DeMisty D. Bellinger considers what it means to live and work during these times, the challenges of being both a writer and a teacher. What comes next? Hope.
During this pandemic, who is not grasping at lines from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”? “Things fall apart,” “the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” (see: protests regarding social distancing and closing of non-essential businesses), and the “rough beast” is the virus. Maybe. But Yeats sees a future, albeit a dismal one. Don’t get me wrong: I know there is a future. I know there will be a time when we will congregate again in schools, in grocery stores, in bars, and restaurants. Some things will change, but a semblance of life as we knew it will return.
Until our new normal comes, I am trying to exist with a murky future. It’s hard to write when I don’t know what to write towards. Any rhetoric professor worth her weight in essays will tell you that you must consider your audience when writing and, although I mostly write creatively and don’t necessarily think of an audience directly, I write with the assumption that the piece will eventually have readers. I can still do that, right? Write for an audience? But what gives me pause is that I don’t know how to read my audience in whatever future the piece would be read in. Will curves be flattened when it is published? Would a vaccine or a cure be found? Or would a treatment for sufferers of the novel coronavirus be found? And how would that world look: would it make sense for a character to walk into a coffee shop? Well, of course it would. But how would that coffee shop look?
It’s not just writing that I don’t know how to plan for. We are still unsure what Fall 2020 will look like in America’s colleges and universities. Should I prepare online courses? Or would classes be face-to-face? I’m on sabbatical this year, so I did not have to haul a class online. Also, I never taught online before, so I will have this learning curve for teaching writing courses via Zoom or Google Meet or whatever technology.
How can a professor teach when tens of thousands of people are dying in her world? How do students learn?
I have to play the optimist for my kids, though, who recently learned that school is out for the year. Fifth grade for them is now through their parents or online. The relationships, social milestones, and public mistakes are all absent. They cannot play in their school band and cannot sing with their community choir, but I have to tell them that the end of sequestering will come.
And I have to tell myself that, too. People are resilient: we weathered pandemics before. We have been through worse! Maybe reading is more important to me than writing. I’m reading Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, and We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress by Craig Morgan Teicher. I’m also planning the readings for my classes next semester, whether online or in-person.
I don’t want to think COVID-19 is slouching towards Bethlehem. I do have hope that the brilliant minds of our generation who are working on cures, vaccines, and treatments will find a response to this virus soon. So, for these days, I offer another Yeats poem, “To Hope,” which begins:
When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head.