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A matter of survival

By Heather E. Schwartz

You’ve probably seen that meme circulating, the one claiming Shakespeare wrote "King Lear" while in quarantine. The one nudging you to be just as productive as we live through our own version of the plague. Well, you know that annoying person who’s taken it to heart and is now writing three novels, a play, a new blog, and a bunch of magazine articles, plus a marketing plan for her work? No?


Now you do. That’s me!


A lot of people have a ton more time now that everything’s shut down and we’re forced to stay home. I am not one of them. With my kids around all day, I have significantly less time, privacy, and freedom of movement. In fact, I was just interrupted while writing that last sentence, and my request for ten minutes to bang out a few paragraphs was swiftly denied. “That’s too long,” I was informed. “You get one minute.”


So I’ll have to work fast.


Which is exactly what I’ve been doing, ever since this madness began. Writing at a fast and furious pace, driven to capture each historic moment I’m living through; make the most of a finite (we hope) and unique period of time; determined to emerge stronger, faster, better.  


Excuse me for a moment. My son has just invited me on a time traveling adventure, and we’re going to the year 1877. As he punches the numbers into his homemade keypad, he comments, “There’s no coronavirus back then,” and notes indifferently, “If coronavirus isn’t gone by Halloween, everyone will have to trick-or-treat in our own houses.”


Now come on. How is a writer supposed to resist material that juicy?


I can’t. And when I think about it, I never could when emotions ran high and my world seemed to be falling apart. Writing is where I’ve always gone—to analyze and work through problems, to get out of a bad marriage and into a good one, to escape a boring job and write my way into an exciting new life. It only makes sense that I’d go there now, to writing, when the idea of the world “falling apart” has taken on a literal meaning.


I can feel the difference everywhere and not just in the mundane. Yes, there’s the time suck of additional housework when the dishwasher dies three weeks in. Certainly I’m obligated to stay on top of remote schooling for my kids (while resisting the primal urge to declare—with authority this time—that geometry has no place in real life).


But it’s more than that. It’s the hyper, switched-on feeling in my brain. The sense that words are constantly forming into perfect sentences and paragraphs that demand transcription onto a page. Now. And hurry up about it because before you get that idea down, another one is already taking shape. And another. And another. And another.


In a dangerous world, I am sheltered and physically safe. But everything still feels like an emergency. My survival depends as much as anyone’s on hand-washing and social distancing, which doesn’t come up much when your world shrinks as much as mine has.


And that sounds sad. Sadder than it should. Because it turns out, I can live without sitting in restaurants and going to the movies and getaway trips to the beach. I don’t really need the specific brands of ice cream and toilet paper I ordered from the grocery store. What I can’t do without is my computer. Paper. A pen.


I have those things. What I need to survive. So I write.


Heather E. Schwartz is author of the award-winning children’s book Locked Up for Freedom. She has written for Disney, Sesame Street, Scholastic, Time for Kids, the Smithsonian, and NASA. Join her on Facebook @HeatherESchwartzAuthor and subscribe to follow her work on the Snowcap Mountain Adventures children’s series.

Heather E. Schwartz
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