“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," wrote T.S. Eliot. To help make productive use of our self-isolation and social distancing, Lit Cleveland is offering free writing challenges each week via our newsletter. The following piece is a response to the Negative Definition prompt.
by Kevin Tasker
At first, it seemed to him that in the time after the virus, life had come undone. As if the order of Before had vanished. Absence of car horns. Of parties. Absence of live performance.There was only stillness, lack, words spoken without a recipient.
It took days to come to the truth. To understand that this was not a time to reflect on what peace might be like at some future date when the quarantine was over. When the living space of his city refilled itself.
He understood that the capacity for peace, inside and out, had not been taken away from him, just as the cardinals had not been asked to cease their singing and the squirrels had not been asked to stop cavorting under the oaks lining the block where he lived.
Just as people he saw on the street each day, advised to distance themselves six feet—as if they had been buried—were not, in fact, inside the earth, but free to walk, to live, to feel the sun on their faces atop it.
And they had not been forbidden to talk, to hear, to be engaged with one another. The stillness had not outlawed the soul-craft birthed out of dial tones. Every night the halls of his apartment building echoing with bleary human laughter, with unspooling stories. Online, he watched videos, read beautiful words, in awe of what people were creating. He texted and talked, his phone hot at his head, until it felt like others were here in the room with him.
And he knew that this was not the end of what had come before it. He could see this, looking at the buildings of their city that were not entirely dark, not entirely empty, merely opening themselves in different ways, through side doors, through windows, their warm orange light spilling into alleys as people who refused to surrender found ways to go on: selling sweet, foaming beer and savory pastries because they needed to, because their city needed it.
And no one looking at each other from the six feet of space formerly reserved for bodies at rest saw the distance. They saw another live performer, still at work, thinking and emoting. A person capable of so much, despite the space, despite the desensitizing stillness.
The truth was that on this day, life was made larger by what they’d been asked to give away. What was left, all that was left, was theirs to endlessly savor.