I used to wonder why the 1918 Flu Pandemic received so little attention after it ended. Writers struggled and strained to sweat out the great novel of the Great War, but not so much was penned about a disease that killed substantially more people in a significantly shorter time. Sure, we have Katherine Anne Porter's excellent "Pale Horse, Pale Rider", but that was a novella, and did it ever get a movie? Did the Nazis even bother to ban it? Compare its effect on the pop culture with, say, All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, or even Canada's own Generals Die in Bed. A scholar named Elizabeth Outka explains in Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature that references abound, but mostly as subtext. As for history, you could fill a library with books about the war. The flu? John M. Barry's The Great Influenza may weigh about as much as the average library shelf, but the tome wasn't published until 2004.
Thomas Pynchon recalls seeing the French phrase, la grippe espagnole when he was a young man and imagining it referred to some kind of post-war malaise, rather than a frequently fatal pandemic. My maternal grandmother, whose mother went to a sanitarium (she survived) with influenza and whose family home was subsequently quarantined only casually recalled that "there were a lot of deaths that year." But man, she was still pissed about the Kaiser.
The question baffles me no longer.
A year ago we decided that our pandemic, COVID-19, was a global event. Since then, we have had over two million deaths. People close to me-- including my best friend and one of my sisters-- have been infected and recovered, with less speed than they would have liked. The news deals daily with COVID: cases, preventative measures, vaccinations, outbreaks, economic impact, and social and psychological consequences. My work has been affected in regular and ever-changing ways by the virus. I have to disinfect my hands frequently. I spend most of my work-day masked. We shop masked. Discussions with and about young people focus on how much the pandemic has impeded their lives. We're all staring at screens more often than can possibly be healthy. COVID has commandeered our planet.
Write the great COVID novel? A really good COVID story? A coronaviral haiku?
When this thing passes, I don't want to think about COVID again.