If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last several hundred days, it’s that trying to write during a pandemic is like trying to draw a portrait blindfolded, with a white crayon, using only your right foot. It’s hard.
Literary inspiration is a fickle creature, it doesn’t just jump out of the wallpaper and choke you. Inspiration is a tree. You plant it, you water it, you wait for the sapling to grow, you prune it, water it, and check for apples.
The pandemic, however, was an industrial wood chipper. The pandemic turned my inspiration into organic mulch.
Before the pandemic, my columns/blogs were based on social experiences, regional travel, and meeting new friends. But without socialization, I had nothing to draw from except the letters and emails I started getting.
And, boy, was I getting some humdingers.
Often the letters I received were sad ones. Some letters were downright tragic and their words stuck with me. I once received a sober card from a guy in New York City who worked in a hospital during the apex of the COVID crisis. It was almost more than I could read.
Also, I received lots of correspondence from kids—I didn’t think children even read my words. This just shows you how desperate the world became.
But the hardest part for me, by far, was finding the stamina to keep working on new books. In addition to this column I produce books that often go on to become doorstops, paperweights, and fly swatters. Writing a book is a time-intensive process for a slow guy like me. And this process gets even harder without the flowering tree of inspiration.
I don’t mean to reach for melodrama, but writing during a pandemic was one of more difficult things I’ve ever done except for loading the dishwasher with my wife breathing over my shoulder.
Until last year I never realized how much motivation I found in day-to-day socialization. I’ve always been pretty social. I’ve always been involved in local bands, gone to church, or been an active member in a drinking club with a softball problem. Without these diversions I was adrift without a tiller.
And, well, that’s where you came in.
You might never know how much you helped me, but you did. You got me through some tough days with your kind words, personal messages, and uplifting sentiments. You gave me a boost. You hung in there with me, you tolerated some bad writing, lots of misspellings, and some realy pore gramar.
But above all, you encouraged me. And someday, when we are all playing harps together on Cloud Ten, dressed in terry cloth bathrobes, I will tell you in person how much you helped me.
There were some mornings when I felt like someone had sucked the color out of my world. I would feel so down in the dumps that you could have squeegeed me off the floor. Many days I’d wonder how on Earth I was going to keep writing.
But then you’d send me a sweet email about your elderly mother’s operation. Or you’d tell me stories about angels, miracles, adoptions, pet rescues, or your personal triumphs.
You sent Andy Griffith T-shirts in the mail. You colored pictures for me (Kendall, age 7, I’m looking at you). You kept me going.
You mailed handwritten letters about what you did at school. You told me about random acts of goodwill in your neighborhood. You called me from your nursing home just to sing me “Happy Birthday.” Your book club video-called me and pretended I was important.
In other words, you gave me something to do. At times last year I thought about giving up this column. I’ve been writing every day for over eight years now and I was wondering if the pandemic was my cue to exit stage left.
I have no illusions. I know I’m no great contribution to the literary world. You don’t have to tell me that. I’m an average guy who produces 800 words each day. Sometimes they suck. Every now and then I do all right, but sometimes my words are effective non-narcotic sleep aids.
Believe me, I’m okay with this. Because I’ve met big-time authors at book events who write prose so beautifully that nobody but the “top critics” even understands what the heck they’re saying. I deeply admire these authors.
But that ain’t me. It’s never gonna be me. I don’t want to be that person. I’m a Michelob guy. A blue collar writer who used to make his living reading a tape measure and operating radial saws.
But when I thought the sun was setting on this little column, you made me keep moving. You made a hard year a little better. You improved every day with your kindness.
You reintroduced me to things I believe in. You helped me remain inspired. You will never know how sincerely I appreciate the love and friendship you have given me. For this gift I thank you.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have made me a better riter.