I wrote this last week as part of the 30 day Isolation Journals Project I’ve been diligently — albeit, sometimes frustratingly — working through, and with permission from the two writer friends referenced in it, I’m sharing this little snippet of my private thoughts. Stay kind and stay well.
prompt: choose a line from a favorite book and use it as the opening sentence for today’s entry
April 9, 2020
With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla? “Man kills things,” he says as he affirms that Ishmael’s death drives home the whole point of the book. I gave a copy to Contagion at the beginning of March, before he earned the nickname Contagion — one that is apparently not only sticking, but crossing the cyber line between my hidden COVID blog and The Isolation Project. I didn’t realize timing could be so intertwined until now. Not successive. Not linked. But woven into itself so intricately that it’s nearly impossible to disentangle it into something tidy.
Somewhere between last spring and this winter, I found myself binge writing. No longer did it fall into the teeth-brushing or bed-making category. It wasn’t even in the hair-washing category. I’d write, but only every few weeks and the words were just that: words. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t feel like anything. They just sat there staring back, begging me to make them into something pretty. I challenged them to keep coming, but it became increasingly clear that I’d met my match with this version of the English language, so I put the pen down. Forcing is killing, even if only in spirit, so I put the damn pen down. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it, and only on a rare occasion, would I string something together — perhaps not pretty, but maybe meaningful. It didn’t consume me, though. I’d grown fine with this new non-writing normal and even filled those spaces with work and training and other things that felt on purpose.
Honestly, I was okay. It’s happened before. I didn’t really talk about it, and people had stopped asking me. I was okay.
I was okay for months until, I opened up social media to a picture of burning journals. Then I was horrified. Just that morning, on a whim, I’d completed my first — and only — entry from one of those journal prompt books called Burn After Writing and had been wondering why in the name of all things holy I’d want to burn my work?? It was too much. I DID stop myself from sending the photographer his own picture with the impending message, but I couldn’t help but ask “why does one burn them?” His answer isn’t mine to give — and really, it’s not the point, anyway; but it sparked something.
I’ll resist the urge to dad-joke that it sparked his journals into ash. Or I won’t. Whatever.
The pause button was released. My pen made its way back to the paper. I wrote daily. Maybe it was six sentences, and maybe it was six pages, but it was a set of words with purpose and intention behind them. I wasn’t ready to share them again (that would come much later), but they were there, and I was fiery.
We kept the communication going. It wasn’t constant, rather a “happy birthday” here or an “are you teaching this week?” there, peppered with a blog compliment when those would land in my feed. Over the coming weeks, we moved from social media connections to acquaintances, and then, from writer to writer, friends. The first time we met in real life, he spent two hours listening to me tell him what to do, and he took it like a champ. I’m kidding. Sort of. He came to my class and then stayed for the second one. He truly did take those like a champ. The second time was over what is now known as books+bourbon, and though we drank bourbon, we merely spoke of books. And that’s how he ended up with a tattered copy of Ishmael.
A few days later, I open my text to “Ishmael dies!!! Damn you.” I note how refreshing it is to not read a book with a tidy ending, and he sums it up with “It just nails home the whole point of the book. Man kills things.” I reread the book a couple of days later, and less than ten days after I put it down, the whole fucking planet is covered in COVID, and the death toll is astronomically increasing because people can’t wash their damn hands. Yep. Man kills things.
I postponed YogaFest, studios closed, and the governor was regurgitating nonsense into the cyber world on the regular. We were only hours into this shut down, and I could already feel antsyness (we’ll let that be a word today) setting in at a level the world’s largest fidget spinner couldn’t abate. (side note: I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a fidget spinner, but this creates a visual for you.) In any case, I started keeping detailed, time-stamped notes in my phone, and by the end of the day, I’d created a secret space on my website for a daily COVID blog. It wasn’t premeditated, but it quickly became one of my most enjoyable, not to mention useful, writing exercises to date. It was freedom to be unapologetically who I was and shameless in my feelings in any given moment, without repercussion. It had a theme, a purpose, a beginning, and, hopefully, an end. Initially, I expected two weeks. I was prepared for two weeks. I had mental space and time blocked out for two weeks. As we inched closer to the end of March, though, I became a little nervous that I was only writing my COVID life and felt like I needed a diversion. I’d committed to see this project to the end, but I didn’t think it would require ALL of my words.
On day fifteen, I opened my laptop to a blurb about The Isolation Project. It starts April 1st (hey, that’s today! I silently exclaim), and runs for 30 days. Each morning, a prompt is shared to all the interested cyber writers, and we journal on that topic. Sharing is optional. Authenticity is not. None of it is about COVID.
On April 2nd, I answer a Facebook message from this gal I was on a professional Zoom call with earlier in the week. She’s also a writer. She confessed her struggles with bravery and feeling heard and being stuck, and we share anecdotes of courageous moments for a couple of hours, one of which is her being fearless enough to message a stranger. We have almost an entire generation between us, but we talk as if we share an exact birthdate. She sends me some of her work. I send her some of mine. She tells me about some unhidden poems and I tell her about the Isolation Journals Project. Within seconds she has joined the group and subscribed to the daily prompts, and she already feels fresh in her storytelling.
I oscillate. Is timing coincidental, or is timing on purpose? Is it worth paying attention to, or should we just enjoy the moment? Is timing perfect or poor? Is it something that also oscillates, or is it just what is?