Cluttered and Trapped in a Strange World: On (Not) Writing During a Pandemic by Zomi Bloom

“I have even forgotten how to long or to want, and I think you must have these in order to write poetry.”

Some people have posted memes on social media that suggest writers could take this pandemic time and turn it into a gold mine opportunity – to hunker down and create great works of art. That has not been my experience, and I bet others feel the same way. Around a socially distanced, outdoor fire pit, my partner asked my novelist friend how writing was going. She responded that she was too distracted.

I have been hopelessly distracted too – by the death toll, the election, the separated kids at the border (still), unemployment (not me, but millions just here in the US), food and rent insecurity (again, not me this time… but millions and millions). There are other whirlwinds in my headspace. I have three children, and over time I learned to write with – not just despite – but with them around. You would think their ages – 12 soon to be 13, 14 going on 26, and 16 soon to be 17 – wouldn’t be a barrier but rather an opening. They no longer need snacks administered by me on an every-other-hour-on-the-hour basis (they can do this themselves). They dress themselves, shower themselves, prepare their own food, find their own entertainment, set themselves up for their own art projects, and in general, spend more time avoiding me than seeking my attention. 

But even so, I’m distracted. Adolescence is no picnic – well, unless that picnic involves intermittent thunderstorms punctuated by alternating sunlight with tornadoes in the forecast. Anyway, they’re not leaving the house for school or sports or dance or band. Although for several months this past fall, C was attending a local choral group’s practices (socially distanced and masked, in one room for 30 minutes max, followed by switching to another room for 30 minutes to air the other out), that activity has ceased again pursuant to the spike in cases and concerned parents. 

I also can’t run. This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but when I can’t get to a gym, it’s a lifeline. This is due to a knee overuse injury which has taken over a year to resolve, with seemingly endless PT sessions, a surgery, a cortisone injection, and so many hip strengthening exercises. I have tried the gym during the times it has been open, but one gym was masked, eerie, too quiet. The other was akin to a frat party, not a smart choice during a pandemic.

I’m ordering all my groceries via app and online delivery.

At the day job, the situation is more stressful than ever. There’s the mask wearing and Zoom meetings and the pressure to carry on as if we weren’t all reeling from a global pandemic.

So even with the reduced kid driving, grocery going, and friends and family visiting, the extra time hasn’t lent itself to improved productivity, insight, or even peace. I find that the best I can do most days is collapse on the couch and zone out watching episode after episode of baking championship shows and old Star Trek TNG. Oh, and re-reading a certain young adult series about a famous wizard and a school called Hogwarts that has comforted me since college.

I forgot about eating swiss roll snack cakes. 

That’s my life.

The poetry seems stuck. I can barely read poetry. I can’t remember any more if I’m a poet or even a fully- fledged human being. Perhaps I have never been a poet and never will be again. If a magnum opus is written during this time period, it will not be by me. I have even forgotten how to long or to want, and I think you must have these in order to write poetry. My nerves are damaged from the onslaught, and I am cluttered and trapped in a strange world now. 

When writing about darkness, I try for a conclusion that provides some sort of balm. If there is no hope to be felt now, let it be that I am not alone, and neither are you, and you don’t have to write your best work right now, and you don’t even have to write at all to still call yourself a writer.

Zomi Bloom is a poet, mother of 3, and weekday number cruncher. She moved to Duluth from the east coast and has been inspired by the landscape and natural treasures of the North Shore. She is the author of the poetry collection Coming to Duluth.

3 thoughts on “Cluttered and Trapped in a Strange World: On (Not) Writing During a Pandemic by Zomi Bloom

  1. Joan Farnam

    That’s what I’ve been doing, Sheila! I’ve been drawing an image a day, with maybe a few words attached, expressing what I am feeling/thinking about. I started the 100Day Project on the Winter Solstice, hoping that would jump-start my writing, but faced a blank page or wrote gibberish. One day, I just drew a cartoon face and labeled it with a few words. “Done,” I thought. The next day, I drew another, and have been drawing a daily self-portrait for about a week now. They’ve been immensely satisfying.

  2. Sheila Packa

    I hear you! The pandemic has brought so much uncertainty and stress. As writers, we have been dropped into a new world. And our window into that world, via the news and social media, shows us the trauma that going on. I keep turning it off, and then I find I have turned it back on again. My suggestion is to read. Read, read, read, walk, find a place of solitude. The pandemic changes the context of everything. It’s life in captivity. Just take notes. Journal. Process each day. Don’t even worry about writing words, you can just draw an image. I am totally convinced one day we will look back at that journal and the poems will be there. It might be poetry of witness. It might be crazy brilliant lists. It might be talking to a higher power. It might be very different from anything we’ve have done before, a new voice.

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