Writer-in-(non)-Residence: Living In Limbo During the COVID-19 Lockdown

“So this is how the robot apocalypse begins,” I whispered to my Laddie under the shrill whine of the drone outside. Back pressed to the wall, I risked a peek through the curtains. The quadcopter hovered against the February sky, red lights winking like the eyes of a giant cicada. “I hope they can’t spot me!”

Although no harbinger of the machine uprising, the little photography drone represented an event nearly as traumatic: selling our house. We hadn’t planned on leaving after just a few years in the neighborhood, but I’d taken an exceptional job opportunity in a place far, far away. I took a hiatus from the writing community to focus on logistics—sorting through possessions, making travel arrangements, and transitioning my day-job projects—so that in April we could depart for an exciting new chapter in our lives.

Then an actual apocalypse hit, or at least the closest thing I’ve witnessed. COVID-19 swept the U.S. just as we concluded the house sale. It was too late to postpone the closing date. So while everyone fortified themselves in their homes, we were forced to vacate ours. All the jokes I’d made about how well-equipped we’d be to withstand a catastrophe, with our basement gym and pantry custom-sized for Costco food items, had come back to bite me.

If that weren’t enough of a plot twist, travel restrictions prevent us going to our new place for at least a month. So we’re stuck in a state of Schrödinger’s homelessness, hunkered in a tiny AirBnB basement with naught but what’s in our suitcases and backpacks.

“Well,” said my Laddie in his laconic fashion as I fumed at the universe, “you wanted an adventure.”

Distraught redheaded woman with a suitcase.

Being trapped in a tiny, unfamiliar place with no timeline for escape might make a great Steve McQueen film, but it’s not good for people with chronic anxiety issues. (Fun fact: chest tightness, a common side effect of anxiety, is also a symptom of COVID-19, just to put a cherry atop the stress sundae). Stoicism studies have helped me maintain a modicum of control, but what I really need is a project, some purposeful occupation for my fretful brain.

I need to write a new book.

Although my agitated mindset is not at all conducive to writing, I’ll be in good company among authors of impermanent residence. Cormac McCarthy, author of the Border Trilogy, was a “long-term resident guest” of El Paso’s Gardener hotel. And Shakespeare allegedly produced plays and poems while lying low during the plague. If I can’t imitate their brilliance, I can at least aspire to their productivity under bad circumstances. I have all the essentials: my Laddie, my laptop, and enough protein powder to survive for months (and stay sufficiently buff to fight off any interlopers who try to steal my bleach wipes). There are people far worse off.

Since I’m not a medical professional or a grocery deliverer or a toilet paper manufacturer, the most I can offer everyone is a little entertainment to help them through the struggle. I’ll gift ebooks of Syzygy and Blue Karma to anyone who requests one via my contact page (Amazon won’t let me make them free on Kindle, a downside of abandoning exclusivity agreements to embrace readers on other platforms).

The pandemic lockdown might feel constrictive right now, but be glad you have a home to stay in. I wish I did! Having written my share of bad sci-fi stories, I have to believe this one we’re living through will turn the page eventually, and characters who stay strong can find their way toward a happy ending.

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