“Berries from Bramble” is an annual project of the Addison Street Writer’s Circles group of writers based in (or around) Oakland. The following is an excerpt from “Berries from Bramble #11: The Pandemic Year.”
Last December, when we celebrated our tenth year together at a sumptuous pot-luck luncheon and read to each other our Berries entries for 2019, we could not have imagined the year that was about to commence.
In early February, we were excited to enter the Cal Alumni House for Kate’s
whiz-bang 90th birthday party, yet some of us noticed the flyer for a lecture on Covid-19 marked “Cancelled.”
As many of these pandemic-influenced writings show, some members suffered dread even then. Five weeks later, the university shut down.
At our last in-person meeting, my initial impulse to hug Anna, our hostess for the day. This was met by a quickly outstretched elbow, both a greeting and a warning.Was that the same meeting where I laughed uproariously (or was it hysterically?), reviewing my journals from the fall movie shoot, and disturbed the group during our writing time?
Soon, we saw the end of our collegial lunches following our writing sessions. We saw each other disappear physically. And we reconstituted ourselves in the Zoom Room. Varied in our adaptation to the technology, and with some members required to be in many Zoom meetings, we often found members leaving as soon as we finished our official time. We reluctantly cancelled our annual Retreat—in our most glamorous location yet. There was wear and tear on our nerves as we navigated the new technology, the isolation, and the larger unknowns.
The overwhelmingly inadequate response of the federal government created more anxiety, especially for those with underlying conditions, which being older, most of us have.
In the Spring, we celebrated the publication of Martina’s memoir, I’m Still Here, and attended her virtual reading events and interviews online.
As a group, we agreed we wanted to read and hear each other’s writing rather than read excerpts from others’ work, regardless of how excellent. We honed our editing skills, sent many emails with “Track Changes” attached to an individual’s pieceof-the-week. We streamlined our feed-back and commentary in our Zoom boxes to allow for more writing time.
Those who struggled with exceptional challenges made the effort to attend as much as possible. Our pre- and post-meeting gatherings became sources of support in a more vital way than before, though our hands were tied, our arms could not hug, we could not squeeze an arm or give special, directed looks.
We discovered many of us were having difficulty focusing on our writing. It was as if the noise of the pandemic broke our concentration. One technique that worked well was to return to old drafts and polish them up with the help of the group’s commentary. Another was to chronicle our days, as much of this Berries will attest. Martina’s “flash memoir” technique showed us this way to keep at writing without knowing where it would lead. We encouraged each other when we faltered, kept on despite losing our moorings.
For more, read the full issue.
Submitted by Maryly Snow on behalf of the Addison Street Writer’s Circle, Alameda County – Oakland.