Writing in Corona Times
A friend asked me if the change in rhythms brought about as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has helped me focus on my writing and if so, how. I was gratified to be asked the question mostly I think as an affirmation of the importance of writing and a validation of my own work; after all, to be recognized as a writer is itself a badge of honor.
I appreciated the question, also, because in normal times, I dreamt about the slowdown of normal life, about isolation, about having the time and the excuse to write liberally. In Corona Times, however, the liberties suddenly afforded me don’t quite seem to be those about which I dreamt. First, there is the stress about the tragedy and loss of life. Stress is debilitating and while it can excite ideas and expression, it mostly simply saps energy. Second, there is the guilt; so many are suffering and writing seems like an indulgence. Third, however, is something entirely different- the responsibility to write- and through writing to try to make sense of all of this.
And so I do.
These times try our souls. We are witnessing a pandemic that could have been contained were it not for the narcissism and nihilistic ideology of a few world leaders, foremost amongst them Donald Trump. We see the arrogant nonchalance of so many people who continue to flout basic conventions of civic decency and willfully ignore please by public health experts. Even this mind-bending set of circumstances cannot convince the American voter that we need to fundamentally retool the healthcare system; in a time of crisis, we have decided to decide between malevolent venality and mendacious mediocrity in the 2020 Presidential race.
So I write.
The Coronavirus epidemic has us sequestered in our homes — that is if we can afford to be. In some ways, it mimics the general privatization of American life. In one neighborhood, each household can own a lawn mower, a pressure washer, and a ladder even though each household uses these items only sparingly. In America, we don’t think of common ownership or even of sharing. “The Economy,” they tell us “needs us out there spending.” In one neighborhood, kids can attend 5 different schools. Any householder can cut the trees in his or her yard even though we all need the oxygen. In American life, we retreat to our own castles and watch TV. So what’s so different? Well, this time we’re being told to do that so it smarts. Well, okay, we aren’t attending the office and the kids are at home; strangely, the exact things every American claims they want- “better work/life balance and more time with the kids” is now forcing us to write paeans to the past and think wistfully about that very life we believe is too busy and too stressful.
A friend of mine told me a few months ago that he was looking forward to a lengthy “staycation.” I am not making this up. He now has it but is pissed off about it. I get it, sort of. Few of us enjoy fetters but the preponderant majority of us have not really, really lived fettered lives that is by comparative standards. We asked for staycations, the virus delivered, and we are annoyed by the intrusive nature of government. Strange times.
We are the realm of statistics nowadays. We look for the numbers- how many dead? How many infected? What are their ages? As with Sports, we develop opinions based on these numbers. We argue with each other. Who’s the best Quarterback? How many folks will die in the pandemic? Same shit? Really?
Memes have popped up everywhere; the more industrious of us have created videos. One recent video forwarded to me shows a couple whose relationship changes in a 4 day progression of being isolated at home and with only each other’s company. They go from loving to violent. “I want more time with the family!” — That’s what we say during normal times. When we get it, we make murderous videos.
So what’s going on? Some of it is understandable. There’s a base level of stress in everyone’s lives created by the pandemic. Will my loved ones be safe? Will I get fired? Will I ever just get to go grab a beer with friends? For those who have lost someone or who have ill loved ones, the stress does not come from question marks but from periods. From the ends of stories.
Some of it stems from our national preoccupation with hyperbole. Not that the threat of Covid-19 can possibly be exaggerated but that our reactions to it make us appear as if we’re in a Gulag. It’s fascinating that with all the technology in a majority of American households, with all the availability of books, that people are so hand-wringingly bored. Does that mean our devices have failed us? Have we failed each other?
This would be a great time for Americans to become more politically aware. How is it that in a country that prides itself to be a city-on-the-hill that we decided to sacrifice so many people because of anti-science ideology? How is that so many of our fellow Americans suffer from pre-existing conditions that exacerbate the ill effects of Covid-19? How is it that during this national emergency that Democratic voters can outright reject the one candidate who has been harping on the need for a decent healthcare system in the country? Are these simply the paroxysms of a dystopic, Orwellian society? Is up down and down up?
Amidst all of these wonderful incantations of the need for “community,” we are getting reports that A-listers can get tested much more easily than the rest of us. How can this not cause us to revolt?
Viruses kill that’s for sure. But so do ideologies.
So I write; some read. At some point I have to admit that I need to write even if no one reads. Not for catharsis but because of a feeling of impatient responsibility that doing anything less would make me less of a citizen. That is the idea even the hope.
But while hope can be two-faced when applied to real world situations (hope can impel inaction), it is an essential element of human existence. Generic hope- applied not to a particular idea or thing but to everything equally (an outlook) — is potent fuel. Writing is very much about hope- that logic appeals, that people can be moved by emotional pleas, that clarion calls are indeed effective. So amidst all of this tragedy, from the wards of isolation, I’d like to be hopeful that our current situation increases our respect for science, reminds us of our utter dependence on one another, ushers in an era of political awareness and civic sensibilities. But I’m unsure if my hope will be met with success unless, of course, we all make active decisions to honor it.
Writing in Corona Times is no more difficult than writing at any time. Isolation certainly helps but keeping up with the torrent of thoughts isolation brings requires a lot of attention. Luckily- and here’s the thing- the world has my full attention now. I’m awake. And I’ll continue to write. Hopefully.