Writing in the Time of Coronavirus

These are turbulent times. Writing, and even reading, can feel like a frivolous luxury. I would argue just the opposite.

I’ve lost both my parents so I have to rely on memories when I need their comfort. The only experience I can liken to the current global landscape is 9/11. It was the first time in my life when our country faced its own vulnerability. My parents had lived through previous periods of tumult so I asked them what to do, how to handle the sometimes overwhelming fear and anxiety.

My mother, the pragmatist, told me to take care of myself, check in with friends and family often, and remember to give myself permission to live my life. Go on bike rides, go to the movies, laugh.

My dad, the artist, said, “What are you working on these days? A painting? A sculpture? A story?”

The question took me off guard. How could he think about art when the world was so scary? I said as much to him. A man of few words, he said, “Try it.”

Even though he didn’t tell me why he suggested it, I took my dad’s advice. I picked up a novel I’d set aside a couple of years earlier. Words eluded me at first. Every sentence felt like a slog. I kept at it, channeling all of my fears and anxiety onto the pages. Before I realized it, I calmed down. I noticed birds singing and the beauty of the San Francisco skyline at sunset. The world was still a scary place but my world – my family and friends – were fine.

During a family dinner one Sunday, I talked about the story I was working on. My dad smiled and said, “See? Creators need to create. It’s how we make sense of the world.”

My mom added, “And people need your stories. When the world is at its worst, we need escapism the most.”

I’ve been thinking of this whole episode a lot lately. I miss being able to call my mom and dad to help me calm down. The best way I know to honor them, and to deal with this current climate of fear-inducing headlines, is to continue to follow their advice. I keep reminding myself to be kind when dealing with others who are probably just as afraid (or more), check in with my friends and my brother, listen to birds sing, laugh, and take time to sit down and put one word after another.

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