My web designer, Steve Bennett of AuthorBytes, has started an online journal called The Pandemic Lens (https://pandemiclens.com/). It began in June when Steve ventured out with his camera to take some outdoor shots in Somerville, MA. It was the first time he’d taken an outdoor photo in four months. Eventually he came to recognize that his camera wasn’t the lens for our time; instead the pandemic was the lens through which to see our present and our future. He says, “My goal is ambitious: to provide a curated venue where selected photographers, painters, writers, and other artists can present works that express their reaction to these surreal times and their vision of what the days and years ahead might look like.” Indeed art responds to the world around it.
Which leads me to a consideration of how we writers are doing with our work these days. I appreciate and fully value those who say the pandemic has made it difficult for them to work. In a short essay that Steve asked me to contribute to The Pandemic Lens, I talk about my history as an only child preparing me for seclusion. I also write about my angry father and my desire to find moments of stillness, which were usually moments of being alone. The retreat the pandemic has required of us, then, seems pretty natural to me. I spend my days writing and teaching (via Zoom). I start each day with either a five-mile run or a four-mile walk. My wife Cathy and I find opportunities to be with neighbors on patios where we can practice social distancing. Life goes on, but there’s always the nagging awareness that at a moment’s notice it could all change forever. To keep myself from thinking too much about that fact, I try to keep my attention on the present moment. This morning on my walk, for instance, I took note of the goldenrod and the purple asters, their colors demanding my attention, and I gave thanks for their appearance. Last night, Cathy and I watched a fingernail sliver of the moon. Such are the small moments of grace that I cherish.
I give thanks for my work, which has been ongoing throughout this pandemic. I escape into the invented worlds of my novels and stories which often seem more preferable to the here-and-now. Perhaps I’m turning a blind eye to our current time, but I know at some point my work will have to include it. So with that in mind, I offer these five prompts:
- Write about what you miss most during these times.
- Write about what makes you angry.
- Write about the first thing you’d like to do once the pandemic is gone.
- Write about the way the pandemic has changed you.
- Write about an ordinary detail through the lens of the pandemic.
I’ll let Wendell Berry have the last word: “The living can’t quit living because the world has turned terrible and people they love and need are killed. They can’t because they don’t. The light that shines into darkness and never goes out calls them on into life. It calls them back again into the great room. It calls them into their bodies and into the world, into whatever the world will require. It calls them into work and pleasure, goodness and beauty, and the company of other loved ones.”