As I raced to my writing class on March 9th, the first thing I noticed was the emptiness on the Red Line train that carried me from Cambridge to the Boston Common. One woman boarding the train at Charles M.G.H. grabbed the handrail, and then cursed under her breath as she drew back her hand like she had just touched a hot oven or received an electric shock. She doused herself in hand sanitizer, and I wondered what precautions I should be taking.
“How’re we feeling about coming into class?” my instructor asked, once we were assembled at the writing center.
“Fine. Fine,” we nervously agreed as we eyed each other and the bottles of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes on the table. We then suppressed coughs and sniffles that suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
We were desperate to hold onto a semblance of normal. We didn’t want to believe what was going on.
One week later, we switched to a virtual classroom. It took me a heck of a lot more time to type my margin notes onto my classmates’ excerpts and email them copies of the documents. Overwhelmed with the sudden need to homeschool my kids and the inability to retreat to Starbucks to think clearly, I snuck in hours of writing work by burning the candle at both ends -- working late after my kids were (finally) asleep, and hiding away in my bedroom during the dark early hours before my husband “went to work” at the makeshift tray table desk we squirrelled away in our bedroom for his work from home situation.
My writing friends -- in my memoir class and in my writing group -- started to send notes, asking if it was okay to deviate from their main projects in order to share an excerpt about their response to COVID. Of course, we responded. Write what’s on your mind.
But I couldn’t do that. Overwhelmed by a new task of homeschooling four children, I felt like I was drinking from a firehose of teacher emails and expectations and my own need to preserve some kind of normalcy for my kids. I told my kids we could do this. We’d say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. We would have work time to focus on math and language. We would have specials (art, music, library). I would still pack “school” lunches and give them recess and technology time and take them on nature hikes for field trips.
I didn’t feel like I had any creative energy left. The last time I wrote something new was that week of March 9th when we were still hanging onto normal, when I was still sitting in Starbucks, where I put an apple down on the table there and, as I picked it up to take a bite, the guy next to me interrupted,
“You’re not afraid of coronavirus?” he asked worriedly.
At the time, I wasn’t. I cranked out my pages.
But then my writing conference was cancelled. I had looked forward to that conference for an entire year. This meant the situation was getting worse. This made the situation very real to me. And this made me want to hang onto what I could. I suddenly needed a new goal to aim for.
A woman in my writing class encouraged me to apply to our writing center’s MFA-equivalent memoir program. I spent the next ten days cutting down my 358 page manuscript to a maximum allowed 300 page submission. Not exactly creative work. Just brutal slashing of words. For excerpts to send to my class and to my writing group, I also relied on material that I had already written. I revised in a cursory fashion before I emailed them off, but I didn’t trust my bleary-eyed judgement as I squeezed in the work around printing out copies of children’s math worksheets and researching online educational opportunities.
The theme of my life for the past nine months has been PIVOT. And here we are being called to pivot again. Writing class, writing group, writing time in general will look different from now until...we reach a new steady state.
I’m still going to write when I can though. And if you’re a writer, I hope you can find time to write through this too. But if all we can do write now is move some commas around, well then, I think we can be forgiven.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.