“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 Julie Harper
"It's not surprising," says my 16-year-old son,"People just haven't been paying attention."
We are watching the lake, and little waves are rippling in, and the sun is shining enough that I have to hold my hand above my eyes. I breathe the lake-cooled air in and out, and it doesn't feel like a disaster.
"This is what is supposed to happen. There are too many people." He speaks like a scientist, a pragmatist. I remember coming to the lake with my dad and my uncle, a man who asked, sincerely, if there were sharks in Lake Erie.
"Avoiding each other is stupid. We will all get it eventually anyway."
He is scrolling through something on his phone.
"Have you seen what it looks like in Venice? How clear the water is? You can see fish."
I have seen the pictures of now-empty Venice. It looks clean and artificial, like a movie set. When I was 16, I went to Paris, expecting it to look like a photograph. It was crowded and dirty and smelled like piss. I ask him if he saw the other pictures from Italy; the army trucks, the bodies wrapped in plastic.
"Nah. Did you see the people that came out on their balconies to sing?"
There are little plastic tips from cigars caught up in the pebbles near the shore. I feel stupid with my hand shading my eyes now because all of a sudden it is gray, and the wind has picked up. A big wave pops up and grabs the yellowed bits of plastic, carrying them away, lapping at my son's bare toes. To me, all of this is surprising. He doesn't even flinch.