Ask anyone about the negative effects of COVID-19, and they probably won’t even hesitate answering. Isolation, financial instability and cracked skin from a steady application of hand sanitizer are just a few things that come to mind. But sometimes, reliving the same monotonous day over and over again brings renewed appreciation for comforting habits and routines we previously took for granted. In Michelle Wright’s case, this came when she returned to her parents’ house and fell into the rhythms of family pizza night, a Friday dinnertime tradition where her mom, dad and brother gathered in the kitchen to listen to music and prepare homemade personal pan pizzas.
“Once COVID started impacting all of life, it became something essential,” she says. “Once every single day felt like the exact same day, pizza night kind of distinguished where we were at in the week, which gave us more of a structure through all the lockdowns.”
Pizza night is the subject of Wright’s submission in Puzzled Experiences, a COVID-themed anthology compiled by professor of English Dr. John Van Rys’ creative non-fiction class. The collection of real-life stories captures a myriad of pandemic experiences from the absurd and amusing to the frustrating and outright bleak. Although Wright found some comfort in crafting her experiences into a narrative, the strain of isolation still impacted her creative process.
“Just getting up and doing things felt pointless most days, especially since writing for my courses usually takes place with my peers. The pandemic made me turn inward when I would usually express myself on paper or out loud to other people. Some days, though, writing was actually what would get me through, because it was something I needed to do.”
Ben Wright, another creative non-fiction student, expressed similar sentiments of loneliness and discontent. However, he grappled with those feelings long before COVID.
“My parents are missionaries and teachers, and we lived in Niger, West Africa for 10 years,” he says. “We came back to Canada five years ago, and I’ve had trouble adjusting since then. My impression of everyone else’s experience of COVID was that there was this sense of exhaustion and things going slowly. I feel that, but I’ve also felt like that for a long time.”
What I appreciate about anthologies is the variety of individual perspectives. Creating one involves a prompt, which in this case was our COVID experiences.
Ben Wright’s piece, The House for Special Purpose, draws comparisons between his ongoing mental health struggles and those of the wider population amidst the pandemic. Although the piece isn’t exactly lighthearted, arranging his thoughts on paper always comes with some sense of solace and clarity.
“I like being able to express myself, and the back and forth format of a conversation is very limited. With writing, you pack everything into each sentence and it can go off in any number of directions. People also have to spend more time thinking about what they read, so it’s more freeing in that sense.”
The experience of contributing a piece to a larger anthology also helped Ben Wright feel a stronger sense of community with his classmates.
“What I appreciate about anthologies is the variety of individual perspectives. Creating one involves a prompt, which in this case was our COVID experiences. While there were some similarities, there was a lot of room within that for each of us to have our own viewpoint.”
Despite their differences in tone, style and outlook, both students agree that they’ve become bolder, more self-assured writers since starting at Redeemer.
“The revision process has really developed for me since coming here,” says Michelle Wright. “I’ve always been a last-minute person, especially when it comes to assignments, so I had no real writing process. Developing what it actually looks like to create a good piece was huge for me, and I’ve definitely committed to a slower process.”
“It’s forced me to be more genuine,” says Ben Wright. “I usually like to hide behind anonymity instead of identifying myself with my writing. However, when you’re workshopping with a group on a daily basis you have to be very honest about yourself. My writing is still a little weird and off-kilter, but it’s better to write something authentic that you can support than something disingenuous that you can’t.”