Writing a Book in the Middle of a Pandemic

On March 8, I returned home from New York.  I said hello to Alisha at the Admiral’s Club in New York, visited a bit with Pam at the club in Charlotte, and stopped by at the club in Denver to say hi to Rick while I was waiting for my ride home.  We all felt the tension in the air, but none of us had any idea what was coming.

How many times have you heard that phrase in the last couple of weeks, “I had no idea what was coming?”  We didn’t get private briefings that allowed us to remove millions from the stock market.  We hadn’t fully grasped the unprecedented virtual shutdown that was on the horizon.  We were just living our privileged American lives, unaware of the storm fast approaching.

Yeah, well, not now.  Other than to go running or biking in the beautiful village where I live, I haven’t been out of the house in a week.  I have seen almost all of my counseling clients via tele-therapy.  I have spoken to my children by phone, that ancient communication device that preceded texting, Marco Polo and TikTok.  They seem amazed to discover you can have a conversation in real time.  I have spoken for one video conference and one podcast, and have calls today to prepare for two more video presentations.  I have incessantly scrolled between the New York Times and Washington Post to read the latest news.  I have asked Alexa (interrupting her important work spying on me) to play the local NPR station, and I have studiously avoided briefings from the White House, unless Dr. Fauci is speaking.

I get up and look in the refrigerator at the rapidly dwindling supply of staples, then peek in the pantry to make sure there are still M&Ms on the candy shelf (Yes, I have a candy shelf.  Don’t judge me.)  If it’s morning I make a cup of tea.  If it’s afternoon I pour a glass of iced tea and look in the refrigerator again to figure out which frozen dinner I am going to eat for my evening meal (Again, no judging.)  In the evening I switch back and forth between Maine Cabin Masters on the DIY channel and old reruns of Bonanza stretched wide to fill the screen, which makes Hoss’s face look three times as wide as it really was.

At 9:00 I watch Brian Williams on MSNBC and marvel at an interviewer who knows how to ask the right questions and then get out of the way.  I read a section of Wendell Berry’s Andy Catlett: Early Travels, or Colin Woodard’s American Nations, and turn out the light.  I stare at the tiny blinking light on the smoke detector and tell myself, “Tomorrow you need to change all the batteries,” which I know with great certainty I am not going to do until one of the 59 smoke detectors in my house starts beeping.

A few seconds later it occurs to me that I am supposed to be writing a memoir, and I never actually opened a single file related to the book all day.  I did think about it before I went on Amazon to order a giant tub of animal crackers.  (Need I say it?) I thought about it again when I was in the middle of my bike ride on Apple Valley Road.  I even thought about it while I was waiting for my Marie Callender’s turkey dinner to heat up in the microwave.  But I never actually opened any file related to the book.

I almost opened one of the files around 7:00, but that was when I thought, “Wait a minute, is that a heaviness in my chest?  Am I developing a cough?  Do I have a headache that’s different from my normal tension headache?”  Then I spent the next hour obsessing that I might actually have the virus and I live alone and nobody but Kristie and Christy and Cathy and David check in on me very often, and what if I really am sick.

Writing a memoir requires creative juices to flow.  I don’t know about you, but nowadays, not many creative juices are flowing.  I do actually force myself to write two or three hours a day, but it is not easy.  I have an easier time editing what has been written than I do writing new material.  What makes it more difficult is that I am writing chronologically, and I am up to the most difficult years surrounding my transition, leaving one macro-crisis in real time to focus on my own past micro-crisis.  There’s not much inspiration in that.

I will get back to the book, probably as soon as I complete this blog post and finish memorizing my sermon for Saturday.  I have an April 30 deadline for a first draft of the book and say what you will about me, I do not miss deadlines.

I’ve thought a lot this morning about Alisha, Pam and Rick, at LGA, CLT and DEN, friendships I have developed because of my travels.  I wonder if Alisha’s son got home from Europe, where he’s been playing basketball.  Has Pam talked to Kim lately, and if so, how is Kim’s mom?  Is Rick’s husband doing well?  Are they all staying healthy?  And what about Christy, working as a labor and delivery nurse, or Kristie, serving with the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center, or Cathy, swamped with terrified counseling clients, or David, who just lost his father?

I am pretty sure it is more important to think about these people than it is to write a book right now.  Because when I think about them my thoughts turn into prayers, offered for their safety and well-being.  The book can wait.  Good will toward all cannot.


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