COVID-19 No. 6: You Mean We Have to Create Another New Structure?

HAVING SPENT THE BETTER PART of a workweek building a new daily structure to adhere to — all the more fun while onboarding at a new job — I’m now faced, as most of us are, with figuring out what Saturdays and Sundays are going to look like for the foreseeable future.

No trips to the dry cleaner.

No hanging out in coffee shops.

No browsing through bookstores.

No dinners out with friends.

No walking through the mall.

No ballgames to watch.

No Sunday-night visits to a favorite watering hole to conclude the weekend with a great friend, good beer, and the world’s best wings.

Hell, I probably won’t even be going to the supermarket for a couple of weeks. We stocked up a couple of weekends ago in anticipation of being housebound for a while.

As if we weren’t all making it up as we go along anyway, our viral lockdown has layered a whole new swath of What do we do now? onto our lives.

For me, I’m guessing that Saturdays and Sundays will include more reading and writing, more walking, more board games, more phone calls and texting sessions, more online shopping, more hanging out on the deck (thank goodness warmer weather is nearly here), more Wii and Xbox, more movies, more catches and soccer in the backyard. A lot of museums are opening up their digital collections to greater access, so I’ll probably check them out. And I have all kinds of work stuff I need to start learning.

How about you? What are you up to this weekend? | DL

COVID-19 No. 1: Some Introductory Thoughts

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of admonition or advice regarding the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, but as a writer, I found one piece of counsel most interesting and compelling.

Document this time.

I saw it on Twitter, proof that social media really can be used for good instead of evil, and more than one account I follow shared it. The thought is that once all of this is behind us, historians will want a record of how ordinary people lived through it. Not the rampant, immoral public deception of a presidency incapable of the barest modicum of decency and honesty, but the everyday experiences of the rank and file — women and men with jobs and schooling, kids and parents, siblings and friends, mortgages and rents, all of us trying like hell to muddle through this.

I am an off-and-on journaler, someone who almost always finds benefit in emptying a kinetic mind onto paper yet has failed to make it a regular practice. If there were ever a time to document daily happenings in hopes of quieting the noise, this would seem to be it. If it happens to serve history, so much the better.

And so this is the first in what I intend and hope will be a regular recording of … what? Each day’s situation, perhaps, its feel, its activities, and one person’s reflections on fear, hope, frustration, and, perhaps, optimism. For even as my fellow Americans react in some truly awful ways to a situation unseen in the lifetime of anyone currently alive, I choose to believe that good will come out of it.

In the late summer and autumn of 2001, when some reacted to evil with evil of their own, there was also grace, compassion, wisdom, and unity. These were the smaller, quieter moments, acts often outside the public eye, which made them that much more meaningful and important. It may be irrational optimism, but I think that when this time in history is accurately recorded, we will read of similar selflessness, courage, and honor.

We’re all in this, friends. Let’s help each other out and see it through with grace and good health, shall we? | DL

Creative Biting, or How Meeting with Some College Students Sparked Something

REGULAR READERS of these missives — all three of you — will recall an almost 15-year history of on-again, off-again blogging. There have been fertile periods, the occasional collaboration, new focuses and themes, and — no small point — friendships made. Blogging has been a rewarding endeavor.

When I mentioned this history to the director of the writing center at the university where I work, he asked if I would meet with some of the student staff who were interested in relaunching its blog as an additional way of helping their peers. I dropped by the other day and had a delightful conversation with eight or so students and the director, a faculty member in the English department. We talked about editorial calendars and engaging content, about guest posters and tips of the week, about posting regularly and tags and categories, about writing with a genuine voice and encouraging the kind of back and forth that made the whole thing so much fun once upon a time.

When I left there were the expected thanks for my time and thoughts. The gratitude, though, went both ways.

My efforts here have been admittedly spotty. I could make all kinds of excuses about being busy, but as has been pointed out, we all get the same 168 hours a week. It’s up to us to determine how we spend them. The ones who create make the choice to spend it creating, just as I make the choice to spend it dicking around on Twitter.

In sharing my experiences and perspective, I could feel the urge returning. The urge to create and share. The urge to make the world better — YES, I KNOW THAT’S CORNY AND I DON’T REALLY CARE BECAUSE IT’S TRUE DON’T @ ME — through the creative work I believe myself capable of.

That urge was fueled by the curiosity of those students, and by the counsel I offered in return. It was if there were a giant neon sign blazing in front of my eyes: “TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE, BOYO.”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Thanks to a group of interesting, funny, smart students who — and this part is important — want to use their talents to help their peers. To make the world better. | DL

Burnet Up, Or How Just a Few Kind Words Can Inspire the Writer in Me

 

WITNESS STATEMENTS. Memoir. Medical reports. Journal article. Trial record.

There’s an awful lot going on in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel His Bloody Project, not least of which is that the crime referred to in the title is established in its opening pages. A triple homicide in a poor village in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s — that’s what happened, and the reader knows it straight away.

It is in the how and the why where Burnet’s tale lies. Using a variety of storytelling techniques and devices — those listed up there in the first line — he crafts a strikingly original work of vivid details, meticulous characterization, and compelling plot. As a writer, I have found myself returning to Burnet’s adroit handling to figure out how to make my own work better without throwing up my hands in despair because nothing I produce will ever be that good.

I tweeted as much to him and Matthew Klam — whose deeply felt Who Is Rich? I hope to discuss in a future post — and was reassured that all of us who struggle to make magic with words are wrestling with the same demons.

“If it’s any consolation,” Graeme Macrae Burnet tweeted back at me, “I often have the same thought!”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Burnet. It is of enormous consolation. I’ll be back at the keyboard tonight. | DL

Severance Hackage, or Why Kenny Cosgrove Has No One But Himself to Blame

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AMONG THE MANY entertainments of Mad Men is the train-wreck thrill of watching its talented, pretty characters self-destruct in spectacular fashion. They smoke too much, drink too much, work too much, and sleep with the wrong people over and over and over again. But what secondary character Ken Cosgrove did in Sunday’s episode makes Don’s, Peggy’s, Roger’s, Pete’s, and Joan’s transgressions look like harmless, impish fun.

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Creative Righting, or How an Irreverent Marketing Campaign May Inspire Me to Reorient the Ship

kkaprod2_largeWHIT HILER WAS not the presenter I expected to be the one to deliver my annual March jolt of “Get off your ass and create.” That shock of inspiration inevitably happens at CUPRAP’s spring conference, typically courtesy a gifted writer or determined peer. Hiler, though, is not only an agency guy but also a partner in a side project called Kentucky for Kentucky, whose goals include rebranding the Bluegrass State with the tagline “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”

Yeah.

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