I’m not expecting any great “transformation” or personal insights during this period of enforced isolation. They could happen, mind you, but I’m not expecting or forcing any. What follows are my thoughts about the state of my soul before and during this shared crisis called pandemic.
Who Was I Before the Coronavirus?
I work as a freelance technical writer from my apartment in Orlando, Florida. My days follow one after the other, each with the potential for work coming in the door from one or another client or no one. I can and do spend days on end not interacting much with other people. When I do see and interact with people, it’s usually been during my daily walks around the Walt Disney World Resort. I’d spend most of that time woolgathering and slaloming among the crowds at the theme parks or the resorts.
I did not take the closing of WDW last month well. It’s been my “happy place” for nearly as long as I can remember, having first visited in 1974 or 1975. More practically, it’s been my “gym” in that I could get in several miles’ worth of walking done in a clean, safe, reasonably attractive property for an annual cost (via the Florida Resident Annual Pass) that was less than a year’s worth of membership at the local YMCA. Then the travel business imploded–cruise lines first, and then pretty much every tourist destination in the world.
Travel and tourism are part of my familial culture and a big part of how I’ve defined myself as a person: I’m someone who travels, explores, goes where he’s never gone before. That part of my identity is frozen or cut off for the foreseeable near future. I live in an apartment literally next door (across the fence line) from WDW property, and I can’t even walk there, as I’d rightly be sent away for trespassing.
I fancy myself to be a writer, though most of that work is writing competently for my customers or for myself in the form of journal entries. Once upon a time, so to speak, I wrote fiction for myself and occasionally others as well. I broke my fiction-writing habit a couple years ago, and have not seen fit to resurrect it.
Another thing I used to do quite often–on my travels or perambulations around Disney–was drink. I made the decision to quit that. I’m now 71 days into that experiment and am hoping to make the change permanent to ward off my tendency to depression.
So: a traveling man, a writing man, a drinking man. Such was my life prior to the current crisis.
I am not most of the things I was when I went into internal exile along with everyone else for the good of the realm. Now I’m in this work- and book-cluttered man cave, doing my usual things, save that I walk around my immediate neighborhood, drive only to necessary errands, and read whatever’s handy on my shelves. My drinks are water, juice, and a new concoction for me: tonic water and lime.
It’s not claustrophobia I’m experiencing, but I’m feeling a pressure on my mind as I try to figure how else to define myself in and after this mess. I’ll have to trust that the option to travel will come again, but the exact date is uncertain. I haven’t had any desperate urge to drink or any discomfort with not doing so. I’ll assume for now that I’ll stick with that habit, and my body and mind will be better for it.
That leaves writing.
I love reading science fiction, but I’m rather bad at writing it, lacking both the technical education and visionary ability to imagine what a truly advanced future might be like. Come to think of it, I’m not much better at mainstream fiction. My prose lacks grace, poetry, or stylistic lushness. My characterization beyond fictionalized versions of myself isn’t terribly good, either, because I lack the empathy to think like other people. This, of course, means writing romance novels are a bad choice for me. I also don’t write engagingly for children or even young adults, partly because I’m not fond of children. I always find it amusing when well-meaning people suggest I “write children’s stories.”
I am the guy you call when you want something technically difficult or complex explained bluntly for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a clue. Even then, I’m only useful above a certain education level.
I love my work, however; and I’ve done a decent job offering up advice on how to do what I do to pay my bills. I have a book about the business of technical writing in the final copyediting phase. I will, I promised myself, get that book into publishable form online before the middle of this year (we’ll see). But after that, then what?
I’m left to wonder how I’m to define myself as a person. Do people even do that anymore, or do they spend their entire lives winging it? Or are they using different markers from me: money, status/power, possessions, philanthropy, romantic adventures, spiritual enlightenment? I’ve enjoyed myself most when reading or researching subjects of interest to me: science fiction, space exploration (and the hardware that facilitates it), history (military and otherwise), philosophy, art, and a few other random topics here and there. Perhaps I should devote myself to private study. If I can’t write well, I can at least absorb the works of those who can.
Until I get to the point of being mobile again, I am stuck, like everyone else, in a mental hothouse of my own design. What form my life or my soul will take when I finally exit it is still a mystery. Such is life.