Week of April 4, 2020 I swallowed most of a fly today at Spring Creek Park. It swept past my lips, then lodged itself into the back of my throat, launching a series of gagging coughs. A family of…
“un/synced” began as an exercise for a writing workshop—a last-minute couple of scenes that I threw onto the page an hour before deadline. It was our second week of shelter-in-place, my husband had been sick in bed for days and we were awaiting the results of his COVID test. I was in a kind of fog state, but still trying to minimally meet my commitments (care for my husband at a distance; shift client meetings to Zoom; convince my parents to steer clear of grocery stores; feed kids; turn something, anything really, in for my writing assignment).
In class at The Writers Studio, we had been reading Renata Adler’s Speedboat and I was drawn to the way her narrator’s fragmented observations unsettled me. It mirrored how I was feeling as the pandemic unfolded. At the same time, I was reading Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation. Offill’s series of wry, sometimes tender, prose poems filled me with longing. Over the course of the novel, they intertwined and layered to depict a rich story of an artist, a mother, a marriage, a family. I felt buoyed, as if I were reading my way into a connected, larger whole.
I wanted to experiment with these techniques. What might I unlock by letting go of a need to explain? By allowing the story to exist in the white space between the words? By juxtaposing prose fragments and letting the way they sit next to one another on the page speak for itself?
Writing this piece became a container for me to attune to and make sense of the pandemic as it unfolded in my environment (my environment being my living room, my backyard, Zoom meetings, phone calls). The “un/synced” narrator began to show up in my journal with her fragmented observations—sometimes wry, often filled with longing.
But it would be months before a connected, larger whole would begin to emerge. It wasn’t until I noticed that the characters I’d written were each working hard to manage their isolation, that I recognized what the story was about. I had to narrow the focus. I made myself deemphasize a theme of frantic self-improvement, dropping beloved fragments about a Zoom birdwatching workshop, a backyard exercise band workout, a meditation class that resulted in a sprained ankle. I merged what had been multiple characters and allowed attention to rest on the narrator. With fewer characters competing on the page, her relationships with her husband, with her friend, with her body felt richer and more nuanced. (Her relationship with her headphones was already fully realized.) What is left, I hope, in the words on the page and in the white space between them, is a character navigating connection and disconnection in an uncertain world.
LISA BASS lives, works, and writes at home with her family in California. Her writing has appeared in jmww. She studies at The Writers Studio.