In Fact, You Don’t Have to Write Right Now

March 26, 2020 § 17 Comments


MatternBy Grace Mattern

Good news! My screen time is down to an average of 23 hours and 10 minutes per day, @NasimiShabnam, writer and activist, tweeted the other day, one of the first I see when I sneak over to Twitter from the essay I sat down to edit. Comedian @DoctorDoug replies, Good news guys, my screen time is down 8% to 27 hours a day.

In our new world ruled by the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have no social life, my volunteer and personal commitments are cancelled, and consulting gigs are on hold. Unexpectedly, the open time I crave as an over-committed writer is here.

But right behind the word document on my screen is my Google browser. What’s happened since the last time I checked the The New York Times (five minutes ago)? Is there an update on the number of cases and deaths on the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard (checked six minutes ago)? But first, Twitter.

I don’t have a program that blocks internet access for a set period of time. Time to write. Time to focus. Usually I’m able to ignore the addictive suck of the internet for an hour or two, closing my ears to the attention whining that seeps out of my computer. My guess is that even writers who have internet-blocking programs aren’t using them right now. Or if they are they’re setting them for 15 minute intervals.

Pandemic life has created an unprecedented level of distraction. The established structure of our lives unraveled so rapidly I wouldn’t have believed it a week ago. Extreme social distancing, isolation, lockdowns, restaurant closures and empty schools — I would have tossed that all off as a particularly paranoid version of an imagined future.

Yet, here we are. Here I am, looking at my screen, then looking out the windows of my study. There is the same physical world out there, the farmyard minus the farm house and milking barns that burned down in a blaze so fierce I felt the heat standing at the end of my driveway, a hundred yards away. Only the concrete silo still stands, topped with a silver metal dome backed by a line of tall spruce. This rural landscape is lovely but right now it can’t compete with the invisible virus, a blaze I can’t see.

Back to Twitter for distraction. Thankfully I also find validation.

Writer @susanorlean tweets, I’m amazed by everyone who says they will get tons of work done during this lockdown. I can’t begin to focus! Am just obsessively reading the news, listening to the news, watching the news, spreading the news. No work.

With such compelling news why wouldn’t we be obsessive? We’ve been fed distracting online content for years, our brains trained to go back and go back and go back to whatever our screens feed us. And we’ve never needed the latest feed more than now.

Orlean replies to a tweet by musician Rosanne Cash who reminds us all that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during his plague quarantine – I, on the other hand, will be playing Words with Friends. Researcher of extremist groups @egavactip isn’t even planning to play games: 500 years from now, students of history will be saying, “Just a reminder that when Mark Pitcavage was quarantined because of the plague, he made like a billion mediocre tweets.”

Poet @chenchenwrites posts, honestly i can neither read nor write poetry right now. which i’ve been feeling down about. but like, that’s ok! poetry doesn’t have to be the answer all the time! poetry doesn’t have to save us or even sustain us every crisis.

To which queer romance author @FozzyGlamKitty replies, that’s why i been annoyed how in the beginning with the Shakespeare/King Lear posts, like dammit us writers/creatives are people too. Creating/writing can wait, we’re allowed to be distracted, worried, and tired.

@HomoSherlock (neurodivergent jew-ish gayzn) had perhaps the best answer: nope sometimes what sustains us is stale pantry popcorn & ten hours of Love is Blind

Back to my windows. It helps to see that the sun is still traveling north, lengthening and warming the days. The red buds of the old maple in the yard are beginning to bulge and this morning there was a rush of bird song as dawn spread around the rim of sky. Here I am. Here we are, part of a web of life that grows and diminishes in endless cycles.

The novel coronavirus isn’t evil. It’s not a “foreign disease” that arose through intent. It’s how the world works. Viruses change their cellular structure over and over to find new ways to bind to animal cells and reproduce. We’re all here to reproduce and right now the coronavirus is having tremendous success.

Given the intelligence and creativity of humans the virus won’t always have the upper hand. But for now it has fundamentally altered how we all live and work and focus. It’s okay to give ourselves a break if we can’t create.

As artist and author @adamjk says, sorry i can’t write “king lear” right now
_____

Grace Mattern is a writer, artist and activist. She has published two books of poetry and her work has appeared in The Sun, Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Appalachia and other publications. Her writing and visual art can be found at www.gracemattern.com

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§ 17 Responses to In Fact, You Don’t Have to Write Right Now

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for writing this. (Of course you did manage to write this! Good for you! Maybe just keep going!) I have been baffled by my own lack of writing too.

    • Grace Mattern says:

      I managed to write this because I was taking an online class, and writing it allowed me to keep going back to twitter to look for good quotes. 😉 But it did get me started writing and I hope to keep it up. I hope words start flowing for you too.

  • Marie Tully says:

    Amen!

  • Sandi Matheson says:

    Thanks for sharing! Stay safe my friend!

  • Stacy E Holden says:

    Glad to know I am not the only one. Thanks for providing a perspective that I needed to hear, you know, rather than the mean voice in my head always asking why aren’t you writing?

  • I called the county sheriff yesterday because the short-term rental across the street is occupied and my tenant who is in his 70s and just had bypass surgery had to wait before going for his slow walk to avoid contact. The homeowner lives elsewhere and is generally responsible about renting, but he was breaking the law. The order came after last weekend when all local beaches were so packed with tourists treating this as holiday rather than emergency.

    It is all I could think of, all I could write about. It was making me miserable in isolation, though I do get my walk. On my blog I created a new page for covid19 news and put up a Monday Writing Prompt followed by a weird revision strategy today. This first ir fiction, but the next four will be nonfiction. That means I have fewer hours a day to review statistics.

  • Aron DiBacco says:

    Wait, there’s a pandemic??

  • I’m all of the above, Grace. I’m distracted from writing, distracted BY social media, and yet driven to write and engage on social media because there are opportunities not to be squandered. And of course, all that stress reminds me of the need for self-care and of the Hershey’s kisses in the pantry. Phew- it’s exhausting! I’m chuckling at your post because I can relate so much, so thanks for that!

  • Cathy Beres says:

    Omg perfect!!! This is in my inbox somewhere so thanks for sending! More soon jumping in shower have FaceTime cocktails soon and I look a fright! Hope things ok on your end….. what’s wrong with Chicagoans that they had to flood the lakefront???????? 😩😫😩😫we ALL would like to do that but we didn’t! I’m not doing our doggie group anymore. This is serious! I’m glad mayor put her foot down!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  • ashraf081 says:

    Its amazing to see that you show your thoughts in such a good way. Really I was thinking the same.

  • Nice article, I myself have been working as a copywriter for quite sometime now, I still feel I couldnt get everything right all at once, but wrting is a learnable skill and as time goes on your writing becomes better and better – https://stateragvacontentservices.wordpress.com/

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