by Janis Patterson
I don’t know about you, but right now I don’t know if I’m on my head or my heels. I didn’t realize The Husband and I did so many things, had so many meetings, went to so many organizations until they started cancelling one after the other like a cascade of dominoes. A simple trip to the grocery store became a frustrating expedition, where the shelves were empty and the store hideously crowded with people. I spent two days and many stores getting sufficient supplies for some elderly (90+ years old) members of our family, an exercise that was annoying and time-consuming. Some of the overreactions of the shoppers could almost be regarded as amusing – as in two grown men fighting over a package of toilet tissue.
Then today (I’m writing this on Monday evening) everything doubled, trebled, then went right off the ‘scary weirdness’ chart. Our mayor announced at 5 pm that beginning at midnight all bars and restaurants would be closed except for car-side delivery takeout – no dine-in allowed. Not only that, but our school district is closed. No restaurants, no schools, no… I have no idea what’s going to be forbidden next. They even canceled the iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade, for Heaven’s sake!
I am not going to touch on politics, but I’m of two minds about the way this situation is being handled. Yes, this virus is serious, but is it enough of a threat for such draconian measures? I don’t remember this much hysteria for the H1N1 (aka swine) flu a couple of years ago. We cannot just do nothing, so we must do something, but are we doing too much?
For example, I fear that a lot of restaurants and small businesses – which operate on narrow margins in the best of times – will fold permanently with an extended enforced closing. Worse, their employees – most of whom work for minimum wage and live paycheck-to-paycheck – will suffer almost immediately. One of my restauranteur friends is providing bags of rice and beans for his employees – boring fare, but nutritious, and at least they will be able to eat. And my worries are not limited only to food service workers or small store clerks. Far too many people in our society have nothing put by for a rainy day and are dependent on receiving a regular paycheck. Now it seems the monsoon is about to rage around us and it’s too late for many to prepare.
And there are other, less immediate but more personal casualties. Next month I was to go to the American Research Center in Egypt International Conference in Toronto where, in a first for both ARCE and me, naming rights for three characters in a novel I would write especially for ARCE would be auctioned off as a fund raiser. The international publicity had already started when – because of the coronavirus – the conference was cancelled. The auction… who knows? It’s dead at the moment. There is always next year, but by next year it will be old news, all novelty gone, and who knows what will happen between now and then? Even if it comes back next year, it can never be the same. This could have been a breakout for me, and I grieve for its loss.
We must realize, though, that it is indeed an ill wind that blows no one good. Bars and restaurants are closed. Schools are closed. In many places gatherings of more than 50 people are forbidden. Social interaction (in person, at least) is discouraged. People are going to be pretty much stuck at home. So what are they going to do? You can only watch so much tv, play so many board games, do so many chores. What’s left, that will entertain and yet not expose you to the dangers of public places? Books. Especially ebooks, which can be ordered over the internet, meaning more sales for more authors. In the long run, perhaps something good can come from all this. If it is allowed – Amazon has already announced that it is focusing on immediately need supplies such as food and medicine, and that books are way down on their priorities. We can only hope they mean physical paper books and not electronic ones, which shouldn’t present any shipping difficulties. It is Amazon, though, so who knows?
However – to drag this subject kicking and screaming back to the writing of mysteries – it’s a rare situation that a writer can’t use in some fashion. Just think of all the plots that can spring out of this flirtation with real-life dystopia. In a few months I predict a flood of books with plots that can be traced back to our current situation.
I just wish they were fiction.