Monday, April 27, 2020

Writing As a Survival Tool: A Pandemic Journal

It was going to be a beautiful year.

A tour of Vietnam in March. A trip to Portugal in June to celebrate my birthday. Now Easter has come and gone. For the first time, I spent it alone. No family meal of spiral ham and scalloped potatoes, no prayer that comes with the promise of renewal and rebirth. I decorated a plate with brightly-colored artificial eggs and placed it on my living room coffee table, observing holiday tradition even for the holiday that wasn’t.

I listened to the pastor’s sermon on Facebook. It's good Thomas was skeptical, he says. Jesus would have approved.

Who wouldn't be skeptical these days?

Later in the day, I spread out the yoga mat in the living room. Downward dog, child's pose. The woman on YouTube cheerfully intones, "Do what you can. Your practice is your own."

I agree with that. Only do what you can. Skepticism and solitude have never been strangers. Where does this lead? Is it gratitude for what I have? Resignation for what is lost?

Fast forward a couple weeks. Outside my window, April’s loveliness can’t be denied. After a light rain, emerald green lawns glimmer in early morning haze. A mourning dove coos. Something is missing. I realize I can't hear the hum of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a highway which is right down the hill from my house, anymore. That's something to celebrate.

I go to the grocery store once a week. The cashier at the Acme, a boy who looks about high school age, says hello. We agree we hate wearing masks. I think I bring it up. But he agrees. I can see the despair in his eyes … what he is missing … his senior year, the prom?

On another grocery trip, a cashier at the Giant stands behind a plastic shield. It’s 6:30 a.m., the ‘senior hour’, the witching hour. The woman in front of me just bought $300 worth of groceries. I look at my cart and realize I have a lot. The cashier, a heavyset woman in her mid-fifties, tells me not to worry when I apologize for buying so much food. “Oh, everyone says that. You can never have too much food,” she says as she punches in prices with one latex-gloved finger. I admire her for being so cheerful and empathetic this early in the morning during a pandemic.


Solace comes down to this. Writing is my survival tool. 

I wrote in my diary when I was ten years old. Wind chimes at my bedroom window tinkled in evening breezes, conjuring dreams of romance and happily-ever-afters.

I wrote in the white oncology office, a despairing young wife and mother.

I wrote in the Kathmandu airport in a small orange notebook with peacock feather, its pages made of handmade Nepalese paper.

I write in my living room on my laptop, silence punctuated only by the ping of an email message from my cellphone.

Writing has limitations. Some days it's hard to focus. I no longer have the support of our Women’s Writing Circle, the camaraderie of smiles and heartfelt stories read in a room with lighted candle giving off scents of vanilla and spice. After all, it was supposed to be a beautiful year of travel and finishing the memoir, so I put the Circle on hiatus. Just as well. We never could have met, anyway.

Unlike some writer friends who share on social media news of their groups meeting through Zoom, I can’t grasp the idea of readaround on a screen. It's like church. A sacred space, not suited for the screen.


When I can’t write, I resort to television. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is a virtual visitor. He talks about imagining a time when we can reopen and get on with our lives.Things must move gradually, in “phases,” he says. He ponders a Yankees game with no people in attendance, where the players can be compensated through television ad revenue, not paid seats.

Yesterday, I potted pink and red geraniums to adorn my front walkway. I needed to feel one small sense of accomplishment, although I am happy the memoir is done. I wait for my family to sign off. Bookstores look to be in greater trouble than ever. I ponder whether to publish A Woman Alone just as an ebook. Will book signings return?

A friend from down the street calls. She asks if I want to take a walk, an invitation I leap on like a dying woman. Yes! Company and conversation, even centered around the trauma of the virus, comes like a tall glass of cool water after a dry spell.

This morning, I am in the house with Lily, writing. I am feeling pretty good. The words begin to fill the blank pages of my little pandemic journal. Lockdown, quarantine, who cares?


kathleen pooler said...

Oh my gosh Susan. This is wonderful. Your words echo what I’ve been feeling. We all have to find our way through this current pandemic which I imagine will spawn a lot of writing. It is what it is and we will adapt and maybe even be better on the other side of it. Keep writing , dear friend. Your writing is a gift to the world.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Kathy. I agree that this time will spawn a lot of writing. I am grateful for your friendship. I am grateful for all my writing friends here on social media. I am grateful for the healthiness that comes with journaling every ordinary day. Every Groundhog Day? LOL. I just want it to end, even though I know the planet needed a rest.

Marian Beaman said...

Favorite line: "Company and conversation, even centered around the trauma of the virus, comes like a tall glass of cool water after a dry spell."

None of my neighbors wants to walk with me, so I dial up my sister or BFF for conversation while I feed steps into my Fitbit. This is a beautiful post, Susan. If I write more it will spoil the spell it has cast upon me.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Marian. Writing always casts its spell on the author, as she loses herself in the words, the mood, the place of the piece. When the reader feels that spell, it is the greatest compliment a writer can receive. These are difficult times. People are having all sorts of reactions to what is going on. The worst thing that can happen is when isolation trumps community. But, for now, it is what it is.

Unknown said...

My husband said to me as we sat in our big, beautiful backyard, "It's hard to believe, but it really is a crisis. And we have no leadership!" We have been fortunate, I thought. We are retired, with an adequate ensured income. Our son, Billy, and his French wife, Laure, are both teachers, with jobs in Jakarta, but now they do their lessons online and can be here in Reno with us. So we are blessed in having unusual close family time even as the Coronavirus death toll mounts daily. I think of those who speak of good societal changes that may come out of these troubled times: Trump has used the Defense Production Act to order meat-packing plants to remain open. What nonsense! They are centers of spreading infections. It would do Americans good to cut back on meat consumption for awhile. First, we might lose some weight and address our obesity problem. Second, we might help reduce the negative threats of global warming, with less flatulence from cattle. Think positively, get out in the garden to enjoy spring if possible and count your blessings. Mary C. K. Stein

Susan G. Weidener said...

Mary. I agree. Let's count our blessings and get out in the garden. That's wonderful that you and your family are together. Attitude is everything in these troubled times. Thank you for stopping by the Circle and sharing your thoughts and your journey.