Exiting the Cave

This week I took a 20 minute drive and a 35 minute ferry ride to meet up with an old writing friend for lunch. That was it, a total of 55 minutes from my house and it felt like a daring adventure. Just shows what being stuck at home can do to a person. I’ve always considered myself adventurous but after two full years of pandemic “being careful” I’m developing hints of agoraphobia. When I shared that bit of humiliation with my friend she admitted to similar feelings.

Apparently we are not alone in our nervousness. There is even a new acronym for the condition, FOGO or FONO. It means fear of going out or fear of normal. The human brain doesn’t like change, a trait left over from our evolution. We don’t like change, even good change. We want to be in control and change means we’re not. The world we used to know, pre-pandemic, is now the unknown and it scares us.

Since we were in confessional mode my friend and I discovered that both of us had been “stuck” in the writing process. We both have story ideas. We’ve both written and re-written and re-written the opening a dozen times. We’ve tried skipping ahead and writing pivotal scenes. We’ve even tried writing the ending — with no success. I found it interesting that we’d been travelling the same path without ever comparing notes. Maybe we are part of a wider writer-response to the pandemic.

If we are, we are in good company. I read over the weekend that Anne Tyler, the highly successful author of 23 novels, hasn’t been able to start a new book in the past three years. To her surprise she has missed the stimulation of eavesdropping!

Eavesdropping has a nasty connotation but in the context of an author it is merely adding grist to the imagination. Overheard snippets of conversation while waiting in line at the grocery store may spark a whole new level of conflict in a work-in-progress. The body language of people in a crowded coffee shop may bring insight to a character’s motivation. These normal, every day interactions are barely perceptible — until they aren’t there.

When the pandemic narrowed our lives to a few rooms or a few people, nourishment for our imaginations also narrowed. For some, like me and my friend, we got stuck.

Reading other people’s stories or watching other people’s movies doesn’t have the same power as listening to the voices around us and telling our own stories.

So, now that our pandemic restrictions are loosening and the sun is starting to shine in my part of the world, I’m resolved to push my personal boundaries beyond the backyard. I grew up with the adage that one must face one’s fears in order to overcome them. I still believe that, so while my snail-self wants to retreat into my shell, my grizzly-bear self urges me to explore new horizons. I’m going to do that.

I hope a fuller life gets my writing unstuck. Even if it doesn’t, I’d rather embrace life than hide from it.

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2 Comments

  1. Laura Langston

    Great blog. I can relate. 🙂 It’s interesting to see that Anne Tyler has been impacted by the Covid writing inertia. All the isolation is obviously dimming inspiration in some cases. Good luck getting out of your cave!

    • Alice Valdal

      Thanks Laura. Today I went to Butchart Garden’s and had a conversation with a stranger! Baby steps. 🙂

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