The Chronicles of Covid-19
I’ve discovered the assistance I can render in a pandemic is minimal.
I’m self-isolating. I’m wishing karmic wealth for essential workers. I’m checking in with family and friends as my deadlines allow. I’m chronicling. And the one thing I can do, is encourage you to become chroniclers, as well.
Writing has long kept me sane. It is my way of making sense of the world, especially when my mind is spiking in different directions.
It is also my way of remembering details that are important to me. When Chris (my husband) and I were on a 14-month assignment for National Geographic last year, traveling to 50 destinations in 35 countries, I kept a logbook. I knew details and moments would quickly blur together, and so every night before bed, I would jot down what happened that day. Sometimes I would paste in plane tickets, dive shop stickers, national park passes, or newspaper clippings.
That logbook is our most valuable souvenir. It is a record of our experience.
We should all be keeping pandemic logbooks. Whether you’re self-isolating solo or bubbling with your family, chronicling your experience is important.
First, it will help you make sense of, and remember, your experience. Perhaps not now, but in time. Here are my suggestions for getting started:
1) Choose a notebook. I used to favour exquisite leather journals, but I’ve found yearly day-planners work surprisingly well, as they contain well-defined daily boxes and are easier to write in. If this is a family chronicle, list the names and ages of the archivists, and perhaps ask your kids to decorate the notebook.
2) Keep a routine. Write at the same time every day, even if you’re only jotting down a line or two. (I found that right before bed works best for me.)
3) Start with just the facts, ma’am. You’re an archivist; a chronicler. Focus on the facts first: what happened today?
– What are the numbers? It may sound morbid, but I’m tracking reported case numbers here in New Zealand. I remember when we were at eight. Eight confirmed cases. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like years. I want to remember how swiftly this thing moved.
– What are the headlines? What’s dominating the news, both at home and abroad?
– What else is happening in the world? Spring? Autumn? Birthdays? Good news events?
4) Document details. Broad strokes never capture what happened; details tell the story.
– What did you do today? What is your routine under lockdown? (Chart the course of a normal day from getting up to going to bed.) What are you watching / bingeing / reading / listening to / baking? If you go to the grocery store or pharmacy, what was that experience like and how is it differing from normal?
– What is catching your eye and capturing your attention? Who do you find yourself missing? What do you find yourself focusing on – a bird? A story about a man hoarding hand sanitizer? Where are your thoughts taking you today? What are your kids missing about school or pre-lockdown life?
5) Tell the stories. These are some of my favouite parts of our logbook: the inside jokes between me and Chris; funny or poignant moments that will never make the published book; a description of an event. These moments tend to vanish from memory unless prompted to recall, so capture them: write them down.
Chronicle the funny things your children, sister, or partner said; the flat-share inside joke; something that happened during a work Zoom meeting; an oddball habit your pet has. Think of your logbook as a jar for saving memories, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. You’ll be so thankful you did.
6) Add emotion, but only if you feel like it. This is a logbook. It doesn’t need to be a journal, a memoir, or a blog. It doesn’t need to be maudlin or overflowing with sentiment like gratitude, fear, or hope. If you’re like me, you’re probably ricocheting from one emotion to the next, and generally feeling fatigued and overwhelmed. So, don’t make your life more difficult than it already is: chronicle the facts, the details, the stories.
Trust me: what you’re feeling? It will be glaringly apparent when you re-read your logbook later on. What you selected to write down that day, how short (or long) your entry is – details like these will shine a light on your state of mind, how you were feeling, without you actually having to write that feeling down. Plus, what you wrote down will trigger memories of how you felt at the time. You don’t need to add anything extra if you don’t feel like it: the emotion will be there when you’re ready to revisit it.
The second reason chronicling your experience is important is because this is an extraordinary moment in time. Even if your world is falling apart and this is not a time that you want to remember, you are valuable. Your experience is valuable. And it is uniquely yours.
It’s difficult to untangle things now, while we’re living it, but later on, years from now, you (or someone yet to be born) will find this fascinating.
Every night before I begin the day’s entry, Chris and I are re-reading our logbook from last year’s trip, remembering where we were and what we were doing. This time last year, for example, we were diving New Zealand’s Poor Knights Islands, surrounded by schools of candy-pink mau mau fish, and looking for the bronze whaler sharks that frequent the area. On the boat ride back, we came across hundreds of bottlenose and common dolphins and Bryde’s and pilot whales, breaching and swimming hard, churning up the water. It was one of those moments. I wrote it down so we wouldn’t forget.
Once upon a time, when I first moved to New Zealand in 2004, I wrote a weekly email to my close family and friends, cleverly titled The Weekly. It was my way of sharing the details of my new and day-to-day life with people I loved who were back in the States. I continued The Weekly for many years: sometimes it was a breathless paragraph; sometimes a lengthy ramble (or vent).
I am currently writing nine hours a day to finish the book resulting from our extraordinary assignment, but I’ve been toying with the idea of reinstating The Weekly for a while now. I think I’ll give it a try, although it may be brief and breathless for a while, and the writing will be far from perfect. So, check back around this time every week if you’re keen to be part of The Weekly reincarnated. I’d love to have you along for the ride.