I Went to a Writing Group - March 11th, 2020

The world is gripped in collective fear of the Wuhan coronavirus right now. Our writing prompt hit that note on the head.


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How would you (or your character) react if the whole world shut down for a virus?

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Literature plays with the most important and serious subjects that humans encounter. Death, killing, abduction, violence, loss, lying, grief, deception, war, murder, law, medicine, politics, technology, love, etc. There's a reason that these are all common subjects in stories.

Cannibalism is a very rare phenomenon in real life, but it's fairly common in stories, e.g. zombies, Hansel and Gretel, the Three Little Pigs, vampires, werewolves, etc. These stories are playing at the fringe of human experience, and yet revealing important truths about human nature and the structure of existence.

Playing with virus stories during a virus outbreak is thus appropriate. Not to mention, putting any type of experience into a coherent narrative helps you to process it and understand it. To adjust your interpretative and behavioral frameworks to deal with the issue. And that goes doubly so for traumatic incidents.

I teach kids in China on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. So I've seen this whole thing unfold since the start with live updates from people on the ground in China, including people from Wuhan. I thought about going in a creative direction, like doing a story about a white blood cell engaged in an epic sword battle with a virus in the bloodstream, or something like that. I read a short story like that once. It might have been from Isaac Asimov, although I'm not certain. Either way, my mind was drawn to something else.

Before the writing group on Wednesday I had talked to several Chinese students, and they are past the panic and confusion phase. They are in the boredom phase. So I decided to explore that type of existential experience. This is based on one of my students.

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Yanzeming tossed the tennis ball up in the air and swung the racket. The ball made a solid thwop against the wall and bounded back toward him. He intended to hit it again, but didn't. Instead he let the ball roll away across the large empty room.

He looked up and out of the window, blue skies with little puffy clouds smiled back at him, teasing him. He laid the racket down on the equipment cart as he passed, and walked into the library.

He stopped in the entrance and let out a deep breath, as if boredom were generated by holding in too much air. As if boredom was having too much of something, rather than too little.

He scanned through the books of one case, slowly, while his mind turned over how he had ended up trapped inside of a cavernous house, and when it would ever end.

His mother had started going back to work now, she was considered essential personnel at the Bureau of Culture and Sports, but his dad still stayed home all day watching the news. The virus was apparently ebbing, at least that's what they said on the tv, but when they canceled school two months ago they gave no indication of when they would return, and there was still no sign.

He really just wanted to go outside. Staying inside of a house for months on end, without a single reprieve, felt like being kept in a box. His box was large and spacious with many rooms, but a box nonetheless.

He turned and faced the western wall, a wall with no windows, and pictured in his mind the mountains that used to be his weekend companions.

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It was mentioned that I captured the feeling of boredom well, which is good. I don't think I've ever tried to before. The writing group is a great place to try out new things and see how it goes. And narratives are the best way to explore important human values.

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To read more from Jeff go to JeffThinks.com or JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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