In mid 2020, my friend Sandy Tritt put out a call for submissions to a Covid-19 anthology she was putting together. As the August deadline approached, I remember wishing that I had something to send her, before remembering that I had actually written something on the topic, way waaaay back, what seemed like years and years before, in April of 2020.
I’m sure there are writers who used their downtime during the 2020 pandemic and lockdown to get a lot of writing done. I am not one of them. Now, Lord knows I have enough stories in-progress that I could have tackled finishing a few of them or even started something new in 2020. But I just couldn’t summon much interest in creative output for pretty much the whole year. A lot of this can be chalked up to just not feeling any love for the craft due to Covid-19, but there were larger factors at play in my life that actually outweighed even a global pandemic for me. The pandemic definitely didn’t help, though.
While I live in West Virginia, I spent most of the first half of 2020 in Mississippi, helping my parents while my dad recovered from spinal surgery. I was supposed to be there for five weeks. It turned into five months. Most of my writing for those months came in the form of Facebook posts and texts updating family and friends on our situation there. I wasn’t entirely without creative output, though. I did manage to write, revise and complete a 10 minute theatrical monologue which was then workshopped, revised more times, workshopped again, and subsequently published in an anthology of Covid-19 writing. As per usual, I had to have a deadline to make me complete it.
The monologue–some might argue short play, due to its formatting–in question was written in response to a March 2020 challenge issued by Jason A.Young, of Clarksburg’s Vintage Theatre Company. Jason challenged a number of West Virginia playwright types to write monologues documenting the pandemic experience in West Virginia. As I explained to Jason at the time, I wasn’t having a WV pandemic experience because I was in Mississippi. While I couldn’t really comment on what was going on back in home, I could definitely shed some light on what was happening to me and my family in my home town of Starkville.
For me and my parents, Covid-19 was only the icing on the already difficult cake that started our year. While my father’s surgery in mid-February had been a success in terms of ridding him of the agony he’d been in for months, due to a pinched nerve, it had not entirely been the instant cure we’d hoped for. He came out of surgery barely able to walk due to months of using his legs incorrectly in order to avoid pain. He then wound up doing nine weeks of in-patient rehab at a nursing home facility while I split my time between hanging out with him in his room there and being at home to take care of my step-mother, Myra.
Part way into his rehab experience, Mississippi had its first case of Covid-19 and Dad’s facility went on full lockdown. This meant I couldn’t get inside to see him because they were trying like hell to keep Covid-19 out. We could then only communicate with Dad by phone, Facebook video, and by me standing outside of his ground-floor window and talking to him phone to phone.
By the time Jason issued the challenge to write a monologue, I had a few things to say about the pandemic experience. The monologue I wrote, entitled “Fish Bowl,” depicts one side of a cell phone conversation between a father and son looking at each other through the glass of a nursing home room window. It was inspired by the many such conversations I had with my dad through the window of his room during those weeks. And while much of the conversation is fictional, much of it is true. It also quite accurately depicts the way I came to learn that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19 in his facility during one such conversation.
I turned in the monologue to Jason in April 2020. He passed it along to a very talented local actor from his troop named Sean Marko, who made both audio and, later, video readings of it as a kind of online workshop. It helped the revision process immensely to hear how the words sounded and where my tendency toward super long sentences caused train wrecks in the execution. Being back in the collaborative process of theatre again felt great, especially after weeks of avoiding any such output, viewing it as a distraction to my many responsibilities at hand.
Months later, I did another couple of polishes on “Fish Bowl” and submitted it to Sandy for her anthology. She said it made her cry, which I guess is as good a review as a writer is likely to get. She accepted it and it was published as part of In the Midst: A COVID-19 Anthology in November, 2020.
I guess this is a long way to go to say, “Fish Bowl,” has just been published again in the brand new ebook edition of In the Midst: A Covid-19 Anthology. Unlike the print editions, where readers needed to chose between black and white and a pricier full-color version, though, the much cheaper ebook is in full color.
There’s a lot more tale to tell about my time in Mississippi, both comedic and tragic. I’m now considering the best format in which to tell it.