What has happened since I was here last? If I could, I would post a ironically laughing emoji here. I last posted a blog in July of 2019. Back then, I likely stressed about how many classes I might or might not have in the fall. I painted and stressed about trying to get to writing. I had no idea what loomed just around the corner. None of us did.
Seven months later, my partner, an avid Reddit reader, woke up on a Saturday morning early in February saying stuff was about to happen.
“We should prepare,” he said.
“Prepare how?” I said, thinking he might be over reacting some.
The next thing I knew we were at Big Lots loading our cart with canned goods mostly, a few jugs of Gatorade, bags of rice and flour, some batteries, and other essentials. I was humoring him. He was serious. This was about two weeks before the rest of the country and our families caught on. What we didn’t get enough of, of course, was toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I guess Reddit couldn’t predict everything.
Now, we are here, almost but not quite on the other side of the pandemic, nearly two years after I last posted in the blogosphere. We managed to get through with the toilet paper and hand sanitizer we had. I made some hand sanitizer with some alcohol and aloe, and we made do as best we could until the distillery in town started making hand sanitizer.
Like a lot of people, I spent the pandemic working from home. I am still working from home. I became familiar with the walls where I live. I rarely if ever left the little town where I live. Thankfully, this place had all we really needed to get by. The little market on the corner stocked all the necessities, and the farm stand in town began offering weekly bags of produce, so we didn’t have to navigate big stores with bare shelves.
We did have to navigate a few other things, however. At one point, we were forced to evacuate our home temporarily when wild fires sprung up uncomfortably close to our town. I mean there’s a pandemic. Why not add wild fires for good measure?
Our home survived. I would like to say I emerged from the entire pandemic unscathed, but I don’t think anyone can say that. If we didn’t lose someone close to us, then we are close to someone who lost someone close to them. We know people who survived a bout of COVID only to have lingering effects, and let’s not forget that only a handful of miles from my home people were gunned down while getting groceries.
This is the world we live in, and it would be easy for me to curl up under a blanket and not want to come out. There were many times in the middle of it all I wanted was to do just that. I didn’t.
If there is anything remotely like a silver lining in all of this for me, though, it’s that my life wasn’t scheduled to the teeth. I didn’t have great expanses of time, but the shelter-in-place orders meant I never really left the confines of my home. At the most, I walked my dog through town, but there was nowhere else to be. That left space I’d never had before for writing, but I still had to find a way to see it.
Enter my graduate school alma mater, Spalding University. Back in May of 2020, just weeks after the country was shut down, the wonderful folks who run the MFA in writing program scrambled to put their residency online. Spring residency is also the time alumni gather for homecoming and get to be a part of some of the residency festivities that include lectures and readings.
Like I said earlier, my scheduled-to-the-teeth life made it difficult to make pilgrimages back to Louisville, Kentucky, for previous homecoming events. The shift to online made it possible for me to be at homecoming in 2020. For three glorious days, I made the virtual pilgrimage back home, connecting with fellow alumni, listening to inspiring lectures and readings, and engaging in focused writing time. I left those three days wanting more time like that, more focused time, but there was still internal stuff to wade through.
I think most of us who do this writing thing have wrestled with how to create while experiencing the paralyzing collective grief that emerged alongside the pandemic. What I learned to do was to let myself feel that grief. I acknowledged it, and then, thanks to the burst of momentum I had from homecoming and thanks to the Shut Up & Write community I found shortly after that, I set a schedule.
I showed up at the same time most mornings with people from all around the world who were experiencing this grief but still wanting to put words on paper. Some days were productive. Some days, it was all I could do to get one good sentence written. Other days, I just cleared my cluttered desk. I simply made space. I didn’t put too much expectation on that space.
I wasn’t the only one who made space. My dad made space, and my sister made space. We all are on this writing journey together now, which I love. I’ve been doing it alone for so long. This time inside allowed us to connect more than we ever have thanks to Zoom and to connect around words and stories. I suppose writing is a family business now, which again I love!
The other benefit of making this space has had is that I’ve made friends with other writers, all of us navigating this collective grief and giving each other encouragement.
Now, I am writing probably more than I ever have with a much larger community than I probably ever would have imagined, an encouraging community that has buoyed me during some of the toughest moments this past year doled out.
I just finished yet another online homecoming that inspired and reinvigorated me for another year where I’ll have to navigate schedules again. I’m ready.
I’ll just take it from here and move forward. I’ll be back here blogging as well, primarily about writing and reading, but I may throw in some painting as well. If you find your way here, welcome and thank you for reading.