I dug up my collection of writing since the end of February 2020 and it amounts to one short story, a sketch for a novel that will probably never get written, a few blog articles like this one, and half a dozen book reviews. Pathetic. Was I stuck in the dreaded “writer’s block,” or had the tank finally run dry after 20 years of writing?
Then I realized that there was something else at play. All my usual stories and novels now belonged to another time, a time that had ended in February. My contemporary fiction had become historical fiction. It was just like how smoking cigarettes in fictional restaurant scenes, or making a phone call from a telephone booth, or wearing ties to work, or pulling out the bottle of scotch during a business meeting, or the proverbial super-efficient female secretary having a chaste but flirtatious relationship with her boss had all quietly exited without so much as a goodbye. They had become anachronisms of another time. My stories and novels were now anachronisms.
Today, we live in an era in which everyone’s life is more or less the same—predictable and boring. Conflict, that reliable fuel for fiction, has been reduced to shouting at someone for not wearing a mask or following physical distancing guidelines; or for those wanting higher octane, taking up the cause of some marginalized group and mounting a protest. Writing had dwindled down to barbs traded in social media, where the principle of “if you are not with us, you are against us” applies. Today’s other conflict points are: spousal fights stemming from being cooped up for too long; yelling at kids, also cooped up; throwing the book one is reading at the wall because it was not gripping enough; cursing Netflix and the internet for being so slow; hanging onto absentee help desk phone lines to complain about a purchase made online that had either not arrived or arrived not as advertised.
Racial epithets are fashionable again, from both sides, another channel for venting prejudices kept buttoned-up in pre-Covidian times. As for office conflicts and romances, there are none, for there are no offices to go to. And airport scenes which were once great for heart-rending goodbyes have now turned into sci-fi landscapes replete with hazmat suits, masked and helmeted passengers, and staff walking around shooting temperature guns at you.
They say that one has to live in the world in order to write about it. I first started writing at the age of 17 and I quickly dried up by age 24, once I had written everything I knew about in my lived experience at the time. Twenty years later, when I picked up my pen again (it had grown into a laptop by then) I had a lot to write about, for there had been many more lived experiences in-between. Now, in this new world in which I have been resident for a mere five months, how dare I write anything without a comprehensive lived experience in it? I am still in “intake” mode at the moment. When that would turn to “output” mode is anyone’s guess.
That is why I have stopped writing fiction, for now, at least. Perhaps, I should go back to my unpublished manuscripts set during the last ten years, and label them “nostalgic fiction,” or “fantasy fiction.” Perhaps there might be a market for that work, for a world lost, one we took for granted, abused like a weary pack horse, and have now lost forever.
As for whatever I write in the post-Covidian age, it will always have to end happily to please our miserable masses, physically distanced from each other. I picture my hero holding his sweetheart’s hand and looking at the now unpolluted sky, with my concluding line running: “The skies were as unblemished as the future they was walking into. And they lived happily ever after.” It’s good to dream these days!