Monday, November 16, 2020

Facebook Memory

A Facebook “memory” greeted me a few weeks ago. A high school classmate had posted a photo of herself holding her new copy of my latest memoir. I clicked “share” and added a thank you. Cindy’s follow up comment read I need another book from you. For fun, I asked Fiction or memoir? Either, she said. That brief exchange got me thinking about the year that has slipped away.

Around the time of that last publication, a writer friend asked what was next. I confessed I was tired, that maybe I needed a break, maybe I’d try poetry for a while. Something different. Something I knew nothing about. But what I’ve discovered or maybe what I’ve known all along is that I’m a book person – fiction, nonfiction, memoir – but book length. Something that pulls me into a different world and holds me there. I’m currently reading a collection of wonderful short stories by Langston Hughes titled The Ways of White Folks, and I find I want each story to continue. I’m greedy for more. I can’t move from one to the next with ease. As with stories and essays, I find it hard to read a book of poems from cover to cover. So the accumulation of collections scatter throughout my small home for quick visits at random moments throughout the day when I’ve lost track of what it was I was doing.

When I read, I want to be pulled into a world of characters and events. When I write, I want the same. I want to see the story in my head, eyes closed. I want to know the bookends, beginning and end. I want to get to know the characters, watch them develop. I usually don’t know how everyone will get from beginning to end, but I know where they’re headed. It’s not unusual for surprises to arise, for the bookends to shift, for characters to take unintended paths. The planned ending and the changes that appear along the journey create a pull, a tug to the table, to the pen and paper, that keep me writing, keep me in the story for the months, the years it can take to create even the first draft of a book-length manuscript.

So where am I now? With a notebook of draft poems and the start of a novel manuscript that requires in-person research – impossible during the pandemic. This time of COVID has no bookends, and the writer in me is floundering. So my apologies, Cindy, but the next book will be slow in coming. Blame it on the pandemic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

What Country Will My Grandson Know?

According to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, anxiety refers to “a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usu. over an impending or anticipated ill.”

The online Oxford Languages Dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

Anxiety affects each of us in unique ways. For me, it feels like someone has slugged me in the stomach, knocking the air out of me and leaving lingering pain for days. It is physical, but also “of mind.” Take last night. I was awake for hours, my thoughts churning.

2020 has provided plenty of “uncertain outcome(s)” from the pandemic to politics. Anxiety slithers through our terrors and pain with absolute abandon. The “impending or anticipated ill” of our shared future feeding the hungry snake.

The pandemic began with my first experience in online teaching in March and unexpected retirement in September. It began with intense concern for my pregnant daughter’s well-being and the premature birth of my grandson in June as social justice activists marched below their hospital window. Now retirement allows me to provide childcare for this grandson as my daughter returns to work at Harborview ER on the eve of another projected spike in COVID infections.

As I scribble these thoughts, people across this vast country are standing in long lines for the opportunity to practice their constitutional right to cast their vote. The outcome is still uncertain, and anxiety remains unabated. The result of this election will determine the direction of our country.