By Eleanor Shelton
We already know that writers are a brave lot. We allow complete strangers to read our creations and pass judgment on our suitability to be counted as part of this noble profession. We bare our souls to complete strangers while trying to protect the essence of our beings. Even soldiers wear bulletproof vests and welders protective-personal equipment.
But during this pandemic, we rise to the occasion by taking one additional heroic step. We now read, teach, touch people we cannot see.
Most open mics, community reading events, and craft workshops are conducted over a virtual platform nowadays. It’s not uncommon to speak into a camera and never lay eyes on those who your words are affecting. I try not to imagine it, a crusty listener angry at her neighbor for not picking up after his dog for the umpteenth time, not resonating with my words and giving me the finger anonymously. Obviously, I do imagine it.
As writers, we long for that connection between our writing and our audience, but Zoom can be a one-way street. Recently, NCW hosted a reading event where approximately 50 attendees listened to writers read for a few minutes and then answered questions posed in a chatbox. “Please tell us your inspiration for that last poem about freedom,” a faceless audience member wanted to know. That listener could have been serving a prison sentence, steel bars between us, and his screen. We don’t know who, where, or even when they are if they could time travel. But we persevere because we have a job to do, and it can’t stop because of a pandemic. We are Literary First Responders. Our audience depends on us to continue creating magical words as a balm for their souls during the lockdown. Otherwise, they might expire.
I know as a writer, I sure don’t feel like I’m courageous, not even close to a Literary First Responder. But perhaps I’m thinking about what I do all wrong? How can we transport out of isolation and into an alternate storyline without writers? Why get out of bed without the possibility of beautifully crafted sentences to bring meaning to a suffering planet?
People need us! Civilization depends on us! We must keep calm and carry on even if those we’re helping are faceless, voiceless names on the other side of a space called Zoom.