In the Dark

I haven’t been able to write for a while. You may have noticed. Or not. I’ve been in the dark–the dark of winter, the dark of the pandemic, the dark night of the soul.

Winter has come with too little rain or snow, too much cold, too few encounters with my fellow humans. Over three hundred thousand people have died from the pandemic. My husband and I are refusing invitations, trying to be safe, trying to be responsible, though we so want to see our family and friends. The holidays should make it brighter, but this is the first Yule season without my good friend who was killed in the spring.

And I’ve been wondering about writing. Do I even like writing? Writers say they write because they have to. I don’t really have to. Anyway, it doesn’t seem like I have to. Am I really any good at it? Should I even be bothering? I had planned to work hard in November, but more than a week into December I still couldn’t get started. Is it time to just stop?

Still, in the darkness of this season of festivals of light, it’s not so very dark. I’ve sent cards and cookies and gifts, called people, stayed in touch by social media. I’ve gotten through my Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge watch, and it wasn’t as dark as I remembered it. I’ve been working my way through all my gardening books, because it will be spring again some day. There is a vaccine for the virus, and it’s already in use.

And the writing? I get a regular newsletter that has calls for submissions. One of my stories seemed like a good fit for a call. It was ultimately rejected, but had made it all the way to the final round. I got the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever had.That encouraged me to send it out again. Another one of the magazines, published four times a year, uses the same opening line for all the stories in that issue. The February issue’s opening line intrigued me. I wrote a story. I polished it, adjusted it, sent it to a friend for review, polished some more and sent it off. It was fun. I enjoyed the writing and the editing and the submission process. It might get rejected, but maybe, just maybe, I’m not done writing quite yet.

Maybe the darkness is lifting. We’ll see where I stand a week or two after the Solstice. I bet the world will be just a little bit lighter.

Plague Journal

As I’ve said before, my survivalist and prepping interests have always been to prepare me for the impending disaster, not of nuclear war or a solar flare or the zombie apocalypse–but for the disaster that will be my retirement. If I don’t manage to have enough savings or investments or social security to feed my husband, myself and the cats, the disaster will be right there in our faces. Turns out, the disasters have hit a bit sooner than I expected, so I’ve upped my timeline. Toward the goal of being less dependent on the world at large that is failing to provide, I’ve started by analyzing my yard. As Euell Gibbons used to say, many parts are edible. I’ve been amazed at the variety of medicinals and edibles merrily jumping out of the ground that most people would be dumping weed killer on. On top of that, the herbs I’m growing, especially basil, seem to cure everything. If I have food and medicine covered, what’s next?

Since I’m planning on being in quarantine until there is a safe and effective vaccine (for the sake of the at-risk people I might infect if I should get sick), I’m staying in and trying to keep from dying of boredom. I genuinely believe people can die of boredom. It’s caused me to leave more than one job. Our first line of news, education, and entertainment is probably the television followed closely by the computers and magazines and newspapers. But my greatest source of comfort is reading a book–paper, electronic, audio, it doesn’t matter. Besides, as so many writers have said, you have to read to write. I’m chest deep in reading material right now. My husband is slightly horrified at how many books I currently have piled on my desk. That happens when you’re trying to research more than one topic at the same time.

The library has a reserve and pick up service so, like your favorite takeout meals, I can carry out books I want to read. Right now, among others, I’m reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. While it was published in 2016, and covers Milwaukee, I figured it would be relevant to our times of people not being able to pay rent or mortgages. Even with eviction moratoriums, homelessness is coming. Already the park across the street from my house has more homeless people camping out in it. One has a dog. One has a scooter. I’m not sure what will become of them when winter comes. Maybe by winter things will be better, but that’s not the way I’m going to bet. I worry about these people a lot. As for us, for a retirement present, my husband paid off the mortgage. If we keep up the taxes and don’t have a tornado, earthquake, fire, or gas explosion, we’ve got a place to sleep.  The way 2020 is going, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, even though it makes typing tough.

Then there are family and friends, essential survival resources for sanity and humanity. My mom is in lock down in an assisted living facility. I call. It’s not the same as visiting. My neighbors are cautious about visiting at a distance. We chat across yards and streets. My friends post on Facebook. I’ve seen a couple of them in person, carefully after self quarantine when there was any chance of exposure. We chat on the phone or by e-mail. It’s not the same.

And finally, the other essential of survival, useful employment, to keep up my sense of self worth. I’m writing. Finally. The pandemic took several months away from me, but I’m finally writing again. I eased back in with non-fiction, but I’m working on fiction again. I’m posting The Gingerbread House as a serial on tapas.io, and I finally know what the sequel is going to look like. You may have noticed (or not) that I haven’t been blogging much. It’s hard to know what to say when you’re not writing and everything you want to say seems so bleak. But here it is, my current survival status. I hope you’re surviving as well. I worry about you. It’s what I do. And I write.

Image: Basil, a universal cure? By Marilyn Evans

The Strangest Apocalypse

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we were all pretty certain that sooner or later someone would drop a nuclear bomb on us. We went from the naivete of duck and cover to building underground bunkers with at least two weeks supply of food, medicine, and other essentials. The reasoning was that after two weeks, the radiation levels would be sufficiently low to allow us to emerge and get back to whatever was the new normal. That was before the days of really dirty bombs that could Chernobilize a nation and render it unfit for humans for centuries.

Perhaps this childhood was the cause of my life-long love of disaster and post apocalyptic books and films. I am prone to critiquing the characters and assessing how well or badly they addressed their particular disaster. I loved the TV series “Doomsday Preppers”, and even follow some on-line “prepper” sites. I have on occasion contributed articles when I felt I had anything useful to add to the conversation. My novella, “Wasting Water,” is an environmental, post-apocalyptic story that originally started as a how-to article for dealing with climate change, but I realized would make better fiction.

I’ve always kept a full pantry and freezer, know how to forage and garden, can come up with sour dough yeast and bake on a stone, if required. I even have a zombie apocalypse plan. But what we are dealing with in the days of Covid-19 is not what I think anyone was expecting.

This is a strange apocalypse where there is plenty of inexpensive gasoline and lots of food and supplies except for the rolling shortages–in my neighborhood, first toilet paper, then bread, then flour and yeast. But so far the supply chain is unbroken, and if you wait, the shelves are restocked in a few days. Contrary to everything we came to expect of an apocalypse, the way to avoid danger during this strange time is to stay home and amuse yourself.

It is safe to walk the streets and in the parks, enjoying spring, as long as you stay six feet away from everyone else. So far, there are no raiding gangs or angry mutants, only friendly dog walkers and neighbors eager to say hello. People put teddy bears in their windows so children in their neighborhoods can be comforted and amused as they walk by with their parents. Children, sent home from schools, are being taught remotely by sometimes frantic teachers learning to navigate on-line classes for the first time. The National Home School Association (https://nationalhomeschoolassociation.com/) has dropped it’s annual fee to $10. If children who got their meals from schools still need them, organizations are doing everything in their power to see that they are fed. As businesses close, food pantries, restaurants, churches, and volunteer organizations do their best to help those who have been laid off to have what they need.

Books, movies, concerts are all free and available on-line or on television. Museums give virtual tours, zoos have live cams of penguins and otters. People share information and comfort on line or by phone. Drive-by celebrations are held for any occasion that once would have drawn a crowd, helping to maintain social distance. Restaurants have switched to carry out and curbside pickup. The news is uninterrupted, there is water and electricity.

Our heroes are health care professionals, but also grocery store workers, trash collectors, anyone who keeps us safe and cared for. No novel or movie in my experience ever foresaw the level of mutual support and cooperation that has occurred during this pandemic. But we have had our villains–hoarders, deniers who encourage people to gather under unsafe conditions spreading the illness, incompetent or self-serving politicians.

Although this is unlike the horrific scenarios of the apocalypses we expected, hardships and loss of life are real and will continue to grow, nor has the worst passed. We may yet see the people who think an arsenal is necessary in the face of any crisis have their opportunity to protect their stores from the desperate. But in light of what I’ve seen so far, I think we will find ways to aid and support one another rather than “hunker down” and turn away those in need. The question we seem to be asking most often during this strange apocalypse is not “How can I protect what’s mine,” but “How can I help?”

The novella “Wasting Water” is in the anthology Undeniable: Authors Respond to Climate Change, available from Alternating Current Press or Amazon

http://www.press.alternatingcurrentarts.com/2020/02/undeniable-writers-respond-to-climate-change.html

http://www.amazon.com/Undeniable-Writers-Respond-Climate-Change/dp/1946580155

Image: Forsythia. By Marilyn Evans.