More Southern Writers in Isolation

Coastal Alabama Authors Check In

A couple of weeks ago I did a post with entries from three authors who contributed essays to an anthology I edited, SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING (University Press of Mississippi 2018): Clyde Edgerton, Corey Mesler, and Niles Reddick. (If you missed it you can read it here.)

Today I’m sharing entries from two more of those Southern Writers authors, this time a husband and wife team from Fairhope, Alabama. I’ve known Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella since 2008, when I visited Fairhope for the last “Southern Writers Reading,” organized by Sonny Brewer, and featuring such southern luminaries as Rick Bragg, Carolyn Jourdan, Ravi Howard, and Tasha Alexander. Sunday morning’s breakfast at Suzanne and Joe’s home in Waterhole Branch was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. We’ve been together at numerous literary events in the twelve years since we first met, and I was honored to have both of them contribute essays to Southern Writers on Writing.

So, what have they been up to during the pandemic? Here are their entries.

Splendid Isolation

Dark humor is how I cope. A bit twisted with a dash of sick. Somebody has to do it, add that layer/aspect to the world of words. Takes all kinds. And so:

Oh, I have to isolate? Be a solitary creature? Please don’t throw me in that briar patch. I’m not agoraphobic like Corey Mesler, but I lay claim to some sort of unnamed condition that is first cousin twice removed. I live in his mental neighborhood, so to speak. I’m socially adept because I had to learn to be, but is butterflying around to flitty soirees my preference? Far from it. Introverted for sure, but give me just cause, a reason to stand up for myself or my people or some or another underdawg, and I don’t mind getting in your face. Oh, so an aging nemesis/sometime stalker of mine is stirring some snark in literary world, doing that pop-up whack-a-mole thing? Giving me even more material? In the midst of a health crisis that failed to provide perspective, let alone insight? Please, pretty please-please-please, don’t throw me into THAT briar patch. Let me bring out the razor strap and sharpen my blade until the edge is glittering, and I’ll cut like a diamond with words that slice true. No, I don’t need no stinkin’ pandemic snark sowing. I don’t need no stinkin’ social life, neither, even though I can navigate one pretty well.

Suzanne Hudson dancing on her stationary bike in Waterhole Branch, Alabama

What I do need is to write, from time to time, play with pretty words, tell dark stories, and settle the occasional score. And I’m married to a man, author Joe Formichella, who is even less inclined toward people than I am—and way more consumed with writing. We happily pass these virus-y days together without any need whatsoever for emptiy chattery chit chat. Silence is truly golden until you have something worthwhile to say. And when we do, we converse, and laugh—a lot—and dance (on our stationary bikes), and sing, and make silly rhymes, and play, and cook while we listen to the smart people on NPR throughout these quiet, absurd days of the covidpocalypse. We share flabbergasts at a nation in which a chunk of folks have chosen to eschew science, and we marvel at how a virus could ever be considered in any way political, which is the single most truly bizarre aspect of this entire situation. We are amazed at the trifling pettiness that pops out of shallow, fearful folks along with selfish, universe-of-one creatures who lack the wherewithal to look an existential threat in the face—to thereby see themselves and/or appreciate their responsibility to others, as contributing citizens of the U S of A and beyond. Finally, ultimately, though, as for the cumulative and divine briar patch of social distancing, staying at home, avoiding the marketplace, having tons of creative time and space, and honing the ol’ knife skills, well, in the words of the late, great Warren Zevon, this is “Splendid Isolation” indeed. –Suzanne Hudson, prize-winning author of the current comic novel, The Fall of the Nixon Administration

The Covid Dance

“I Hope You Dance,” is the title of a song our friend Mark D. Sanders wrote, with Tia Sillers, back in the day. Not about dancing, literally, but about joy. Joy I can do. Never been much of a literal dancer, though. Less and less so as I aged. Come to find out, my legs have been going south on me for years, courtesy of CMT, Charcot Marie Tooth, a form of muscular dystrophy, a neuropathy that can develop into any degree of bad. For the wife, it’s a source of play. She’s fond of calling me one of “Jerry’s kids,” or referring to me as a “Weeble” (they wobble but they don’t fall down; well, not yet), or doing bobbing imitations of my attempt at squatting. She makes me laugh, because, hey, what else is there to do? Laughter is always our default setting, no matter how serious the circumstances. It’s a shared sense of the absurdity of all this life stuff. That’s our attitude about isolating. It’s necessary, for all kinds of reasons. Might as well have fun with it. Joy.

“Time to make the donuts,” is what I say, out loud, every morning around 2:30 a.m. when I get up to go to work recording audiobooks. And so the routine begins. Solitary work. I record for a few hours, until the birds wake up, then I edit for a few more hours. I ride the stationary bike every day, around 10:30 a.m., unless I go for an open-water swim in the bay. Keeping the wheelchair at bay, as it were. Solitary activities. But on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the wife joins me on her bike, beside mine, and we dance. That’s what I like to call it; it’s the only thing like dancing we’ve really ever done.

Author Joe Formichella putting in miles on his stationary bike every morning

Well, there’s our grocery shopping dance. We’ve got that down to a ballet. I push the cart and do all the grocery-grabbing. Suz carries the list and scratches off the items I grab. She carries the debit card, which gets wiped down after checkout. We’re both gloved and masked. Haven’t been harassed yet, here in the land of virus denial. Knock wood. Suz opens the trunk and car doors. She produces a Clorox wipe after I unload the cart into the trunk and de-glove. The timing is a thing of beauty.

Turns out, there are all kinds of ways to dance. Mark D. got it right. In the big picture of the human condition, when you can choose joy over doom and gloom, what kind of empty soul fails to pick joy? Turns out, when you’re with a partner who knows when to zig and when to zag (and when to wobble), someone you like being with, someone you love laughing with, then the isolation of the Covid Dance just ain’t a thing.—Joe Formichella, prize-winning author of the newly released Lumpers, Longnecks, and One-Eyed Jacks: a 70s Recipe for a Rainy Day

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