On a beautiful Thursday morning in July, five months into the pandemic, I was grateful to be sitting in the bright and airy ModernWell conference room six feet apart from a few of my fellow writers and seeing the remaining members of our Writing Studio class on our TV screen through Zoom. Many of us have been writing together for more than five years and the relationships among members has extended far beyond the hundreds of thousands of words we’ve collectively written. After our individual check-ins, Nina Badzin, my Writing Studio co-founder kicked off the writing part of the session with a reading by Abigail Thomas entitled “Bugs Are Saving My (Writing) Life” (from Brevity Magazine).
Abigail’s essay begins:
“Another rainy day in a long succession of rainy days and I’m bummed that the part of myself that has always kept me company seems to have disappeared. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, I haven’t left the house in five months, and can’t write a word. What’s the point of being me? I wonder. I’m so stuck. Write about what you notice when you’re stuck, I tell my students. Write about what you notice and see what happens. Nothing happens here except bugs. Oh my god, I think. I’ll write about the bugs!
For instance: I often see one large black ant wandering across the living room floor in early evening. I think there’s only one of him. He (I think of it as a he), is always headed toward the dining room but never seems to get there because the next night, and the next, there he is again, walking across the same portion of floor towards the dining room. It’s as if he’s having his own Groundhog Day.”
Abigail goes on to talk about more bugs and then meanders away from bugs to discuss her bedside table, which was actually an old filing cabinet. And then she circles back to bugs. Well, wasps, actually. Her subject matter is a bit mundane. But the way this seasoned writer links words and thoughts together pulls the reader into her story about what she is noticing and where that takes her.
Nina titled our writing exercise “WHAT WE NOTICE IS SOMETIMES (OFTEN!) ENOUGH” and sent the ModernWell Writing Studio members on their way to write their much ado about nothing musings. Nina’s specific writing prompt read: “Start with what you notice right now and let the thoughts move on from there. It may morph into something you noticed another time, too, or things you’ve been thinking about, which are not necessarily visual. That’s okay! Let’s allow ourselves to meander today.”
While there were at least one million items on my to-do list that pulled at me that morning, instead of tackling my overflowing in-box or doing more research on how exactly it will work to have my son start college during a pandemic, I decided to join my writing peers on a 20 minute creative journey. And here is what I wrote:
I notice you. The white shiny table, now with some scratches and dents and bumps and bruises you’ve absorbed from being used, leaned on, written on, cried on, spilled on, maybe even pounded on, and dumped on— dumped on as in used as a place for people to dump their words, feelings, and ideas. And you’ve absorbed and carried it all. Day after day and year after year, you’ve stood as a safe, unconditionally welcoming resting spot — a secure and dependable vehicle for gathering, creating, and sharing.
But now you sit alone a lot of the time.
The people are afraid of you. Not of you specifically, with your sleek surface and sturdy legs, but afraid that by sitting around you, sickness could spread. Afraid of the possibility that a sick person, who might not even know that they carry the virus, will inadvertently leave some spittle on you, and that somehow that sick spittle could be transferred to them and unknowingly make them sick and that they, in turn, could unknowingly make others sick.
But you are the innocent victim in all of this. This is not your fault. You did not bring this upon yourself. You should be rejoicing in the voices that surround you and bounce off of your bright and shiny surface. You have provided people a space to self-reflect and to reflect on the voices reverberating around them.
There should be more nicks on your edges, from chairs being pushed in too forcefully by the well-meaning courageous women who, for the past 2 and half years have bellied up to you each day to meet, brainstorm, solve, vent, transform, write, and create.
I know you miss your people. I miss them terribly. I fear that the virus and all of its droplets will keep our beloved people away. For too long. And I really do not want to move you. I want you to stay here and stay strong and available for the infinite possibilities that you hold for the people who surround you. The people who lean on you. The people you love to hold up.
I want to hug you and tell you that they will be back. They will be back. Healing will come and the fear will subside. They will be back. Magic will be made around you again.
Stay strong and keep shining. Hold steady. Your people will be back. They need you. They need each other.
Check out Nina’s Virtual Creative Writing Workshop starting September 15th! You’ll have the opportunities to explore your creativity, including participating in exercises like the one above.