Murder on the Metaphor Express - Umberto Tosi
|Zadie Smith: Intimations on culture and COVID|
I thought about how the pandemic affects me creatively beyond material circumstances while reading Intimations, a powerful collection of six, "shape-shifting," intimate essays about the COVID-related experiences of Zadie Smith. In this slim volume, the British born, NYU literary professor, essayist, and novelist crosses the Atlantic on the high wire of writing with grace and insight about unfolding tragedy whose conclusion remains uncertain. The brilliance with which she succeeds flashed me back to Joan Didion's 1968 breakthrough literary nonfiction essay collection on the contradictions of California hippy life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
|Joan Didion, Brooklyn Book Fest 2008|
|Earth and Moon as seen from Mars - NASA|
The writing process has always been enigmatic - the invisible examined through a microscope of metaphors. It's that or flying blind - another popular metaphor. Flannery O'Conner famously described her writing as "not knowing what I'm doing until I'm doing it."
Lately, writing has felt like another popular quarantine activity - doing jigsaw puzzles. It's been like that with my latest mystery novel. I make progress, putting pieces together then have nowhere to put them. I have jigsaw pieces of characters, storylines, settings, conflicts, and conundrums, but have little idea to fit these clusters together. Then, presto, I get some new pieces that tell me what to do next and it turns out to look right.
It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box to guide me, or more aptly, with a picture on the box that doesn't match the one taking place as I assemble the pieces, even though the pieces fit together.
Every few days, I get a package from my subconscious, or from some alien somewhere (or someone). Then nothing. Then a day or a week later, I find the next delivery package of jigsaw pieces leaning against my front door. Talk about mixing metaphors!
I've always experienced creative fits and starts. BC (Before COVID) my metaphor for writing was that of long-distance bicycling - huffing and puffing up inclines followed by breezing down the other sides. But COVID's cloistering conjures indoor imaginings - jigsaw puzzling, searching cabinets for mislaid items, like your mobile, or that bottle of aspirins.
|My space dream|
The other day I dreamed of being on a video chat with my daughters, who now live at widely scattered North American locales. It was a particularly vivid dream typical of naps. We filled our screens with laughs, everyone talking at once, as is common with our clan. Our family chat wound down. We said our goodbyes and closed our video quadrants one-by-one until only a screenshot of the night sky remained.
I didn't recognize the night sky at first. It showed the earth and moon in space, as seen from Mars, then the NASA logo, morphing into my face on a real-life gag "Starfleet" emblem that I Photoshopped for my kids years ago. And still, I did not wake up.
I had been video chatting from Mars where I found myself stationed in the dream. Like settlers who sailed the seas hundreds of years ago, it dawned on me that I would never return to my faraway homeland, nor see its people, skies, seas, cities, and mountains in person again. Tears rolled down my cheeks.
"Earthsickness," a fellow colonist told me.
I asked: "Will I get over it?"
"No," she said, "but you'll get used to it."
Then I woke up. Another COVID quarantine metaphor, I thought. But where does it fit?
Sometimes Ridiculous, Ophelia Rising, and Milagro on 34th Street. His short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. He was contributing writer to Forbes, covering the Silicon Valley 1995-2004. Prior to that, he spent eleven years as an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and its Sunday magazine, West. He was also the editor of San Francisco Magazine. He has written more than 300 articles and stories for newspapers and magazines, online and in print. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to several of its anthologies, including Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult children. He resides in Chicago. (He can be contacted at Umberto3000@gmail.com)