Pieces of the pandemic

Monologues from Island writers illustrate how COVID changed it all.

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The newly published book “Covid Monologues MV: Readings to Nourish, Inspire, & Connect” brings home the idea that it takes a village to survive a pandemic.

The book is just part of editors Jennifer L. Knight and Moira Convey Silva’s collaboration on what became a multipart community arts project that included live and virtual readings, dramatic workshops, and a student-centered monologue experience. The moving anthology is guaranteed to bring tears, laughter, and nods of recognition of its more than 70 poignant monologues by Island writers, ages 10 to 82, spanning March 2020 to November 2021.There is a book signing with the authors planned at the West Tisbury library on Jan. 29. 

Some pieces in the anthology capture the immediacy of those early days of sheltering in place and the initial shock of living in uncertainty — when going to shop for groceries was a scary adventure, baking was rampant, learning to “unmute” was novel, endless Island walks relieved initial cabin fever, and remembering to don your mask on every outing was new. One participant in the project, Emily Cavanagh, reflects on the all-too-familiar initial period: “When I wore a mask for the first time to the grocery store and felt like I would hyperventilate from poor ventilation … Back in the days when we wiped our groceries and mail and packages down with sanitary wipes.”

While wholly individual, certain themes arise, such as learning to live with loved ones. For example, Martha (“Marty”) Weiss writes, “Am I the only one … who realizes that my cozy quarantine companion is the person who annoys me most in the whole world … and that person is also the one I love most in the world?” Jan Buhrman pens, “I had to learn to dance again with my husband … We were able to take out the magnifying glass to examine each other’s points. We argued, but we considered our thoughts carefully.”

Many mention finding solace in the little things. There are lots of mentions about the Vineyard’s therapeutic natural beauty, but M.A. Kent Holmes’ “rationing the last drops of Puerto Rican hot sauce because the couple who make it are under 24/7 lockdown” speaks to the unique particularities we each discovered about the mundane things we held sacred.

Parenting in a time of turmoil came up frequently. Linda Pearce Prestley writes, “If we ever thought we were screwing up our kids before this, we were certain of it now.” Isabelle Hunter pens to her grandson on his 10th birthday, “Think of all the new terms you’ve learned: coronavirus, pandemic, social distancing … quarantine, Google classroom, Zoom fatigue, and unmute.” Knight and Silva have included kids’ voices as well, adding their perceptive perspectives, each touching in their verisimilitude, such as Rosalia Apaza Pillco’s “School Lunch During Covid,” that takes you into the intimacy of the new normal of lunchtime in her classroom. Or Kaya Seiman’s lyrics for “Corona Sucks,” with lines like, “More teens are diagnosed with depression. Isolated all alone with no friends. Our parents tell us we can’t go out. And I guess I kinda get it but what about my mental health.”

There are heartbreaking pieces about the death of loved ones, human and otherwise. Barry Stringfellow’s tender story of his six-day bonding with Walter, a pigeon he tries to rescue who was a hit-and-run victim he found on the shoulder of Beach Road — tore at my heart. In “Friends Dying, Life Moving On,” Michael West captures boundless sadness, opening his poem with: “I’m heartbroken nothing/ Matters to me anymore/ My reason for living boils down/ To a slice of pizza/ I’m a speck of grease on the slab/ Of this planet’s kitchen/ Below me is the unspeakable fire/ I’m melting I’m melting.”

Plenty made me smile. Susan Arthur’s “Recipe for How to Survive a Pandemic” has ingredients of hope, denial, fear, Purell, and assorted masks … and the first step being “Prepare severe glares for the maskless, for the noses-hanging-out over the tops, for those sporting masks as chin diapers.”

Although all of the work is written by people connected to the Vineyard, some spoke to the larger political unrest, worries about climate change, and raging wildfires devastating the landscape. David Lowe shares about a remarkable trip with his family covering 7,000 miles: “We breathed smoke in many of the 16 states we traversed, saw one of many fires that devastated the arid West and strained lungs …”

Editors Knight and Silva acknowledge the support of the book’s sponsors, which include the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council, Cronig’s Market, Rosbeck Builders, Sullivan & Associates Architects, and Tea Lane Associates, along with the critical early support of the Island Theater Workshop, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and Laurel Redington at MVY Radio.

With a possible future Covid Monologue MV project in mind, submissions of 650 words or less (with a short, two-sentence bio) for possible future iterations can be sent to connect@covidmonologuesmv.com

The compelling anthology keeps you turning pages eager for the next person’s take — all intimate, deeply personal snapshots that will touch your heart.

There will be a book signing with the authors on Jan. 29, from 1:30 to 3 pm, at the West Tisbury library with light refreshments, warm cider, and outside and inside options.

“Covid Monologues MV: Readings to Nourish, Inspire, & Connect,” edited by Jennifer L. Knight and Moira Convey Silva, $12.95. Available for purchase in January at Alley’s, Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, and Stefanie Wolf Designs, with festivals, events, and more vendors in the works. Also available online. All net proceeds benefit the Vineyard Committee on Hunger. 

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