COVID-19: About Reading & Writing The Virus
Famous writers have written novels, diaries, and journals about their experiences and about their world during painful times that affected millions. Here are a few:
Oryx and Crak, 2003, by Margaret Atwood is a novel describing a world devastated by a plague that wiped out much of humanity; Namwali Serpell wrote The Old Drift (2019) about the AIDS epidemic in Zambia; Severance (2018) by Ling Ma is about a fictional epidemic that taps into anxieties about pandemics; Physician Chris Adrian wrote The Children’s Hospital (2006) about apocalyptic and miraculous events during a plague.
Some of the older books and classics include: The Plague by Albert Camus, about the cholera epidemic in Algeria in 1849; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera said, “Plagues are like imponderable dangers that surprise people; they seem to have a quality of destiny.” Samuel Pepys’ Diary is about the plague in 1659-61 (check Google for a listing of free PDF downloads). Daniel Defoe wrote a novel in 1772 about the Bubonic Plague from 50 years earlier: A Journal of the Plague Year. Anne Frank journaled through her quarantine in the attic in Amsterdam, never dreaming that millions of people would be interested in her thoughts and feelings and they still are, almost 75 years later.
For the rest of us, who are not famous, don’t even consider ourselves talented writers, we can write a journal for ourselves, and maybe to share sometime in the future with family or future generations.
In a journal, there is no responsibility to be interesting, artistic, or even grammatically correct. Your journal may never be famous, but it can document your story of this extraordinary time in history, help you structure and organize your time, serve to counteract negative feelings of hopelessness and loneliness.
Journal Writing Tips
Here are some tips to structure your journaling if the empty page or totally free-form writing is a barrier. Use any or all of these whenever they strike you as worthy of your time, thoughts and writing:
- Something I noticed today that I never noticed before, about myself, others, my environment
- Something that was prominent today in the larger world
- Something I found myself thinking about today
- About my feeling sad (lonely, anxious, afraid) today
- About how I’m coping physically and psychologically being quarantined
- Ways that I feel myself changing and being changed by the pandemic
- Ways that I and my family are connecting while quarantined separately
- Something I feel grateful for today
- Something I prayed for today
- Thoughts I have about: how our world will be different when this ends
- Something about the contacts I made today
- Creative celebrations I’ve organized or participated while in quarantine
- Something I did for someone else today: (a woman who lives in my building has been making masks for neighbors, and, she intends to make masks for workers – in groceries, pharmacies, for delivery people, etc. in our community.)
Writing: offers us something to do regularly as well as the opportunity to document creative ways people have celebrated during “sheltering in place.” (My son-in-law organized a drive-by birthday party for my daughter on her 50th birthday in early April 2020. About 25 cars came rolling by, honking and displaying “happy birthday” signs. We rolled down our windows – it was a gorgeous afternoon – and wished her a happy birthday. She said not only was she surprised, but she felt loved and cared for, and that it was her best birthday ever, one she’d remember always.)
How Journaling Can Help
- Can lead us somewhere we didn’t even know we were going
- Can clear our feelings
- Can stimulate our creativity
- Can surprise us with new ideas
- Can keep us connected to others and the larger world
- Can clarify our values
- Can clarify what’s true not just our imagination running wild
- Can lift our spirits.
May your writing bring you satisfaction, joy, and peace,
Rachael Freed (founder of Life Legacies)
Rachael Freed, LICSW, senior fellow, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, is the author of Your Legacy Matters, Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs & Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient Rachael Freed firstname.lastname@example.org and www.life-legacies.com