On March 18, a couple days after we were asked to stay home in the Washington, D.C. area, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. It was a familiar feeling, sent along neural pathways well-traveled from a challenging childhood. Instinctively, I grabbed for the coping mechanism as comforting to me as my dog-eared books, notes scrawled in the margins.
Stories. I sent an email:
We have all been handed some lemons. I am wondering if we want to make Literary Lemonade with a virtual book club. Obviously, going to the library won’t work, so we would have to purchase books online—or pick something off our shelves we’ve been meaning to read. I was thinking it would be monthly, and for couples, so we also can get a date night, share a glass of wine or tea with friends, and not talk about coronavirus. We can be as creative with themes and discussions as we want, and just have good, old fashioned, intellectual fun. And, if you’re in a profession where you will be more busy now, not less, and it all feels like too much, that’s okay, too."
Our first meeting was April 23. We talked a great deal about our chosen book, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, which centers around a group of high school acting students. We discussed the nature of “emotional truth” versus fact, the impact of “voice" on a narrative, #MeToo moments, and Chekov’s Gun. Mostly, we Zoomed for a few hours and laughed and drank wine and felt kind of human.
I'm looking forward to our next meeting. And I'm grateful for story's ability to remove me from the present and present me with a new reality. I've returned recently to some treasured books for a second or tenth read, like Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, among others. At a friend's suggestion, I've also started reading Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize winner by Richard Powers, in conjunction with The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, while sheltering under the generous maple in my backyard.
Good literature offers protagonists and antagonists who are facing obstacles as daunting and real and specific as ours. And, thank goodness, not the same as ours. Growing up, when things went sideways, you could find me horizontal, submerged in a story. Whether of my own making or in a book, the stories allowed me to sink below the surface of this life into a new world, breathing in, as if breathing underwater, the colors, countries, characters, and creatures that inhabited it. All in the shape of words.
Today, I tell stories for a living. Speeches and short stories, messaging documents and manuscripts, editorials and essays. If your company needs some help making lemonade at this difficult time, AWC is here. That's what we do with lemons.
Be safe and well,
Alyson Gold Weinberg