For our summer issue we selected Katie Quinnelly's "Pandemic Baby" as our featured nonfiction/hybrid piece. Join us for an ongoing reflection of living in a pandemic and the messiness that comes in trying to document living in extraordinary times.
Ashely Adams: First off, this is an incredibly haunting recollection of living in the first weeks of the pandemic. I think a thing a lot of people (including me) have struggled with is writing so close to this historic event. Did you ever feel that way? What made you want to write about your relationship to the pandemic in this moment?
Katie Quinnelly: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Northern Arizona University faculty member, Chelsey Johnson, has been sending out what she calls "100s," which are writing prompts meant to keep us connected. She has been dispatching daily for the past 96 days (I believe that's where we are today, specifically, but a few months, for certain). Her prompts made it easy, and the 100-word requirement felt doable. I had just given birth unassisted at home a week prior to the start of the pandemic. During Pina's naps, I would jot down my 100. Many of these had nothing to do with the pandemic, but those included in "Pandemic Baby," of course, do. I owe my diligence in writing during this difficult time to Chelsey.
AA: I know at this point it’s a bit of a cliche to talk about “body” in writing craft, but it’s hard to ignore the question in a piece so rife with the changes and vulnerabilities of the body. Can you talk more about your relationship to the “body in writing”?
KQ: I'm pretty new to it, truthfully. I hadn't given the capability of a body much thought before birth, but that certainly changed things for me.
Speaking of body, I want to talk about the word that makes this piece contain a warning for ableist language. The speaker in the section titled Day 24 refers to the "you" as "gimpy" with a "Frankenstein ass" for having had reconstructive hip surgery. I recognize the history of the word "gimpy" as diminishing to those with a limp. I chose to keep the language in the piece, because it is truly what the speaker of this particular section chose to say, and if I were to cover for the offense, I would be fooling you into believing that the speaker is deserving of your sympathy. This is not the case. I want the speaker to be hated if the reader is offended. This philosophy is not mine, but that of Malcolm X, who stated that there are wolves and foxes who will eat you; the difference between the two being that foxes will show their teeth and let you believe it is a smile. I do not want to lead the reader to believe the speaker here is smiling. I prefer the reader to know the truth and cast judgment as they/he/she see(s) fit.
AA: A thing I really love about this piece is how it plays with reality. What inspired you to take this piece in these “fantastical” sections as opposed to a more straightforward narrative?
KQ: You won't be a stranger to my answer. As many were, I was optimistic at the start of the pandemic. Sure, a lot of things would be different, but I was able to keep a grip on reality... until I wasn't. At some point, even my dreams became unhinged. There were ghosts in the rooms. I felt trapped, isolated, and afraid. The progression of these entries shows the unraveling of that grip.
AA: I think a thing all of us had to reckon with during this pandemic is the things we value and our belief systems. How did you approach this in your writing?
KQ: My beliefs and values, much like everything else, were becoming more or less disturbed. The world's faith was being placed in our benevolent overlords, WalMart and Amazon, holders of toilet paper. In the entry Day 4, I touched on this a bit with Plato's cave allegory, and later, in Day 53, it comes from a ghost who says that Little Debbie and Disney World are as real as Hindu Deities. Those things we worship today are based on consumerism, and sadly hold as much power over people as the ancient way of life.
AA: And finally, what is your favorite bone?
KQ: May I choose a group of bones? It has to be the pelvis. In my body, it made way for birth. On my father's body, it is the area reconstructed that now prevents him from traveling.
Katie Quinnelly is a West Virginian writer and sentient toaster oven. Her work has been published in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and Occulum, among others. Her chapbook, Sparrow Pie, is available through Eggtooth Editions.