TRAVERSE CITY — Emma Laible recounted her friends celebrating the news that schools were closing for three weeks. She recalled having to adapt to online learning, then the loss of hope as connections she’d built during high school and expectations for her senior year slipped through her fingers.
“No senior picnic, prom, or graduation like I had planned,” the 17-year-old wrote. “Life lost its meaning and purpose.
“It seems a little childish to put so much of ourselves into these meaningless, fabricated traditions, but these are the types of things we long for as humans: connections, meaning, and fulfillment,” Laible continued. “With my world tipped upside down, I struggled to find any of that. So, I turned to what I knew: creating.”
Laible, a student at St. Francis High School, is one of more than 50 people who so far have submitted pieces to the National Writers Series’ newest project — a collection of personal stories about living through the coronavirus.
The website, www.lifeinthetimeofvirus.org, launched about two weeks ago and invites people from anywhere in the world to submit narratives of up to 500 words. Pieces must be truthful and civil in tone, with no profanity or personal attacks, according to the submission guidelines.
“I think it’s a really cool idea to get different people’s perspectives because we’re all dealing with different things, but going through the same event,” Laible said of the project.
NWS is partnering with the Traverse Area District Library to preserve the submissions, said Grant Parsons, NWS co-founder and president of its board of directors.
The project doubles as a writing competition, with adult, high school, middle school and elementary school categories. Only those living in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Antrim, Leelanau or Kalkaska counties are eligible for prizes.
“We were just trying to react to the idea that this is a historic time and kids are staying home,” Parsons said.
Judges haven’t yet been selected, but what they’ll be looking for is the voice behind the story, he said.
“The whole society and almost the whole world is experiencing this as a common overhanging cloud,” Parsons said. “But an individual voice has an experience or perspective. … We’re looking for the voice of the individual experience of coronavirus.”
For Mona Cardwell, 65, the voice is that of her father, Jack Cardwell, who died in 2011.
“He was so positive and … no matter how bad things were, he talked about counting our blessings and about how it could really be so much worse,” Cardwell said.
The Grawn woman wrote about a message she sent to her sons, letting them know what their papa would say were he still alive — that the world could be at war, loved ones “soldiers under fire,” unable to pay bills, in a gas chamber like during the holocaust, held hostage by terrorists.
“‘There are any number of scenarios that would make this situation look like a picnic,’” Cardwell wrote on behalf of her father. “‘We must remember that and be grateful constantly for the blessings that are there if we look for them and acknowledge them.’”
The pandemic is terrible, with many lives and jobs lost, increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, Laible wrote near the end of her submission. But many people also are returning to “true beauty and goodness,” searching for happiness in nature and other people instead of man-made constructs.
She concluded: “We have learned how to be human again, and it is beautiful.”