High Desert Museum Creations of Spirit Bend Oregon

Pandemic prose and poetry

The Cannon Beach Library hosts a virtual reading Saturday of pieces inspired by life during COVID.

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Lisa Mayfield’s relationship with her partner was not an easy one. He was a Vietnam vet, a hoarder, an artist. And she loved him. She was reminded of that six months after his death, as the world was adapting to the new normal dictated by COVID-19.

Mayfield is one of 37 writers who responded to a call from the Cannon Beach Library to write about what the pandemic means to them.

Among the things Lisa Mayfield’s boyfriend left her after his death were masks he carved from stone. The story she will read in the Cannon Beach Library’s Writers Read Celebration explores the gifts she gained from that difficult relationship. Photo Courtesy: Lisa Mayfield
Among the things Lisa Mayfield’s boyfriend left her after his death were masks he carved from stone. The story she will read in the Cannon Beach Library’s Writers Read Celebration explores the gifts she gained from that difficult relationship. Photo Courtesy: Lisa Mayfield

She called her submission to the Writers Read Celebration On Toilet Paper.

“It actually has to do with toilet paper, but it’s not really on toilet paper,” said Mayfield, talking by phone in the midst of an ice- and snowstorm as trees crashed around her Salem home.

“I gave it that title because when the pandemic came and people were hoarding toilet paper, I had found myself with a 48-roll package of toilet paper … because my boyfriend hoarded things.”  The piece, she said, “is really about him and about some of the gifts of that very difficult relationship.”

This is the third year the library’s NW Authors Series committee has put out a call for manuscripts for the contest. The goal, said Nancy McCarthy, library volunteer, is to reach out to the community and “let people know, yes, libraries do exist and we really want to be part of the community.”  Ten writers will participate in the virtual reading at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20. For information on how to access the reading, go to the library website and click the banner at the top of the page, or check out the library’s Facebook page.

Five judges — four library volunteers and a staffer for the Cannon Beach Book Company — selected the 13 submissions to be read; three authors each had two pieces chosen. Judges picked from the 51 submissions, which included stories, essays, and poetry, based on language, interest, theme, and emotions the piece evoked.

The library received more submissions this year, McCarthy said, “probably because people had more time to write, also because of that universal theme. Everyone is going through it. I was interested to see people’s different perspectives how they are handling that. One person wrote a poem, and you realized it wasn’t about this pandemic, but the polio pandemic in the early ‘50s. It was very interesting how she wove it.”

Several of the selected submissions address mourning, though who, what, how, and why are vastly different.

Writing On Toilet Paper was both cathartic and painful, said Mayfield, a family mediator. She’d written the piece months before the call for submissions, then thought “I’m going to send them this.” She suspects she might be nervous reading, her first time in “public,” though the reading will be held virtually.

Nat Finn of Garibaldi will read his story “Hey-on, OldOld Man,” about mourning his grandfather’s death.
Nat Finn of Garibaldi will read his story “Hey-on, OldOld Man,” about mourning his grandfather’s death.

“I’ve for years participated in Toastmasters … so this won’t feel completely alien to me, but this is a pretty personal story,” Mayfield said. “It actually does bring up a lot of feelings. There is a lot of trauma in the world. I want to be a voice for that in some way or another.”

In Hey-on, OldOld Man, Nat Finn shares his experience mourning in the Zoom age. The occasion is the passing of the family patriarch, his grandfather, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and whom he describes as a man of grace and dignity who put everyone first.

His short story, set on the day of the funeral, explores the efforts of family and friends to do what they could to honor the “OldOld Man” over four different time zones.

“It’s not only the struggles with the day, but struggles with technology and struggles with etiquette to go with such a situation,” said Finn, who lives in Garibaldi. “When are you allowed to laugh at the absurdity of it all? When are you supposed to speak up and say, I can’t hear? When are you supposed to be quiet, and just what can you get from the experience? Doing that in a short amount of time with limited control while putting him first as he always put us first.… The guy couldn’t have told you the difference between Facebook and the face on a clock. I still hope, despite technological limitations, he still felt we were there with him. Raw is not the right word. It’s deeper than that. It’s just painful.”

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High Desert Museum Creations of Spirit Bend Oregon

Jennifer Nightingale’s work has been chosen each year of the contest. In her essay, Resentment at the End of the Road, the author of Alberta & the Spark, a coming-of-age novel published last year, wrote about her frustration at the onslaught of tourists during a time when coastal towns had made it clear it was no time to visit.

Jennifer Nightingale of Astoria will read an essay and a poem at the Cannon Beach Library reading.
Jennifer Nightingale of Astoria will read an essay and a poem at the Cannon Beach Library reading.

An Astoria resident, Nightingale said one of the things she does to stay happy and healthy is clean river beaches, such as those at Fort Stevens. “I couldn’t help but notice a lot of traffic,” she said. “Half of it is from somewhere else. There are signs flashing on the road, ‘Stay Home, stay safe.’ And you’re behind somebody from Tennessee and you’re thinking, What’s wrong with this picture? You find yourself boiling up…  Why is everyone one coming here? Of course, I realized it’s the end of the road, as far as you can go.”

Nightingale has also been on the receiving end of the less-than-welcoming looks stirred by out-of-state license plates. In Astoria, she says, locals tend to think of people living in Long Beach, at the other end of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, as part of the extended neighborhood. But residents of Oysterville, north of Long Beach, told her when they go to pick up stuff at Costco in Warrenton, they get dirty looks. “I thought, you know, when we come up to Oysterville, that’s the look we get. It’s the stigma of the license plate.”

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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