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Most of us are staying home or limiting where and when we go out.
This is an important part of caring about each other and joining together to limit spread of Covid-19 and its harrowing toll of sickness and death. Life as we knew it is suspended for a while. There is much uncertainty about when things will return to any semblance of normal. We’re not able to see our family and friends face-to-face. We keep in touch by social media and phones. Many of us are expanding our comfort with virtual interactions and learning new tricks.
As an author, this “stay at home, stop the spread” reality is both familiar and oddly unsettling. It’s familiar since I already stay home a lot, especially since I’m retired (from a day job) and don’t need to go anywhere regularly. Many of my days were already spent facing my computer screen, doing research and writing. Days could pass without going out anywhere. But when I felt the need to take a break, get some physical activity, go shopping, or socialize with friends, these options were available.
Now they are not. For physical activity, I can take a walk being careful not to approach any other walker closer than six feet. I can do yoga or calisthenics at home—you know just how much appeal that has. For socializing, I can call people or engage in online messaging. That’s OK but not nearly the same as in person discussions. I can do some shopping, but need to put in an online order, hoping what I want is in stock, and set a time for pickup where the clerk puts the groceries inside the trunk. Or else, have things I’ve ordered online dropped off on the porch.
Brave New World indeed!
Now you’d think that an author forced to stay at home would become wildly productive. You envision authors glued to their computers, keying out thousands of words. That new project should be a breeze with so much time. Take on new challenges and spiff up all your social media platforms. Finish those stories. Write amazing blogposts. Submit to awards and contests. Write book reviews by the dozens.
The funny thing is how hard I find it to get motivated. The national crisis has a way of sapping my energy and concentration. I try to avoid watching too much news, but there’s a dreadful fascination with how this pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world. My heart is heavy over such suffering and loss. Silently I urge on the leaders and health workers who contend with the worse of it. Serious concern wells up about workers and families upended as the economy takes a nose dive. We are all affected. We are all—as a planet—in this together. May we find our way through to a more cohesive and caring tomorrow.
In the writing process, an author comes to realize that readers are an invaluable part. We may write due to internal compulsions, and our books are fulfillment of the creative process, but without people to read those books, something very critical is missing. As we move into 2018, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have your support and friendship as readers.
In appreciation, I’m giving you a gift. This is a nonfiction booklet I wrote bringing together material about Mayan Queens and women rulers in several cities in Mexico and Guatemala.
Magnificent Mayan Queens:
Native women of Power and Vision, Maya Preclassic to Late Classic Periods.
Why do we read?
Storytelling has been part of human society as long as anyone can remember. Before writing, primitive people gathered around a campfire to listen in rapt attention to the local storyteller weave tales of adventure or mystery. Now we sit down with a good book, e-reader, tablet, smart phone, even the TV or DVD for the same experience. Why is reading or listening to stories so compelling for humans? Psychologists who study the “Theory of Mind” say we’re always trying to guess what other people are thinking and feeling, even though we do this unconsciously. Why is this something people universally do? Because this helps us learn which people we can trust and which we cannot. It also provides basic foundations for social interaction; without this we would be in a quandary about how to respond to others.
Not much has changed in this quintessentially human trait in thousands of years, except the way we engage with stories. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that social topics make up two thirds of people’s conversation through public media, regardless of age or gender. We continue to be fascinated by other people’s stories, one reason why gossip columns and celebrity cults stay popular. There’s no doubt a voyeur element here, but researchers believe the key value underlying this is empathy. A University of North Carolina psychologist reported that people with high empathy characteristics more easily engage in stories. However, this characteristic varies greatly among people. Some are easily touched emotionally while others seem unaffected by even the saddest or most miraculous stories.
Empathy is “the ability to identify oneself mentally with a person or thing and so understand the other’s feelings or meaning.” Native Americans described this ability as being able to walk in another person’s moccasins; the proverbial “walk a mile in my shoes.”An interesting research finding is that people who read more have an 83% chance of forming excellent relationships, while those who seldom read have only a 14% chance. It seems that when you can see the world through another’s eyes, you have more ability to form good relationships. Research suggests that this drive to seek understanding about the experiences and perspectives of other people is deeply ingrained, perhaps even instinctive.
So keep on reading!
Reading fiction is good for you. It opens a world onto other people and places, where you learn and have vicarious experiences. It goes beyond providing entertainment and diversion, and helps you develop social skills that enhance your relationships. Of course, I’ve got a few good books I can recommend: