Writing in the Pandemic Age

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m sitting on the sofa, iPad on my lap, watching the rainfall outside the window. With the day so dreary, there’s little to do in the great outdoors. There’s no place else to go either since most everything is shut down in the city. Restaurants are closed except for take-out. Bars, movie theaters, and malls are likewise shuttered. Like me, most people are also stuck inside their homes, looking out the window and wondering when life will get back to normal. For now, this is the new normal, and it will take some getting used to. Welcome to life in the age of the Coronavirus

It’s a good time to write. With options limited, cuddling up with a good book can be just as rewarding as writing a good book (or at least endeavoring to do so). I might have a go at a chapter later on today. Creative expression always brings out the best in people, although the chief obstacle seems to be in finding the time to do so. This disruption might be seen as the gods’ way of forcing humanity to slow down and do something creative, dammit. I’m open to that sentiment. Another painting, another song, another poem or story, only makes the world a better place. And with most art and music venues closed to the public at the moment, we have little choice but to create our own masterpieces.

William ShakespeareYes, these are scary times. All it takes is a click to the news channel to get a full dose of stark reality, and while it will get better, it may take some time. Despite the fear and uncertainty that is a universally shared experience, I keep coming across small snippets that offer hope, suggesting that things are not all bleak. The most recent came from Rosanne Cash (she of the Ring of Fire musical dynasty), who posted:

“Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”

The responses were quick in coming, not all of them embracing her optimism. Some of the most notable (and snarky) include:

“This inspires me. I also will write King Lear.”

“I don’t need that kind of pressure, Rosanne.”

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine… I myself will be writing a spec script about Britney and Ryan Gosling switching bodies at the Mouseketeer tryouts in Orlando in ‘92.”

“So far I’ve got a google doc titled “King Lear 2: The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” and an otherwise blank page. Slow and steady.”

“What if ugly-crying onto a burrito is your King Lear?”

“Newton discovered gravity in quarantine. Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine. I just binge-watched everything Ricky Gervais ever made on Netflix.”

“I think the reason Shakespeare managed to write King Lear while a plague was going on is primarily because he didn’t have Twitter.”

The remarks go on. Check Rosanne’s Twitter account for more.

While she might have invited the flood of bemused comments, she has a point—even if it is not wholly accurate. It should be noted that there were numerous plagues during Shakespeare’s time, including 1596 and 1602. London’s playhouses were shut continuously down each time the body count rose, and his writing reflects that sad fact. There is no evidence that he was actually in quarantine in 1606. However, during this period, he most likely wrote not only King Lear, but Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Macbeth, and loads of poetry. So do the math. Chances are good, he was writing in and out of epidemics, and the timing came by chance.

Still, the idea of the bard creating his masterpieces while forced to remain indoors is inspiring, as it should be. Creativity in its various forms always comes as a chain reaction and ties back to the art of communication. Be it the written word or paint on a canvas, we all have something to say. Oftentimes, those messages are formed by our experiences. It is how we express those thoughts that make the difference.

A recent ad for YouTube, tied to the stay-at-home mandate, said it well. Using the tag, Stay Home #with Me, it suggested all the things that might be done while being stuck inside the house: cooking, singing, painting, reading, etc. It’s the quality of the time as well as the quantity.

And while one of the comments to Rosanne’s tweet was “Trying to work on this new book but I just keep getting distracted and writing King Lear instead,” is that such a bad thing? We already have wars and pandemics and economic instability. Perhaps at this point, this world needs more Lears.


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