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Writing through a pandemic: an exploration of space and self

Gripman, Abigail (2022) Writing through a pandemic: an exploration of space and self. Masters thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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I started this program in the “before” time, when my focus was outward and my interest would land on random shiny things that caught my interest, like a sake-maker in a desert hamlet or classified ads from old newspapers. It was a short-lived interlude, and one I value all the more because I see now that there was a sweetness and innocence there that I was unaware of until it was gone. I see the rigid delineation between “before” and “after” very clearly in my work. Like the fabric of our society, I see the cohesion in my writing break down quickly in the wake of the pandemic. (To be fair, the social breakdown for me began on November 9, 2016, but even with that, I didn’t see a dramatic before and after until March 2020.) I lost focus, didn’t know what to think, how to think, what to write, how to write. The ground I hadn’t realized I was standing on crumbled in a matter of weeks. And that crumbling wasn’t confined to me, my family, town, state, or country. Across the globe, all of humanity was plunged into this frightening space, forcing us all to feel our way through the darkness. In considering my thesis, I had pictured a cohesive unit of work, loosely based on the oddities of Arizona and my attempt to navigate the absurdities of its culture and understand its colorful history. But as I undertook the work of building this thesis, I began to see that it has decided to follow the trajectory of collective trauma by asking questions, seeking and not finding answers. Altogether, I have decided that I want this work to honestly reflect these past three years. In this unique time and space, I’ve decided to throw out the order that I had aspired to and present a semi-accurate timeline of my writing. Not because I think the writing holds together as a unit, but because it doesn’t. I see now that the disjunction tells its own story—a fractured timeline that reflects my disjointed journey into and through the darkness. I’ll begin in the “before” time. It was fall 2019 when I officially started this program. At that time, I set myself a goal. I wanted to be published by Atlas Obscura. This website collects travel stories written with a deep respect for the people and places it highlights and feeds my thirst for travel, even if it can only be of the armchair variety. I wanted to tell a story grounded in a place. At about the same time, I heard a curious rumor about a man making sake in Holbrook. Writing about Atsuo allowed me the space to try and tell his story while weaving him into the wild tapestry of that town’s history. Also, in the “before” time, let’s call it BC19, I decided to explore my own history by setting my stories in the context of newspaper classifieds. Using my experiences as anchor points, I spent hours in the Cline Library Special Collections room indulging my fascination with classified ads in community newspapers. These tiny ads are snippets of time dipped in amber, small afterthoughts tacked to the end of the newspaper; classifieds present a more prosaic snapshot of a time and place than the important recitations of the news that precede them. This is a project I’d love to return to, to explore classifieds from their genesis, through time until their near-disappearance as print gives way to myriad digital platforms. These were the kinds of things I was writing and the kinds of things I was thinking about BC19. Not much changed as 2019 rolled into 2020, until everything changed. When everything changed and the world closed, my work shifted hard into a different space. At first, I could barely write at all. This was during my rosé-wine-phase of the pandemic. For about three months, everything I wrote was disjointed and harshly abbreviated. Essays turned into poems. I’m not a poet; I tried to push them back into essays, but they wouldn’t be moved. The rosé wine phase morphed into the Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough phase, which carried me through the next three months (and I carry with me to this day). By this time, I could write nothing that didn’t confront the new pandemic reality straight on. My fingers weren’t strong enough to hold the braids of my essays together, and so they unfurled on the page. Somehow, two years have passed. I’ve moved away from feeling compelled to write pandemic-specific work. But even so, the trauma remains there, between the lines. There are considerable gaps in my memory (which my doctor tells me may be attributable to long covid, stress, or menopause.) My work still feels disjointed, words flailing about at the ends of their puppet strings. By putting all the work together here, I expected to evoke even more chaos. Instead, I’ve been surprised to find not simply chaos, but a story about chaos, a diary written in smeared crayon, sharp-nibbed pen, and finger on dust.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: Writing; Disjunction; Short stories;
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Arts and Letters > English
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2022 21:18
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2022 21:18
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5877

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