From The Neon: A Vaccine for The Writer’s Great Depression

by Kenji Jasper

I was a writer who hadn’t been writing. I hadn’t published a post or article in months. I had a great time teaching my weekly memoir writing course. There is nothing more enriching than to be introduced to new voices in the war of words. But I still wasn't writing. And I knew why.

Writers need fuel: experience, research, trauma, pleasure, reason to tell the story. And there had been no new beginnings in the restrained shuffles for groceries and curbside takeout that safety during a pandemic demanded. There were days when living has felt like that Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Palm Springs device of living in a time loop with no escape. The compounding tortures are the notifications on my mobile’s daily list of current events that reminds you of the panic, prejudice, murder, and mayhem that color today’s skies. And I can’t forget the toilet paper wheel of death our minds are restocked with daily by 24-hour news cycles.

My mental health solution is moderation. I try to vary the menu that comes out of the jade-marbled and Sub-Zero-equipped kitchen where I spend far more of my time than I’d like to. I make it a point to take a daily drive to Rock Creek Park and walk among trees old enough to have lived through the Spanish Flu Era. I see dying and decaying branches alongside bright green sprouts pushing their way out of ground, a harsh juxtaposition of all that is. I am returning to yoga after an injury. And… I’ve gotten into axe-throwing.

These are the ways that I’ve been coping with COVID-19’s sadistic cockblock of our collective need to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, to have no fear when rolling around with our partners in a Jackson Pollock’s worth of secretions made in the name of love and libido. But though I had been coping, I hadn’t been writing. I decided to do something about that.

I took a seat in the 2004 Dodge Neon that was my sister’s, and then became my father’s and then became mine after Dad passed. My Neon is a quieting and free space that allows me to take a moment’s vacation from the requirements of both family and community.

I sat behind the wheel. I reclined the seat, removed my shoes and socks, and meditated. I focused on the breath as it traveled through various chakras, meridian points, and connective tissues. Thoughts become ideas.

“Give me something to write about,” I said to higher-self.

Then I looked through my green allergen stained windshield and saw the man’s foot dangling outside the driver’s side door of his gray Mercury Sable with the out-of-town plates a few yards away.

Then I saw the Jif-colored woman in her 70s exit the side entrance of the apartment building. She was on crutches with the right leg of her red and black striped hammer pants tied into a knot, making her amputation obvious. There was a bonnet on her salt and pepper hair as she hobbled up to the Sable. Then she saw dangling-foot man slumped over his steering wheel. She spoke loudly to the faceless man. And then she started hobbling towards me, while my shoes and socks were off, while I was looking for something to write about.

“My cousin’s pressure is real high”, the woman yelled, as if she had on headphones. “He can’t stand up. Can you help him into the house?”

My first reaction was to wonder whether I had a bell or some other device around my neck which made me look like I played QB for The Samaritans. I was looking for a moment of creativity, a flash of genius. I had no time to enable the enablers. The flash that took hold of me was not genius, but memory.

I thought of my long-ago days as a Junior Usher Board chaplain, back when it seemed so much easier to do the right thing, and to make the smart choice. It all becomes so cluttered when the rent or due, or in the case of right now, when millions across the world have died, and billions are broken.

I got out of the car and agreed to help. I traveled the 30 feet to the open car door and found her cousin in a fugue state. Saliva hung in a long string from his lower lip. His hands were weakly fisting things from the car floor into his pockets, most notably a small packet of grey powder that definitely wasn’t corn starch.

The smarter part of me considered the safety in what I was doing. The building where they live is the last of its kind on the block. It had housed that one guy who had the alpha to place the marijuana plants he was growing in large amounts visibly in his Windex-clean living room window. Everyone entering or exiting the compound looked like Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown might be their landlord. This was not my problem. I was looking for something to write about.

And yet I still slung the heavy and nodding man’s arm over my shoulder and carried him toward the building. The woman on crutches with the bonnet over her unkempt hair (and the keys to apartment building) hobbled light years behind us.

The man I aided up the twisting flight of steps was the kind of dead weight that made me wonder if I wasn’t focusing on the right muscle groups in my yoga practice. I dragged his feet through the lobby and into an elevator like the one where Tupac shot at Omar Epps in Juice. The chattering lift took us to the top floor, whose the entire hallway was painted a chipping pink. And there was the warning about oxygen use inside the unit on the opened apartment front door. The inner walls that gave them shelter were a puke green.

I laid Charlie Parker on the twin mattress in the living room, covered by a blanked that perfectly matched The Woman on Crutches’ hammer pants.

My work there was done.

“You wanna a beer?” The Woman on Crutches asked me.

“Another time,” I said before made the Beyoncé of beelines out the front door.

I took the elevator back to the street, and back to my Dodge Neon, and back to the words, where I should never stop living, because they keep me alive.

A veteran of entertainment media, I’m the author of the acclaimed books Dark and The House on Childress Street. I don’t write to live but I live to write.

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