The pandemic poem, defended (and what it can teach aspiring writers)

If you partake of social media, you’ve probably come across “In the Time of Pandemic,” Kitty O’Meara’s lovely imagining of a world transformed by the pandemic, for the better.

You can see the entire poem on her website, but it’s the one that begins, “And the people stayed home.”

I spoke with O’Meara recently about the poem’s genesis and what happened after it went viral: how other people claimed they wrote it, and others attributed it to a writer who lived a century ago. O’Meara, who lives in Wisconsin, is delightful: gracious, funny and thoughtful about the strange path her words took as they ricocheted around the globe.

Soon after this Q&A was published, a naysayer emerged on Twitter, suggesting that O’Meara’s take on the pandemic was too sunny, too hopeful.

I understand this. We’re all divided now, not just as Republicans or Democrats, mask wearers or not, but also in how we view the pandemic, and the effect it’s had on our lives.

If you have lost someone, or are facing financial ruin because of Covid-19, you are not dancing or playing games or making art. You are grieving, or angry, or despairing.

But most of us have not lost someone, and most of us are not facing financial ruin. For many of us, the challenges of the pandemic are much more mundane. Finding toilet paper or flour. Being unable to travel or socialize. Deciding whether it’s better to have a 17-year-old cut your bangs, or embrace the Sam Sheepdog look.

And those sorts of challenges can be overcome with a simple readjustment in thinking.

There’s a world of difference between thinking you’re “stuck at home” and thinking you’re “safe at home.”

Kitty O’Meara invites us to think differently and — if our own circumstances allow — to see this time as a gift, not something to endure.

Her journey also offers inspiration for aspiring writers.

O’Meara told me that she’s been writing all of her life, even as she worked as a teacher and chaplain. She’s been blogging on WordPress since 2011 and has written two children’s books that, in her own words, “went nowhere” even though she loved them, and they were available for awhile as e-books.

At some point, she decided not to jump through the hoops that mainstream publishing proscribes — the building of platform, the going-to of conferences and seminars, and the wooing of publishers, which all seemed too tiresome and time consuming, especially for someone working full-time, caring for a dying parent, dealing with her own health issues and, lately, rescuing dogs.

“Life always demanded more of me in terms of working,” she said.

So instead, she decided — radical as this is — to just write.

And look what happened.

If you’re an aspiring writer with talent, this may be the hopeful thing of all — that one day, in quiet, words that need a voice will find you. And maybe when you post them on Facebook, you will have a friend in Albuquerque who will be touched, who will ask if she can share them, and they will take wing and soar away, and find the people who need them.

And maybe then, your children’s book will be published, like O’Meara’s will be in the fall.

Best use of a pallet in a pandemic, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, May 2020.
Photo by Jennifer Graham

5 thoughts on “The pandemic poem, defended (and what it can teach aspiring writers)

  1. This is very kind of you, Jennifer.

    No worries about the sad person on Twitter; s/he doesn’t know me, and is struggling with issues I know nothing about.

    But I do thank you for your kindness and gifted writing; the world needs both, more than ever. We don’t know what we’re facing and climate change hasn’t gone away if/when we do get through the pandemic, but I do believe clear, empathic communication and kindness can both make a great difference for us, as can hope and working for a better world, at least what’s left of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jennifer, I hope you and your family are well. I loved reading this.  My 88 year old mother, is seeing this time as a gift rather than something to endure.Perhaps it is easier for her to return to a simple life as she was raised on a Virginia farm. This is a beautiful thought to live by- this time is a gift-  Thank you. Patty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s tricky to talk about the good parts of this, especially if you are unscathed and know people who are suffering. But if we don’t, the whole story doesn’t get told. For example, I am loving the quiet roads when I walk my dog at sunset. And I’m seeing so much less roadkill. My children do not agree with this, but I’d be perfectly happy if the world shut down at 8 perpetually.


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