I grew accustomed to staying indoors, blackout drapes drawn tight, the rooms of the apartment as dark as night. One day, the room shook as someone knocked on our door. Mom shushed my brother and me, pulled down on our hands, and ushered us into the bathroom, as if it were the last bus out, to hide from “spies.”
We slid to the floor, backs against the wall, which hadn’t been freshly painted but cast a wet, plastic scent. Cool radiated from the porcelain toilet bowl at my face. Stale urine lifted from the pink, U-shaped rug. We sat there for the better part of the afternoon as a shadowy blue flickered in through the thin curtain over the narrow window, and it was the color of calm and not agitation, the hue of the slow passage of time and not urgency. And the earth didn’t shake again that day, and the people with their fists upon our door didn’t stay.
Now, we shrink from the threat of danger that shakes us down to our most primordial instincts. And there is nowhere to go but home. We rest easily, await the passing of storm, and let ourselves understand that isolation doesn’t have to beget loneliness. Over the years, we all have learned how to settle our childhood fears out of necessity so we could cope. If there is one among us who had no childhood fears, this is his childhood. For each of us, this time is nothing more than an exercise in learning how to cope.
This does not ask us to cower in trenches or stand as bullets ravage our troops. This does not push us to our knees as malnutrition wastes our bodies. This does not force us to beg in the street as a few coins replace our dignity. This is nothing difficult, nothing asking me to gut myself. Light can still get in.
The career of a writer is one of isolation. And most of the time, I welcome this fact. It means that if I want to interact with the world, I must initiate conversation and get-togethers with people; I must show up when I commit to showing up. Otherwise, I might die alone (except I do have my husband, and I’m grateful to him because I know he would keep my cats from eating my rotting corpse).
Already, during these strange COVID-19 days, social distancing, while necessary to flatten that R-naught curve, has got me feeling like I want to break out of my introverted skin. The fact that I shouldn’t go to the store makes me know I need pudding. Or applesauce. Or anything else I can purchase for the heck of it just so I have a reason to leave this cozy quarantine. Let’s be clear, I am not into hoarding unless it’s books or sentimental items I can’t seem to part with. I did not buy a stockpile of toilet paper expressly for the Corona Virus panic. But my husband and I did drive around a bit the other night, hoping to find that last lone pack. Even 7-Eleven had been ransacked.
To this I say, WTF is going on?
I think we have lost our everloving minds.
And to this I say, if you’re a writer, here are some things you can do to feed your introverted little heart.
- Nothing. Carry on as usual, making those semi-hesitant fingers go clickety-clack on your keyboard, and create masterful content that few to none will read. Rest assured, though, because, humanity has never needed a poem or a fictional tale to distract from real life as much as they do now–except in times of war, genocide, famine, poverty, and utter ignorance. Wait a minute…
- Host a virtual write-in. It can be every bit as exciting as an in-person write-in. Each participant will have their own clutter and preoccupations to wade through, making any word count achievement all the more challenging, i.e. fun. Play a round-robin prompt game, with topics like Who Took the Toilet Paper? A Whodunnit For the Whole Family; How Much Sanitizer Could a Whole Hand Suck If a Whole Hand Could Suck Sanitizer? and Create a Dystopia Different From the One You’re Currently Living.
- Read. Great readers write, they say, so get your eyes on everything from satire to fake news, and if you view these as interchangeable, pick up something serious like James Wesley Rawles’s How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-to-survive-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-james-wesley-rawles/1101557608?ean=9780452295834 ). Although, if you’re hoarding toilet paper, you’ve already got all the answers. In that case, may I suggest penning your autobiography one 2-ply square at a time. Hundreds of years from now, humanity, and possibly even extraterrestrials, will thank you as they seek reading material to pass their own uncertain times.
- Binge watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and CBS All-Access. Get a solid grip on what’s already out there before you create the next new big thing in television. Pay attention to three-act structure and character development. Take notes, lots of notes. Until now, you had no idea how you were going to get through all that toilet paper you bought.
- Do away, once and for all, with the excuses you’ve been slinging for why you haven’t yet written your masterpiece. You are completely isolated, and the world is falling apart. Maybe the world does need another apocalypse story to provide hope. Or maybe a self-help manual about milking palm fronds for protein or about how self-discipline and social distancing go hand-in-hand when planning to rebuild a healthy community after paranoia and panic wreak systematic havoc across the globe. The options are endless, unlike our resources.
- Laugh. Because if you don’t, you’ll most certainly cry, and all those tears aren’t good for much. Rediscover your sense of humor, and above all, be kind. Let’s love each other. But from a distance of six to ten feet.