The Joys and Worries of 20 Writers During COVID-19
Sally Wen Mao, Janel Pineda, Tyehimba Jess, and more
As states remain in quarantine, each morning feels more quiet and somehow more complicated. Many people, myself included, are feeling a fog or heaviness just to begin our days. I began to message some writers, mainly poets, in an attempt to remain communicative. That morning, I was trying to calm my worries and carve a space for joy to enter. I asked writers to share a sentence on joy and a sentence on worry during this pandemic.
Some people wrote back saying they couldn’t contribute because they were mourning loved ones. Other people were fighting for emotional and economic stability after job loss. Nationwide, COVID-19 is spreading quickly in prisons. Houseless populations don’t have access to restrooms or spaces to social distance adequately. Many people are struggling to pay for rent and food, or worry because ICE is knocking on doors. Many people are quarantined with perpetrators of domestic violence. Each morning, it feels as if we are all walking to draw a bucket of water and put out as many little fires as possible. This space was created as a moment to exist together, if not in person and fully, then at least virtually and fractured.
Joy: A magnolia tree, every day, unfurls its pink cups, as if trying to convince me that my lifelong tropism toward gloom was illogical and unnecessary.
Worry: I spend too much time chasing thirst traps: do I enjoy eclipse?
Dennis Norris II
Joy: I’ve been making vanilla homemade lattes each morning using an instant mix I found at the grocery store. I add half n’ half and Vietnamese cinnamon. A latte from the local coffee shop was a frequent treat in my former life. It brings me joy to feel like I can recreate it for myself every morning. Even though I can’t afford an espresso machine, I feel a little fancy.
Worry: I’m not currently employed so sometimes I feel as though my morning latte is the sole reason I get out of bed. Everything else I need to do can, for the most part, be done in bed. I worry that one day, as this continues on, my morning latte won’t be enough to get me out of bed. And not getting out of bed terrifies me.
Joy: One joy, or perhaps it is more an inspiration, I have at this time is in my conversations with other writers and creatives who are still engaged in planning for the future of their work and their lives after the pandemic.
Worry: One worry I have at this time is for the future of not only the republic, but the whole world that seems unable to grapple with the realities of climate change.
torrin a. greathouse
Joy: A joy that has been sustaining me lately—silly as it sounds—are the good morning and goodnight texts sent by my partner; they live far away, a distance that often means the gap between us is one measured in time rather than miles, but now when I am unsure of when I will see them again, their texts bookend my days, give meaning to articulations of time that have otherwise begun to lose meaning.
Worry: The worry that has been perched on my chest is the unseen ways that this current crisis will further marginalize disabled people, particularly those whose bodies are also otherwise medicalized, and not knowing how many years (or even decades) it will take to repair the damage this crisis has done to our rights.
Joy: My joy has been paying attention to the birds at the feeder in a new quieter way; I am watching them so carefully as if I’d rather slip into their world for a bit.
Worry: Like many people, the thing that I keep visualizing and worrying about is the health of my loved ones and when I might be able to wrap my arms around them again.
Cathy Linh Che
Joy: Gochujang chicken (thanks to Helene Achanzar for the recipe).
Worry: Everyone I know in NYC knows at least one person who has died of COVID-19, and we are all heartbroken.
Craig Santos Perez
Joy: One joy that I am holding onto at this time is cooking with and for my family.
Worry: One worry I feel is for my 90+ year old grandma, whose care home is not allowing visitors.“I worry I won’t be able to be lonely on my own terms for a long while.”
Joy: A joy is taking virtual classes as substitute for interacting with strangers, a need I didn’t realize I had before the pandemic.
Worry: That the pandemic will only exacerbate our society’s already gross inequalities.
Joy: Been calling mom for Salvadoran recipes I was always too afraid to try, and they’re coming out great!
Worry: That my family will get sick, and this government will use this pandemic as another excuse/opportunity to police/deport them.
Eduardo C. Corral
Joy: Morning coffee. Before social distancing, I rarely made morning coffee. Now, it’s a highlight of my day. It’s such a sensory-rich process. The whistling of the kettle. The steam warm, aromatic. The swirl of milk. The rim of the mug kissing my mouth.
Worry: I worry I won’t be able to be lonely on my own terms for a long while. This solitude is necessary —but imposed. Choosing to pull away from the world was one of the gifts of solitude. I miss that. Deeply.
Airea D. Matthews
Joy: For the first time, after living in cities for over 30 years, I wake to only two sounds that can no longer be drowned out by traffic or sirens—wren song and my own breath.
Worry: I’ve lost several acquaintances in Detroit, some of whom waited to go to the hospital. Those losses, in a predominantly Black city, amplify my concerns about how the historically oppressed carry pain or discomfort as a matter of fact, why we distrust systems, why that distrust is warranted, and the murderous tendencies of historical trauma.
Joy: Lingerie brings me joy.
Worry: I’m worried about my sister who works as a nurse in New York City and has a history of asthma.
Mahogany L. Browne
Joy: Is breathing. A full breath. Chest extended outwards. Towards the window. Towards the sun. Less concave. Less restrict. Joy is tasting the light on your lover’s fingertips, the way the garden blooms because of them, the spice that reminds you of good soil and liberation.
Worry: Is not speaking not to my mother for 16 hours and not speaking to myself for 2 hours. Worry is a twitter feed scrolling every nightmare in RT on repeat, no commercial. Worry is a home // everyone has a key to enter its door…“I worry about the limitations of our resilience.”
Diana Khoi Nguyen
Joy: Reuniting with both of my dogs in Denver, CO, where spring weather is fickle—one day soaking in the bright sun with the pups curled beside me, the next day watching them run through a foot of snow along the creek near our house.
Worry: Constant fear that my younger sister (who is often prone to illness) who works in a hospital lab catches COVID-19.
Joy: This moment has called us to imagine different possibilities for how to collectivize our care for our communities—and beautifully so, it’s meant us finding additional ways of showing up for one another.
Worry: But I also worry about the limitations of our resilience, before we can have systems change that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable.
Joy: I’ve been doing an hour long Tracy Anderson DVD workout on YouTube every morning since lock down started, almost absent-mindedly, and after 32 days I have muscles in places I thought were reserved for gristle and skin tags lol.
Worry: Since I have to cook all the time now, and mind you I’m very bad at it, I’m worried I might accidentally give myself salmonella and this is NOT the time for that mess.
Joy: Writing a book about Dolly Parton and how she has been with me at my darkest times is what is keeping me afloat right now but I mean that’s almost too meta; my joy is also coming from spending more hours with my family than I usually get to do in a week.
Worry: My worries are too infinite to contain, although my body contains them and it triggers trauma responses; my strongest worries are for those much less privileged than myself, and especially about food insecurity and especially about those who are incarcerated and especially about the rise in domestic violence and and and
Joy: One recent day-to-day joy is the space to slow down and cook more complex recipes for myself that I wouldn’t normally make time for in the work week, especially Palestinian comfort foods like homemade manakeesh (featuring sujuk I was able to have delivered from a local Arab grocery store, which wasn’t sold out unlike the haloumi, which I attribute to the Whites of MA buying it up because they think it’s trendy all of a sudden…).
Worry: A worry I have, weird as it is to say, is re-socialization after all of this. Yes, I cannot wait to see/hug so many friends and crushes, near and far, however I feel like socialization is going to be hard and over-stimulating for me and fellow neurodivergent folks, and I do worry that the capitalist structures around us (for me, academia) are going to use the quarantine ending to justify exploiting more labor from us and ignore the fact that, just as quarantine was a process we had to adapt to, so is re-socialization.
Sally Wen Mao
Joy: These days, just seeing sunlight. Books, breakfasts, berries, and binge-watching. That, and catching up with friends and coming to terms with solitude, making a truce with it.
Worry: I’m worried about many things: plutocracy, fascism, how this pandemic will affect those most vulnerable in America. I’m worried that the decisions made by this administration will harm generations and futures.
Carmen Giménez Smith
Joy: The joy I hold is how close I can be to my children’s bodies now that we share space.
Worry: My worry is that our bodies don’t matter anymore to the powers that be and that this shared space will soon become oppressive.