2020 was at an end. An annus horribilis the likes of which I dearly hope we never see again.
We are yet mired in anxiety.
Although not really over, not even now; the echos, the fear: of Covid, of crowds, of Trumpism, of newly emboldened bigotry and the frightening renaissance of American fascism, of whatever new horror will doomscroll down upon us, plague us still. We are yet mired in anxiety.
But in the waning days of 2020, things looked brighter. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were approved by the FDA within days of each other, triumphs of human knowledge and intelligence. The stupefying wave of feckless, willful ignorance that is the antivaxx moronocracy had yet to be fully unleashed upon the thinking people of the world. It seemed that if we could stay uninfected long enough to be vaccinated, we’d be OK. The world could come out of its collective shell.
A year of anxiety, of illness and death of loved ones, of isolation, had taken a toll, though. I felt like a timid little bunny peering out of its hole at the scary, scary world. The very realization of what I had become, what had happened to us all, angered me.
Like millions of others, I decided to make something of the extra free time afforded by remote work. Find new music. Learn new bike skills. Learn some French. I also decided to try and resurrect my writing habit, which had sputtered to a halt years ago.
They say that the cure for writer’s block is to write. But they say a lot of things that don’t work, at all, or at least for everyone. I don’t know what writer’s block actually is, or what causes it, but for some of us it’s akin to a mental illness. Maybe it’s a manifestation of depression, or of a chronic lack of self-confidence. But for me at least, saying “just start writing” was like telling a depressed person “just cheer up.” At best, it is unproductive. At worst it can feel smug, self-satisfied and hurtful.
In years past I’d had some success and fun in writing workshops, but barring ten or so writers meeting in a large outdoor stadium and shouting to each other with bullhorns, THAT wasn’t going to happen soon. It would have to be on the good ol’ Internet. So I started looking.
Some were free. Some wanted a fee. Some had themes. All too many had complex and restrictive (to me at least) rules and structures; I am not a big fan of studying the instructions. If the basic functioning of anything is not apparent, I consider it a poor design. Undeterred, I kept searching.
I don’t know how I found Retrospect. It doesn’t come up in the first or second (or third, or fourth) page of search engine returns. I know because I just tried, using search terms I’d have used then. Not there. But somehow, using a mostly random assortment of search terms, I found this group.
The structure pleased me. The use of prompts (which I had actually seen before, but not when I needed it, I guess) helped me with something that I have always found difficult; what the hell do I write about today? I also admit that the fact that the raison d’etre of Retrospect is our personal experiences encouraged me to try. I have always found fiction to be far more challenging to write than fact. I am basically lazy, and with memoirs I need not do the hard work of making stuff up, of world building, thinking up plot elements, fleshing out characters, et al. Life has done that for me! All I need do is remember, and tell the story in the best narrative fashion that I can muster. Not exactly easy, not trivial by any means, but for me, much less intimidating. Reading through the stories, the regular participants were obviously very intelligent, thoughtful, and kind.
Never doubt the value of kindness!
So I said what the hell and dove on in. Maybe from too great a height, as I was cautioned not to flood the site with too-frequent postings. But there were just so many fertile back prompts to choose from! Memories, long forgotten or long suppressed, came flooding into my mind. Looking back at my list of stories, I find it interesting that the first two dealt with the end of my Maria period and the beginning of my life with Gina. Those two subjects, embodying great pain and great joy, are in no danger of being forgotten. But the prompts uncovered a wealth of other long lost experiences, lessons, highs and lows, triumphs and mostly minor tragedies. Writing for Retrospect has been a guided tour of who and why and what I am now.
Writing these essays, for a supportive group and freed from the fear of having my imagination prove inadequate if not moribund, has also helped me rediscover and hone the craft of writing. The joy of wordsmithing, the sweetness of le mot juste. I might get the nerve to tell the whole tale of Maria, the lessons learned and the price paid.
I might even be ready to try some fiction again – if I can think of anything to write….
There is now some doubt as to the future of Retrospect. I hope like hell that we continue writing and remembering together. Regardless, getting to know this place and the writers that make it live has been an important and lovely experience.
I do so hope that this is not a requiem.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.