Writing in the Time of the Coronavirus

Note: I do understand that COVID-19 is not the only coronavirus.

Sunday. March 22, 2020.

Where: I’m at work because the powers that be at the university have dubbed the facilities department – custodial, maintenance, set up crew, and grounds-keeping – “essential staff”. Why is this a problem? Because we have nothing to do. We are sitting around, all day. So, how are we essential staff who need to be on the campus?

What I’m doing: Nothing. There are no students and very little work for people on my side of the facilities department.

I understand the problem of managing staff in the age of fairness. They don’t want to fire anyone (and I am grateful I still have a job) but there have nothing for us to do. Everyone else is at home because they can work from home. They are getting a paycheck but they are still working. It isn’t fair for us to be sitting at home doing nothing and getting a paycheck. It is fairer, then, to expect us to keep coming into work everyday – to sit around all day doing nothing.

But, coming into work every day puts everyone of us at risk.

I suppose it’s better than losing our jobs. But, isn’t the solution to close the campus for two weeks with pay, for everyone?

It is making me and some of my coworkers feel conflicted. It’s comforting and gratifying to know that the president and top management care enough about us to make our employment a priority. But, it’s frustrating to know they’d rather have us on campus doing nothing than at home and out of harm’s way (potentially).

It smacks of a weird compromise. Yeah they can keep their jobs, but they aren’t going sit at home and do nothing for months and get a paycheck.

What does COVID-19 have to do with writing?

Well, it’s starting to creep into my fiction. I am writing a science fiction novel, my take on the alien-on-the-run genre, and in this latest draft, most of the hero’s race was taken out by a virus deliberately introduced into their community. This element showed up two days ago. I anticipated the loss of life, but not much else, not the pleasant solitude of the empty streets, the level of panic underlying even casual conversations, or fast food joints being open for drive-thru and carry-out business.

A virus was never part of the original plan, never worked its way into the plot, organically. It’s just a reflection of the life we have all been experiencing, lately. And, I don’t have to tell anyone that we can expect a spate of coronavirus-inspired literature and films…and soon.

The pandemic has altered the course of history. It is changing the course of nations and superpowers. It is preventing wars and closing borders and trade routes. It has chased the entire world indoors in a way that fiction only imagined a world police state could.

It’s as effective as a nuclear cloud covering the earth.

It will loom over our personal and creative stories in the US like 9/11, the Iraq War, and the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The way people behaved: shoppers, bus drivers, employers, how compliant most of us have been, how little it takes to drive billions indoors. The silence, the empty streets, the concessions to commerce, and the ones they had to made, the sudden emergence of work-from-home as maybe the primary form of employment.

As writers, we no longer have to wonder, to speculate about what a pandemic would do to the world, to our countries. We are living in the time we have only read and written about.

For me, so far, it’s been quiet, frightening – and annoying.

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