We asked contributor Sari Fordham from our new issue, Volume 40.1, to share thoughts on writing and life in quarantine. Read her essay “The Mountain Lions of Watamu” here, and read more about her process and forthcoming book below.
When I think about writing during quarantine, I imagine myself in my daughter’s tree house, perched among the bees and the late season oranges. Words fly out of my fingers, beckoned by magic.
My husband Bryan built the tree house on our second weekend of sheltering in place. Our daughter Kai is an only child. One day she was in kindergarten having a teddy bear picnic. The next she was home, indefinitely. Yesterday, she put spaces between the Kisii stone sheep that stand on our windowsill, and when I asked why, she told me, “They need to social distance so they won’t get sick.” The tree house, though, is a wonder beyond the window. In the mornings, I climb up with reading flashcards and when we finish reviewing them, she presses a few knots on the tree trunk and we fly wherever we would like. Mostly, we go to Finland, where we visited relatives last summer, in the Time Before.
Surprisingly, I’m writing, despite everything. I sit on the couch and snatch time while Bryan and Kai play pirates. They lock mermaids in the tree house and hide treasures there. I hear Bryan say, Arghh! for the thirtieth time, his voice not flagging in enthusiasm, and I admire the way he has done the impossible: traveled back to the land of childhood. He knows Kai needs companionship more than parenting, though he does that, too. In the afternoon, he supervises homework while answering emails. We’re both pinging between our jobs and the things we should do with her, and I’m surprised that I’m so determined to shove writing into this equation.
At midnight, after I’ve graded papers, I open up a Word document. Our dog leans against me, keeping watch while I tap on the keyboard, tap-tap-tap, delete, tap-tap, delete again. No magic, this. But the puzzle of lining up the right words allows me to step away from anxiety. I’m bearing witness. I’m also leaving the constraints that shape these days. Writing, familiar and vexing, has become my tree house.
Wait for God to Notice is Fordham’s memoir about growing up in Uganda before and after Idi Amin’s dictatorship and how she later comes to terms with the stark decisions her missionary parents made. It is forthcoming from Etruscan Press in Spring of 2021. An excerpt can be read in Passages North here. Follow Sari Fordham on Instagram and Twitter.