Walking the Distance: Dan L. Walker

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. Dan L. Walker provides today’s prose and photograph.

I Can’t Not Look

Since the middle of March I have tried to write about my experiences with the Covid spring, but my writing is weak, stuttering, incomplete. I have tried several times but I keep repeating the drole news I’ve ingested or scribing flat platitudes about isolation, fear, and family. What new can I say about the pandemic-hunkered-down-covid-virus-social-distancing-mandate we all are experiencing?

I have read that animals react to threat in three ways, freeze, flee, or fight. We have been asked to freeze at home, and flee large groups while some brave souls fight. If I freeze at home the pestilence may pass me by, and if I run from hotbeds of contagion I might be safe, but the threat is still there, and I have discovered another reaction to it. Avoidance. I avoid writing about this time just as I avoid people, not because they might carry the virus but because they might carry conversation about the virus, the pandemic, the mandates, the death and disease. I avoid the news in favor of music —Alexa, play some Waylon Jennings; I avoid updates and watch movies; I avoid the reports and hide in fiction.

I realize now that this stalled output is my reaction. I don’t want to engage this topic. Instead I want to escape it. I want to write my fiction and let the problems of my main character and his pregnant girlfriend take the forefront of my consciousness. I want to cut firewood for next winter; stack, sweat, calculate cordage, and sharpen my chainsaw. I want to walk in the woods and along the ocean with my dogs while they follow their noses from one scent to the next obvious to the tensions around them.

But I can’t hold that focus. I can’t not look. Each day, my eyes follow the topic like a driver passing a roadkill moose, intrigued by the carnage. How can I sit in an air raid shelter during a bombardment and not imagine the planes silhouetted against clouds and wonder where the bombs are falling.

Dan Walker is the author of Secondhand Summer and Letters from Happy Valley and is currently hunkered down at Bear Lake north of Seward.

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