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Reading & Blogging in the Time of COVID-19

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All of my recent posts have been lists of COVID-19—related links. I just kept collecting these links, almost obsessively. Now that we’re approaching the end of our third week of self-isolation and social distancing here in Washington State, I’m finally beginning to understand why.

When we first started this virus-induced cocooning, I was excited. As an introvert who likes nothing better than to kick back with a good book, I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. Bring it on, I thought. I’m going to get a whole lot of books read.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional onslaught that accompanies this medical emergency.

And so I began curating those lists of links. For about 10 days I spent most of my time reading article after article about what was happening here at home and around the world. Every time I thought that I should start reading a book, I felt completely overwhelmed. I have so many books on my TBR shelves that I got flustered wondering which one to pick up. The more I thought about which book to select, the antsier I got.

I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus on any one thing, so I just kept going from one article to another about the advance of COVID-19. Reading individual news stories and articles didn’t require the extended attention necessary for reading a book.

So I thought that, if I wasn’t going to read books, I should write. How silly that thought turned out to be, since writing anything more than the occasional Facebook post requires even more focused attention than reading a novel. For about a week and a half I did nothing but make those lists and wonder what was happening to me.

woman writing in notebook

My life has been a series of research projects.

Ever since I was a child, my way of dealing with anything new and different—and therefore confusing—has been to read up on it. If I learn all about whatever it is, I can deal with it. In the past, knowing about something meant that I had some personal control over it, or at least how it affected me. 

But of course there’s no controlling this virus. No matter how much I learn about it, it is still in control. And nobody knows how all this is going to turn out. We’re experiencing anxiety at a whole new level. In fact, anxiety doesn’t seem like the right word to use here. This situation requires a much stronger term.

I came across an article byScott Berinato in the Harvard Business Review called “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” I found especially enlightening his concept of anticipatory grief, that is, grief in anticipation of how different our lives are going to be in the future than they were in the past because of this pandemic. There is definitely a grief component to what I’m feeling.

“There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us,” Berinato writes. But while I agree that just naming something helps us deal with it, I don’t think that grief quite tells the whole story by itself.

So for now I’m calling it generalized dread

I did finally manage to break out of my reading slump, although whether the naming process or simply the passage of time is responsible I’m not sure. Probably both contributed. The book that rescued me is Long Bright River by Liz Moore. I hope to write a review of it soon, although I fear the ability to concentrate enough to do much writing is still a little way off.

I hope you are all staying healthy and dealing with this new reality. I’d love to hear how you’re coping.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

7 replies on “Reading & Blogging in the Time of COVID-19”

The phrase generalized dread certainly struck a chord with me. We are only 8 days into our 21 day lockdown and slowly coming to terms with all sorts of events, thoughts, emotions, difficulties and complications. But: we’re all in this together.

Thanks, Alison. Yes, we are all in this together. Although we may each have our own unique variant on what we’re feeling, everyone is topsy-turvy over what’s happening. Take care and stay well.

I agree with Scott Berinato. What I’m feeling is grief. I’ve been able to cope by continuing to read and to write. Writing poetry in particular helps because it takes so much concentration.

Yes, there is definitely grief involved. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy, Liz. It took me nearly 2 weeks to get back to reading. I’m just beginning to be able to write again. Thanks for commenting.

[…] When we were initially introduced to the idea of staying home, I thought this sounded like a good opportunity to tackle some of the longer works on my TBR shelf, like Middlemarch by George Eliot (794 pages, exclusive of endnotes), Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (817 pages, exclusive of notes), Ulysses by James Joyce (732 pages), and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (568 pages). But that plan didn’t turn out very well. […]

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