It has been nearly two years since I last wrote here. Long lapses in writing are common, typically due to the crowding out caused by a mundane sort of busyness.
This lapse has been different if not intentional. It is one thing to say, “2020!” with the sort of half-shrug and rolled eyes that we all instinctually and collectively understand to mean… something? Something exceptional, something indescribable, something chaotic, mournful, apocalyptic, boring, filled with a wordlessness that describes both terror and malaise. It is another thing to try to select actual words and stitch them together into something that makes sense out of something that has felt so completely non-sensical.
I turn to writing (or even poetry) as a way to process. It is usually a singular incident or theme that is unsettling and even if I cannot arrive at a definite conclusion, simply describing what happened feels cathartic and important. It is both narrative and memory: narrative as something whose significance is in both sequential movement & purpose & meaning, and memory as something that just exists whether I want it to or not. When I write, I have typically wanted to create something that transports me back to a moment that is re-liveable, where I can better remember the complexity and strength of emotions whose tensions tend to be eased by time.
But how do I write about things I want to forget? Should I?
Covid. Protests. Isolation. Violence. Dying alone. Some of these words are entirely novel and the others, while familiar, have been transformed. Some memories play out like a television series with intricate sub-plots and twists and arcs while others exist as forceful fragments, leaded balloons, suspended in air as a weight without direction or movement or context… yet.
Elie Wiesel once said it took ten years before he could write Night, and while I don’t dare to compare our experiences it helps me understand this feeling of being unsettled while settled, unsafe while safe, wordless with words. Having once been obsessed with learning about genocide (and still embedded in learning about trauma), I often read about the struggle by survivors and of those reporting & interviewing them in inhabiting such memories. I am even more overwhelmed now by their survival.
We are in March 2021, one full year since our state’s first case of Covid. After a year of waves of cases, we are now in a place where “numbers” are falling, vaccines are rolling out, and attention is shifting. And so in one way I am hopeful to write these words as a sort of epilogue: the conclusion to… something, a rehashing/reliving/reflecting of something. But even in doing so, I am slowly realizing just how much this is really a prologue: the introduction to… something else, something I don’t want to forget but don’t want to kill myself in remembering.
Yet it also feels important to say these things because already I sense the pressure to just move on. Perhaps this is part because we have such little vocabulary in acknowledging and expressing collective trauma. A singular devastating act against an individual is already staggering in impact, readily needing years of reassurance and care by a devoted group to heal. This can happen by drawing on the strength and reserves of others, but what happens when everyone is affected simultaneously, when we are all still reeling? What does it mean to give those who feel ready to move forward the permission to do so without invalidating & compounding the voices and hurt of those who aren’t? What does it mean to first do no harm?
I like the analogy to stitching, this thought of quilting together fragments that don’t have to lead somewhere and whose significance is primarily in the adjacency of its pieces and the whole it creates. I don’t know what it looks like for all of us, but maybe I don’t need to start there. Maybe I’ll just start with one piece.
[For reference, there are a number of articles that I have returned to in helping me feel less alone.]
This is my favorite, though honestly I haven’t had the emotional margin yet to listen to all of them: Stories in Care: An Oral History of COVID-19