DATELINE—April 22, 2020. Louisville, Kentucky
In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the time between breakfast and lunch
Sheltering-in-place seems like an opportunity for a fabulous writing retreat. Alas, I find myself distracted, unable to adhere to my writing mantra, “Don’t wait to be inspired. Write to be inspired.” Time seems suspended. Unnatural.
We are all living in the meanwhile, between what’s past and what’s next. Suddenly, the ordinary is extraordinary. Going to the grocery store is a mission requiring vigilance. Waking with a normal temperature is cause for relief. I thank the postal worker for her service. I tell the man retrieving bascarts. “You are doing an important job.”
I am nesting furiously— cleaning pantry, closets, and riffling through file cabinets. This activity is out of character. I am the homemaker who hides things, who shoves the week’s mail in the pantry before company comes, who throws out expired food when shamed by an adult daughter who reads expiration dates (her mistrust peaked when, not long ago, I handed her a can of beer that had expired in 2011).
Marie Kondo might have something to say about the spiritual reasons for my compulsion to tidy-up. But I’ve asked her to keep her thoughts to herself, for now.
I have tried to jump-start my writing life by beginning each day with one word. This technique I learned from Ray Bradbury, in Zen in the Art of Writing. Bradbury describes how he once began his writing with the first word that came into his head. My first word was, “persnickety,” which came to me over coffee when I accused my husband of being, “persnickety.” I recalled my mother, who used the word in a less than flattering fashion to describe people who needed to “chill,” (the latter, she used only to describe the bottle of wine in the “fridgerator”).
The other day, a lonely bank teller asked me if I could wait a few minutes at the drive-in window. He appeared to be the only one in the bank, and I the only one waiting. “No problem,” I said, “I’ve got all the time in the world.” And then, right there in the sanctity of my Subaru, I realized . . . I do not. I am 64. My expiration date approaches, even without COVID-19.
Clichés like “all the time in the world,” have popped up during the pandemic. Also—Live in the moment. Don’t take anything for granted. It is what it is. We’re all in this together.
“Been there done that” seems to be the only cliché I cannot apply to this situation.
In Kentucky, our governor, dubbed “the hot Mr. Rogers” has comforted many of us each day at 5 PM—a habitual activity in which concerned citizens have a beer with Beshear. Andy begins each televised conference with, “We will get through this. We will get through this together,” which we recite three times. Governor Andy’s leadership is the inspiration for a Salon article Govern Me Daddy,”about this new, youngish (42 years) Democrat governor.
Don’t we all need Mr. Rogers right now to say things like, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
My artist daughter and her husband have re-created a muslin patch, from the Great Flood of 1937, commissioned then by the Mayor’s Committee on Morals. The patch says, among other things—”I will not complain, I will not spread bad news, I will be encouraging. helpful, friendly . . . “The wearable art hangs on the iron fence outside my daughter’s home. From their third-floor window, she and her husband observe people retrieve these handmade items, sometimes leaving flowers and small gifts.
Yes, the children are our future; let them lead the way.
I am aware of my good fortune. I can work from home, have a safe and spacious shelter, a dog that takes me on walks, a retired husband who makes far too many trips to the hardware store, and two thirty-something adult children who are managing well, doing the work they can and playing it safe, while wondering what the future holds for them. I worry for these younger generations, how they might rightly blame the boomers for global troubles, how they will rise to meet these challenges and become, perhaps, the next Greatest Generation.
Yesterday, on Louisville Public Media, I heard an interviewee say, if you open a butterfly cocoon too soon, you will find mush that looks nothing like a caterpillar. The caterpillar must digest itself before it can become a butterfly.
I pledge to accept my inefficient use of abundant writing time, even if all I manage are scenes and thoughts that may (or may not) connect. I must respect this process, do what’s possible and let go of the rest, all the while hoping to emerge from this cocoon, metamorphosed.
God bless us every one!
Kimberly Garts Crum, proprietor of Shape & Flow Writing Instruction ;co-editor of The Boom Project: Voices of a Generation