Pondering the Pandemic – Guest Post by Irene Hannigan 14

Life as we knew it is over — at least for the next few weeks.

This was the first sentence in my March 15, 2020 journal entry in what happened to be the start of a new journal. Several months ago when I impulsively purchased it from an artist at a craft fair, I wondered when I’d use it. Unlike the simple spiral bound journals to which I am generally drawn, this one seemed quite out of character for me. Perhaps I considered it only fitting that, with its cheerful yellow batik-like cover and hand-stitched blank pages, it would be a perfect choice to see me through this incongruous time. I was right.

I have, in fact, maintained a journal writing practice for well over forty years. While each one has served a different purpose, depending upon my need to write, a notebook of some sort has always been my silent stable companion. Always available at a moment’s notice to listen without interrupting to my rambling recollections and random reflections, I need only to uphold my end of the conversation, which, for me, takes the form of periodic uncensored “free writes.” It is also a place where I store an eclectic collection of the quotes and poetry of others whose words resonate with me.

In recent years my journal has also been the repository for quick pen and ink sketches and “word photos” that capture my thoughts and impressions. What I wasn’t prepared for during the month of March was how often I would make an entry and how all of my entries would focus on how I was dealing with life during this unprecedented time in recent history. My March 18th word photo entitled Fruit Bowl on our Kitchen Counter was revealing.

The fruit bowl was filled with eight bananas, five apples, and two oranges. Bob starts peeling the Chiquita labels he hates off the bananas as he tells me about his failure to connect to his first Zoom class. I unconsciously join him peeling off the labels on the Gala apples. He smiles at me and says, “What we have control over.” I say, “We can work on the price tags on the wine bottles next.”

A few days later, Bob’s Suffolk classes via Zoom were proceeding with relatively few glitches. However, while we might have taken the price off a bottle of wine or two or three it was not because we were having dinner with friends. Since mid-March it’s always dinner for two at our own dining room.

Forefront in my mind during the first few days of March was how to develop strategies and routines to help me cope with this crisis. In addition to free writes, word photos, and pen and ink sketches, I also made lists such as the following one on March 21 based on tips from The New York Times.

  • Have a structure to your day.
  • Get dressed and look good.
  • Don’t binge watch TV.
  • Eat regular meals.
  • Count your blessings.
  • Take a walk.
  • Find indoor “amusements” – board games, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and other hobbies

Despite my best efforts to have a reasonable structure to each day, it was still a challenge to keep track of what day it was as revealed in my March 24 free write entry.

When will it finally occur to me that I’m not going anywhere? Today I have a writing group meeting and when I woke up I thought I’d be heading to the LCC even though I should have remembered we’d scheduled a ZOOM meeting. After taking a shower, I even picked out a sweater that would be presentable (purple one with the quilt pin) before I realized I could attend the meeting in my bathrobe and no one would know.

Another word photo entry on April 18 entitled A Snowy Saturday reinforced the challenge of keeping track of time.

The forsythia is laden with snow this morning and our picnic table is covered with at least three or four inches. Now in addition to not quite knowing what day it is, it’s going to be hard to remember what season it is especially since Bob started whistling “Winter Wonderland” as he was making his coffee.

If there is a slight silver lining to this “new life” it is the fact that I have been much more open to, and in fact thankful for, the various ways that technology has allowed us to keep in touch with family and friends.

I am getting to be a fan of FaceTime! We check in regularly with Ted and Shannon and their little pup Gardy. Yesterday we had coffee with Betsy and Drew at 1 pm after our Sunday morning brunch of waffles and sausages. (That’s how we knew it was Sunday.) At 7:30 we met with Tom and Maxine in San Diego for wine and then there’s Zoom! It’s hard to believe that we boomers have become zoomers.

And finally, this David Hollis quote found its way into my journal for safe-keeping and sums up how I am feeling as April nears its end —“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts are worth rushing back to.”

Something tells me we’re going to have a lot of time to ponder this thought.


Irene Hannigan has always made writing a part of her daily routine as a parent and educator. She is the author of Write On! How to Make Writing a Pleasurable Pastime, A Principal’s Journey: The School as My Classroom, and Off to School: A Parent’s-Eye View of the Kindergarten Year.



Note: This essay is part of Writing Through Change, a series of posts and guest articles about life and writing in unsettled times.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

14 thoughts on “Pondering the Pandemic – Guest Post by Irene Hannigan

  • Marie E. LaConte

    Your essay brought several smiles of recognition to my face. Like me, you’ve spent years writing by hand in a notebook. While I no longer use a notebook, I treasure all those years, not only as a sort of writing classroom– writing by hand naturally discourages verbosity– but now as a tactile device with which to reconnect with what I’d written.

    Technology has firmly supplanted my pen-and-paper practice, however, for all kinds of obvious reasons. Too many of us do not appreciate the positive influence of technology on our lives today. Without it, this Covid crisis could have brought even more destruction to our health and livelihoods.

    I wonder what parts of our previous “normal” will be rendered, “not worth rushing back to.” I hope the handshake is first to go.

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    I appreciate Irene’s post, especially these words: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts are worth rushing back to.” I found those words resonate with me. We’re all in unchartered waters. I’ve accepted the fact that my new reality literally is one day at a time.

    • Irene Hannigan

      I appreciate your comments Marie. I, too, turn to my trusty word processor when I’m writing an anecdote or vignette but but my pen still serves me well when journaling. I have a couple of friends, though who write everything by hand! I can’t imagine doing that.

      I have a hunch you’re right about the handshake being a practice that will be retired but I’m hoping “the hug” will still be possible…eventually!

    • Irene Hannigan

      I have that quote tacked up on a “clothesline” right above my desk and I think about it all the time. We certainly are in unchartered waters and one day at a time is the best we can do. Every now and then, though I make a list of predictions in my journal —some-short term some-long term just to remind myself. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Sara.

  • Laura Frances Zelenka

    Thank you Irene for sharing this writing. I like how you move through the early part of the pandemic in March and into a kind of hopeful recognition of the gifts of this time.

  • Georgina Mavor

    Thanks for sharing your writing Irene. We all live in such different circumstances, having very different experiences of this pandemic. I live in Perth, Australia. Our borders have been closed for months and now we live in a relatively COVID free bubble. Nothing comes in and nothing goes out. Which is showing up in the increasing closure of clothing shops and dwindling stock in larger stores. Last night, I went to the airport to pick my mother up from an internal flight. It was like a scene from a movie. Deserted. Terminals closed. Automatic doors silent and still. I totally agree with don’t binge watch TV. I have had to make a conscious effort to do something in as many moments as I can before turning it on. I am listening to podcasts I would never have considered, reading more and learning about different things. Plus, I am putting more time into my journal writing, although my progress on Amber’s 30 Days into Deeper Journaling doesn’t reflect that. Attending work via Zoom in my trakky pants is becoming a bit mundane and ironing has stopped. But it has revealed how little clothing I need. This change has uncovered so much that I took for granted as necessary. At least I still have life in which to discover. So many don’t. Thank you again for sharing. I like your idea of word photos.

    • Irene Hannigan

      Thank you for responding Georgina. This is my first experience posting on line so to think that someone who lives in Perth, Australia has connected with my words is exciting! I, too, am doing some things during this time that I’ve never done before so perhaps that’s a slight silver lining to the pandemic. You mentioned that you like my “word photo” idea. Next month I’m doing a free workshop on this topic via Zoom at our local public library. If you think you might be interested in attending, let me know and I can send you the link to register!

  • Barbara Toboni

    i just love your fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. One never knows how profound what we say will be unless we write those things down. Thanks Irene.

    • Irene Hannigan

      Thanks, Barbara. I totally agree with you. This was one of my favorite “word photos.” I’m glad you liked it, too.

  • Jeanie Miller

    I loved your very thoughtful story, and I especially liked the David Hollis quote. Indeed, what’s the rush?

    One of my favorite parts was the description of you and your husband peeling the stickers off the bananas. Hilarious. I wrote a little paragraph a long time ago about how irritating I found those little stickers and wondered, “Are they really necessary?”

    Good job!

    • Irene Hannigan

      Yes, they really are annoying! I wonder if that’s someone’s job or perhaps they are somehow put on automatically. I think I’ll consult Google!