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Psychogenic Pandemic

At first, quarantine equated to time off. A momentary slow-down, like a fog-delay or snow day. Terrifying in its nature but with this lovely side effect… my kids were home from school, my husband was home from work. And we were forbidden to go out, couldn’t waste our money buying useless items even if we tried, simply had to entertain ourselves for a while. Fanfreakingtastic! I loved it. I read whole books. Baked so much I had to enforce restrictions (no more bread until this loaf is gone, no more cookies until at least half have been eaten).

But by April, the reality of what I would be losing started to sink in. The chapbook I’d planned and wanted to tour with in early summer wouldn’t be coming out right away. The Poetry and Coding workshop I was supposed to help lead at the King Road Library was canceled. The Bootleg MFA workshops that were going to be hosted by Ohio Poetry Association in Toledo in May was canceled. Readings I was going to read at, readings I normally host, in-person writing workshops, all of which inspire me to write… cancelled until further notice.

I am a social creature. Not all the time. But I thirst for people, for interaction. And while I always love to hear poets reading and am endlessly thankful for on-line readings, either Zoom or Facebook Live or whathaveyou, they are simply not the same as live face-to-face events. So I’ve been hesitant to host on-line readings.

What has come with this pandemic is a strange lack of true input. Emotional queues and feedback we normally get from our interactions with others. And it’s easy for me to spiral into my own self-loathing mind. So I’ve floated a bit. Losing the work I normally do — after-school writing workshops with Matt Russell, hosting poetry readings at least twice a month, hosting writing workshops on weekends — left me sort of sans identity. And with that old fear of having always been an imposter.

Here’s the wonderful bit, though… a robin laying eggs in a closet window ledge saved me in April. I committed to writing every day and I did it (for the most part). I sent out poetry submissions and got some acceptances. I started walking 4 or 5 miles a day. Was part of another spot on Rough Draft Diaries and found that one of the attendees at an Ode to the Zipcode writing workshop I hosted won a prize in the annual contest. Which delightfully challenged the imposter allegation, I am relieved to say.

By May, I came back to an essential element of who I am… my love of adventure, of new projects. As a wonderful friend and tireless arts advocate had to face the heartbreaking reality that her art center had to close, I wondered how I could help her. But in the back of my mind I was also trying to answer the question of what next for myself. Hosting events, which I have proudly worked on for the past couple of years, simply wasn’t going to be happening for a while. And certainly not in the way I was used to. This was an opportunity to try something a little different.

Pop Up printing… quick little chapbooks to respond to immediate issues. Not intended to be perfect works of book arts, but rather more like zines. The first issue was in response to the closing of The Art & Performance Center of West Toledo. Poems about the center and Miriam, who ran it, along with ekphrastic works celebrating how visual and literary arts intersect. 50 books created in two weeks and all sold out, raising over $400 in one day to offset closing costs of the Center.

To respond to the incredible events that are unfolding in cities across the country and find a way to help in some small way, I’ll be doing another Pop Up book specifically for people of color to speak to their experiences in Northwest Ohio area. Net proceeds will go to Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo, which is dedicated to creating direct and peaceful action against police violence.

And while I am still just as freaked out about this pandemic, I finally feel like there’s a direction to move in.

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