By Eleanor Shelton
I thought I finished writing about the pandemic. I’m weary from finding ways to convert coronavirus’s consequences into lessons learned that affect my writing. They exist, certainly. And I’m guessing you’re fatigued from reading about it. But I think I’ve got one more. Wake up!
I just listened to Tommy Orange chastise his son Felix for interrupting him. Yes, Tommy Fucking Orange, whose debut novel There, There won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reading from his new work-in-progress, via the Zoom, when his young son started making noise. He forgot to mute his microphone as he got up to speak sternly with his child. He gave a lecture on behavior that I’m sure I received as a child too.
Everyday is ordinary, until it isn’t.Bernard Cornwell
Thanks to COVID-19, I glimpsed into Tommy Orange’s Oakland home and witnessed an ordinary moment of his life AND listened to some breathtaking writing. This opportunity would never have happened in the Beforetimes. He would have entered a theater or auditorium, stood in front of a microphone, read, answered questions, and left. It would have been an enjoyable evening for which I likely paid between $25 and $50.
It was free. Orange wore a baseball hat, T-shirt, and shorts, having an everyday parenting moment. Priceless. I was privy to an up and coming literary figure, and guess what…? They are just like you and me (except the fame and possibly fortune part). To his young son, he’s just Dad, the person who plays with him, feeds him, and disciplines him, and loves him.
Because of the pandemic, I’ve seen movie stars sitting at home wearing little to no makeup, in sweatshirts with lousy lighting. They look like my friends and family (more or less). To be successful, it isn’t about how you look (unless you want to be a runway model and then blessed genetics helps) or where you live. It’s about putting in the hard work to get what you want. There are a few glamorous moments in life. Zoom illustrates what real life is.
Zoom has become the great equalizer. It has also shown us that famous people can make bad decisions too. I bet Jeffery Toobin would like to rewind a few moments of poor decision-making illuminated on the Zoom stage. But if we could use Zoom to spy on the life of Joan Didion, Dan Brown, Martin Amis, Gillian Flynn, I’m confident we’d see ordinary people sitting at their desks stringing words together, crossing them out and rewriting them. It’s the same activity we all who are dedicated to our craft do. It’s what Tommy Fucking Orange does. It’s what I do too.
I desperately want the world to find a way to manage this pandemic successfully. But in the meantime, stay healthy, make smart decisions, and take advantage of the opportunity to use technology to get a glimpse of actual real life.