Following the publication of my novel Shine, I spent more than a year promoting it. I signed books and gave readings at dozens of bookstores, book fairs, schools, and libraries. The most frequently asked question was: “Do you ever have writer’s block?”
I always answered no, explaining that I first became a professional writer when I served in the Army as a journalist. Army cooks were trained to cook, so they cooked. I was trained to write, so I wrote. I never failed to complete an assignment.
Indeed, not writing has been more problematic than writing. For many years, decades in fact, I was driven and compelled to write. When I had a full-time job, I sometimes got up at three a.m. and wrote a few hours before I went to work. When I was a remodeling contractor, the tidy profits from a room addition paid the bills for a few months while I crafted another novel.
A couple years ago, I published my last work of fiction—a short story collection titled Fantastic Fish Tales—after which I officially retired. Perhaps I have grown old and lazy. I no longer feel compelled to write fiction.
Occasionally, though, the writing bug still bites me. So, every other week I do a column for this paper. It satisfies my writing itch, and it allows me to contribute to our community (not unlike a hospital volunteer. We old folks like to think we’re still useful). Initially I planned to write mostly light and folksy human interest stories. Sometimes I write something more substantial.
When the coronavirus pandemic first made headlines in March, it simply could not be ignored. Immediately I wrote a column (3/14/2020), “Coronavirus should not divide us,” in which I called for a unified, nonpartisan response to the dire threat. “Republicans and Democrats should put politics aside and stand united, not divided, against this clear and present danger to us all,” I concluded.
As a Kentuckian, I am pleased and proud that our Democratic governor Andy Beshear has worked effectively with Republicans in the statehouse to safeguard our health, comparatively speaking. Our infection rate is lower than all the states around us in this region. (Unfortunately, the federal government has provided practically no cohesive leadership or guidance, and the simple protective measure of wearing a face mask has been politicized and weaponized.)
My next column (3/28/2020), “A good time to enjoy the outdoors” encouraged readers to get outside and explore nature during the shutdown. My next couple columns in April were also tied into the coronavirus crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly the most horrific event in our lifetime. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 caused the deaths of 2,996 people. The attacks were confined to three locations, and they ended in just a few hours. Coronavirus kills more than 5,000 people daily. It has spread to every continent except Antarctica, and no one knows when it will end.
There are many COVID related issues I could write about here. For example, I could describe how my wife and I have grown closer to our adult children. They both live in Louisville, but we talk on the phone more frequently, and our conversations are more loving and sincere.
I could write about our son Logan’s forthcoming wedding in September. In March, when this awful virus first emerged, my first thoughts were of Logan and his fiancée Clara. We had thought 2020 would be the Year of Their Happy and Glorious Wedding—not the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning a wedding and getting married are stressful in the best of times, but our son and our future daughter-in-law are handling the adversity quite admirably—much better than I ever could have, that’s for sure.
I could write about our daughter Julie. She has just completed her first year as a respiratory therapist at a hospital in Louisville. And what a first year it has been—a veritable baptism by fire. Julie tells us that if people could see what she sees (COVID-19 patients), everyone would take coronavirus much more seriously, and everyone would wear face masks in public.
As a general rule, however, I don’t write about our children. I feel free to write about myself, but not about my family and friends. They deserve some privacy—something I abandoned long ago.
More to the point, I’m tired of writing about coronavirus and all things COVID-related. There are so many other things to write about—things that are more pleasant and endearing. The pandemic is all over TV news, newspaper front pages, and the Internet. Do readers need my commentary, too? Do they really want my two cents’ worth?
I am not experiencing writer’s block, but writing is more difficult now. It feels like I am ‘danged if I do, and danged if I don’t’ write about COVID-19. On one hand, it seems stupid and reckless to ignore the COVID monster. If we’re careless or unlucky, it could pretty much destroy us.
On the other hand, it seems equally wrong and stupid to talk and write about COVID exclusively, relentlessly, ad nauseam, and so on. I’d rather write about butterflies and bluebirds. We have bluebirds nesting in a fence post in our yard.
Eventually half the population could be infected with COVID, and the economy could be ruined. We need to be aware and wary, but we don’t need to stress and burn ourselves out.
Everyone knows there is a dangerous, ravenous beast in our midst. Perhaps we need more butterflies and bluebirds.
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.