Today's guest post is from author Shana Ritter. I'm honored to have her visit me here on gilagreenwrites. Today Shana shares her thoughts on writing during Covid-19. I'm sure so many of us can relate to her words.
Welcome, Shana Ritter!
One window in my study faces south towards a wide stretch of yard disappearing into trees, the other looks west where the long grass in my neighbor's field will soon be mowed and gathered into bales. It is high summer, but already a few changing leaves hint at autumn.
In the time that used to be, back in February, we took a quick trip to New York. I went to the Met, had a meeting at the Jewish Museum, lunch at a neighborhood trattoria found by chance as I meandered downtown. We visited family, saw a few friends, got last minute tickets to a show. Without thought I did what seems unthinkable now; shared a restaurant table with people I didn't know, rode the subway, made plans to give a reading at a small bookstore.
By the first week of March the rumored virus had become breaking news. At first, my days didn't seem so different. I'd worked from home for years, alternating between my desk, walks and chores around the house. I was used to long silences peppered with short conversations; phone calls, exchanges, emails. Then the cancellations began, a meeting, a trip, a conference.
By mid -April, what we thought would be temporary took on a solid form. The way you watch a piece of land cleared, then the foundation laid, the ribs of a house put in place, the walls, the windows. A week later you can barely remember the empty field you passed every day for years.
The world has taken on a new shape, defined by limits, charts, warnings, vast areas of the unknown. A map from the 15th century hangs next to my desk, a gift from my daughter when I was working on my novel set in 1492. The borders are unclear, there are dragons past the charted lands. It feels all too much like this new reality. It seeps into my writing; from the words I choose to the shapes of the lines and the bend of the story.
This is the longest stretch of time I have gone without traveling.I live in a place that I truly love, in the country outside a small Midwest college town. A place we never intended to settle but have lived in for decades. Our town has access to music, good food, theater and libraries all within 15 minutes of my homeplace of rolling hills, wide fields, creeks and ponds. I love my home, but traveling has always been a consistent source of renewal. Travel feeds my relationships, realigns my perspective, adjusts my sense of the world and my place in it. It energizes my writing, providing both content and impetus. I am missing it.
Four months and counting. Working from home has become sheltering in place. Visits and meetings with other writers and friends turned to phone calls or zoom rooms. All planned events are cancelled for the foreseeable future. I am relearning how to write a story in the midst of our modern day plague. My poetry manuscript grows longer instead of being completed, the research for my next book occurs in fits and starts. Time feels like amber, something weighty and shifting, something that could encapsulate me, something that is beautiful even as it alters colors and substance.
I am grateful to have a home with enough space and surrounding land. I appreciate the ease of access we have for what we need. I am acutely aware that many do not have that.People who were just managing before are no longer able to. Still, amid the gratitude, this longing rises up. What do you do when you see the walls more clearly than the windows?
Today is hot and humid, typical of late July here in the lower Midwest. Just as I was writing this the sky darkened in that sudden way and thunder boomed. The rain started and I went out to the front porch where I could watch the storm roll in. The wind rose fast and hard, the trees swayed, the branches trembled. I felt very small. In that sudden fury, I became the proverbial speck in the vastness of the universe. Then, just as quickly the storm quieted, the birds started singing, I came back to myself and went inside.
But something in me had shifted. I was reminded of what I've heard often in meditation practice: every time your thoughts begin humming, every time you get lost in the details of worry or wandering, offers another chance to find your way back home.
And isn't it home that we are longing for after all? A sense of belonging that comes from knowing you are where you are mean to be, whether you found it by accident or as more often in the case created it by placing one object at a time in a way that lets comfort arise. Home is where your voice finds its timbre, where the path that feels like the one you are meant to walk passes right under your window.
Shana Ritter's poetry and short stories have appeared in various journals and magazines including Lilith, Fifth Wednesday and Georgetown Review. Her chapbook, Stairs of Separation was published by Finishing Line Press. In the Time of Leaving, a novel of exile and resilience set in late 15th century Spain, was published in 2019. A Pushcart prize nominee Shana has been awarded the Indiana Individual Artist Grant on multiple occasions. Please visit Shana.