There was no post on Saturday, because on Friday, for the first time in over two months, I went into the bookstore. I therefore did not write on Friday, which meant I wrote on Saturday instead.
I was asked to come in because “the shelves are a disaster”, and as there’s only been two people in the store — the owner and the full-timer — for the two weeks, I considered it relatively safe, and on Fridays, there’s only one person in the store otherwise.
Two of our distributors are sending only full cartons of books, which works for some new releases, but means we’re not getting backlist for those two distributors. They are doing this to cut down on actual handling of books; in order to send us two of a title, they have to open boxes, handle everything, pack everything. So: I won’t complain, because I understand the reasons. I will say I’m grateful for those who are taking the more risky option of simply fulfilling the orders they receive.
But we’ve been doing mail orders and curb-side pick-up during the interim, and our customers have been fabulous – they’ve been ordering on-line, or phoning in orders, and paying remotely; we only have to open the door and hand them their books, or alternately, package their books and send them off in the mail.
And as it’s pretty much one person responsible for doing all of that, shelving — when there’s no customers to actually see the shelves — is not a high priority.
In Ontario, a tentative phase one for reopening the province is scheduled to start Tuesday (today being Victoria day, which is a national holiday). Some discussion has been taking place about what our store will do. Bakka is not yet equipped with the large plexiglass shields that many retail stores have adopted in order to separate customers from staff, and to be frank, nothing with regards to covid-19 has changed. While testing in Ontario has gone up, the testing/tracking paradigm can’t really be followed as it has been in South Korea. Whole grocery stores have been shut down as the frontline staff there catch covid-19; in one store, I believe 20 people tested positive after the first case was noted. Grocery stores are one of the few places in which lots of people are allowed to gather — and with good reason, because we all need to eat. But it’s clear that the staff are exposed, constantly, to people who simply come in to the store and shop, and that some of those shoppers will be contagious.
Ontario hospitals were never overwhelmed in the way Italian or NY hospitals were. The point of staying home was to make sure that didn’t happen. Doctors in war zones are accustomed to a brutal triage system. Doctors in city hospitals are not. There’s a reason that suicide among doctors is much higher than other professions, and having people trained to save lives forced to choose which people live or die would be soul destroying. So: this did not happen in Ontario.
But… reopening now isn’t about whether or not covid-19 is gone. It is obviously not gone. It’s about keeping the numbers low enough that the hospitals can treat everyone, attempt to save every life. It’s about opening the hospitals up so that people with other medical conditions – cancer, heart problems, things that will also kill – can be treated once again. And it’s about opening up so that the engine of our economy can start to sputter fitfully to life. Because our government has been good about financial aid — to workers, to businesses — but that money is going to run out, and if there’s no money coming in…
I’ve been thinking a lot about this (probably too much, but, well, Writer Brain). The only observable paradigm that seems to have worked or seems to be working is the broad, instant testing, contact tracing, and quarantining those who are positive. And as we simply aren’t in that position in Ontario (I can’t speak for the rest of Canada), I have mixed feelings. Ontario’s new case numbers have never dropped to anything approaching zero on a daily basis; they’ve gone down but slowly and steadily. And while testing has gone up, contract tracing has remained low.
Some of the eastern provinces have instituted a policy to enlarge shelter “bubbles”; to link, say, two households together, so that while they follow social distancing and telecommuting, they are allowed to spend actual social time with each other. I would…dearly like that for Ontario, but that’s not part of the phase 1 reopening schedule.
I am continuing to write, of course. I had a tricky week in which I finally accepted that my clever reveal plan was … just not going to happen. The events will happen, but — there will be no cleverness or surprise surrounding them because I cannot stage things to save my life.
I have always loved the big surprises, the ones in which you look at a book in a different way because of the reveal. Sometimes they don’t work; sometimes the clues or the hints are so obvious it falls flat. But some authors can do it so well it’s hugely emotionally moving.
However… in order to structure an arc this way (it’s a specific arc, not an entire book), I have to… stay outside of the character’s head, remain mostly remote from the character’s history. And I can’t. I had hopes, I had plans, but… I can’t. So, that was a bit disappointing. (Writers out there understand that a “bit disappointing” is code for weeping and wailing and doubting one’s own competence and also threatening to throw the computer off the back porch.) But once I accepted that, the book opened up almost instantly and writing became less of a struggle.
So: I want to talk a bit about that mystical thing called writer’s block. I will not say it doesn’t exist; I’ve had periods where I sit in front of the computer and write the same paragraph over and over again while bouncing off the wall the book has become. (And panicking because OMG DEADLINES. Ahem.)
But because I’ve written almost forty novels now, I’ve come to recognize a certain pattern. When I’m hitting a wall it’s almost always because I’ve done something wrong earlier in the book. Something that my subconscious understands is not good for the book; something that lets me know the book I’m consciously trying to write is not the actual book I’m writing.
If I could do this instantly, I would have far, far fewer “restart this from page 1” events in my writing life.
For me, periods of blockage are almost always representative of that subconscious/conscious struggle — and once I understand, I can once again start to write normally.
This was only a week of me rewriting the same several pages, rather than a “burn this down” — but I’m kicking myself because the constant attempt to write chapter one should have made clear what the problem was once I finally had a chapter one =/.
The Cast book, on the other hand, did not try to murder me, just slip a banana peel under my feet. So, at least there’s that.
And in household news, we are all still alive. None of my family has caught covid-19. No one has attempted to murder anyone else in frustration because we can’t escape each other. If the store remains mostly closed to walk-in traffic, I’ll probably continue to go into work on Friday because I only managed to get through a third of the store. And also, can I just say that the five hours spent on my feet and shelving caused my legs to ache for two days after, because apparently I haven’t been doing any squats and shelving (under stock is the bottom shelf) requires a lot of it?
How is everyone else? Are you in a state or province that is phasing in reopening?