The Character Arc of Covid

Who are we, and what do we stand for?

As a writer, this is an important question to answer about your characters before writing a single word—the “who” and “what” is the central basis of why our characters do anything. If you don’t know the answers–you’re going to have an uphill battle in the piece you’re writing.

This is a conversation I recently had with my twelve-year-old son. At school, he’s learning about “The Hero’s Journey,” which is, by far, the most epic of all plot journeys. But my child is unimpressed. He has no urge to watch Frodo and Sam hike across Middle Earth to Mount Doom. He has even less interest in knowing the story of Katniss Everdeen. His one passion and love are comic strips–and character arc is the enemy of a good comic strip. Can you imagine Garfield deciding it is time to treat John and Odie with love and respect? Or if he went on a diet and gave up lasagna? This would mark the end of Garfield’s antics and laughter because no one tunes in to see him change. They keep reading to watch him mess up. This deep love of comic strips or slapstick driven stories makes it difficult to explain what a character arc is and why it’s crucial to story craft. So I did what I know he’ll understand the best–and I made it about him.

As in writing, so is in life. While Garfield had better never changed, I know for sure, my son will. It’s a natural character arc. He will grow up and move out, etc. But that’s too far off, so I picked something much closer: the Covid pandemic and 2020 in general.

My son and I have witnessed much in the decade+ years of his life, but there has been nothing like Covid before now. This is true for all of humankind.

We’ve been hit with an event so large, we’re simultaneously being forced through the grinder of life. In short, we have to learn, adapt, and grow to archive and survive. Early this month, LA Magazine published an article stating that “According to 28 American and British historians surveyed by virtual therapy company Bloom, 2020 was one of the most stressful years in history. The historians ranked this year among the top ten most stressful both in U.S. and world history, just below years marred by tragedies such as the American Civil War, the Black Death, the Holocaust, and the sack of Rome.” After each of these events, came great change.

This extraordinary time has forced us to twist, bend, mold, and shove ourselves into new versions of our old lives. Our jobs have changedOur schools have gone online. How we socialize is entirely different, from staying connected with friends and family to meet that “special someone” it’s not like it used to be–even a little. At the same time, divorce is on the rise, “For some couples, pandemic friction has involved a few more fights about the laundry or the savings account. For others, the lockdown has exposed issues that run deeper and offered ample time for reflection, leaving them to wonder about their options for pursuing separation during the pandemic.” We’ve seen those we love get sick and die. We’ve seen chaos. We’ve been abandoned. We’ve been picked back up. It’s been a nonstop roller coaster for going on a year here in America–and the rest of the world.

So, of all the things we may never have in common–we have this. We have Covid-19, and we have how Covid-19 has changed us. We have grown as people. In great depths, we have learned if our relationships with ourselves, our partners, our friends, our families are the real deal. Will they last? Are the bonds we’ve cultivated strong enough to keep us together? And we have learned if it’s time to sever ties and move on.

I am barely scratching the surface with my examples. But no matter who you are, I’m certain you have had a major character arc in your life story. I can say this with certainty: We are not now, nor will we ever be who we were before 2020 and Covid-19. Even if you thought your life was fine how it was, you have grown, you have changed, and you are no You 2.0.

After speaking with my son, I asked this question on Facebook, “What has been your Covid-19 story arc?” and only received one reply–so I’ll accept that maybe we aren’t ready to divulge such a personal answer publicly. Or, maybe you haven’t thought about it, but I’m telling you, you should.

What is your arc? How have you changed? How has the Covid pandemic touched you? As I used this example with my son, I saw a light bulb flip on. From something as simple as, “I’m a foot taller than I was before Covid,” to something more emotional, “I’ve learned it’s hard to be so isolated,” we all have a story to tell.

If you’re a writer, self-examination is a fantastic way to learn who you are as a writer and who your characters are. Yes, you should read, read, read, and you should write, write, write–but taking a moment to be introspective about who you are, what your journey has been, how you have changed–and what emotions were involved will also help you grow in your craft.

If there is one positive thing you can take from 2020, Covid-19, and what it has done to us as a global society, it’s using this time to know who you are, what you want, and why you want it. These things can unite us and help us grow stronger, and if you nail a perfect Character Arc in the process, good job you.

And if you don’t want to–Garfield hasn’t changed much since 1978. It’s okay if you haven’t either.

January 6, 2021

Today is a sad day. Today we watched a group of homegrown terrorists converge on the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in an attempted coup demanding Donald Trump be rewarded a second term as President–even after he lost by both popular and electoral vote.

Today is a sad day for our history and our democracy. The day a small faction of extremists decide what they wanted is now, as it has always been, more important than the country as a whole.

The people spoke in November of 2020. They also spoke in Georgia yesterday, January 5th. In a collective voice, they shouted–we are done with this. We are sick of a government more interested in raising their personal bottom line than doing their jobs and helping the people. They said we no longer want to be part of a government that thinks $2000 is a socialist extravagance–when in reality–it barely covers rent in someplace.
The citizens of the United States loudly said, “We want change!” And we got it.

Then, today–January 6th, 2021–those who called us “snowflakes” and “losers” took up arms to what? Kill someone I guess… They showed up chanting and complaining: the type of behavior associated with children who have never been told no.

Since November, when it was made clear Joseph Biden would be our next President of the United States–those in Congress now complaining and contesting the election results could have done many things to get the people on their side. They could have help sped up the creation and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. They could have helped rally to get much needed financial aid to their constituents. They did none of this. They left us for dead, and now their lack of character has led to what we witnessed today.

As of this moment, thirteen people have been arrested and five weapons have been recovered from the mass of humans staging the coup–but we all know more arrests need to take place–even though they won’t–and more weapons will be found if these insurgences were charged with the full weight of the law.

In the end, it will always remain, today is a bitter sweet day in American History. Georgia changed history and the illness of hate that plagues this country lashed out against.

Today, is a sad, sad day, because democracy was ignored for personal gain and America wasn’t America any more. In closing, to quote President-Elect Joseph Biden, “At their best, the words of a President can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for inspiration.

Say No to NYE Resolutions!!

Hey, friends! Let’s make a pact that this New Year’s Eve that we won’t make any resolutions. Maybe you want to set a goal. Fine. 

Maybe you like a good vision board to keep you on your path. I get it.

But no New Year’s Resolutions. 

Planning: yes! 

Organizing: for sure! 

None of this wishful thinking and acting like January 1st is a gene’s bottle containing the power to grant you that one wish you’ve always wanted to come true.

Turns out: nothing changes on New Year’s Day. If you want to invite change into your life, you’re going to have to do the work all by yourself.

And you know what else? That is okay!

Please don’t let this post depress you. I’m not saying you can’t create change in your life. I very much believe you (and I) can and will. While the flip of a calendar date does not guarantee general progress and substantial life changes, both are obtainable. Just not by placing all your eggs into the New Year’s Eve Resolution Basket, but by understanding that every single day of the calendar year holds the same potential and magic as January 1st. 

Usually, I wouldn’t even comment on New Year’s Resolutions or suggest you should or should not do something—but this year is different. 2020 was a lot. It has been a constant battle on all fronts, from the pandemic to job loss, and an election that was an emotional battle comparable only to being stalked by a hungry tiger. We’re all tired. 

But know, some good things to ignite in 2020. Firstly, the protests come to mind and the marches. 2020 was the dawning of a new generation that accepts Black Lives Matter as a movement, not merely a dismissable moment. We have removed racist statues across America. The plight of Transgender people has been brought to the forefront — bringing awareness and acceptance with it.

What else? Oh! The Earth can breathe more comfortably, with the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere dropped 17% during the pandemic. I know March 2020 feels like twelve lifetimes ago—but remember as we ran around scared and collected toilet paper like it was the 1990’s and toilet paper was beanie babies—but dolphins swam in the canals of Venice, Italy. The FIRST TIME in sixty years. 

See! It hasn’t been all bad. So let’s not go over board and act like you fail in 2020, and now you have not choice but to punish yourself 2021. Say NO to NYE Resolutions. 

Let’s not pretend this year is the same as any other New Year’s Day. Let’s not set unattainable goals for weight loss. Everyone has gained weight over the last year. How could we not? We’ve been sitting home, eating all day long, watching every single last show on Netflix. But this is not a reason or cause to body shame ourselves into believing the mega-million dollar diet industry is something more than just that: an industry.

I’ve joked with family and friends that over the last nine months, I’ve gained “the Covid 19.” 19 lbs on my hips and midsection sit like a Covid Life Preserver to remind me that I’m less active daily. I’m eating more. I’m sleeping less. 

When is it okay or give yourself a break? Answer: this very second. 

Maybe you’ve been looking for a sign that it is okay not to have a New Year’s resolution. This is that sign! DON’T DO IT! 

Like I said, set a goal. “In 2021, I’d like to tell myself I’m beautiful, every day, and mean it!” But let’s leave all those hurtful resolutions to dissolve with the last seconds in this long year.

Today is December 30th. Take some time to write a list of positive things that have happened to you:

  • I read (number) books
  • I learned to cook
  • I gave up drinking
  • I began a new job

Write a list of things that make you proud of yourself. Tape the list to a wall. Add to it daily.

And if you feel you need to disregard this post—fine—but don’t spend your New Year’s Eve resolution on putting yourself down, shaming yourself, hating yourself. Pick something glorious!! New Year’s Eve resolution is to learn to fly a plane!

Please remember when you are saying those mean things to yourself: The world isn’t a melting pot, it’s a stir-fry, and each of us is the spices that make it unique. You are amazing. Stop saying those things! Stop.

While you may dismiss this post, please consider joining my pact: No More New Year’s Eve Resolutions. Then look yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m a sexy beast!” kiss yourself on the glass, and be happy — because you’re a survivor. 

If 2020 has taught you nothing, let it teach you that. 

Life. The Universe. And COVID-19.

Back in the ’90s, if you would have told me I’d live through a plague, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have said, “You’re crazy!” shook my head, assumed you were trying to pull a fast one and sighed audibly at your attempt. A decade before that, somewhere in the ’80s, you would have received a better response if you told me the same. Growing up, I was a good catholic girl and had read about plenty of plagues. There were locusts and water that turned to blood, frogs fell from the sky, flies, boils, and hail, to name a few. So, if you said, “Aryn, one day, you’ll live through an honest to God plague!” I would have conjured an image of Moses or God or some other biblical entity and been like, “That’s totally awesome!”

Because even in the bible–plagues are sexy. 

Now, if you weren’t raised reading the Catholic Bible, or any religious books at all, you’re still not ignorant to plagues. You’ve heard of the Black Death. Also a sexy plague. Sexy because it didn’t happen to you. Sexy in a “Man, why were they so dumb? I’m smarter than that!” way. Then, you would think about the Spanish Flu.1918. End of World War I. Also sexy, in a “that’s crazy” kind of way. 

And now, in 2020, here we are in the middle of a plague–and you know what? It’s not sexy in any way at all. However, it may be sexist or racists, depending on who you are. But for everyone, it is mostly depressing.

Even with my love of history and a general understanding of how cyclical it is, I attached myself to the idea that something like a plague could never happen to me. Still, I’ll give myself, and all of you, a pass for not predicting the last, nearly ten months of pandemic bliss on planet earth.

But! And this is a big but, while I can give us all a collective pass on not anticipating a global pandemic of this magnitude in our lifetime, I’m having a hard time giving a pass for how humanity has dealt with it. 

Since March 13th, I have lost my job and been at home with minimal to no venturing outside. If you know me personally, you’ll have a general understanding of how hard this is for me. In the pre-COVID world, I planned my child’s life around his school breaks to include so many day trips, we’re out in the world more than we’re stuck in our apartment. As this plague pulls longer and longer, and the number of times I’ve had to explain to him that COVID-19 is not my personal doing and I’m not intentionally keeping him at home out of punishment for something he said/did is wearing on me, heart and soul. 

Since the beginning, I have spent my days playing schoolmarm, being a best friend, a play companion, a parent, and a cook to a twelve-year-old who ended fifth grade in quarantine and started middle school–at a new school–the same way. In between those moments, I squeezed in workouts, chatted up people on social media, joined a writing critique group, and worked on writing projects and pieces via google drive–because it’s easier to use a platform I can seamlessly jump from device to device. I’ve grown accustomed to drinking too much coffee during the day, too much alcohol at night, and then sleeping too little after that because, as it turns out–none of this is sexy. I have remained inside my apartment nearly all day, every day, for 289 days. When I do go out, I wear my mask, even when I’m jogging. If I’m at the grocery store, I wear latex gloves to be extra safe. 

Some days I’m so crabby I turn off all devices and do nothing but the mom bit. Other days I cuddle my dog and listen to music. The Gods created headphones for this very thing. 

To put it plainly, I am tired. Still, I remind myself I am fortunate. 

I’ve watched the rise of domestic violence in our country; the proof is in police blogs and daily newspapers listed as “murder-suicides.” (Rise in child abuse and abandonment as well.) I’ve monitored how the opioid crisis no one seems to talk about anymore is also taking more and more lives during this time of isolation. Then there is the massive hike in homelessness not only in Los Angeles but across the country as a whole, on top of suicide rates topping the charts. 

I know I am lucky, even if that luck does feel more like survivor’s guilt, the longer this plague continues. Antsy. Tired. Angry. I stay in quarantine to ensure the safety of my family and of those who can’t stay home because they’re essential workers.  

Then I see all the people who don’t stay at home. Those who go to parties and are traveling from one state to another. The people who are hosting picnics and barbeques for birthdays and graduation. And all those who refuse to wear their masks because they believe rantings on Facebook over scientific data. Then, I get angry. 

While I use the word lucky attached to my life, it hasn’t been easy. None of this is easy for any of us. The only difference is how we deal with it. That is the part I’m having issues forgiving. Out one side of everyone’s mouths, we cry for this pandemic to end, and then out the other side, we have that choice to do something about it: stay home or go out.

Back in the ’90s, if you’d known and told me about COVID-19, I wouldn’t have believed you. Right now, as I live through COVID-19 day in and out, I believe every word of it. I also think I’ve had the wrong picture of humanity wedged in my brain all of my life. I embraced the term, “Avoid it like the plague,” not realizing that people would say no when it happened. “I’ll be careful.” “It can’t touch me.” “But, it’s the holidays.” Through all of this, I have learned that we have come to sacrifice community wellness for individual comforts. This idea of embracing ourselves over society has happened for such a long time we can no longer see humankind as part of a global neighborhood. We no longer can accept that sometimes we should do what’s right for everyone–even if the immediate benefits isn’t our own. 

The next leg of this plague for me, I will be working through all this because I don’t want to live in a world where people pick the selfishness of a single moment over kindness for longevity. I’d rather be part of a world where we tip essential workers; we miss this holiday so we can be together at the next one; we believe scientists and doctors, so this pandemic ends. 

So, maybe I didn’t know what 2020 had in store for the world, but I have always believed it’s best to give humankind the benefit of the doubt. So, while I juggle with these emotions, please, be safe, wear a mask, stay home as much as you can. Know, you’re not alone in this. We’ve made it nine months; we can be strong a little longer. 

2 + 2 = Dizzy

It has been 9 months since I lost my job and have been home, every single day.

That’s 268 days of me trying to figure out how to use this “down time” to work on writing. Sad reality is… there is now “down time.”

Yet, here I am, 6432 hours into something that was supposed to last “three weeks.”

385,920 minutes of a situation so repetitive I feel I shouldn’t be moving forward–maybe I’m not moving forward–maybe I’m just spinning in circles. I’ve become a broken clock that twirls on a pin attacked to a cog that isn’t touching anything else.

Well, damn. I guess that’s a top. I am a top.

Yes, sirs and ma’ams, theys and thems — 23,155,200 seconds of me going round and round and round and round… no wonder I’m so damn dizzy.

The world is a blur that has lost its color, pigment drained from the thick black lines outlining what I’d come to perceive as my reality. I’ve found myself missing something I wasn’t sure I liked in the first place–but it’s is the something I knew, the something that was comfortable.

Spinning isn’t comfortable.

Especially without color.

Now, if you’re wondering what is the point of this post? I supposed it’s me sharing with you that I’m not okay. I’m just okay enough. I would say I’m fine but that’s a complete lie and I could say I’m terrible, but it’s not that bad. It’s just the spinning.

One day I hope to post about writing (because I’m still writing) or about books I’m reading (because I’m reading two at this moment — one by Nico Walker and the other by Joe Hill.) Words form in my head to describe them to me but not in my mouth to describe them to you.

Guess I’ll just keep on spinning and hope when I fall the couch is at my side, and I tip in the right direction. Until then, this is me saying, if you’re not okay, you welcome to be not okay with me–we can be not okay together. Until we’re all okay again.

Best,

AS

Art in the time of Covid

This topic was presented to me the other day. If I’m honest, this topic has been tossed my way on more than one occasion since March of 2020. How do you create when the world feels as if it’s crumbling around you? So, I thought I’d write about it.


The real question is: How do you do anything outside of running the motions of day to day survival?


If you do a google search, myriad posts with resources, tips, and tricks to get you back at it, bullet points on what to write about, and on and on will pop up. But do they actually provide answers? I guess. They say something — I didn’t find any of them helpful. Mostly I found them to create more anxiety.
So I ignored them.


For me, these last eight months have been an emotional roller coaster in every aspect of my life. Like so many others, I lost my job. For the first time in all of my years of working, I applied for unemployment. My son no longer goes to school. His last year of fifth grade was meant to end in fanfare with a send-off celebration and a special yearbook (that he never received); instead, it ended in tears. My husband has been working from home. Gone are the days of teaching yoga. Gone are the days of writing at 5am Writers Clubs — because I can’t get out of bed. Gone are my morning/afternoons of writing, plotting, editing, researching — basically being a writer.


The life I had was lost.


Then all the internal changes began. Did I even want the life I had? Did that life make me happy? Was I running through the motions back then, or am I now — or am I running through the motions of my life in general?


It was a real-time Waking Life — Existential — I got drunk/high for the first time and saw god in the broken tail light of my best friends Buick — crisis; but now, I was having it as an adult, sober, while doing a YouTube HIIT class in the small space between the end of my bed and the wall.

Do I really miss the students who go above and beyond to correct me while I’m teaching? Nope. Do I miss being in traffic? Nope. Do I miss carving up my writing time to construct classes? Nope. Do I miss my seniors? Yes. Because they’re fun. 80-year-olds are fun. If you disagree, you need to talk to more 80-year-olds.


My exercise routine went from 2-3 times a week to 2-3 times a day. My best days are a solid 1.5-2 hours stretches. This is when I have my most significant “moments.” This is when I can think without interruptions.


This was when I had my “how to create art during a pandemic” moment. It went a little like this:


I’ve been writing for my whole life — but I have always found a reason not to write. Pre-child, it was because I was socializing too much. Post child it was because of the child — and I still was socializing too much. Then we moved to Los Angeles, and my first round of isolation began. 2011.


This was my first time genuinely dealing with isolation — the only human contact I had for more than a couple hours at the beginning and end of the day was my 3-year-old. This isolation lasted nearly three years until he started Kindergarten. Then, his isolation ended. Mine lingered.
Because after three years of living inside your own head — it’s really, really hard to get out. (I learned to hate myself on levels I didn’t know existed. I was never good enough. I was never smart enough. I was never skinny enough. Fun enough. Witty enough. Never watched the right shows/tv. Never read the right books/poems/essays. Never.)

Most of 2018 & 2019 were spent fixing all of those Nevers. Then Covid hit — but Now I knew better.


Those three+ years are what I reference as an emotional gauge during this time of Covid. I watched myself shrivel into prune of my old self the last time around — as I lost total confidence in who I was and what I wanted — I kept a journal (mental and physical) documenting this dive into the underworld of my brain. Now, I refer back to those moments so I don’t do that again. Now, I know there is another end of the tunnel — because I walked through it before.

These bits of knowledge have kept me from totally drowning this time around. Also, one thing that is majorly different during this period of isolation is, I know I’m not alone in it. It’s more challenging to accept isolation when others are so free and moving around. During Covid I know in my cells we’re all in this shit-show together.


I am not alone.
You are not alone.


But how does any of that help you create? It doesn’t.
Are there ways to help you create? I’ve found two:

1 – You must grieve. All of the steps. You need to cry. You need to get angry. You need to accept you can’t change things. You have to let go. You have to move on. Until you can move on – you need to repeat the steps. You need to GRIEVE. Completely. Totally. 100%. Cry. Cry until you can’t any more. Then cry again.

2 – You need to accept that without control — all you can do is be. Be in this moment. Think about the things you would normally not think about. How things piss you off. What things trigger you. When do you do your best creating?

There is no contest or competition. The only person you’re competing against is yourself. And, this is a big one, if you still can’t create — it doesn’t matter. You’re still an artist. You’re still a creator. You’re still you. We all have our own process at writing, creating, living, being — honor it. Embrace it.

So, back to the top: How do you do anything outside of running the motions of day to day survival? You breathe. You live in this moment, not one from last year, not one that might be in your future–you embrace the heck of RIGHT NOW. And if you end up writing — good job you!! And if you don’t — good job you! Because you’ve made it this far. You’ll make it farther. I promise. You’re not alone.

xo-AS