The Words Between Us: A Covid-19 Diary
May 18, 2020 § 5 Comments
By Armen Bacon and Phyllis Brotherton
It started with the memory of a children’s book we both love, The Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky, its message feeling especially timely and poignant during this pandemic:
“Rentrayage – to reweave across the cut. To make whole.”
While cleaning closets, tossing expired spices, repurposing drawers, updating photo albums, and experimenting with Bundt cake recipes certainly offer a degree of satisfaction, we both agree we need more.
To chronicle life in this strange pandemic world where dinner plans, birthday parties, graduations and even funerals remain on hold, in suspended animation, both of us sense writing might offer solace in the wake of disaster, mitigate knots in our stomachs. Phantom fevers and coughs arrive without invitation. Our “to do” lists are suddenly blank – all commitments cancelled or postponed until further notice.
But writers write. We are masters of social distancing – often at our best when under self-quarantine, self-isolation. So why not translate fears, anxieties, reflections and revelations into a mix of musings and forms – create a docu-memory of life during Covid-19.
And so began the daily exchange of words between us.
Armen writes –
One minute I am ok. The next moment I am not. This afternoon I found refuge in the quiet loft where my books gather. Here, life feels safe. Predictable. Sometimes even normal. At this hour of day, sufficient light shines through the glass pane of windows – offering bursts of hope for whatever awaits us on the other side of this monster. I inhale words as if they are oxygen. For now, they help me find my footing.
You could say we did this to avoid “The Crack-Up.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s devastatingly prophetic 1936 essay notwithstanding, we needed a path and a practice to harness the mood swings, the ups and downs, find some silver lining to all the scary headlines. Forced to stop every gym visit or yoga class, every meeting, every celebration, every gal pal cocktail hour, in other words, every routine that kept us connected to the social and physical world, we were suddenly forced to STOP.
With newfound time on our hands (let’s face it you can only cook and eat so many scrumptious new dishes or bake so much bread), we decide to channel all the excess energy into a collaborative, creative pursuit guaranteed to light our brains on fire. First and foremost, we wanted to play and have fun, with the overarching rule: “No Rules!”
Then, of course, being the organized, Type A (for anal) women that we are, we establish a few rules, a structure, a timeline and a tentative plan. Suddenly, we’ve launched ourselves into the creative nonfiction stratosphere, with a book as promising to us as the pot of gold at the end of this dark and difficult time.
We reflect, we vent, we confess, we remember. We share, we contemplate, we revise. We write more, with breaks for those “down in the dump” days few of us can avoid, and FaceTime check-ins to discuss progress and problems, sip wine and laugh, heal a little, plan next steps.
Phyllis writes –
A nasty new virus has stopped us in our tracks. We ponder its origin. Maybe a bat or a conspiracy. The latter, though despicable, would be somewhat understandable, more predictable. We have no stomach or capacity for comprehending Mother Nature seemingly out to get us. Our man-made vaccines cannot, in the end, outsmart her. In the meantime, as we stand outside our houses, careful not to venture further into the street without a mask, the sun says bask in my rays, soak up my warmth. The moon says, remember me?
“This pandemic truly has a way of shifting priorities. Let’s FaceTime soon.”
“The projected statistics of virus deaths is terrifying. Think I’ll bake banana nut bread, re-org and write.”
“I wanted to talk to you about a collaborative writing project experiment we could play with. We could commit to a certain number of words per week. Maybe an Exquisite Corpse.”
“I’m in! Making soup with leftover veggies, then heading upstairs to write.”
“We’re cleaning the house.”
“My mind was on fire in the shower…thx for igniting the spark!”
“Honestly, it gives me a daily practice to focus on besides the apocalyptic next two weeks. I’ll keep sending you words.”
“Do you want subtitles? This is better than Xanax.”
[Picture of zucchini and onions sautéing]…”My Xanax at the moment.”
“I am happy to write ____, working on _____, also will review ______ and send tonight or tomorrow.”
“Two Type A chics!”
“I may have to start over, switch out the sections.”
“Will we ever emerge ‘vomiting rainbows’ from this nightmare?”
“I’m running out of paper with this F-word assignment.”
“We are either brilliant or insane.”
“After a 4-hour stint, I’m feeling unmasked, uncensored, unafraid.”
“FYI, with regard to footnotes, these are just for me to know where I found stuff, in case I need to find sources.”
“You mean like when it becomes a bestseller?”
Thus, our day-to-day experiences, life during lockdown, takes shape on the page. In other words, we write in the dark. Together, we write towards light.
Armen Bacon is an op ed columnist and the author of three books: Griefland – An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship, and My Name is Armen”(Volumes I & II). An artisan alum of CSU Summer Arts, she has studied memoir, poetic prose, creative writing and flash fiction – crediting the program for igniting/fueling her writing passion. Her essays have appeared in Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change, Entropy, Brevity Blog, Hybred Magazine, and The Fresno Bee. Follow her journey on Twitter @ArmenBacon, Instagram @ArmenBacon and Facebook: Armen D. Bacon.
Phyllis Brotherton, memoirist and essayist, holds an MA and MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fresno State University. Her work has been published in Under the Gum Tree, Entropy, Anomaly, Brevity Blog and elsewhere, with her essay, “Ashes and File Cabinets,” nominated for Best of the Net. She is currently sheltering-in-place with her wife, Denise, eating far too much and binge-watching “The Restaurant.” Follow her on Twitter @phyllisbwrites, Instagram @phyllis_brotherton and Facebook: Phyllis Brotherton.