Workshopping (and November)
Late last year, I got an email from the writer and professor who had guided me through my MA. She was running a workshop out of Australia, but it was purely online and would I be interested in joining. It was a fairly bleak time of year, cold and wet, another Christmas without my family looming, Covid beginning to surge (again). The prospect of doing something like a workshop for myself felt warm and comforting, a way of self-soothing. The timing was also perfect: I was knee-deep in this essay writing project and had 25,000 words of a novel in the bottom drawer but, slightly more pressingly, had been told I could run a Creative Writing workshop at uni the folllowing semester. Doing a workshop – for the first time in years – felt like a way of taking control of all the half-done projects and free-floating ideas as much as an excellent way to get back in the zone for my own teaching purposes. So I signed up.
I had planned on using the workshop to finish my 2021 pandemic writing, hoping to keep sanding off the edges of the personal essay genre I’ve been teaching myself to write within for the past seven years or so. I was well on my way to finishing my goal of writing by month, hoping to comb through the words at the end of the year and begin moulding some sort of collection. But a week into the workshop, I promptly shelved it. I had forgotten how much I love writing fiction. I just always abandon it because I am not naturally good at plotting and at some point it all gets too hard, so I start something new, start tinkering around with a fresh cast of characters on a new street somewhere else in the world. It’s a terrible habit.
So here we are, March. The workshop finished (and I am signing up for the next one, too, determined to finish a draft of this novel) and semester started and I have some sort of an idea where the novel’s going to go but am terribly behind on my pandemic essay collection. But I’ll finish it, I have to. I’m determined to. On weekends, I try and get some solid re-writing done, enjoying this point of the process at which a lot of the words are on paper, but they aren’t singing in their current location. I like moving the pieces around and finding the throughline of the essay, its shape. What’s emerging, as I do this, is that a lot of what I wrote last year wasn’t actually about the pandemic. It was about parenthood and puppy school and being pissed off I’m not allowed to vote anywhere.
In many ways, things look a lot different this year although no less confusing. As I write, Germany’s ditching the federal mask mandate for the first time since we started wearing them in April of 2020. Many places are choosing – as is their right – to keep a mask mandate, so we’re still wearing them in shops and they’re still required on public transport. Schools had their last day with them on Friday and students will return after the Easter break to a mask-free classroom for the first time in two years. They haven’t been testing for two weeks, now, after nearly eighteen months of compulsory twice or thrice-weekly testing in classrooms. Case numbers have never been higher, but vaccinations are keeping hospitalisations down just not kindergartens open or shelves stocked when entire teams of personel crash out with the virus. Quarantine’s shortening, test requirements disappearing from the hospitality industry. It’s here but it isn’t, better but it isn’t, hopeful, dramatic, tedious.
I still haven’t published November or December, and I did promise myself I’d publish an excerpt from my writing each month last year. So, below you’ll find November, written as we spiralled back into an uncontrolled surge and talk of yet another lockdown began to bubble. It brought with it another frenzied month of testing and worrying as we hemmed in what little social life we’d clawed back over the more relaxed, albeit fleeting, summer months. It also brought with it terrific division, or at least the culmination thereof, a division that seemed to dictate the pandemic’s narrative into 2022. It was what made November and December of 2021 an entirely different experience to those months of 2020.
In any case, I shall sign off and go and keep moving puzzle pieces around and try and get this collection looking like something whole and shaped. And I’ll finish my novel draft. I will, I will, I will.
But this time, there’s not much solidarity. None, really. This time there are the geimpft and the ungeimpft, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. There are those of us who have chosen to follow where the science goes – to accept that vaccinations largely reduce symptoms of any given disease, help prevent a bad case, reduce hospitalisations, protect us from a virus we’re still learning about. There are those who are scared, who worry about side effects, who have heard too many stories of someone’s neighbour’s cousin dropping dead twelve hours after the job. Then there are those that simply know better than the virologists, the epidemiologists, the scientists who create vaccines – they know that Corona’s just the flu, our bodies can handle it, what’s the big fuss? And then, then, there are the freedom fighters, the ones who won’t be told by the government what to do, the ones who will fight for their freedom because the individual always outweighs the greater good, my God. (My God.) I am furious. I am furious we have managed to wash up on this shore again, this same sand, this same inhospitable island. No, this time there is no solidarity.
But if I put the anger away – and I must, there are the kids to care for, another semester to guide students through, a Christmas season to celebrate, snotty noses and chesty coughs to tend to – there are little handfuls of interesting things to inspect. Vaccinations are, in their essence, a collective endeavour. The more people that use them, the greater their effect. The more bodies that can shut down a virus quickly, with minimal disruption, the fewer desirable hosts that virus has, the less it can move through a population, unfettered. But collectivism is not a feature of our societies – we are individualists. Those who refuse to get vaccinated on account of personal liberty, are they the same ones who ignore the queues at the Bäckerei, who shout out their Brötchen order on a Sunday morning despite a milling crowd of others there first? Are they the same ones who, when another cashier opens up in Aldi, make a deranged run for it from the queue they were already in, ramming their trolleys past other shoppers to get there first. They must be. Personal liberty above all else.
It’s the 26th of November today. 75,000 registered cases, 350 dead. A new variant has emerged.
The air is cold and clear and it feels like snow is coming.