Dispatches from Quarantine, Part 1

by Cate Mahoney

Hi, all! I truly hope this finds you and your loved ones in good health. Time seems to blur these days as we stay inside to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

There has been a lot of talk across social media about writing in this time of crisis. You’ve heard of Love in the Time of Cholera? Who’s writing Love in the Time of Corona? (Ouch.) Many people are saying something along the lines of: “Well, you’re stuck inside, so use this time to be ultra-productive! There is simply no better time to write than now!”

I know they mean well. And for some sequestered writers, these admonitions may be spot on, especially for those who ground themselves in work (which I often do). But if you find yourselves not writing now, I’m here to tell you that it’s A-OK. I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate on anything as I shelter in my New York City apartment; if I do focus, I seem to settle on dread. And I’d rather not dread!

We all need to remember that we’re living in a crazy time. It’s scary. We don’t know how long this pandemic will go on; how long we will have to live in uncertainty. It seems inhuman to deny ourselves physical contact with others; yet, it is the most humane thing we can do right now. But joy, love, happiness, and hope remain. If you can’t string together a sentence, give yourselves a break. If you need to set yourselves goals, make them small: a few sentences a day, maybe a paragraph. Then reward yourselves: call or FaceTime a friend. Watch an episode of your favorite show. I would encourage you to stay away from Twitter and the news. It’s good to check in once a day, but don’t let yourselves stay in the crazy. Try to read, but, again, don’t judge yourselves harshly if you can’t get through more than a few pages.

One of my favorite poets, Frank O’Hara, wrote these words: “In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.” (from his poem, “To the Film Industry in Crisis” – a better crisis than the one we are experiencing for sure.) I think this speaks to the way crises make us stop short and reassess what matters most in life, seemingly every hour. In these moments, we can take panic and reroute it, making even a pandemic an opportunity. Choose what comforts you. Ask for help. We are here. Your friends are around you, even when you’re in quarantine.