In late 2020, I joined a writing challenge where we were to talk about our experiences during the start of the 2020 pandemic. I wrote this essay and then tucked it in a drawer. This subject was simply too raw for me to publish back then.
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At the start of 2020, my sixth sense had kicked into overdrive. Something was coming. Something big. I needed to be ready. But I did not know what that change would be. I’m an author and poet. I spend much of my time traveling to science fiction conventions for readings, to sell a few books, and appear on speaker panels. Life is a balancing act of travel versus time at home where I create new books, short stories and poetry.
At the start of the year, new opportunities appeared at a faster rate than usual. I was to be a featured poet at a large city event in San Francisco where I would showcase my new poetry collection. A local city convinced me to apply for their poet laureate position. They reopened the job when I didn’t apply for it the first time due to my massive imposter syndrome. I told myself that this had to be why this feeling was grabbing me. The big change was that I would become a poet laureate with all the work that entails.
In February, another surprise happened. My husband landed a job with a firm that treated him with the respect he deserved. His excitement about the new job filled our home with promise. While I waited for word on the poet laureate job, I tried to contain my disappointment. After all, I was not the only applicant. Someone else might have made a better impression than me. Perhaps it was not the writing job after all. My intuition was buzzing due to my husband’s new prospects?
The first week of March, my husband started his new job. I heard cheerful calls about the restaurants he would visit for lunch, the new computer system, and the details of his new office.
That first week of March, I got a message from the city. A librarian explained the poet laureate job was delayed due to the committee missing their February meeting. They had not done the vote on their selection for the position. Could I come in for fingerprinting at city hall, anyway? The librarian wanted to process me to allow my installation in April, which is National Poetry Month, if the committee hired me. She made no promises that the job belonged to me. I remember feeling stunned as I agreed to rush over the next day. I wondered if I got the job after all.
Mid-way through the week, the television told us about a strange virus from China that had jumped to the United States. Reports of many people dying in Washington State chilled me. I heard from many sources that it was best to stay home. The virus was contagious and could be deadly to those with prior health conditions. I looked at my pantry and realized that if we had to quarantine, there was not enough food in the house to eat. I had a half bag of brown rice, a single box of pasta, and an assortment of soups. For the past few years, we’ve been eating fresh food and I would replenish our supplies a few times a week. I work at home and I viewed grocery shopping as a minor break in my day. The only thing I had in bulk was the big bag of toilet paper I had purchased the previous week and put into the garage.
At the end of the week, my husband called from his office in distress. Someone there tested positive for Covid-19 and his employer was sending him and his computer home. My husband barely had time to empty his desk before he was on the road. He had been working with the firm for a scant week. The person who had tested positive had left the office due to feeling sick three days before my husband had worked there. This man had never been in my husband’s personal office or part of his firm’s area.
I risked grocery shopping again, but by this time the stores were row upon row of empty shelves. No meat. No produce. No pasta. The store was empty of goods and people. The only bread available was Jewish rye and low-carb tortillas. We discovered delivery services. We used it for our food instead of venturing out and stayed home while the world went insane. People died and no one could explain why. Our modern medicine could not stand against this invisible enemy. I had to turn off the news. Watching it made me depressed and anxious.
It was lonely for me. I used to pack up my laptop to do my writing at the local coffeehouse, but that was not an option now. I did not know if my husband had been exposed or not. He looked fine, but who knew how long that would last? I was obsessed about the pantry and how empty it was. I coughed and sneezed, but was it Covid-19 or my seasonal allergies? I did little writing and would sit and stare into space or marathon watch movies. I had a home office, but I couldn’t seem to go inside and work.
Then the cancelations started. One by one, my readings closed, including the big one in San Francisco. My convention circuit collapsed as all the places I sold my work either canceled or postponed their event. After I completed my fingerprinting at city hall, the next day the city closed to the public.
April arrived, and neither my husband nor I became sick. He had escaped the virus. My husband’s job was going strong. His industry had switched completely virtual so that he could do everything he needed from home. His class at church resumed on Zoom and he could see and chat with the people he socialized with.
I experimented with Zoom too. Poetry groups that used to meet in person had converted their readings to being online. I discovered a few readings to join and enjoyed listening to poets perform live. In time, I gained courage and read my poetry at these venues. Much to my surprise, I sold a couple of my poetry books.
One of my online writing groups had a recorded series called “The SciFi Roundtable Podcast”. They invited me to join them as a semi-regular panelist. This is a podcast where people talk about science fiction concepts or writing craft. I found it like the sort of conversations that I would have as a panelist at a science fiction conventions. So it was an easy transition for me to speak on this podcast. I found they scheduled me to come and speak almost every weekend. The producers said they wanted to get in plenty of recordings, while most of us were home and available.
The contact with people on Zoom helped with the isolation. I gave up staring into space and looked forward to chatting with my fellow podcasters. My local writing association went on Zoom too, and I could see my peers there. I also joined an online writing challenge. The project gave me fresh energy and focus. While I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write, I was finding it difficult to get started.
In May, I joined an online Zoom group which scheduled a write-in everyday of the week. You could join or not, as you chose. I found accountability partners for my writing. I went from writing little and feeling depressed about my lack of output, to finding my new novella project was getting done on schedule. The act of going into my office, telling my husband that I was to be online and not disturbed, allowed my old coffeehouse habit to return.
By June, I had developed a station in my bedroom where I write morning pages and poetry every morning in longhand. I don’t turn on computers. I don’t turn on the television. It is me and my notebooks. Sometimes there is a little music in the background, and my playful cat interrupts me. Once I’m done with these tasks, I go to my regular computer. I do my marketing, my article writing, or I do other kinds of work. Next, I attend a co-writing session in the afternoon, or tend to my home. Evenings go by with my husband where we watch movies together or play cards, unless I’m reading at an online open-mic. There is a rhythm to my days that brings comfort and calmness. I finally got word about the poet laureate position. The city had suspended the program indefinitely due to the pandemic. It was disappointing news, but understandable. At least, I had closure.
It has taken time to adjust to the isolation. Now that both of us have restructured our habits, we have found a measure of peace here at home. Life is different. We miss seeing people in person and I miss the travel. My husband misses the restaurants and dining in. We are learning to live with the limitations that have been thrust on us by this modern day plague.
None of us knew what was ahead. Plague has never been easy for humanity, yet it has been with us throughout time. It brings change and trouble, but it also can bring us together. It is up to each of us to choose how we will live during this time of isolation.
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Wendy Van Camp is the Poet Laureate for the City of Anaheim, California. Her work is influenced by cutting edge technology, astronomy, and daydreams. She is a nominated finalist for the Elgin Award, a Pushcart Prize, and for a Dwarf Stars Award. Her poems, stories, and articles have appeared in: “Star*Line”, “Scifaikuest”, and “Indy Author Magazine”, among many others. She is the editor of two annual poetry anthologies “Eccentric Orbits” and “Anaheim Poetry Review”, and a guest editor for the SFPA’s “Eye To The Telescope”. She is a graduate of the Ad Astra Speculative Fiction Workshop and a member of SFWA, Codex, SFPA, and IBPA. Find her books on all major online retailers. Learn more at http://wendyvancamp.com
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No Wasted Ink Newsletter & Ramblecast
No Wasted Ink is a free monthly newsletter featuring an original writing tips essay, a monthly “ramble” by Poet Laureate Wendy Van Camp, and her poem of the month. Wendy’s upcoming events, places where she has recently published or appeared on podcasts is listed. The Ramblecast is a voiceover podcast reading of the essay, ramble, and poem in the poet’s voice which comes in your email along with the written newsletter.