More Pandemic Writing?
By Associate Editor Mike Moening
Last fall, I taught an intro creative writing class that spanned three genres in fifteen weeks—leaving not enough time for any genre. But as a primarily creative nonfiction writer, I was especially saddened by the short five weeks that I had to cram in CNF. In past classes, the age ranges of my students were a bit broader, but this last class was all under twenty-five. When a handful of students were struggling to break into CNF, saying that nothing interesting has happened to them yet, I tried to dig deeper. We were (still are), after all, in the middle of a pandemic. There had to be something there. The result? Twenty-some essays that in one way or another dealt with the pandemic. It was a nice change from teenage heartbreak and trying marijuana for the first time. But it also showed me how a different demographic was impacted by COVID-19 and how it affected their mental health, how much writing about it allowed them an outlet for their voices and feelings to be heard, if only by me and their classmates.
I often wonder about mental health, about the positives of our society acknowledging it and normalizing receiving help. Nowhere is the looming (or current) mental health crisis more apparent than mid-pandemic. According to the WHO, the effects of COVID-19 on mental health are “bereavement, isolation, loss of income, fear and triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating different ones.” They also state that “many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.” That’s a lot of potential issues. While we may want to move on from pandemic writing just as we no doubt want to move past the pandemic itself, its importance on our individual and communal mental health should not be understated.
Pandemic writing isn’t just a trend in beginning creative writing classes among those who feel that they don’t have much to say. In talking to peers and professors, it can be difficult to write about life now without including at least some shadow of the pandemic. It’s almost unavoidable. It sticks to our writing as it remains in our lives, a small nod to quarantine in a piece about baking, a reminder much like the signs on grocery store doors reminding us that masks are still mandatory or strongly recommended. I have tried to avoid it, but in nearly all my writing, there’s at least some small hint that I’ve spent the past two-plus years in my basement apartment bunker, only seeing the sunlight when it’s time to take the dog out for a walk.
I’ve heard from numerous peers that they are exhausted. We are inching into the third year of the pandemic and we’ve likely all read countless pieces on COVID-19. We’re tired of living with it. Maybe tired of reading about it. And many of us are certainly tired of writing about it. It surrounds us from every angle and how nice does it sound to just write about nature, without having to mention that you had to pull up your mask as you passed a hiker on the path.
Mid-pandemic, it can feel like all we’re reading and writing about is tinted with COVID-19 over- or undertones, but maybe that’s a good thing. Even though we’re exhausted, perhaps it’s important. Often, in writing CNF, it is the things that we find the most difficult to write about that turn out to be the most important. Maybe that’s worth remembering, if for no other reason than to keep our mental health in mind.
Mike Moening is a third-year MFA candidate in creative non-fiction at Colorado State University. He is also an associate editor for the Colorado Review and the Center for Literary Publishing.