Reading for Brevity in Times of COVID-19

March 27, 2020 § 9 Comments

victoria bBy Victoria Buitron

In October 2019, I became one of the readers for Brevity’s special “Experiences of Disability” issue. I was excited to be a part of the team, and it drove me to write an essay about living with a chronic illness for my MFA thesis. It has been a privilege to read the assigned essays, and I am continuously in awe at the resilience and creativity fellow writers can find in the depths of pain. It somehow seems wholly apt and an act of masochism to be reading submissions now, when a form of collective pain has enveloped the world due to COVID-19. I’ve experienced two conflicting feelings while reading submissions the last few weeks. First, I’m proud to be a reader because I know how difficult it is for people to share their lived experiences with disabilities and illnesses, especially when my diagnosis didn’t arrive until I was nearly thirty. Second, at times there has been an unfettered desire to throw my laptop across the room because my pain, coupled with others’ pain, has become unbearable.

Since COVID-19 took over, its resulting grief hasn’t allowed me to concentrate or analyze submissions for the special issue. I have opened up Submittable, arrived at an essay, read the first paragraph, and then closed the tab. Waves of guilt have overcome me because writers are sharing the hardest moments of their lives and I can’t even will myself to read them. Snap out of it, I’ve told myself. I hadn’t realized that lack of concentration and ineptitude were some of the symptoms of a pandemic until I went on social media and saw writers who I admire confess they’ve felt the same way. A few days ago, I teetered on the idea of sending an email to the special issue’s managing editor explaining I wasn’t in the right mindset to continue reading.

Before I could send that email, I had a conversation with my brother, who at 24 was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery this past January. He has been too chipper since then, and his anxiety seems nonexistent while my mental health has been imploding.

“Why are you being so positive throughout this whole thing?” I asked him.

“Well, I lost my job in December, I had surgery in January, they confirmed it was a malignant tumor in February, and now a worldwide pandemic in March. My reasoning is it can only get better from here,” he said. I shouldn’t have cackled when he said this, but I did.

As the days have passed since our conversation, the only reason I have been able to go back to reading essay submissions about disability and illness is because of him. If he can envision a future, why can’t I? If he can make Instagram challenges during the pandemic, why can’t I? If he can read the book Room to Dream by David Lynch, sitting in the front yard while the sun sparkles on his jet-black hair and I stare at him from the window—thankful that it’s only stage one cancer—why can’t I read too? If he can write a script while being forced to stay put because even venturing to the pharmacy is strictly prohibited for him, why can’t I sit down and read for Brevity?

So, on a gloomy March day, I once again started to write and read essays about pain, because I figure we don’t just overcome viruses, and cancer, and grief, and unemployment, we fight through them.

No one knows how the world will look or feel like in September 2020, the tentative month the Experiences of Disability issue will go live. COVID-19 has already altered our lives and converted our shelter-in-place realities into the Twilight Zone, but I am certain Brevity will be there for us, just like it has been for more than twenty years. What I do recommend, especially if you are overwhelmed with grief or uncertainty when this issue goes live, is to treat every essay like a daily snack. This is the reading tactic I’ve now been implementing for the March submissions. Some weeks I’ve been assigned twenty essays or more, and I limit the intake each day or else my mental health wanes. Some days I’ve stopped reading altogether, until I feel ready to dive back in.

The essays in this upcoming issue will be imperative, more so in the midst of an era when the world has partly been brought to a halt due to a virus. I hope to send my brother the link to the issue, and thank him for allowing some of his courage to rub off on me when I felt like giving up.

The issue will be there for you to read when you’re ready, whenever that may be.

Victoria Buitron
is a dual citizen of Ecuador and the United States. She is a translator and writer based in Connecticut and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, The Bare Life Review, Brevity Blog and more. Find her on Twitter @kikitraveler30.

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§ 9 Responses to Reading for Brevity in Times of COVID-19

  • timirjana2020gmailcom says:


  • bethfinke says:

    Oh, my. Not all of the essays in the special disability issue will be about pain and despair, I hope, There is so much more to disability than that: resourcefulness, empathy, teamwork, creativity. I do look forward to reading the special issue when it is published, and I thank you ahead of time for all you are contributing to make that happen.


    • herheadache says:

      I hope so too. I deal with a lot, as I continue losing my remaining vision, but though I think it is necessary to express the hard things, it’s not all doom and gloom living with disability and illness. Important lessons and perspectives are learned and shared. Hopefully the special issue will showcase both sides.

  • Shirley Buitron says:

    always is a pleasure to read your stories, love you to the moon and back

  • Well said. Since I am posting assignments on my blog, this will be the assignment next Monday: Brian Arundel’s “The Things I’ve Lost” (a stunning essay) on Brevity, but in reverse. What I have found. I look forward to writing it.

  • kperrymn says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I always appreciate writers who offer encouragement, acknowledge their own struggles, and share their triumphs, large and small. Writers like you who are posting pieces like this during the pandemic are showing extraordinary honesty and generosity. You give us two gifts–the knowledge that we are not alone and a path forward that works for you and will no doubt help us. Many, many thanks!

  • Laura says:

    “Well, I lost my job in December, I had surgery in January, they confirmed it was a malignant tumor in February, and now a worldwide pandemic in March. My reasoning is it can only get better from here,” he said.

    I don’t know your brother, but I love him. This too shall pass. Great piece.

  • G. J. Jolly says:

    Victoria, I think what your brother has learned is something you can learn too. Life is what it is. You cannot change it. Nevertheless, you can manipulate how you react to it. And it is alright to cry.

  • herheadache says:

    I felt like this too, like things that were before are hard to go back to now, knowing all we now know. I did have a question about the issue that I don’t know how to find out about. I felt awful caring at all about it, but I do think an issue like this special one is necessary. I sent mine to the email provided because I had issues with my screen reader and the Submitable site, but I never received any kind of reply to make sure my submission was seen and added, like that of which you receive when Submittable is being accessible for me in the past. I do still hope my piece is being considered along with all Submittable subs. I do like your brother’s attitude and I hope he and you both stay well through everything.

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