Finding My Words Through Writing During Coronavirus

Open journal. Photo by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay.

In my so-called pre-COVID-19 life, I witnessed hundreds of scenes every day. The phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” would bubble into my consciousness, and each night I would sleep soundly as I pondered all of the images that had accumulated in my mind. But during the school week, I trudged through my daily schedule, holding my heavy backpack on my shoulders and wondering when the load would become lighter.

Prior to COVID-19, I did not recognize the uncertainty in our lives. While I occasionally read articles and watched the news, world events tended to follow certain trends, which seemed to ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean. Yet, early March brought in a wave of information that did not recede. The wave became more powerful. I attended a concert for my choir at Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 10th, but was unable to immerse myself in the joyfulness of the music; instead, I could only feel the riptide below the harmony. I felt myself wanting to pull out my silenced iPhone and check the latest news on The New York Times. I left the Time Warner building at intermission and took a deep breath in the middle of Columbus Circle. I longed to see the updated news reports.

In the beginning of my COVID-19 virtual life, in the midst of all of the unexpected, I found myself anxiously scrolling through the news app on my iPhone multiple times a day trying to comprehend what was occurring in my city, state, nation, and the world. Writing provided me with a way to make sense of the chaos and to start decoding this new language.

Although I saw pictures of empty New York City streets and closed businesses, I became more interested in reading about the interpretation of the COVID-19 curve, the mathematical models of how COVID-19 could spread, and the worsening health inequalities that were being caused by the virus. I also became fascinated with how writers can convey complex information to diverse audiences with vastly different lived experiences.This factual, evidence-based information has lessened my anxiety, especially as I have been living in a building with residents who have documented COVID-19 cases.

Because my life has virtually become virtual, writing is now one of my primary means of connecting. As social distancing has taken hold, my physical connection to my communities has diminished, too. We now interact through social media, texts, or email messages. Social media posts have moved from selfies, graduations, and proms to stories about front line workers, rising unemployment rates, the worsening of inequalities by socioeconomic status or race/ethnicity, and how we can form virtual communities through Zoom.

These changes have forced me to alter course, reduce my speed, remove my blinders, and lighten my load. I have found great comfort in writing to express and process my feelings. Learning from experts in public health and policy in real time through reading has served as an anchor, enabling me to stop spinning and to chart the course of my future actions. As I read about and work to understand the virus, I recognize the role of uncertainty in my life, but continue to stay focused and grounded. With virtual learning and a shorter school schedule, I've had more time to reflect on the present, and on how I can grow as a person. I have started to think about the upcoming year and my goals. While I made resolutions during Rosh Hashanah and the New Year last year, this extra time has allowed me to think about my thoughts, words, and actions in a new way.

Keeping a journal has enabled me to connect with myself, while blogging has enabled me to reach out to others who might be expressing similar fears and feelings, but who may not be able to find the words to express complicated and conflicted emotions. I was asked by my great uncle in New Jersey to read one of my essays in the Forward prior to Friday evening Shabbat services. The parent of a girl with learning differences in Oakland asked me to be a “big sibling” to her daughter after reading my blog post “Down the Rabbit Hole of My Disability.”  My writing has offered me a passport to new lands in a time of restricted travel. Written information enables me to make more sense of these unchartered waters, and to center as I try to get my sea legs.

While this is the current state of my union, with the outside world and myself, I wonder how and when this story will end. Will I instinctively revert to old habits in the fall after I've worked hard to fine-tune my voice? I live in a fast-paced city and, for seventeen years, I never won any races. As someone who processes life a bit more slowly, this additional time has been a blessing. I finally feel able to find my words.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Writing
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How to cite this page

Drake, Ilana. "Finding My Words Through Writing During Coronavirus." 3 August 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 29, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/finding-my-words-through-writing-during-coronavirus>.

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