Tuesday, April 14, 2020

LIVING--and WRITING and ILLUSTRATING--in the Time of COVID-19: A Guest Post by Melissa Cole Essig

Congratulations to Theresa Milstein who won ILLUSIONS and Sandra Warren who won STONES from last week's blog. 
Today, I'm bringing you a guest post by a fellow North Carolina children's writer, Melissa Cole Essig. This article first appeared on the SCBWI-Carolinas blog, PEN & PALETTE. Melissa graciously allowed me to share it with you.

A Moment of Gratitude for Our Relative Good Fortune

My son and I were walking the dog the other day when a jogger bumped into him.
I was outraged, in a way that would have been totally unreasonable a few weeks ago. What was this woman thinking? Why didn’t she run around us at a safe distance? How could she so selfishly squeeze onto the sidewalk beside my child, close enough to breathe on him?
It was a moment that encapsulated the exhausting reality of living in the time of COVID-19. On the one hand, I was outside in the sunshine, taking a walk with my son—a rarity in the “normal” world crammed so full of soccer practices and music lessons and homework that we are left with little time to just be together in no hurry. All these long walks I’m taking give me a chance to connect with other people as well, to shout hello to them across the street and check in with neighbors sitting on their front porches. To be more firmly and consciously in community. 
On the other hand, I expect a distance. I write blog posts about poor, thoughtless joggers who fail to observe it. 
It’s this apparent contradiction—connection yet distance—that, I think, makes writers and illustrators better equipped to handle sheltering in place than many. And that gives us a crucial role to play in bringing a little bit of peace and sanity to a world that so desperately needs it.
No matter how we approach our craft, at some point we have to sit down, alone, and tell a story in words or images. We know how to appreciate the solitude, even as we now fret about the very frightening consequences that come from so much of it for so many people all at once.
At the same time, we are uniquely able to bridge the gap between solitude and connection. In “What Writers Really Do When They Write,” George Saunders offers this bit of brilliance (and a great many other bits as well): “We often think that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place ... and then welcome the reader in.” 
Think about this (and apply it, as well, to nonfiction and illustration). We create worlds and we welcome our readers in.
We can do this, even now. Even when we can’t invite our readers into our homes or our offices or bookstores or libraries or, for the vast majority of school-aged children in the U.S. right now, their schools. 
We can, in our own shelters-in-place, make something that COVID-19 can’t touch. That doesn’t require frequent hand-washing or worrying about how to get to the food distribution site or whether that person coming toward us on the sidewalk is coughing. Something we don’t have to leave on the floor untouched for 24 hours when we bring in the mail or spray down with disinfectant when we brave the grocery store. 
We—writers and illustrators for young people—have the power to connect, at a deep and intimate level, with readers who need connection in the midst of their isolation.
Yes, the manuscript I’m working on at this moment won’t make it into readers’ hands for years, if at all. But that’s true of everything we do as artists, every day. 
Every day we hope our work will find its audience.
And in this time of fear and confusion and anxiety, we can offer that same hope—the kind we’re so good at harnessing—to the people who need it. All we have to do is continue to create worlds where young people now separated from their friends and communities can find a connection. And invite them in.

Melissa Cole Essig writes middle-grade and YA fiction and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her spouse, two kids, and a hound dog who always needs walking. She would love to connect with you on Twitter @MColeEssig


Sandra Warren said...

Thanks for sharing Melissa Essig's post. It was thought provoking and made me think about capturing my thoughts on this unique time in history for a story that may never see the light of day. It is indeed a time to write.

Carol Baldwin said...

THANKS, Sandra. I thought Melissa said it so eloquently.

Linda Phillips said...

Thanks for this very honest and realistic view of the present moment. And I can totally relate to the jogger incident. My husband was practically mowed down by a jogger who came up from behind without warning, and without swerving out six feet. I was incensed as well. As for taking this time to write whatever we might write without regard to future publication I say Yes and amen!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. obviously, I agree!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thank you for sharing Melissa’s view about jogging and distancing. We get protective of our lives and well-being during these difficult times. Our emotions are high and on edge. Praying for all if us to be able to be safe and well. Writers and illustrators have a unique gift to the world. Document and give your opinions of life.

Stay well. Be safe.


Carol Baldwin said...

You’re absolutely right, Joan. It is a difficult time and we have an important job!

Theresa Milstein said...

This is such a strange time. I walked through the supermarket yesterday, recently recovered from the virus, wearing my mask and gloves. And yet still shrinking when people got too close or I got too close to people. I saw a mom with her infant at the checkout line and tried to pass a safe distance away. It made me tear up. Everything we took for granted is just different and hard. Feeling those typical connections are missing too.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks. Enjoy your writing!

Never Give Up

Carol Baldwin said...

Theresa, so glad to hear you recovered! It is a strange time. Wonder how this will effect students like yours. Thanks for commenting.

Gretchen said...

Thanks, Melissa and Carol, for this post on life in this new world. I'm walking in the afternoons and so far had no bumping from others to fret about. My perspective has changed as much as my habits.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, our perspectives have changed, haven't they, Gretchen?

Rosi said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I never go outside my yard except to the mailbox once or twice a week. I haven't been within 20 feet of anyone except my daughters's family in about 5 weeks. We live in interesting time.

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