Early last year, when COVID 19 first raged out of control all over the planet, it seemed the nasty bug would kill us all. It’s not as if the virus were the only thing after us; we were inundated by huge problems at every turn. Our former president, and his followers wouldn’t or couldn’t accept his loss of the national election. Riots ensued, breaching even the People’s House in Washington D.C. Despite dire warnings from national and world health officials, many Americans refused to wear masks to protect both themselves and others. Hospitals overflowed with people of every age and ethnicity fighting for life, served by medical professionals who were just as vulnerable as they, felled by a virus we could not see.
As a writer and oral tradition storyteller, the horror stories struck me to my core. With unrest at every corner, I sensed America would never be the same again. The loss of income struck me first. Last March my plate was full of venue dates, with concerts, presentations at conferences, book sales, and more to look forward to. Then it was over. The bottom fell out when all my gigs were canceled almost overnight, and I was left spinning in place with nowhere to go. “Stay home, wear your mask, and socially distance,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, so I did. But I wasn’t happy about it.
From my perspective, the world was spinning completely out of control. My sense of individuality and unique perspective on life began to dissolve with each news report, leaving me stuck in a dark murky morass of depression. In that seething dark blue place, I struggled to hold onto the dregs of what was left of myself. In the midst of the pandemic, however, I learned a life lesson I hope stays with me always: in the deepest darkness the creative mind continues to churn.
Once I was aware of my brain’s continuing creativity, I turned the tap to full throttle and learned to listen to it, to work with that inner voice. What I needed most was to express my own experiences and imagination, so I backed away from television and changed my reading habits, which I should have done long ago. When words began pouring out, I grabbed pen and paper, instead of the laptop, to catch and distill the nuances of those ideas. Eventually, irrational thought gave way to clarity. Producing stories again provided relief to my pent-up emotions and salvation for my sanity.
Writing in all its forms--journaling, poetry, prose, became a safe harbor during the storm as did the verbal telling of those stories. I couldn’t go anywhere in public; with an immune system dysfunction, I was mostly stuck at home no matter what. With the virus raging outside my door, I turned to a book I’d written earlier, Danger on Roan Mountain. Close revision gave it the polish I knew would make the work publishable. Romantic suspense with an environmental foundation is my favorite genre. Since this was the long-overdue sequel to Danger in Blackwater Swamp published in 2013, I began finetuning the new book to its predecessor. Once that was done, submitted, and accepted by my publisher, I realized the original book needed an update and a new cover. With time on my hands and a green light from SYP Publishing, I tackled that project, too, bringing it to completion. Then I overhauled a mid-grade dragon manuscript that I was dissatisfied with and now it’s shopping for a publisher. In other words, my petrifying brains were eager to work.
When the unrelenting pandemic raged on, I knew that to continue writing about the relationship between nature and people, I needed to be closer to it myself. In response, I turned to a lovely park near my home, spending more solitary time in nature than ever before. The result from those hours of observation came out in my writing when healing shades of blue and green touched my hungry soul. The lake, with its shimmering blue surface a reflection of the never-ending blue of the sky above, offered the peace I longed for.
Today, gratitude for every breath, though difficult to achieve at times, informs each day. I am not beguiled by a false sense of success, just grateful to have a release. In my case, writing about the pandemic from my personal perspective has offered hope. Using my imagination to push through to other worlds and better times helps me cope and prepare for a future we cannot see.
A native of north Florida, Saundra Kelley graduated from Florida State University, raised her family, and enjoyed a career in the non-profit sector for many years. During that time, she wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat and other local papers. When the notion of storytelling hit, she left the live oaks and crystal white sands of home and headed north to upper east Tennessee. There, she earned a master's degree in Applied Storytelling and Performance Art at East Tennessee State University and took to the road collecting, telling, and writing the stories she heard. Kelley's most recent book, Danger on Roan Mountain came out in 2020. Her other books include Danger in Blackwater Swamp, The Day the Mirror Cried: a collection of short stories and poetry, and Storytelling in Southern Appalachia: Interviews with Sixteen Keepers of the Oral Tradition. She is currently back home in Florida living with her family, and a Labradoodle named Winston while telling stories about her adventures in the mountains and writing yet another book in the 'Danger' series.https://saundrakelley.com/