My view of red rocks and foothills has been a soothing balm before, is now again. And as per usual, the word grateful does not come close to what my heart registers at my lucky status of being in Colorado, with that expansive view, during a time of isolation. I might go nutsy without it. And lucky me, besides nature, I’ve also got writing.
Art keeps me sane and connected—as a child, reading books is what made me feel less alone, which is exactly why I became a writer. And the fact that I have a small library and a lifetime of writing work around me keeps any loneliness at bay. “Art shortens the distance we gotta travel to see how connected we are,” I have my main character say in my novel in “Sky Bridge.” Novelists have their protagonists speak all sorts of truths on their behalf.
Writing through this crazy time seems like a good idea to me. Plenty of evidence shows that writing about trauma and upheaval can help us process and keep perspective — that seems obvious, at least to me. Another reason to write is simply that this is an absolutely and obviously historic time, and to not write about it seems like a serious missed opportunity. And to tell others — our children, grandchildren, friends, strangers — what it was like for us is a gift of grace. How different our history would be if someone hadn’t paused long enough, or cared enough, to write about it.
As we bear witness to a rapidly-changing world—one that will not be quite the same ever again—my guess is that we are all digging deep, trying to respond to it with kindness and equanimity and educated preparedness. Part of this is logistical—grocery runs! changing travel plans! checking in on neighbors! Part of our response is emotional, trying to wrap our brains and hearts around change. Change is hard, even for the most sturdy among us.
It matters not if you’ve written before or if you’ve got a handle on comma usage. We are talking about writing from the soul here, and what we are trying to do is a basic but oh-so-difficult exercise of trying to deepen our connection with ourselves, especially during a time of cultural plot twists. That same character I mentioned before says something wise: “And isn’t it funny how if one person speaks for real, then the other person can, too? We just did that. We just became friends. It’s just a matter of finding the right person and crossing that barrier together, almost like you’re holding hands, but really you’re holding the most tender place inside you.”
So I suggest writing about this most tender place inside us.
Friends will arise.
First, we must take the time to write—which means putting down the phone or turning off the TV. After all, to give voice to inchoate times and a dynamic world simply takes the impulse and dedication to do so. To journal. To write a personal essay or poem or story. To write about how we’re feeling, how our lives have changed. About our anger, our frustration, our hopes.
Here are some prompts that might trigger an idea:
- How are you feeling, right now? How (or where) do those emotions reside in your body?
- If you focus on your senses right now, you might determine that the heart can be a chaotic thing. What’s the chaos, and what’s the calm center?
- What good might come of this?
- What are your strengths – the ones you’ll draw on now and later?
- Write a love letter to yourself, a child, a partner. Tell them how you’re feeling and what you hope for.
One last piece of writing advice has proved to be very popular, and fun, too. When my book “Making Friends with Death: A Field Guide for Your Impending Last Breath (to be read, ideally, before it’s imminent),” was published as an amusing call to get our act together, I threw lots of Death Cafés and Death Prep Extravaganzas, as I called them. I asked people to spend some time reflecting on their legacy, because that is a very soothing act. Include the fun stuff of legacy, too. For example, one of my high school shenanigans necessitated a change in my high school’s policy about the parking lot’s flow of traffic (I was right in repeatedly cutting the deadbolts, I swear!), and I’m pretty proud of that. I also asked people to list the top five things they’ve stood for or cared about, and the top five joys of their life. These don’t need to be all melodic and thoughtful—they need to be real. Who knows, maybe one of your top joys in life was the time you snuck bowling shoes out of the alley while holding hands with your lover!
I love having fun with writing, but it also comes down to serious human experience, too. On my desk, I have this message written to myself. It’s a mixture of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard’s and my own thoughts:
YOU DO NEED TO BE OF CONSEQUENCE, WRITE THINGS OF CONSEQUENCE.
YOU DO NEED TO WRITE YOUR STORY.
WRITE HONEST AND TRUE AND RAW THINGS, THINGS THAT HONOR OUR FUNDAMENTAL CONNECTEDNESS.
Let’s connect with this experience as we go through it. Let us welcome in this situation. Adapt to it. Sit with it. Respond to it. Giving voice to what we are experiencing will be therapeutic. Clarifying. Helpful.
Me, I’ll keep trying. My hands are so dry from all the washing that I’m now finding typing difficult. The lotion bottle next to my desk is getting near-empty, but I’ll push on. I really do believe it will save me. That, and the mountains outside.
Laura Pritchett is a Colorado native whose five novels are set across the state. She directs the Master of Fine Arts in Nature Writing concentration at Western Colorado University. More at www.laurapritchett.com.