That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Pandemic
Sheltered in Place
In today’s installment of That Thing With Feathers, C. Joseph Greaves (Chuck Greaves) writes from southwestern Colorado, a beautiful and remote part of the country and the setting of his latest novel, Church of the Graveyard Saints. He reminds us that, while writing is a solitary endeavor, ultimately it creates community and connection—and, like each of us, requires community to grow and flourish. Here’s Chuck, connecting with us from Stark Haven Ranch:
It’s snowing as I write this, the pewter sky and slanting spring flurries further darkening an already gloomy week of “social distancing” here at Stark Raven Ranch which, perched like a parrot on the shoulder of the Sleeping Ute here in southwestern Colorado, is already some distance from what some might consider a rollicking social scene. But writing—the actual placement of words on paper—is itself a solitary endeavor, which means my daily routine remains little changed from those halcyon days before the term “COVID-19” entered the public lexicon.
My writing friends know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, welcome to our world.
“Writing, however, is more than just putting words on paper. It’s a synthesis of life experience.”
Writing, however, is more than just putting words on paper. It’s a synthesis of life experience; an output of voltage stored in the imagination’s battery by all those frictional charges, positive and negative, we generate through interaction with and observation of and contemplation about the world around us. So while isolation might feel familiar in the short run, it is, in fact, anathema to the larger process by which writers create what sparks we can in the existential darkness of human experience.
Writers, moreover, exist not just in our individual silos but also as part of a larger ecosystem; an intricate web of connections that include our publishers, our agents and editors, our fellow scribes, our readers and critics, our local libraries and newspapers, book bloggers, interviewers, and most important of all, the booksellers without whom what we do—create, entertain, enlighten, inspire—would be rendered largely impracticable. And many of these people are hurting just now, their lives and livelihoods—our shared web of connectivity—disrupted in ways both large and small.
In my little corner of the American Southwest, for example, the wreckage of this global pandemic has so far included:
Local independent bookstores like Maria’s Bookshop in Durango and Back of Beyond Books in Moab, closed to customer browsing.
Our local monthly newspaper, The Four Corners Free Press (for which I write a bi-monthly book review column), rendered dark for the first time in its sixteen-year history because “many events we would have been spotlighting have been canceled, many of our advertisers are hurting, and some outlets that carry our newspaper will be closed.”
Annual events like the New Mexico Writers’ Dinner and monthly meetings of organizations like the SouthWest Writers and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers canceled.
The Cortez Public Library “closed until further notice.”
And perhaps worst of all, friends with books scheduled for release this spring and summer—I’m looking at you Susan M. Gaines and Scott Graham—seeing their book tours canceled or their publication dates postponed.
Word comes today that Montezuma County has had its first positive test for the COVID-19 virus. Inevitable, I know, but a bummer nonetheless. Undaunted, we cope as best we can using Skype and Zoom and the precious isolation this pandemic affords, knowing full well that our fragile web of connections will need to be repaired once the crisis has passed. For me that will mean visiting my local independent bookstore, giving a gift subscription or two to my local newspaper, attending meetings and conferences with my fellow writers, patronizing our local libraries, and mixing and mingling with the friends and neighbors whose company I so dearly miss. And maybe, when the worst is behind us, we’ll all better appreciate the ties that bind us to one another—to our friends and families, to our local communities and institutions, to our fragile natural environment, and to the big, scary, beautiful world from which we draw our strength and our inspiration.
The flurries have passed now, and the sun is shining on Ute Mountain where it rises in snow-capped majesty outside my office window. The aroma of my wife’s baking permeates the house. My grapevines need pruning, and my manuscript needs editing, and my dog would like a walk.
Life continues, and there’s so much to be done.
Chuck Greaves/C. Joseph Greaves is the author of six novels, most recently Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House Press), the Four Corners/One Book community reading selection for 2019-2020. You can visit him at www.chuckgreaves.com.
The months ahead will be challenging for arts organizations, including Torrey House Press. Connection though story will help us all manage this essential stay home time, and THP will be innovating more ways to give authors a platform to inspire and comfort. We’ll need your help to do it. You can help Torrey House Press weather this by making a donation of any amount today.