When the pandemic started, Chris and I were lucky enough to collaborate with some great folks at the Saginaw Art Museum to start “The Quarantine Chronicles.” We asked people to send us their artwork: their poems, essays, photos, artwork, music, or journal entries that captured their experience during the first few months of the pandemic. Now, one year later, all of us who submitted work were invited to write a follow-up to our original piece.
Almost a year ago, I had written about going for a walk with my son in early April. I said, “My son is 24-year-old adult, with a college education, his own car and place to live, and until about three weeks ago, his own job. But as I watch him walk ahead of me, I feel an overwhelming urge to run to catch up to him. I want to fix his collar, flipped up by the wind, and smooth the cowlick that curls below his right ear. I want to touch his arm, hold his face in my hands. I want to hug him, tightly, for a long time. But I can’t.”
Now, over one year later, I still can’t touch my son, or anyone else other than my spouse, for that matter. I’ve discovered this is what I miss the most. Physical contact. It’s funny, really. As an introvert by nature, these small gestures—a spontaneous hug, a hand on the arm, a pat on the shoulder—have always seemed a bit excessive to me.
But now, things have changed. My student tutors are graduating; I want to go to a ceremony and embrace them in a warm, congratulatory hug. My neighbor lost her dog; I want to hold her hand, her palm warm in mine, as she fights back her tears. Chris gets his second chapbook accepted for publication; I want to reach out and grab both his arms in excitement. And whenever I see a friend or colleague, I find myself stepping forward, eager for contact, before catching myself, then stepping the requisite six feet back.
So much of our interpersonal communication is based on body language; more than this, it is about contact. During the pandemic, we are often limited to our screens, where we cannot touch one another, stand next to one another, or even completely see one another. This means language is all we have left.
This is why the work of the Community Writing Center matters. To think write is to intentionally think about language and about communicating our ideas, thoughts, and feelings with other people. And if we are writing during the pandemic, we are doing this work in a time where we all deeply need to connect. Writing allows us to listen to our own words. And when we share that writing, we allow those words to be heard by others. That’s the kind of communication, the kind of connection, that matters most.
Chris and Helen write:
This month, we are pleased to share a few more opportunities to connect. We have our spring/summer schedule ready, with a series of great writing workshops on writing poetry, writing memoir, crafting resumes, and a new workshop on “mindfulness writing.” This month, we’ve got a workshop on “Introduction to Science Fiction Writing,” our prose and poetry writing groups, and, of course, our individual writing consultations. All our workshops and consultations will continue to be online through August, with the goal of returning to our library locations in the fall.
We also want to remind you that we’ve collaborated on a Justice Read in Bay County, where you can read “All American Boys” and participate in a community discussion about the novel (more info HERE), and “Still Life,” our literary arts journal, is currently accepting poems for its contest (more info HERE). And April is poetry month, so don’t forget to write a poem!
As always, we have a few books to recommend: “The Refugees,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience in the U.S., with some memorable characters and striking use of images; it’s a great example of how short stories can have an emotional impact. For poetry, we're rereading Sharon Olds' “The Father.” It's an old collection but a good model for writing in sequence and exploring the same subject from different perspectives. And for some good ole-fashioned advice on poems, there's always Ted Kooser's “The Poetry Home Repair Manual.”
We’d also like to profile “Carbon Footprint,” a great collection of poetry by local writer Donnie Winter (who will be teaching our “Writing Poetry” workshop June 15!). This collection weaves together the impact of our lives on the natural environment and the LGBQ+ experiences in some remarkable ways. To learn more, visit HERE.
Thanks for reading. Keep safe and keep writing, everyone!
Helen and Chris