Writing in the time of C19

Yesterday, I wrote about how I miss writing. So here I am, back for more, searching for answers about what writing does (and does not) do for me. Why should I do it? Why should I not do it?

A few weeks ago, a friend (Sarah Smarsh, who wrote the book Heartland, which everyone should read) texted me about a magazine she’d seen at her local co-op in Kansas. I miss co-ops, which seemed to be much more of a part of life when I lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Would I give up the little local Asian and Central American groceries stores up the street from me? Probably not, but it sure would be nice to have both. The magazine was Taproot, one that, as it turns out, I’d been following for a while on IG. But Sarah’s text brought it back into my current (albeit narrow) depth of field: “very kid-centric with projects that reminded me of you and your kiddos,” she texted.

The tag-line reads, “Inspiration for makers, doers, and dreamers.” A few weeks later, I bit the bullet and subscribed.

My first issue arrived yesterday.

It looks like many issues of Taproot have a knitting pattern included. This new cast on isn’t from Taproot but is just a project (a short sleeve sweater for my daughter) that I happen to have on my needles right now. I knew the stars (or maybe the gluten strands) were in alignment when my first issue of Taproot arrive just as my first sourdough starter was getting going (in the mason jar above).

I like receiving and having new things and especially things as satisfying as magazines. I used to subscribe to a fair number of them, or at least periodically (pun intended) picked them up at bookstores (or co-ops!). But it’s been a while. Yeah, it’s been in part of the pandemic has meant that I’ve been lingering less often in front of magazine racks, but it’s also been a while since I’ve received magazines at home just because, well, life. And, perhaps, because it has felt like between my phone and my iPad, I seemingly have access to more of this type of content than I could ever possibly consume. Of course, it’s not the same, but I don’t always know that.

So when I ripped open the heavy brown packaging on the latest (and my first) issue, I have to admit that my excitement was laced with trepidation. Why? This is part of what I want to explore as a writer and reader.

I just happen to be working on creating a sourdough starter this week. (For the curious: it turns out that even on top of my fridge, my kitchen might be a little too cool most of the time to really get it going. I might have to utilize my incubator from time to time.)

First, as a writer. For many years of post-graduate school magazine consumption, I read magazines (really any form of literature and written media) with at least 57% (give or take) of my brain preoccupied with, “Should I pitch a story here?” And then I’d run through different possible story ideas. Would it be a good fit? Should I? How would I do that with this magazine? Most of the time, none of these thoughts would actually lead to any pitches or stories, and yet they occupied enough space to intrude upon any potential enjoyment or edification that I might get from consuming the words in front of me.

What I don’t want is to fall back into that way of thinking. I want to be able to reclaim simple enjoyment (or edification) or, perhaps best of all, connection through reading.

Which leads me to the second part: examining why I feel trepidations around paging through a new magazine or piece of written media as a reader. I think it comes down, in part to this. Even as I was tearing open the thick brown mailer to reach the prize inside, I was mentally placing armor around my heart and mind. This is armor that I have unconsciously built up over years and it is armor that has, generally, served me well. In what way? So much of media that I have consumed, both actively and passively, creates a glossy image of life that is as hard to deny as it is hard to obtain. The images of ease and happiness, of deliciously seductive flatness are magnetic. And this attraction inevitably leads me down the road of comparison which can only end up in a quagmire of judgment, of both self and other, but once I’m in that state of mind, does it really matter where it is directed?

Would this experience of consuming lead to more of this comparison, judgment and negativity? Ergo: an armor of cynicism, of distancing myself from what is being said on the page, of dissecting and judging it in a way that prevents me from getting to the phase of comparison and dissatisfaction. But what does that armor do as a reader? Takes some (all?) of the potential for connection.

Still, I read on. I started with an essay by Sarah Kerch Gaffney “Flour, Needles, Soil, Pen.” I bake, I knit, I garden, I write all. So it felt a good place to start. In spite of my trepidation that I would find something that would shine a light on these things that I also love to do in such a way to, at the very least, spur some annoyance and at worst cultivate a judgmental attitude, I found the exact opposite. It was a lovely piece about how we do these things to ground us especially through grief. These activities of the hands bring us a little grace. And I felt that I had had a lovely, relatable exchange with a kindred spirit who I had never met and likely never would.

The visual art is charming, cozy, and comforting too.

I’ve skimmed over a few other pieces in the magazine. In more than one place, I’ve seen writers (Farai Herreld and Alyson Morgan stood out) waxing eloquent about some of these very issues: the responsibility of creators to share the messy failures and difficulties alongside (or maybe even in place of) the glossy images. I found a certain acknowledgement of how hard it can be to live by your convictions.

The pull quote (from Farai Herreld) above: “I think that simple living bloggers can be unrealistic sometimes with the things they share. Like they make everything seem perfect and don’t share the reality of how challenging this work is. Sure, it looks beautiful when I talk about collecting eggs from my coop and having my pretty gardens. But if I’m not sharing about chicken poop in my hair and other aspects and struggles, then people who don’t have the background will not be able to understand the hard work involved and can get disillusioned with it when they try.”

I feel buoyed by this and these words, in the hope that, even in the seeming isolation of a pandemic, that there are like minded people out there with similar struggles and concerns and that, somehow, our paths will cross at just the right time.

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