It’s been 38 days since the COVID-19 pandemic became real for me. That was the day I started working from home, the day most businesses in Washington closed their doors, the day my knuckles started to crack from the sheer amount of handwashing I was doing, and the day that the numbers of the sick and dying starting to skyrocket across the country. It was the day that I realized this was not an isolated, regional outbreak. This was going to change our lives.
A week later, when we ventured out to pick up a pint of local ice cream, we walked by a string of empty businesses with boarded-up windows. It was a Friday night and yet no one was out. It was surreal, like a scene from an apocalyptic story; the kind I usually enjoy reading and writing about.
Rarely do we actually have the awareness that we’re living through history as its unfolding around us. But this is different. For over a month, I’ve lived with the heightened awareness that these days will come to define this chapter of my life; that someday, our homemade face masks will be in museums to teach children about the great pandemic of 2020. I thought, early on, that I would take copious notes during this time and I might even be able to write about the epidemic in real-time, producing a defining work of fiction based on true events.
That’s not what happened.
It’s been 38 days since I’ve been able to write coherently about anything. Instead of tapping into an endless fountain of inspiration unleashed by the chaos around me, the well has run dry. I’ve barely been able to answer my emails and text messages. I’m not even close to being in a space where I can write something insightful about the current situation.
A lot has been made about the fact that Shakespeare wrote some of his finest plays while in quarantine. But Shakespeare lived in a very different world. The plague was a fact of life, an illness that recurred every few years in Elizabethan England. It may have been disruptive, but it was also a part of everyday life in a way that the coronavirus is not in our world.
Far from an excuse for downtime that’s conducive to creative output, COVID-19 is putting us through trauma as a slow-motion disaster rips its way through our fragile society. Psychologically, most of us (myself very much included) are dealing with grief — and it’s hard to focus on anything else.
So, as I’ve sat safely in my house, in a good neighborhood where I feel safe walking around, with a fast internet connection and streaming services at my fingertips, with the luxury of going to the grocery store every other week and having food delivered when it’s too much to cook after a long day of telecommuting, I’m still processing. I think I’ll be processing for a while. While I’m processing, I’ll waver between hope, despair and exhaustion.
Only once I’m done processing do I expect to have the capacity to write the way I used to. I hope the day comes soon when we’ll be able to step out of the shadow of grief and into whatever comes next.
Wash your hands.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. He lives with his wife and three typewriters in a 110-year-old house. Follow his quarantine thoughts on Twitter and sign up for the newsletter for exclusive content.