Ivan Coyote: With COVID-19 all of our talents had been rendered irrelevant. Here’s how old, unanswered letters saved me
|Toronto Star 18 Oct 2020 at 08:10|
Everybody remembers the week it all stopped. That weird week in mid-March where the news about the virus wasn’t coming from somewhere far away anymore, suddenly it was coming from our own hospitals, our own mouths, we were all breathing on each other still, and we needed to stop.
I got a text at 9:45 p.m. on Thursday March 12th that both of my shows the next day had been cancelled. Luck and circumstance found me under Sarah’s roof that night, not in a hotel room, and I am still grateful for that. By the following Monday most of the red dots on the next three months of my calendar had evaporated, along with all my plans and my main source of income. Sarah is a songwriter and touring musician, and we found ourselves sitting on the couch next to each other, answering emails and making a long grocery list with a lead-flavoured knot growing in both of our bellies.
Both of us had spent the better part of our best years practising the craft of, buying the gear for, and logging the hours in to becoming the very best live performers we could be, and overnight, all of our talents had been rendered irrelevant in this global pandemic landscape.
Except I couldn’t. The story I was working on flips back and forth between 1985, where a small-town 19-year-old local boy goes missing from a bar one Friday night, and the present day, when his remains are finally discovered in the bush by a dog walker, just shy of 35 years after he disappeared.
I was in the groove for the 1985 parts, I was listening to “Jump” and “Born in the USA” and “When Doves Cry” on repeat for inspiration, and it was working, but my words froze in my head when I tried to write about this present day. I spent hours staring at the flashing cursor on my computer screen. I made chili. I skipped rope outside in the carport because the gyms were closed. I cleared out a corner of Sarah’s second bedroom and bought a little desk so I had my own place to work. Still. Imagining a world in this unimaginable time and place was impossible. Who could write fiction at a time like this?