IT’S A SMALL WORLD – OR IS IT…?

 

By Rosemary Lord

Did you notice how small our world became during the Covid-19 lock-down?

For those of us in California it’s been over eighteen months of confinement, and it’s not over yet. We were prohibited from travelling, other than for emergency/essential needs. We were discouraged from meeting anyone, other than those we lived with. For those of us who live alone – too bad!  In case we caught or spread the Dreaded Disease. 

Our in-person Writers’ Conferences were cancelled. First the Left Coast Crime Conference in San Diego was cancelled March 2020, just after I’d checked in!

Even last month’s ‘Blood on the Bayou’ Bouchercon Writers’ Conference in New Orleans, was cancelled at the last minute.

Our hardworking conference organizers must have wept as years of planning were wiped away. But you can’t keep writers down for long. We always find a way… They came up with various creative online offerings.

There was no travelling to meet other writers or to research places for our stories. We stayed home, becoming ‘shut-ins,’ locked in our own little castles – be it one room or a whole rambling house. We were still ‘confined to barracks.’ We didn’t drive – there was nowhere to go. People had everything delivered. (Cardboard box-makers must be making a fortune!)

Lives the world over changed. We became resourceful. We helped relatives, friends and neighbors. We re-evaluated our world. But the fear the Media shared, became pervasive. It was – and still is – difficult to escape.

But, as writers, we had our own escape – into our  private, isolated writing world. Some writers flourished, with no distractions, completing novels, articles, scripts – all sorts. Other writers struggled, unable to concentrate. I wrote some, but not as much as I wanted.

I read a lot more. Most of us did. Unable to get the creative juices flowing and seeking diversion, I found something quick and easy, re-reading  “Eats, shoots and leaves” – which I’ve written about before. It’s Lynn Truss’s witty book on sloppy punctuation. It still made me laugh. Just what I needed. Lynn Truss bemoaned the fate of proper punctuation, claiming that it was an endangered species, due to low standards on the internet, email communication and “txt msgs”  She explained, “Eats shoots and leaves” is a joke about pandas. They eat (bamboo) shoots and leaves – and not, by the simple addition of an errant comma, a comment about a violent criminal act. (Although pandas can give a very nasty bite.)

Then there’s Michael Caine’s interpretation of a line in a script that read,  “What’s that in the road ahead?” By adding a simple dash, Caine had his fellow actors in fits of laughter when he announced: “What’s that in the road – a head?”

Or the Australian take on bad punctuation, taught in schools as a way of making students remember the grammatical rules: “Let’s eat Grandpa,” sends Aussie kids into helpless giggles with such a picture. But it’s not a cannibalistic suggestion, merely the absence of a comma in a sentence that should read:  “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”  That’s why Eats, Shoots and Leaves became so popular, reminding us of school lessons that seem to have vanished in today’s hurried world.

So, my lock-down reading provided some laughs, and I learned a lot of new things. (Just don’t get me started on Social Media for Dummies, or U-Tube attempts to teach me ‘techie’ things with my computer or Social Media. Urgghh!)

But at least I discovered a terrific search engine: DuckDuckGo – where you don’t get followed by advertisements and constantly besieged by sales pitches for something you were looking up. 

My reading veered from my usual research about Old Hollywood, to total escapism. Mysteries in far off places: Peter Mayle’s The Marseille Caper, Victoria Hislop’s The Island and Rosanna Ley’s The Saffron Trail – to name just three. Clearly a theme here: my yearning to travel again!

Unless you’re half of a writing partnership – we write alone. Although, when I’m immersed in my writing, I’m enjoying a world with all sorts of characters – so I don’t feel alone. Our writing community is filled with a smart, imaginative assortment of writers. But this long, lock-down was different.  And as much as we did Zoom Meetings, phone-calls and Webinars, we missed that personal interaction, spontaneity, the regular Coffee Shop meetings sharing our latest pages and new ideas. We missed meeting friends – especially the hugs. Waving at the end of a Zoom meeting is not the same.

So now, as we venture out again, we are cautious. Driving any distance, after eighteen months of only running local errands, was most disconcerting. The intrepid journey on not just one, but three, freeways, took me back to learning to drive when I was seventeen – in a clunky old Morris that would not go much faster than thirty miles an hour. I was right back there on that quiet English road, holding my breath until I reached my destination. I found going to a shopping center almost overwhelming. Where did all these people come from? I’d got used to the quiet isolation of my apartment building. But I wasn’t alone. We had stopped interacting with each other. Stopped those lovely unexpected meetings of friends and acquaintances we bumped into on the street. We’d not been out on the street for eighteen months.

 But I discovered that friends and family were going through the same thing. The enforced isolation was more difficult than many of us realized. Not wanting to make light of kidnap victim’s suffering – but many people appear to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

We’d learned to keep ourselves ‘safe.’  Our world had become so small. Walking out again into the big, brash, noisy world was scary. It was tempting to run back inside and close the door. But, adventurers at heart, we writers have stepped back into the fray. Into that great big, bright, scary world again, that’s just waiting for our participation and our imagination. Hey, World, we’re back!

 

……..end……..

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

How Will YOU Tell The Story?

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By Miko Johnston

I’ll cut straight to the chase: How will we write about this? For unless we write science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, we must.

Over the past few months we have been going through an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*.  Not a single person has been unaffected by the current situation, nor will the world ever get back to “normal”, whatever that means, anytime soon. Living through the Corona virus pandemic will fundamentally change us, as a world, a country, a state. A city. A neighborhood. A street. A home.

There is no way we will be able to ignore what we’re going through.

The repercussions will ripple for years, even decades. This time will become a pivotal point in many of our lives, much like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis.

We’re hearing a lot about the Spanish Flu pandemic that ripped across the globe in the post-World War I period, largely because it’s the last time we’ve faced a medical crisis like this one. Unfortunately, like that pandemic, the current one is not only threatening our health, but our economy.

I think of how the Great Depression of 1929 affected people for the remainder of their lives. The vast majority became extremely frugal; the fear of losing everything, or going hungry, never left them. On the other hand, some moved in the opposite direction, spending every cent they made on frivolous things; their fear was depriving themselves of pleasure when they had the opportunity to enjoy it. Same story, different endings.

There has to be a moment when the reality of the new normal hits you in a unique way. Three months ago, one friend had to self-quarantine for five days – this was before sheltering in place became mandatory – after coming in contact with someone who had been in contact with someone with the virus (she’s fine). Another friend’s husband lives in a senior care facility due to other medical problems. She has been unable to visit him beyond standing in the parking lot and waving to him through a window since February, but she’s also been lax about remaining in quarantine. Social isolation seems to have aggravated the occasional periods of confusion and forgetfulness another friend experiences. I and others have been calling her, hoping to keep her mentally stimulated, but as we all know, it’s not the same as social contact. And some younger relatives have ignored the warnings and continue to hang out with friends, despite the fact that their parents fall in the high-risk category.

For me, it began with some rice. 

I’d rinsed a half cup before cooking it for dinner.  As I was cleaning up after the meal, I noticed a few uncooked grains in the strainer. Normally, I’d toss it without a thought; there couldn’t have been more than a dozen grains of raw rice there. It has been over forty years since I faced food insecurity, but at that moment I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be standing at the sink a year from now, wishing I had saved those grains as my empty belly rumbled from hunger due to food shortages.

Eventually, we will look back and see this time as we see all great stories, with a beginning, a middle, and an end – how it was before, during, and after the pandemic. We’ll have some amusing memories, like Zoom parties, cerebral conversations with the dog, and bizarre meals patched together from pantry staples (pasta, sardines, dukkah and lemon peel anyone?). And we’ll recall the unpleasant moments, of loneliness and fear, anger and frustration. Of sickness and death, which will remind us of the courage and sacrifices we’ve witnessed throughout this crisis by those who did their best to help protect us, and the failings of those who did not.

It’s too early to have an ending yet…

…but it’s not too soon to think about this: How will you tell the story of what we’re going through? Will you keep it in the background, just part of the world in which your characters exist, or will it loom so large it almost becomes a character? Will you show how your characters came through it, all the intimate details that illustrate for the reader how it affected them, or served as a pivotal point in their life? We want to know.

Maybe you’re keeping a journal, maybe you’re devouring news reports. Maybe you’re juggling family, home, work and writing. Maybe you’re hunkered down and working on your next novel. Whatever you’re doing, stay safe, be well and look ahead.

 

*with few exceptions, including my almost 105 year old Aunt Rose.

*****

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)