupid idea?’ and get rebuffed for being self- deprecating, and affirmed in a realistic manner for whatever it was I had come up with.

One of the girls will take off their headphones and say what they are thinking, what they are watching, what they want for lunch. We talk, we fall silent, we make things in the same room, at the end of the day we peace out and go home. I think what I had there was rare and healthy and I hope after all this, we can raise the barn we had once more. I do not know when that is going to be, but until then I curl around my laptop at home and my phone beside me displays a faraway desk and a girl I don’t know, working away, taking the edge off the hard, jagged edge left behind when the world just stopped.

Images from a selection at and


Leave a Reply