And a caveat to the above: how useful will this post be to other writers? Perhaps not very. It’s somewhat journal-heavy. It’s somewhat bland. But if coming together as a community is worth the words, here goes. Thanks to everyone.
We knew it was coming. For weeks, our head of school has been holding meetings. Here’s how to wash your hands. Here’s what the other UWC schools are saying. Here are the new protocols for the cafeteria. These are the websites we are using to track the spread, and don’t panic.
The students haven’t been panicking. They have been remarkably kind. They have turned up to the extra meetings, asked thoughtful questions, and then the virus was in the city an hour away. This was Thursday, the day it seemed from all the news to arrive everywhere at once. Afternoon lessons were canceled. At an emergency meeting, the students were given the option to go home, and a portion of them now have, before the airports close, as it has been announced will happen Monday, before leaving Norway is impossible. The students who leave won’t be allowed back on campus this school year. For those about to graduate, that means forever.
I am still writing, waking early, a 55-minute timer, a pot of tea. It has become a ritual. I love it. The last couple days though, I have struggled. I’m working on a short story that explores culture, language, refugee experiences, relationships, emotional vulnerability–in this moment, it’s hard for me to cut through the fog to the importance of these things. The anxiety of the unknown, the grief at saying goodbye too early to these students–I am stuck there.
What do we do when we can’t write? I suppose this is Writer’s Block I’m writing about, although I don’t like that word, because it seems to suggest some arbitrary unknown force stopping our fingers and our brains. In my experience, it’s never so mysterious. It’s that my mind is elsewhere, or it’s self-doubt.
It’s also not limited to writers. As I write this post, I am sitting down on campus at my weekly Sunday study hall, where students can come for quiet study space and cookies and tea and, perhaps especially this week, emotional support. A student I know well sat down across from me a few minutes ago. She can’t study, she says. She can’t work on the pieces for her Visual Arts class exhibition. Whenever she tries, she says, she sticks.
Yesterday morning, after a few failed starts, I opened a new document and just journaled out my feelings. I tried to recount the texture of them the last few days, how they have evolved and volleyed, the conversations I have had with students I’d never before spoken to, the gathering of the whole school on the lawn for a photo before too many departures whittled down our ranks. I think it likely this someday will form the basis of a story. I don’t think I could manage writing it out now, but someday. I’ll file these notes away.
I did my best to show compassion to this student, to reassure her it’s okay, and to be kind to herself: it’s okay to be unfocused. In a situation like this, how could we expect anything else? And yet, to the extent possible, it is good to push ourselves to do what will be good for us. Where the anxiety is pushing us to numb with TV and catatonic lounging on the sofa, if we’re able, we should consider whether that is what is best for us. If we can do something normal, productive, let’s do that. Even a little bit. Even if it’s not efficient or well-done. As writers, let’s remember these things too. Do what we can. Push ourselves, but be forgiving of the results. Remember to be kind to ourselves and one another, and to breathe.
What are the right metaphors for the changes in our lives this week, for the goodbyes forever of these brilliant young people with whom we thought we had months still to come? I heard a comparison yesterday to the measures undertaken during the World Wars. Is that suitable? Is that right? Is this a rebirth of the conscience and reminder of shared values? Is this Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”? Is this late winter hibernation? I want to slather on the metaphors so rich the meaning fuses into rock by its own weight.
Love to you all. May we bring compassion, kindness, understanding, and right action to ourselves and our communities. I’m glad to be connected to you all. Keep writing.