In Search of “Normal”

{NOTE: I wrote this in mid-March, but never posted it. Even now, months later, I’m surrounded by people who refuse to wear masks or socially distance themselves. One man came into my office at work and, seeing me wearing a mask, made a disgusted face and said, shaking his head, “Really? A mask?”

Some things never change. Despite the fact that infection rates have risen in cities where reopening happened too soon or too incautiously, there will always be people who believe things like the risk of COVID-19 are “fake news” designed to keep us afraid. This virus has already altered how we live (or at least, it should have), and will probably incite more adjustments in the months to come.

But some things do change. With all that’s happened in 2020—the Black Lives Matter protests, the call to recognize equal rights for trans people, a spotlight on the enormous wealth disparity in the U.S., so many other essential and necessary movements—we seem to be surrounded by upheaval on a daily basis now. Many of us who feel these volatile emotions in a deep, empathic way have been in shock. When I wrote this, I was unable to write much of anything. Since that time, I wrote a short story—one that may never see the light of day—which broke the freeze for me. Afterward, I was able to finish revisions on my WIP and send it out to my many gracious beta readers (thanks, y’all!).

While this post was written in the early days of U.S. infections, much of it remains relevant. I post it now to show others who shared my concern and my frozen state: you were/are not alone.}

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Even if you’ve been living under a rock, if you’re smart you’re probably practicing social distancing wherever possible right now, washing your hands a lot, and tracking the news on a regular basis. Maybe you are home because your child’s school is shut down, or your employer has had to close their doors due to the virus. Maybe you’re even in quarantine. With all that’s happened in the last month or two around our world, it’s hard not to be concerned.

As someone who runs to the anxious side on a “normal” day, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the surreality of this crisis that I’ve been unable to write. I haven’t penned a new word or even edited old ones in weeks, and while that lack of contact with my characters is starting to get to me, forcing it isn’t working either. So the Hubenstein and I have been exploring various neighborhoods in our city on long afternoon walks, and binge-watching old episodes of Babylon 5 or Firefly or similar in the evenings, while noshing whatever snacks we have on hand.

Healthy? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not, but it’s all I can wrap my brain around right now.

I’ve been haunting the constant stream of tweets and posts on the coronavirus via Twitter and Facebook. Too much of it can be an overdose, but I have to admit that I’m glad to know I’m not the only person feeling so overwhelmed by this sudden paradigm shift. Many of my writer pals are in the same boat.

It doesn’t help that my current WIP is pandemic-based. On the downside, though my WIP’s storyline is very different from our current situation, there are so many similarities that I fear no agent or publisher will want it by the time Earth’s population finds our new normal. I can’t decide whether I should continue working on this one, or put it aside and work on the next one—once I’m able to write again—until such time as this whole ordeal is not so fresh a memory in the minds of future readers.

On the upside, I’ve now experienced a pandemic first-hand and have seen (am seeing) every day yet another slice of our new reality that could add authenticity to my WIP’s narrative and to my characters’ plight.

I know, I know. I can hear the reader out there who’s saying, “How can you be thinking about your WIP at a time like this? Seeing these horrible things playing out around you, how could you even consider them as story fodder? You beast!”

It’s true, at least for me, that my writing comes from real life, sometimes couched in a parable or other symbolic style, sometimes not. I suspect we’d be hard-pressed to find a writer anywhere that wouldn’t feel the same on some level. It’s how we process our experiences, I suppose.

So to all the writers out there, I say take it as it comes. Write, or not, as the muse dictates, and most important of all, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep to a planned schedule. With so much uncertainty right now, so many harsh things coming to light or crossing our feeds, be kind to yourself. Those words in your head and in your notebooks will still be there when we find some sort of balance in or after all this upheaval. Meanwhile, do what you need to do to get through it.

And while you’re at it, be kind to others. Because the only way we are going to come through this intact is together.

Black Lives Matter, Image by Mike Von on Unsplash

Alone, Image by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

Masked Man, Image by gryffyn m on Unsplash

Be Kind, Photo by reneebigelow on Pixabay

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