Writing, when you think about it, is an unglamorous and solitary act. You spend several hours in one place, by yourself, stuck inside your own head, confronting your own emotions. So if you think that quarantine is ideally suited for a writer… it is. Now that we’re about two months in, I feel comfortable sharing what I’ve been up to as COVID-19 rages on.
Phase 1: Stress and Anxiety
Somewhere in the middle of March, the world as we knew it shut down. It was on a Thursday, when Tom Hanks tested positive for the Coronavirus, Disneyland shut down, and the stock market plunged. At that point, I realized something very serious was going on. That weekend, I went to Panera to eat a bagel and journal about my anxieties. It would be the last time I sat down at a restaurant for many months to come.
My life was already in upheaval. I had moved into a new apartment at the end of February, with my friend Rita. She suffers from chronic pain and a host of other conditions, none of which were helped when she fell down the stairs and got a concussion 4 days after I moved in. With her being incapacitated, it fell to me to take care of her new Belgian sheep dog, Atlas. I had barely gotten the apartment equipped and was beginning to contemplate looking for a job, when quarantine hit.
I’m used to my life being a mess. I was not used to the world being a mess along side me. The anxieties built and built within me. For a writer, this can be a good thing. The higher my emotions, the easier it is to write. In this case, though, I was supposed to be focused on completing Company, my novel about a ghost and an imaginary friend, and I couldn’t focus. I journaled a bit, watched a little T.V., and played around with some other story ideas.
This phase lasted for about a week.
Phase 2: “Snow Day”
As schools, movie theatres, and restaurants shut down, it entered my head that I would not be looking for a job. I still clung to the illusion, even attempting to baby-sit for my cousin. But my cousin works in a hospital, and Rita was concerned about me getting the virus from him. Given her health, she was sure that if she got sick, she would die. So working was out of the question. I was officially under quarantine.
It also entered my head that while my finances were atrocious, and I was highly dependent on others, for now I had a roof over my head, food on the table, and just enough money to pay my cell phone bill. I’d survive, at least a few months more. With that in mind, my head went into “Snow Day” mode.
Snow is just rare enough in California that the barest sprinkling of snowflakes causes whole school districts to shut down. One time in high school, I went to bed stressed, with homework and college essays piling up and no idea how I’d get everything done in time. I woke the next morning to a beautiful powder of snow. School was canceled, and my dread turned to relief. I had a reprieve.
And that’s what I felt like—I had a reprieve from life. (This is my own personal experience; I realize that there are workers who had to continue putting in long hours under hazardous conditions and that for these people life was far from a vacation.) Everything I was supposed to do was canceled, shoved to the side, and I was free to do what I wanted. And how did I spend my freedom? I wrote.
I did not work on Company. That was the writing I was supposed to do, and therefore it was work. Instead I wrote bits and pieces of a second draft of my Hazel and Saul story, a sweet and wholesome love story between a witch and a wizard in a magic-filled version of 19th century America. I was not supposed to work on this, and therefore it was play. This is how my mind functions, you understand.
Because it was play, my mind started throwing up scene after scene. I’d walk the dog for an hour and come back with an idea, write it down, and immediately get another. I spent a week or so in my usual writerly angst, feeling guilty for writing the not-quite-right thing. Then I got tired of feeling guilty and wrote with hedonistic abandon. From March 20th-May 7th, I filled two 100-page composition books, front to back, and subsequently typed these up, for a total of 84,000 words (around 300 pages).
The world had become a strange place, with its newfound appreciation for face masks, random food shortages, and isolation. I felt better equipped to deal with it than most people. My job of writing requires isolation. My one big pragmatic skill happens to be meal planning and cooking. I’ve already honed cheapness to an art form. I still felt anxious and aware of the surreal new reality of the outside world. But day-to-day life felt mostly the same, except that, for once, I could let go of society’s expectations and just be.
Phase 3: The New Normal
Toward the end of April, I got a nagging sense that “vacation is coming to an end.” It was the feeling I used to get in high school, after a long summer vacation, when I knew that my days of being lazy (or rather, unscheduled) were dwindling down. In this case, I could feel the inspiration giving way. Something was changing.
The first thing that happened was that I moved again. This was my third time in four months. This time it was a simple move from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs apartment better suited for Rita. From packing the first boxes to unloading the last ones, the move took one week, and it seemed to trigger in my brain the need to be productive, the need to work.
Work does not mean a job. Quarantine is still going on, and even when it ends, who knows what the economy will be like? Work, for me, is writing, and while I’m always writing, in this case it meant writing the book I’m supposed to be publishing this year: Company. All the anxieties and adjustments have been dealt with, and I can focus again. And I’m going to need to focus if I have any hope of finishing my novel.
I also started to realize that if I wanted to get Company done, writing will need to be my full-time job. I can’t really mess around with job hunts. I’m just going to need to buckle down and be a full-time writer. What else can I do? Right now is not a good time to look for a job. Besides I know that when I have time and space, I can produce a large quantity of writing.
So that’s the phase I’m at now. Quarantine is the new normal, and so with this normal, I’m going to get done what needs to get done--for me, anyway. And while I hope this newfound determination lasts for more than a month, who really knows? The best-laid plans of mice and men. But right now, all I can do is use my time as best I can and keep on trying.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.