Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing in the Time of Coronavirus

There’s a meme going around the Internet: a writer’s (or editor’s) life before and after Covid-19. The two images are exactly the same: a harried woman, alone at her desk, stares at a computer screen.

As with most memes, this one strikes at a core of truth. I worked from home before the pandemic, and I work from home now. I got most of my social contacts through e-mailing a far-flung collection of authors and editors multiple times a day then, and the same now. After years of traveling outside several times a week to attend ballet class, my teacher retired at about the time when I could no longer perform every step required, so I even exercise at home (still ballet, but toned down to fit my capabilities). And when I am neither working nor exercising nor goofing off through the usual collection of lightweight literature, movies viewed on my tablet, and crossword puzzles, I type madly into my Mac recording the thoughts, speech, and actions of imaginary people.


And yet … even for me, life in lockdown doesn’t feel the same as it did before. Not going out during the workday used to be a choice; now it’s become an avoidance of risk, if not a necessity—even a commitment to protect others. Social distancing doesn’t come easily to writers anymore than it does to nonwriters. I find myself eager for movies where people crowd a dance floor, throw their arms around each other, stand far closer than current standards permit, never think of donning a mask to accept a bag of vegetables from the neighbor with diabetes. I yearn for the world I took for granted, in which calling a plumber or electrician or making a hair appointment didn’t feel like a radical step.  

Then there are the Covid dreams: vivid and enthralling and so real I have to shake myself when I wake up to be sure that didn’t happen. I even asked Sir Percy once what someone had said when he came to the door, only to have him look at me and say, “Someone came to the door last night? I think I’d remember that.” And he was right: it was a dream.

So as we work our way through these crazy times, hoping for a cure or a vaccine and the chance to resume our normal lives—to send the kids back to school or return to the office (although personally I much prefer working from home)—let’s take a moment to appreciate the world we used take for granted, the one where we hugged those outside our “pod” and visited family members or friends, where the neighborhood block party was held every year without fail.



Come to think of it, that’s one perk a historical novelist does have: we can retreat into an imagined past, where all the plagues are virtual and where we call the shots. Time to send some characters to a New Year’s Eve celebration, where you can be sure they won’t stand six feet apart …

Images: woman and ballet dancers purchased by subscription from; color spiral from Pixabay (no attribution required).

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