On Writing: Writing in the time of CoVid
Lately, my thoughts have turned to the story of Noah and the flood. As only a writer can, I find myself imagining that pivotal moment when everything in the world changed, when dark clouds engulfed the sky, eclipsing the sun, and rain swept the earth clean. What must it have been like to witness these events . . . the fear, uncertainty, and awe experienced by those who stood helplessly watching, those who weren't fortunate enough to secure a spot on the ark? I've always viewed the stories of the Bible as just that, . . . stories. Yet the lessons they teach are universal. And now, more than at any other moment in history, I feel we are living in Biblical times. Or perhaps apocalyptic. We are at the mercy of something greater than us. We don't have control. Our way of life has changed beyond recognition. The threat doesn't come from floods or zombies or aliens, but from a microscopic evil germ that has grown to such magnitude in my mind that it stomps through my waking thoughts like a heavy-footed giant.
Yet we hold out for the future, for science, for the day when a vaccine is announced and some semblance of normalcy will return. When a dove, carrying a syringe instead of an olive branch, will break through the dark clouds and we can breathe easy once more.
Shortly after my early-March birthday, my world came crashing to a halt. On my birthday, my husband and I went to my favorite restaurant for lunch, walked around the mall, grabbed a cup of coffee, ran to the grocery store (sans gloves and masks) to grab ingredients for dinner, talked about the movie we wanted to see that weekend. Life was normal. Life was good. Then March 13th hit, Friday the 13th of all days, and the world irrevocably changed.
I remember my girls coming home from school the day before, faces flushed, full of chatter about the rumored changes.
"Mrs. L said she searched everywhere for hand sanitizer and couldn't find any."
"I've heard people are stocking up on toilet paper. Toilet paper!"
"I've heard there might not be school."
And then the governor's order came. Classes were suspended until further notice. Spring break was now going to be almost three weeks long, with the hope that classes would resume mid-April to early May. They did not.
How long ago that seems. And how fast things changed. The excited nervous energy that buzzed through our household quickly turned to lethargy and moments of fear and despair. Like dominos set in motion, one thing after another was canceled or postponed: school for the rest of the year, final recitals and performances, Broadway shows at our local theater and music concerts we were planning to attend during the summer, our summer vacation, and perhaps the hardest for our girls - summer camp and high school graduation.
We each dealt with it in our own way, but for me, panic attacks became common. Especially when news alerts would flash on my devices, proclaiming the latest number of deaths and announcing the downfall of the economy. My home became my cocoon. I found it hard to venture out even for groceries for fear of being contaminated. Germaphobia and agoraphobia reared their ugly heads.
Many days I never even changed out of my pajamas. I was bored. I found that I couldn't concentrate on anything for too long. Worst of all, I suffered from intense writer's block. All my attempts to read and write, once creative outlets that afforded me a sense of accomplishment and escape, were futile. I spent hours staring at my computer screen but couldn't reign in my thoughts. I picked up unread books from my personal library but found my mind swirling back to dark hopeless thoughts of the future. I ended up spending hours on my iPad playing games and watching silly TikTok and YouTube videos.
Before CoVid-19 took over the world, I had been full of motivation and inspiration. Having just come off the debut of my first novel, What She Lost, I was ready to dive head-long into the sequel. I had mapped out my scenes, written character sketches, created a timeline, begun my research, and was ready to go. I had enjoyed numerous book signings, book club discussions, and school presentations for What She Lost, and was energized from the experience. But when the world shut down, I did as well. My initial thoughts were, "This is the perfect opportunity to write. I have nothing else to do. I can get this second book written in no time!" But every time I sat down at my computer, a blank screen stared back at me. My scattered thoughts inevitably turned to our current situation, and I felt like a punctured balloon, deflated of energy and excitement. I was left feeling defeated and depressed. I tried to tell myself that it was ok, that we were living in unprecedented times and I should be kind to myself and not expect too much. My mantra became, "Take it day by day."
But the days dragged on with no progress.
So how do you come back from this? Now, over two months into our self-isolated, quarantined way of life, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've passed through the many stages of grief, feeling at first numb, then trying to bargain to keep my family safe (I'll be following up with a post on this in the future), then experiencing depression and anger in equal doses, and finally coming to accept the future ahead. I've found joy in the small things, like going outside each day to feel the sun on my face, breathe the fresh air, and witness nature blooming to life in the woods behind our house, "Zooming" with friends and family, and most importantly, spending cherished moments with my family inside our four walls. With my 17-year-old graduating and about to spread her wings, it is not lost on me that this precious time together is an unexpected gift. We enjoy our lazy mornings (before schools shut down, she left before the sun was even up, and most mornings I didn't even get a chance see her), sitting together at the breakfast island sipping coffee and talking about college, music, and fashion before she starts her remote learning for the day. My 14-year-old is by my side most of the day, helping us plant our spring garden and cooking with my husband each evening. I relish listening to her deep thoughts and musings. We all sit down to eat together, and laughter is abundant at our dinner table.
Enjoying these blessings has cleared my mind and allowed me the space I need to get back to writing. I started small at first, trying my hand at poetry and jotting down ideas, but now I'm feeling that welcome burst of inspiration that every writer hopes to bottle. I re-read the start to my new manuscript and, at first, made minor changes, but over the past week I've found my thoughts returning again and again to the story. I can write new paragraphs that turn into new pages. I imagine scenes in my head when I'm cleaning or drying my hair. My brain no longer obsesses on the bad news (at least not all the time), and I feel ready again.
So while I'm still waiting for the metaphorical rain to ebb and the dove to appear, I have found my own peace and am grateful for each and every day. To all of you out there, I wish the same to you. Stay safe and healthy, and stay tuned for more content!