But, and I say this with every ounce of hope in my body, the pandemic will end. Life will go on.
We will have lived through a tragic, historic pandemic. How will we remember it?
I have a pandemic journal. I started it optimistically, with the hope each of my family members would participate in the brief weeks we’d be quarantined.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, I alone pick at it from time to time, especially when my rage or defeat or confusion hits peak levels.
As the writer, Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Writing helps me make sense of our current madness and records it for when it’s not quite so fresh.
After I put a few words down, chances are pretty good my body calms and my heart rate slows back down.
But I rarely do it. Even though I fully believe in its transformative power and desperately want the written record, writing is hard. It’s time-consuming. It doesn’t make the list of required tasks to complete during waking hours.
So I’ve had to modify. Instead of spending hours poring over a leather-bound journal with suitable mood music to keep me company, I’ve come up with some alternatives that help maintain the memories but also fit into the crazy schedule of these “unprecedented” times.
Ideas for a Pandemic Journal
I bought an extra 75-cent notebook during back-to-school sales and it includes all of the following entries:
- Quotes – This is my husband’s favorite version of recording our life. There are times when the people around us say something that, intentionally or not, perfectly captures the moment. Last week, our 4-year old daughter said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you guys something…Life is really weird right now.” When a vocal gem like this lands in your lap, write it down, date it, attribute it, and keep it safe.
- Social media record/text messages – If you’re someone who likes to post or text about life regularly, take the chance to print out your posts when you can. Who knows what technology will survive the next decade (remember Myspace?) so print it out, staple it, or paste it into that cheap notebook. I also do this with relevant news articles or blogs. I realize it’s not always easy to print so you can also save everything until the libraries reopen.
- Sticky Notes – Is there no end to the usefulness of a post-it? I’ve got them stashed all over the house and sometimes I just need to write down a word immediately to remove its power to enrage me: “Poop!!” (A nod to our young children’s current obsession.) A notepad on your phone can serve the same purpose, but I find pleasure in how hard I can press pen (or crayon or pencil) to paper. Eventually, these sticky notes will also go in the notebook.
- Stream of Consciousness – It’s easy to think you won’t write the “right way.” What does that even mean? When I don’t know what I want to say, it helps to just transcribe my mind. Write the words that come to mind, with no attempt to connect them to each other or a greater context. Just dump your brain and laugh as you discover what’s buried in all the muck. Set a timer (even if it’s only for five minutes) and stop when it beeps.
- Letters – For some people, writing in a journal feels too aimless for our limited time. It might help to have an appreciative audience whose day will be better for receiving your written updates and reflections. Out-of-town family members, long-distance friends, childhood teachers…who wouldn’t want to receive a good old-fashioned letter? Email it, save a copy, put a stamp on it, and look forward to a response.