On (Not) Writing in the Age of Covid

Covid Cases. Source: New York Times

I haven’t written any posts for this blog for quite a while. I used to post at least once a month, but this is only the fifth post this year and the first since late May. With the coronavirus restrictions, I’ve actually had more time to write than usual, but I’ve lacked motivation. In this post I’ll try to think through why that’s been so.

I think all writers have to believe they have something important to say, some reason why  a reader might benefit from their thoughts and observations. Perhaps it takes a touch of narcissism to believe that in the first place. In any event, I’m not as confident that my offerings are worthwhile as I used to be. There is so much going on in the world right now, so much that is affecting the well-being of millions and will continue doing so for years to come. The coronavirus has had a huge impact, as has the resulting financial devastation. In America, racism and its effects have become more evident to millions, and it’s unlikely that the band-aid of superficial racial comity that’s been torn off will be reapplied soon, if ever. From more severe fires to a more active hurricane season, extreme weather has been in the news almost daily, likely evidence of worse times to come as climate change progresses. With all that going on, my observations about the second half of life don’t seem all that important.

Writing not only hasn’t seemed as important; it’s also seemed less pertinent to my daily life. I have been mostly isolated at home the last six months, and have had to find new routines to sustain me. These include regular outdoor activities (biking, walking, running), practicing yoga more consistently, more prayer and meditation, writing poetry, reading more, and, just recently, starting to learn the guitar. Writing, though gratifying, doesn’t nourish me in quite the way these other things do, so it doesn’t exert the draw on me that it used to.

I’ve been writing less but reading more. At first I read to learn about the threat of covid 19 and what I could do to keep from falling victim. Threats to personal safety do capture our attention! Once I started thinking that I could manage that danger to some extent, I read about how it was affecting society. In order to be better informed about that and other things, I got an online subscription to the Washington Post. I already read pretty widely, and the Post presented me with a plethora of high quality journalism every day (as well as a considerable number of interesting opinion pieces). For a couple months I spent way too much time reading the news. I’m better about that now. Still, when I have a spare hour, I’m more likely to check on what’s going on in the world, even if I had gotten caught up that morning, than I am to write something. I’m hoping to emancipate myself further from my news habit. Even if I do choose to read rather than write, there are other things that it would be better to read.

I’ve not been writing blog posts, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing at all. As I mentioned above, I’ve been writing poems. I’ve put a few of those on my other blog here. In addition, I’ve written quite a few emails to a young friend who is struggling with early adulthood issues. I’ve tried to pass on to her her insights from my own struggles. Why was I interested in writing her but not in writing blog posts? I think it was because, in the isolation of covid, I craved personal connection. When I write a blog post, I hope that it will make a difference in someone’s life, but I often don’t know whether it has or not. A post may get a few likes and occasionally a comment or two, and in normal times that’s enough. Now I want more than that, so writing an email to a single person who I know will read it and give a thorough response is much more appealing than writing a blog post that more often than not won’t generate a deep connection with anyone.

So will I be posting more in the months to come? I don’t know. I’m living in the present more and planning less, which I regard as growth. I also think that there’s growth in placing less importance on what I write. Still, even in thinking through the above some things came to mind that I would like to write about in more detail. I am no more certain than any of you whether those thoughts will come to fruition!

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family. I maintain a part-time therapy practice in Grand Rapids. I currently worship at Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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6 Responses to On (Not) Writing in the Age of Covid

  1. dw says:

    Hi Bob,
    It’s good to hear from you again. I’m glad to know you are getting along well during this challenging time, reading more, learning guitar (!). (I’d love to hear more about that.)

    I appreciate your thoughts about writing/blogging. Would I continue to blog if I knew no one ever read what I wrote? Probably not, but…I might, just in case that one reader out there might appreciate it, someday. I follow one blog where, as far as I can tell, only I and one other person ‘like’ the posts and I think I’m the only person who has ever commented. Yet she continues to write and I continue to be enriched by what she writes.

    In the end, we follow the Spirit’s leading, through whatever seasons come to our lives, writing or not writing.

    One thing I’m grateful for, I know, is having come across your blog and having the chance to share ideas with you.

    Grace and peace to you…

    dw

    • Bob Ritzema says:

      I like your question–would I continue to blog if I knew that no one ever read what I wrote? I think there have been times when I would have. The past several months hasn’t been one of those times. But I think more often than not over the years I’ve been blogging I wrote more because there was something i was trying to work out for myself than because of who might read it. I think that’s related to your point about following the Spirit’s leading. I think that writing with that motivation is living according to one’s necessity, as Henri Nouwen described it.

      i, too, am quite appreciative of our interactions over the years and of your blog. Your writings are the outcroppings of a profound sensitivity.

      • dw says:

        In some ways, writing is a lot like praying. I find myself ‘listening’ when I write and I’m learning to recognize that when I’m not hearing anything, I don’t need to write anything. I’m never satisfied when I try to force something.

        What is your experience like, writing either poetry or a prose piece? Do the two feel different?

      • Bob Ritzema says:

        Yes, writing is a lot like praying. There is a similar sense of interiorness. As with you, both involve a form of listening and feel incomplete if I neglect that aspect. For me, writing poetry is somewhat different in that I write a poem every Sunday whether I think there is anything worth saying or not. I undertook that approach as a spiritual discipline. It often surprises me what emerges.

  2. petereverts says:

    I too have missed deeper connections during this time of COVID and virtual connections don’t meet the need. Unlike you, Bob, I have read less during this time and thrown myself into more physical activity, almost feeling that sitting still just adds to the isolation!

    • Bob Ritzema says:

      You make a good point, Peter; physical activity is really valuable during this time of isolation. I’ve come to particularly value biking, since I do that on a trail frequented by others, and, though we never do more than wave or nod at each other, it seems like there’s some social connection taking place.

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