Celebrations

Our Creative Non Fiction Editor, Kyndall Benning, on what she’s looking for.

I’m sitting in my studio apartment with my grey cat, Feathers. He sits quietly across my lap as I type, glancing nervously around each time the fireworks boom outside. I wasted all weekend trying to articulate what I’m looking for as BMR’s new creative nonfiction (CNF) editor, yet I haven’t found much luck. The noise of the fireworks breaks the silence, breaks my focus. The bursts of celebration begin to sound like taunts.

Earlier, I tried to catch a glimpse of the sparkling sky, but it was empty. Still, I can guess at the shapes from the sounds. The screeching one’s swirl upwards in spirals and burst as they scream. The big pops make immediate masterpieces, throw exploding pompoms into the air. My favorites sound like dazzling jazz; the sparks spread and multiply into crackling flashes of color.

Between the blasts, I look towards my favorite authors to label their best qualities. In James Baldwin, I admire caution; I slip into his consciousness as he carefully describes himself, memories, thoughts, images, and loved ones. He writes with a delicate, intimate knowledge of each detail. In Jo Ann Beard, I envy her ability to transform mundane scenes into magic – dying dogs and potty pads become beautiful through her use of language. She transforms a bleak evening into a plasma-streaked sky, one quieter and less colorful than mine. Maxine Hong Kingston writes her way into silence. She declares her determination to “name the unspeakable.” This phenomenon is a driving force in my own work…and probably yours, too. Writing is resistance to the narrative. It’s an interrogation of hidden truths, a refusal to bury the past. All my favorite CNF writers are experts in unveiling their own histories.

While I like work that might remind me of my favorite authors, I also enjoy fresh perspectives. I wouldn’t want any person to try and imitate someone else; it’s important for writers to be honest to their own aesthetics and viewpoints. Otherwise, the artist appears like a poorly disguised criminal inventing an alibi. Rather than launch investigations against such authors, I prefer writers who sound immediately like themselves.

A strong voice also stands out – but not in an awkward way. Instead, it should feel smart and deeply personal. It’s less that the essay has to be a genius reinvention of literature itself than that it must simply contain skillful language and authentic expression. A good author knows their subject and themselves intimately, and they can artfully render both through their unique telling of the material. In terms of material, I’m pretty open-minded, though I am a bit worn on war stories. I’d love to publish more work from the Southwest, as well as more BIPOC, women, disabled, and queer artists.

We’re always in big trouble if the dialogue isn’t believable. Also, essays that rely too heavily on dialogue to move the piece forward lack the depth and loveliness that reflection and description add…though some works can be too flowery, too. Generally, I love figurative language – metaphors and imagery and the like are wonderful – but I don’t want to be overrun by it and lose the plot.

I like softness within a rough world, delicate sentences tied together like ribbon on a ballerina’s slippers, their hurts like hidden warts. I want tight, close, personal snapshots of memory – I like a wrinkled fist gripping and spinning a reel on a fishing pole, spiraling black smoke from a burning schoolhouse, tall lovers leaned together over kitchen counters. I imagine fireworks lit by fingers that fumble between fuses, which sounds like clumsy runs across piano keys. If the author has not conceived it in specific detail, I have nothing to imagine.

Also, I like when writers play with form and genre, but I don’t mind traditional narrative design, either. Recently, I’ve read a lot of untraditional works, so I’ve actually been missing it. Time is cool to manipulate, too, but the movement through moments should feel seamless, not distracting. I don’t want to feel like I’m playing backwards hopscotch when reading an essay. Again, above all else, the writing needs to be purposeful and true. It should leave me a little scattered, unable to move back into real life. Instead, I want to linger in that author’s world, decipher what was said and why and how it relates to my own understanding of life. I want to publish work that is probing and impactful.

Finally, the noises of the fireworks have abated into the night, out of my head. Finally, my words have found their way onto the page.

The Darkness Around Us is Deep

Our new Poetry Editor, Tyler Mortensen-Hayes, on awe, empathy, and change – elements of the poetry he’d like to publish in BMR. 

I am in awe. Every day I wake, it doesn’t take long to notice the light growing behind the shadows of the Sandias. The way that light, through the early hours, covers the spectrum of star-pierced darkness to navy, violet, pink, green, yellow, and then settles into its day-long blue. And if there are clouds, they absorb every color like a painter’s sponge, blotting their shapes on the canvas of the sky. 

But it isn’t just the immense natural wonders that bring me awe. There is also the perfect roundness of the spoon that holds the sugar I slip into the coffee. The smell as the silent coffee maker keeps the rest warm for my partner, who is still asleep, and whose breath as she dreams fills me with deep wonder. And the basil plants on the patio as I step out to water them, and which I’ve watched grow all spring and summer, from dense little seeds into these plumes of deep green… All such undeniable sources of amazement! 

But there’s another kind of awe, too. One that is not pleasant, not pretty—a kind which, so often, is born of anger. Don’t we all know this kind of awe, and too well? Violence, hatred, the refusal to recognize the humanity of marginalized peoples, and the life of the earth itself… I am flabbergasted, in awe of the continual destruction of the environment, the steady tearing down of rights, the incessant refusal to curb the senseless killing of people—of children!—with guns. I am in bewildered awe of how deep human cruelty and greed can go, always seeming to plumb to further and further depths of unspeakableness.  

This kind of awe, thankfully, is not useless—it doesn’t have to render one helpless. It makes us move. It galvanizes us to do something, everything we can, to better things. The justifiable anger that results from injustice might be what the Buddhists call “righteous anger”—not because the one who is angry is thereby saintly, but because their anger is right, warranted, and is rooted in compassion. 

Here, I want to offer a formula: 

Attention Awe Empathy Change 

I believe that when we pay attention to the world in all its hideousness and beauty, we come naturally to awe. In awe of the world and its expressions of life—and death—we develop empathy. And, in empathy, we are encouraged to do something, anything, to make change for the better.  

But, when it comes to poetry, there’s another, crucial element: 

the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe— 

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. 

-William Stafford 

Our signals should be clear. I’m reminded, here, of Mary Oliver’s declaration that poetry “mustn’t be fancy”; that some poets tend to “tap dance” around their subjects instead of presenting them lucidly and usefully. I don’t think many poets intentionally try to confuse their reader, but some may do so simply by avoiding or eschewing clarity as unsophisticated, too simple. But clarity, of course, does not mean overly simple. I think a poem that makes a sincere effort to reach the reader, to extend to her an open hand, while still utilizing the skillful elements of metaphor and music, freshness and experimentation, is an embodiment of compassion. 

 The darkness around us is deep. Let us work to create clear pathways, clear and strong bridges, to connection. Let us pay close attention to the astoundments that surround us moment by moment, the things that make our lives worth living. Let us, at the same time, stay open to the hard and terrible truths, the things we want to see change. In awe of every aspect of the world, how can we not wish to honor it, to preserve and protect its many, equally worthy expressions of life? The darkness around us is deep, but so is the light that, with the hours, is growing wider. 

As this year’s Poetry Editor for BMR, I am interested in work that explores these ideas. Where do you place your attention, day by day? And what sources of awe does attention bring you to? In awe, what do you find matters most—who and what do you wish to honor and protect? 

None of this means that I’m looking for overtly political poems, necessarily (though I’m not against them), or poems that are overly didactic. Rather, I want poems that refuse to believe that, as Auden somewhat sarcastically put it, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Of course poems make things happen. Maybe poems won’t change the whole world, but they can, and do, change the worlds of their readers. And isn’t that where change begins—with us, as individuals? What else can we offer, as poets, as artists? Or, I should say, what else can we offer that could possibly be more worthwhile? 

Follow Your Intuition

Our new Fiction Editor, Anthony Yarbrough, on what kind of writing he’s looking to publish.

What makes good writing is, ironically, incredibly difficult to articulate. “You know it when you see it” only gets you so far, considering that what I might enjoy isn’t necessarily what you might enjoy. As a writer, I’m sympathetic to the struggle of measuring your own work – the product of much private toil and scarce feedback – against published work that lives intimidatingly, monolithically out there, in the world. Published writing can seem effortless, as though it were conceived whole and complete. The seams that indicate the labor and frustration and uncertainty of creative endeavor have been expertly disguised, or artfully exposed. As creators, how are we to measure the efficacy of our labor? How can we know whether our own material is ready to be published?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a succinct answer to that. I have many half-finished thoughts in my notebook to prove it. As Blue Mesa Review’s incoming fiction editor, however, I can try to describe what kinds of stories catch my eye for publication, as well as identify certain features of work that I don’t feel is right for us right now.

I’m someone who enjoys a balanced diet of literary fiction and nonfiction, in addition to genre work. My own work could slot variously into any of those categories, or somewhere between them. I say that not as a preamble to a plug for my own projects, but as a way of qualifying the following statement: while genre fiction is, as an art from, just as viable as literary fiction, I’m not as interested in publishing genre fiction in Blue Mesa Review. That being said, if your genre story explores the southwest’s unique social, cultural, regional and historical features, then please send it our way. I’m also interested in pieces that probe the boundaries between genres, so long as they’re written from an authentic and personal point of view. Otherwise, before you pay our submission fee, I strongly encourage you to consider searching out publications that specialize in publishing genre works.

Before I mention authors I love and am currently reading, I have to admit I’m not sure whether this exercise will help anyone understand what I’m after. I look at my stack of recently read books – Michel Houellebecq, Peter Nadas, Kate Braverman and Marilynne Robinson – and don’t see an obvious connective tissue between their works. I’m in awe of Braverman’s sheer linguistic power, and am humbled by Robinson’s empathy. I admire Houellebecq’s satires of contemporary society, and wish I could emulate Nadas’s intense and meticulous rendering of interiority. But the throughline among them remains elusive.

Now, if I lean over that stack and survey the numerous stacks of books against my living room wall, I see a record of personal interests I explored throughout my twenties. I’ve sought out impenetrably literate modernist and postmodernist works (you know the ones), and read them with the pleasure of someone wanting to be edified but not pandered to. These works share space with comics anthologies and intricately designed graphic novels, hard sci-fi and classic horror, bleak noir and gushing romance. About half of my collection was written by American authors, and the other half was written by writers from every major continent. (I can see this with just a glance since I recently sorted everything according to region and author, and in the process distressed my cats by throwing our living room into sudden disarray.) I suppose this is all to say that I try to read with an open mind and little expectation other than to be entertained, educated, or enlightened by other perspectives.

Therefore, it’s only appropriate to conclude with a few words on perspectives I am looking for. I’m interested particularly in publishing marginalized voices, especially those from BIPOC and queer communities. I’m looking for writing that speaks to authentic, lived experience, especially when those experiences expose the fissures and contradictions of our deeply frightening world’s status quo. Ultimately, however, I believe in the wisdom of the writer to follow their own intuition. In that spirit, I encourage you to submit to Blue Mesa Review the language inside you that generates its own rhythm, language that is beholden only to itself.

On Form: A Roundtable Interview with Three Blue Mesa Review Writers

In this interview, writers Tess Fahlgren, Ari Laurel, and B. Tyler Lee discuss their writing process, their audience, borrowed forms, and the boundaries between genres.

Read Ari Laurel’s story “Farewell to the Last Mango in the Pacific Northwest” in Issue 44

Read B. Tyler Lee’s poems “Recipe: Rhubarb, Chili, & Ginger Jam” and “Recipe: Snowplow” in Issue 43

Read Tess Fahlgren’s essay “feast day: a lyric” in Issue 42

¿Cómo se dice accessibility?

Every time I finish a new poem, I first go through all the stages of grief (of course) and then, usually, arrive at a deep nostalgia for my native language. Out of all the writing I do, I don’t know why poetry always forces me to acknowledge that I am writing and molding this language that was once completely unknown to me.

I was ten years old when I arrived in the United States after having to flee my hometown, Ciudad Juárez, due to violence. At the time of arrival, I knew exactly two complete sentences in English, “My name is Evelyn” and “My mom made cake.” I don’t know why the latter stuck with me after six months of formally learning the language in my Mexican elementary school, but I think I just really 1. love my mom and 2. love cake, and that sentence combines them both. Anyway, I spent the first five years of my life in American classrooms completely unsure of what was being said around me, unless it involved cake. And so, I consistently felt stupid.

I don’t think I had a good grasp of the language or felt confidently fluent enough until high school. It was during this time that I began to write, using my limited vocabulary. I knew that in order to be a better writer, I had to read more and therefore familiarize myself with a more expanded vocabulary. This completely backfired on me, of course, because when I went out and tried to read what has been considered the best literature for ages, I could not understand a single word. It was written in a foreign language. The English that I knew and used was nowhere to be found within those pages, so, I gave up. I felt like people like me, people without an impressive English vocabulary, were not meant to be good writers. Obviously, I eventually unlearned this, or else I wouldn’t be here writing to you today, but it took a lot of convincing. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to exclusively read contemporary poets (some of my favorites include Ada Limón, Olivia Gatwood, and our 2021 Summer Contest judge, Natalie Scenters-Zapico) that I recognized that poetry didn’t have to be an overly complicated puzzle, that it could very well be understood.

As I gratefully take on the role of Poetry Editor for Blue Mesa Review this year, I want to advocate for accessible language. I want our readers to be able to dive fully into the world of the poems we publish, not sit outside wondering how to get in. I see now how long poetry has kept people out, has excluded and made readers feel unwelcomed, myself included. I want to believe that poetry is for everyone, every reader. Maybe this is an optimistic belief. Maybe poetry can change the world, but only if we welcome every reader, only if we make them understand.

Make It Weird

Ruben Miranda-Juarez, BMR’s new Fiction Editor, introduces our new Non-Fiction Editor, Cyrus Stuvland

Cyrus and I met through one of our courses at the University of New Mexico. In reflecting on our fledgling relationship, I thought about how grateful I am for being able to find connection in what felt like a year of disconnection. The pandemic experience has exasperated massive inequality, we’ve been able to see certain ideologues for what they are: sycophants. But we also, depending on where one is situated, have been able to experience hope. There have been enclaves of communal support, whether that be your pod mates, mutual aid collectives, or online communities developing throughout the country, throughout the world. There have been opportunities to stay connected and people desperately trying to minimize or mitigate the risks associated with a global pandemic.

As you read through some of the questions I thought out, I want you to know that Cyrus has good taste in clothes, thus good at fashion, and likes to make sure that they match. They’re one of the most creative individuals I know and carry themselves with a humility which makes for many moments of being amazed by their creations. I see Cyrus as a person who is always thinking carefully about their actions, language, and presence, and so it was wonderful to hear about their tastes in nonfiction, poetry, and art.

So, without further ado, here is my conversation with Cyrus (who still drinks IPAs at their age).

What do you look for when it comes to non-fiction?

I look for formal experimentation, hybridity, layers, lyricism, heavily researched, and exploratory non-fiction. I don’t necessarily need too much of a plot, but I need people and places to fly off the page. Mostly, I look for the experience of a writer taking me with them on some sort of quest to learn something about themselves, memory, the world.

What does a piece have to do to move you?

I can’t really predict what will move me. I’ve been strangely fascinated by writing about ice—like, frozen water, not immigration—for like a year now. But I don’t actually think it’s ice, I think it’s some of the writing I’ve read about it, which is just beautiful. So, I guess it has to be beautiful. That’s all I know for sure.

What are some subjects or themes you are curious about?

I feel open to most things in terms of themes or subjects. I think something I’m not particularly interested in in terms of form is more traditional memoir writing, so in order for me to be interested in your childhood memoir, it might need to be about a subject or from a perspective that feels fresh to me. Generally, though, I’m a sucker for writing that emphasizes place and anything queer or trans. I will be looking for pieces from Black, Indigenous, and Latinx perspectives in particular, especially if they are from or about the Southwest.

Who is on your current reading list? And how have they changed or reframed what you think about craft?

Right now, I’m reading a book called Exile and Pride by Eli Clare. It’s about disability, queerness, class, race, and I guess the urban vs. rural divide. It reads like part memoir and part essay and the themes are really helping me think through my own memoir. This summer I’m basically trying to read all of the rural queer things I can get my hands on, which is how I ended up with it. Otherwise, I just finished Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters for fun and because it’s so trans. (I don’t read that many novels these days).

What are pieces from previous issues of BMR you would tell a reader to look into to get a feel for what you are looking for?

I loved “Feast Day: A Lyric” by Tess Fahlgren, which was the winner of last year’s contest. I loved it for its form, which felt so fragmented and experimental and felt like it fit the content so beautifully. In the last issue, I thought “The Bêbeda” by Carmelinda Scian was a beautiful story and I love it when nonfiction takes someone other than the narrator on as the central subject (ostensibly).

Last question, what kind of art would like to see in our future issue?

I’d honestly like to see BMR get a little weirder with artwork. Also, I love collage. Some collage would be awesome.

Ruben, Like the Sandwich

Cyrus Stuvland, BMR’s new Creative Non-Fiction Editor, introduces our new Fiction Editor, Ruben Miranda-Juarez

 

I first met Ruben on Zoom last fall in a class about teaching writing. He consistently said things that made me wish I’d had him as a first-year writing instructor—things like, “I’m a leftist, not a liberal, so I’m not necessarily against the use of force,” and “I’m making my students read the Combahee River Collective Statement.”

Since then, we’ve become writing buddies and are now both starting as genre editors at BMR, so we decided that we’d interview each other instead of writing our own intros, just to mix things up.

When we met up to discuss the type of writing we were most interested in publishing next year, I found Ruben drinking a lager “because I’m too old for IPAs” and reading The Three Body Problem, a sci-fi novel by Cixin Liu. We talked a little about visiting communist countries and dabbling in photography and other art forms before we got started.

When I asked him what kind of fiction he was most interested in publishing at BMR, Ruben said he’s looking for writers who “are brave in subject matter” and writing that “propels action and growth but is not genre bound.”

In his own writing, Ruben is currently struggling with plot and interested in “a more speculative realm” but worries because “people are too quick with labels.” He doesn’t want his writing to be labeled “magical realism” just because he put some ghosts in there, he explains.

But back to BMR: “What’s most important to me is the story—as long as the story is good, I’m actually okay with genre fiction, which I know has not traditionally been accepted by BMR, but I don’t care. I want to see good story, strong characters, and writers having fun with their fiction.”

He shrugs and takes a drink of his beer. Ruben has never seemed too concerned with how things have been done in the past, I note. I like that about him. I feel like he could be into some weird fiction. And I am not wrong.

Ruben is also drawn to strong images and says he’s a “sucker for aesthetics.” “Oh, and I love good sentences,” he adds. Some of his favorite writers are Toni Morrison, Alvaro Enrigue, Irenosen Okojie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Luis Negrón, Elena Ferrante, and Michaela Coel.

“What I don’t want to publish,” Ruben tells me, “are stories about animals…stories about horses? No thanks, I’m good. I love the Black Stallion series as much as the next person, but I’ve seen enough of those.” He’s being funny but he’s also serious. He goes on to say that generally as a reader he needs to feel like the author is really invested in their characters. And he’s always looking for a fresh perspective.

“I have been wondering,” he says as we are finishing up, “about the role of literary magazines like BMR.”

“What about them?”

“Well, do they really have an impact besides serving as a sort of vehicle for people in MFA programs to get published? Like who are our readers? What are they into? What would our subscription numbers look like?”

I think for a bit. I don’t know many people outside of my writer circles who read lit mags unless they are hugely famous ones.

“I don’t know,” I admit.

“Well I’d like to find out,” says Ruben.

I nod. The sun has nearly set and Ruben tells me he has to get up early for Jiu-Jitsu, so we part ways.

A Note from the Editor-in-Chief

When I moved to Albuquerque, sight unseen, in the Fall of 2019, it may as well have been a foreign country to me. Not knowing which neighborhoods I liked best, I stayed at a former coworker’s mother’s home in the South Valley for a month while she was on vacation in Greece. In exchange, I fed and watched her menagerie of animals—two horses, two dogs, an aging cat, a parrot, and a ball python. One night, during New Mexico’s monsoon season, a sudden storm blew out the power throughout the South Valley. Before moving to New Mexico, I’d lived in densely populated Mid-Atlantic cities my entire life—I hadn’t known a city could get so dark. I sat on the floor in the living room. The dogs and the cat orbited around me like small moons and shadows ambled clumsily past the black television screen in the lantern light. My host had lived in that house for more than 30 years and the furniture showed evidence of pleasant wear. Mid-century paintings of horses running in the desert were carefully arranged beside framed stick figure drawings I presumed to be the work of my former coworker.

Since then, I’ve thought often about what home means to me. Of course, like all of you, I spent a lot of time inside of my (various different) apartments over the past year and I conscientiously arranged and rearranged my belongings to create something that felt comfortable enough to never leave. And I spent a lot of time in parks and forests, on top of mountains and in bodies of water, alone in my own body and, for the first time in my life, incapable of forming a list of other things I should’ve been doing instead.

Last May, while I was living alone in a little studio in Albuquerque, a friend from back home told me about the Thrasher’s OC MD boardwalk livestream. Thrasher’s is my favorite beach treat, a boardwalk staple serving fries by the bucket, soaked in peanut oil and heavily salted. True Marylanders douse them with apple cider vinegar and whether or not they’re meant to be eaten with ketchup is heavily debated. Intensely homesick, in my landlocked, sun-filled apartment, I turned on the Trasher’s livestream every morning for two months as I filled my swamp heater with water from a kettle. I watched intently as little sunburned men, women, and children milled around the boardwalk I’d visited every summer as a kid. They appeared happy, dazed, non-plussed.

In July, I moved back to my hometown of Baltimore and, last month, I went to the beach. I watched as little sunburned men, women, and children milled around the boardwalk. On the way home, I took a nap in the car as my boyfriend drove and I woke to a sunset over the Blue Ridge, a herd of grazing cows whipping past the passenger seat’s window. It’s hard to say precisely why this place has become home to me, but I know now that a home is not defined simply by familiarity. To me, a home isn’t necessarily where I’m from or where I live, but a certain kind of spirit.

Recently, I’ve been reading much more for pleasure and I have noticed the way that people describe their world with the fidelity and attention I’ve reserved in my writing for descriptions of home, wherever that may be. I think of Aracelis Girmay in “Second Estrangement” writing “Please raise your hand, / whomever else of you / has been a child / lost, in a market / or a mall, without / knowing it at first, following / a stranger, accidentally / thinking he is yours” or Frank O’Hara in “A Terrestrial Cuckoo”: “What a hot day it is! for / Jane and me above the scorch / of sun on jungle waters to be / paddling up and down the Essequibo / in our canoe of war-surplus gondola parts[.]” When I think of how these poets have arranged this odd sequence of words on a page in just the right order, I think of the magpie in the Planet Earth segment who cannot stop collecting objects for his nest until he finds the bright red felt heart that makes his home complete. How weird to be a sack of bones and blood moving through space in time with so many other sacks of bones and blood. And to be able to say something about it!

As BMR’s new Editor-in-Chief, I’m thrilled to keep reading your work and I’m confident that you’ll continue to send us pieces that show us what the world looks like to you. It’s an honor to be filling the shoes of the many great editors (and great writers, in their own right) who have come before me and to be trusted with your words as they seek a home.

How (Not) to Write About the Pandemic

As this is my first year reading slush, I don’t know what submissions look like usually, but this time around there was a lot of pandemic content. And I get it – it seems like no matter what it is I set out to write lately, COVID interrupts, pushes others aside, and insists on being the main character. 

But as I was reading these pieces, I noticed that there were very few that worked. So I started wondering why writing about COVID is so tricky. 

The most obvious answer seems to be that we have reached a point of drain and despair about the current state of the pandemic and just don’t want to be forced to think about it any more. It’s been an exhausting year, after all. Maybe it’s a survival tactic of sorts – emotional survival of course, since it’s literally killing us to ignore it. But I digress. This isn’t about anti-maskers.

Many of the submissions I read were obviously written in the spring, at the beginning. So some of them just didn’t age well; they were about finding hope in the stillness of quarantine, meeting neighbors, being outside more. Meanwhile people were of course dying – and sometimes they were mentioned too – but there was still something lacking, even in the pieces that were written later or those that seemed to acknowledge the heaviness of the moment more.

So I started thinking maybe it was that you can’t really write about an experience while still living it. I mean, you don’t go through a breakup and write about it on the same day afterall. You need hindsight. In creative nonfiction, we talk a lot about distance. To write about something traumatic, you have to have had enough distance to have processed it. Living in a pandemic is traumatic and we’re not processing it, we’re surviving it. We have no hindsight and also very little foresight, it would seem. This is sometimes called double perspective – who you are at the time of writing the piece versus the time of the story. While you don’t have to have that perspective, the reflection it involves is often the most important part of a good piece for me. 

And yet – there are plenty of writers who have managed to write about this time in a way that does work and that even stands the test of time. My friend Anney published a pandemic piece back in the spring and when I go back to it, I’m still moved. Perhaps this is because it is not attempting to tackle too much about the pandemic or define this cultural moment. Though her time-of-writing perspective is during COVID, it’s weaved in so cleverly as to make us wonder if this has always been happening, if it is the natural conclusion to where we were headed all long. And we get this little reflective gem:

“[…] this is the way of the world now: there is no longer inside the ambulance and outside the ambulance (the bedroom, the kitchen, the church, the office, the classroom, the bathroom). On Easter Sunday, I take communion in bed.”  

In terms of better known writers, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s piece,“Notes On Grief,” strikes me as another example of writing that is not really about the pandemic but manages to hit on something about how death and grief are just different in a pandemic. Her piece is mostly about losing her father, but it’s also about not knowing when you can grieve, not knowing when a burial can take place because of the backdrop of the pandemic. Many of the scenes in the piece involve technology, but not in that “what is this hellscape I’m living in” sort of way. It’s just there, uncommented upon; it’s how she sees her father’s face right after he’s died. 

She also lost two aunts during COVID and the piece becomes, in many ways, about death in general during COVID, not just the loss of her father. 

“The virus brought close the possibility of dying, the commonness of dying, but there was a semblance of control if you stayed home, if you washed your hands. With her [the aunt’s] death, the idea of control was gone.” 

And so, maybe it is possible to process this time and write it. I guess keep trying, if that’s where your writing leads you. But watch out – it’s tricky.