Diary of a Poet

Trying to Focus During a Pandemic

Like everyone else on Planet Earth, the coronavirus landed in my life like a bomb. My months-long preparations for Women’s History Month went poof. Instead, I was now fretting about the availability of bread and toilet paper. In a matter of a few days, life as we knew it collapsed.

During the first week of isolation, I found that I lacked the focus for anything more challenging than scrolling through social media and pausing occasionally on stories that confirmed the feeling I had right then: no one knows what the hell is going on and we’re doomed. I thought of my goddaughter, who gave birth to a premature baby just as the world was waking up to the danger of coronavirus. I thought of my youngest brother, a high school teacher in New York City, who worries that he’s been exposed. I thought of my other brother, forced to cut his book tour short and return from California to his home in New Zealand. I thought of my friends and family members, many of whom are in the vulnerable category due to their age or physical and mental health, now furloughed, laid off, and isolated.

This morning my husband and I went to our local grocery store during its “seniors and vulnerable people-only” hours. The store’s employees were patient and kind. We tried our best to stay six feet away from the other shoppers. There was no toilet paper, but plenty of other things, including a bouquet of “Get Well” balloons floating above the check-out stand. This seems poignant in a way I can’t yet fathom. Everyone looked worried, and a few wore facemasks, some clearly homemade. There were no children or people under age 60. 

It was good to see other human beings.

As always, I turn to poems for answers. In Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground, I found “The Toome Road,” which describes how quickly our lives can shift, and how tenuous our sense of safety is: 

I had to look up “omphalos.” The word means central point, hub, focal point. How did I find this particular poem that ends with an obscure word I’ve never read before, whose meaning turned out to be the thing I sought: focus

Perhaps, like Keats, I’ll just enjoy what he called Negative Capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” 

Please share how you are coping in this strange time.

10 replies »

  1. I, too, lacked focus as this pandemic escalated. I still do, but not as much as at first. What I feel are waves of grief that break over me at odd moments, sending me into tears, making me feel as if I am completely inadequate. They pass, I resurface. I worry about my 25-year-old daughter, a type 1 diabetic who works in HR at Target; the relief I felt when they gave her paid leave for a month because she is vulnerable pushed my grief away for only a moment. My son, a high school art teacher, scrambles now to rewrite his whole curriculum so he can deliver it online while being at home with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. This fear that rumbles beneath everything is tough to keep at bay; I journal daily and that has become an important release valve. I am so grateful for the internet, for the connection it offers as we all figure out how to keep our balance and as we gird up for the days ahead. Smaller things become far more important: a morning walk, a FaceTime call with a child, a drink shared with my husband at the end of the day. This community we create as writers is important. Thank you.

  2. Community is the most important thing right now. My neighbors and I call to each other across the fence: “How are you? Do you need anything?” We offer help. It’s all we can do right now.

  3. My wonderful writing critique group is staying connected by changing our meetings to an email exchange. Some of us are not writing beyond journaling, so we also share books we’ve read and enjoyed recently. There are only 4 of us, so this is quite manageable, and it maintains our sense of community.

  4. Good post, Erica!
    My perspective is rather unusual as I’ve spent most of the last 30 years isolated (eg: housebound) by symptoms of long-term illness. (Currently I manage to get out two days per week, for food.)
    It’s interesting for me to read about much fitter people trying to cope, and I feel for them.
    I’m so used to being constantly alone, forgotten by the world, I take that for granted, now.
    But it was a lot harder, emotionally, back when I still hoped to find love and friendship.

  5. Yes, there is an emotional/mental health toll that will grow as this pandemic wears on. I am lucky to live in a house with my husband and two grown sons and two dogs. Even so, I wake up with my stomach in knots, anxious and afraid. I know we’ll survive this, but it won’t be easy.

    • Thank you, Erica!
      (Sorry for the delay getting back to you: for some reason WordPress sent NO notification of your reply, so I’d not realised it was here. )
      In times like these, perhaps I’m better off, being an introvert, book-lover. 🙂
      For an extrovert, “party person”, alone in this small flat, I imagine my situation could seem a kind of nightmare.

  6. Sunsets are the movie of the day on this hill. A few days ago I was blessed to see for the first time in my life a light tower as the sun dropped beneath the horizon. A vertical column of light. It was pink like the sunset. I am envisioning these nasty virus critters going down soapy drains all over the globe. Join me in flushing them into a neutral state.

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