Corona: On Quarantines, Finishing Things, and Rings of Light

What the beginning of the pandemic looked like in most grocery stores.

By the time I got home that same day, I’d had my fill of the news. I turned to social media to see if I could find something more lighthearted to engage with, and what I saw on all of my feeds is that for the most part, people are amazing. I scrolled through memes, videos of people dancing with their families, and saw a general uptick in good humor and solidarity amidst the outbreak. It still feels like we’re all taking part in one big collective laugh right now, even if it is just for the sake of maintaining our own sanity. And that’s okay.

Since I’m a wordsmith by trade, my mind can’t help but think of the word “corona” in the context that I always think of it–as an astronomical term that refers the the sun’s outer atmosphere. But as the news unfolds, I think of it as a two-fold metaphor.

If we think of COVID-19 as the sun, formidable and impenetrably ablaze, then our reaction to its existence is its corona. As we share misinformation, those reactions serve as dangerous nanoflares–little explosions in the corona atmosphere that some scientists believe make that fiery ring hotter than the surface of the sun. In other words, if we share misinformation and spread fear, then our reactions are worse (hotter) than the virus (sun) itself because as we all know, fear can spread as fast as fire…and cause just as much damage.

The corona extends far out into space. From it comes the solar wind that travels through our solar system. The corona’s temperature causes its particles to move at very high speeds. These speeds are so high that the particles can escape the Sun’s gravity.

Or, we can think of it this way.

COVID-19 is the sun, formidable and impenetrably ablaze, but our resolve is its corona. It surrounds the sun as a circle of heat and light that is difficult to view with the naked eye, but is also consistently hotter than the sun. And while our resolve isn’t as dazzling and terrifying as the sun, it’s there and it’s persistent. Meaning, it will exist as long as the sun (threat of the virus) exists.

“Astronomers have been trying to solve this mystery for a long time. The corona is in the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere—far from its surface. Yet the corona is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun’s surface.”–

That doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t a serious matter, though. I’m sure that in the past I’ve joked about how great it would be to have an apocalyptic scenario that would score me more time to write, but now that there’s a pandemic out there that has actually affected policy changes and my daily life, I’m taken aback.

Folks are saying that it feels sort of like this, so I’m definitely not trying to catch that shit.

The irony is that as the situation outside my door gets murkier by the day, I feel oddly at peace…like I’m just now flying in clearer skies after all the turbulence and debris I dealt with in February. Plus, stillness and isolation breeds clarity for me and an appetite to write.

So as I fill the space between now and my pitching season with virtual meetings with my editor and time with family and friends, I’m filling pages too. In fact, during these last two weeks if it wasn’t about creativity, health, or wealth (all of which are inextricably intertwined for me), then I considered it distraction. With all that’s been going on, it’d be foolish not to focus on the glaringly obvious: I should take any chance to work on my craft as a blessing because people can fail me–and I can even fail myself when I allow it–but words never fail me. Words are sturdy as metamorphic rock for me, and I can use them to cut or to heal. That sentiment is beyond comforting for me. It’s worth celebrating.

And however problematic it is to celebrate stuff right now, I can’t deny that the joy of witnessing people take a pause in their daily rat race has been still pretty infectious.

Not quite as infectious as this, but…yeah.

Hell, I certainly caught some of that joy myself.

How could I not? For the first time in a long while, I have time to do things at my own pace. As soon as I started teleworking, I cooked more, spent more time organizing things, did more home pole workouts, and entertained a few friends (with precaution). I even saved money since I gladly accepted groceries, cash, and other comforts from a certain someone who is vying to get back into my good graces. Then, after the call to isolate became more urgent in the news, I buckled down and did the unfathomable.

I finished my collection of short stories.

The draft of the final story in the collection had sat in a folder on my drive for weeks, just a few paragraphs short of completion. Throughout that time I’d go through this ritual of opening it up, editing everything up to the last place I stopped, then closing it up without bothering to put the nail in the coffin. I played that game for quite some time, too–circling the draft carefully as if it was this big, insurmountable thing that I’d made even more menacing in my head by telling myself that it was an unconquerable task. Circling the ending as if it was something that would attack me and not the other way around.

If ‘final draft’ was a lifeform.

As soon as I typed the last of it, I messaged my editor and good friend to tell her to take a look (because I honestly believed she needed to see it with her own eyes to believe it). It’s the last story for my collection and finishing it restored me, especially since I’d announced that it was done a little before my own personal deadline. I know it’s terrible, but sometimes I announce things when I’m close to being done so that I can force myself across the finish line. For me it’s like setting a stopwatch for a mental sprint.

Actual footage of the last-minute sprint my brain does to meet deadlines.

The last 3,000 words were the hardest, of course. As I said before, before I actually finished them, I definitely ran from them. My latest excuse was when I convinced myself that writing about trivial click-bait issues in my life was necessary when it wasn’t. Really, aside from being good for hits, the only thing I really accomplished with those posts was that I blew off a little steam and distracted myself from my looming deadline.

How easily I’m able to dodge distractions when I actually fucking apply myself.

Then, the universe opened a window for me as the world around me was shutting itself indoors. In this moment, there’s nothing in this house but time and space for assessment, accountability, and words. It’s a glorious thing and I’m elated that I’ve finished last of it–I’m talking hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of words. The knowledge of that is so satiating that everything else seems small. I feel like finishing the story sealed my circle of light around me again. It’s given me back that soft glow that’s best observed when it’s eclipsed in darkness. (A corona? Ha. I know; you still hate the word right now and that’s okay.) For me this period of distancing is a gentle nudge from the universe, and a reminder to stay the course.

I’ve cleared a path for you until you’re finished…will you use it? Please use it. Use it and push forward.“–Auntie Universe.

Earlier I mentioned that I use my words to cut or heal, but I don’t want anyone to be confused about which I actually prefer. Cutting people down is off-brand for me. Also, it’s about exhausting as it is boring. But course-correcting to more positive shit? That’s always a challenge worth embarking upon, always a worthwhile pivot.

Yesterday, a friend and I helped my mom make disposable masks for the family and some of her nurse friends who are in severe need of personal protective equipment. She brought maafe, I made rice, and we all had dinner afterwards. It felt…nice. After she left, I sat in my kitchen and reread an email I received a few days ago. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Atlanta in the fall, and even though I’m not 100% sure how this outbreak will pan out, I’m excited about the invitation. And grateful. Besides, if this break isn’t a sign that we could all use more time alone or with loved ones to reflect, heal, and express ourselves through our god-given gifts, then I don’t know what is.

And as for my writers, remember to keep your sanity during this outbreak by doing what you do best. Journal in hard copy too if you can, since there’s more (manifestation) power in things written by hand. Keep in mind that, even if the world burns and takes us right along with it, and all our digital systems crash, written records endure.

Stay healthy and thrive, my friends.

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