Journal of a Pandemic Year by Patrick Whitfill

April 29, 2020
Journal of a Pandemic Year by Patrick Whitfill

You can purchase Patrick's new poetry chapbook, Curiosity, and help support indie bookstores by shopping at: https://bookshop.org/books/curiosity/9781934832721

April 4, 2020

Routine helps.

          I’ve got a list I follow. But I’ve got a toddler, too, and he doesn’t care for lists at all. So, we do our best.

          Without a list, my first week of quarantine went like this: wake up, make coffee, stare at a squirrel (our toddler calls them “quirl,” which is perfect, we think), face complete existential dread, invent disaster narratives, panic breathe, worry about my breathing (am I symptomatic? am I sick?), pick a quarantine fight with my wife, apologize for that, drink something alcoholic, panic, rest. Netflix.

          Nothing wrong with any of it, but it has no longevity.

          So, this past week, I added structure, and, like always, I added too much to my list.

          First, I decided that, if I stay at home and keep getting on my computer, then I can’t spend my time floating from Twitter to Instagram to a news outlet and then back again. So, I promised myself I’d write one three-thousand-word story a day. (This article convinced me it could be done: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/professional-romance-novelists-can-write-3-000-words-a-day-here-s-how-they-do-it?utm_source=pocket-newtab.) That became my major writing goal, but I wanted more. So, I added to my list: one page of poetry drafted a day. And then I added exercises, readings, meditation, cleaning schedule, and now that I’m a remote educator, I added remote education-things. (This interview with Stephen Graham Jones helped convince me that writing is sometimes typing until it works https://www.fictionunbound.com/blog/the-experimental-and-horror-an-interview-with-stephen-graham-jones.)

          I’ve read a ton, too. That’s something I don’t typically do in a semester: read for myself. To be fair, I only teach the books I want to teach, but that’s a different kind of reading, I think.

          Lots of George Saunders, Aimee Barrodale, Stephen Graham Jones. I did my best with the recorded/transcribed lectures of Charles Olson, and that basically melted half of my brain. The good half, probably. The better one, maybe. Re-reading Timothy Donnelly’s new collection, G.C. Waldrep’s feast gently, Rick Barot’s The Galleons, a book about chess openings, Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, and the second installment of a zombie novel series by Z.A. Recht. Also, Alan Rossi’s Mountain Road, Late at Night, and the new issue of diode.

          My goal, I think, is to beat back my anxiety with production. Maybe if I put enough words into my head that I didn’t create, I’ll stop the ones I’m making that I can’t do anything about. Along the way, maybe I write something worthwhile.

 

April 9, 2020

Things have changed.

          The limited amount of childcare we had for the past two weeks (two hours in the morning, five days a week) has been cancelled. Or, sheltered, I guess, which makes sense. It’s the right move.

          Classes started back, and now, somehow, I have my own YouTube channel.

          I’m wearing a lot of bandanas. Not all at once, like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, just the one around my head, but doing it every day.

          My reading pile sits off to the side, and the required reading for class, the text books, have taken over my writing space.

          I haven’t exercised this week.

          One night, I made fried chicken. The next, two deep dish pizzas. I had candy with both meals.

          A lot of candy.

          My drinking starts earlier in the day than normal. We haven’t had any quarantine fights because I’ve been too busy to pick them, but both my wife and I feel exhausted all the time. She’s in the back room pulling forty-hours a week, doing an 8-5 shift, and I’ve got Jule. I try not to put on Disney +, but it happens. He eats crackers. I feel like I should do a better job with him, and then I give him more crackers.

          I haven’t written on a story since the one I started on April fourth, but it’s almost finished. No pages drafted in poetry. I haven’t meditated once this week, and the house, because I’m in charge of it, gets messier every day.

          Plus, remote teaching, right now, means Zoom meetings where my kid makes the occasional appearance, or just screams in the background.

          It isn’t chaos, but it’s something like that.

 

April 11, 2020

Here’s what I think: this isn’t the new normal. Nothing’s normal.

          It’s tough at home with a toddler and all the parks are closed. We complain about it. We make dinner. We drink. I comment on reading response journals. Michelle codes.

          But here’s the crazy part: I’m raising my son in a way that would never have happened without this disaster. My father farmed when I was kid, so I never really saw him until I was about seven, when we lost the farm, went bankrupt, and he became a teacher. Even then, he worked at night on side jobs to get past the debt and raise three kids. But now, every day, I get to listen to Jule learn a new word, and I get to carry him around on my shoulders, make funny faces, listen to him laugh. Listen to him scream.

          Listen to him scream again (just normal baby/toddler screams, here, not horror-movie screams).

          Michelle and I spend all of our time together, and we plan our future out. It may never happen, the future we plan, but we talk a lot.

          I haven’t written as much as I’d like, but that’s okay. I’ll find the time.

          I’ll make it work.

          This isn’t normal, but it’s workable. We’re blessed to have jobs (so far, at least), and everyone’s healthy (so far, at least).

          Of course, next week’s almost here, and, apparently, we’re in a tornado watch.

          So, yeah. It’s almost like everything changes all the time, and that’s the only thing we can count on.

          That, and deep dish pizzas. Those are constants.

          But I’m living the life I tell my students to live at the end of every class: drink water, trust no one.

          But it’s lunch time around here, and Jule likes it best when I don’t type while he eats.

          So yeah. Let’s see what happens next.

 

Patrick Whitfill has work appearing in journals like Colorado Review, Threepenny Review, Kenyon Review Online, and other places. He teaches at Wofford College and lives in Spartanburg with his wife, son, and three pets. His chapbook, Curiosity, came out this spring from New Michigan Press.

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