Character Sketches

Or, making the most of a challenging situation. COVID-19 has on-going, wide-ranging impact around the globe. It’s scary and overwhelming and exhausting. However, I like to look for opportunities in every situation; COVID-19 is offering an interesting opportunity to observe how differently people respond to stressful situations.

My family, while practicing social distancing and safe at home approaches right now, had a family vacation scheduled this month. At the time we needed to make decisions, we felt it was an acceptable to choice to continue with our plans. On March 14, we left for a week in Curacao. The good news is that we were renting a house with another family, and the house was located within a gated community. By Tuesday of that week, Curacao had gone to take-out only options at restaurants, and by Wednesday, beaches and other tourist venues (plus most things) were closed completely.

Even traveling through airports, our exposure was pretty limited, and we were able to enjoy our vacation – with some significant changes.

But, it was also fascinating to observe the behavior of those around us, as well as to observe my own behavior. As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine how I would respond to the situations I’m inventing for my characters, to write an authentic experience.

Responses to this situation vary as much as you would expect; some folks were business as usual, while others were clearly wary of people and places. It’s been fascinating. Here are a few observations:

-People don’t know what to do. The air of confusion permeated every venue – do I say hello to strangers, or not? Do I offer help or look away? – very little eye contact, careful spacing between individuals, less confident posture by most.

-Airports are very, very quiet; not just due to the lessened number of people, but also because people are not having casual conversations, there was no laughter or happy chatter, and people were spacing themselves away from strangers even more than usual.

-Airplanes were filled with people cleaning their own spaces (to the point the pilot thanked us with a little sass and then had the crew collect the used wipes), but beyond that, some folks traveled as usual, while others wore gloves, masks, hats, long sleeves, eyes darting about – fearfully? self-consciously?

-Shopkeepers, restaurant managers, airline crew were all cordial, efficient, calm, and matter-of-fact. There was frustration in the restaurants, but also an understanding of the value of following the rules being implemented.

-Overall, people in service industry were as helpful as they’ve always been, answering questions or providing guidance.

-People overall were jumpy; every cough, sneeze, and sniffle received side-eyed glances from passersby, glances filled with question and concern.

-A few people were determined to carry on as close to usual as possible, almost defiantly so.

For me, I’m a fan of listening to experts (CDC, WHO) and using common sense. However, the Friday before we were schedule to leave – after we’d seen the State Department announcement informing Americans to come home immediately – our flight was canceled. United had, in fact, canceled all flights off the island (and we later learned they had cancelled 60% of their flights worldwide).

After some time on the phone, the United agent got us re-booked on the next-to-last American Airlines flight off the island before the borders were closed completely. That was when I got seriously stressed! For me, that looked like snappish responses to questions, relentless cleaning, and a need to be packed a full day before we were scheduled to leave, just in case. I didn’t relax until we landed in Miami. (NOTE: At the same time, we learned that one of my daughter’s teachers was trapped with 1000 other Americans in Peru, and is, in fact, still trapped there now.)

I’m planning to build out my notes and observations, and save these for future writing projects. However, it’s also a way for me to process this crazy situation, to make sense of things in some small way.

Sending well wishes and calming thoughts to everyone as we navigate the pandemic! XO (from a distance)

Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is Vice President, State Services at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

8 thoughts on “Character Sketches”

  1. Great post, Pamela! You were very brave. I canceled my flight for a writers conference across the country I was dying to attend, 2 hours before take-off from NYC, but although I guess it was the right decision (the conference was halted 1 day in due to CA decree), I can’t help but think, But what if I’d gone, and not missed out on the adventure? No doubt I would have been one of the fearful ones, furiously cleaning and jumping at every cough. I wore a plastic poncho I reserve for rainy baseball games on the Concord Coach home from NY, and dumped it in the trash on my way to my car. I might be one of your characters, lol.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Well, I was at that convention, along with a lot of other people. We were sensible, safe, and understanding although disappointed when we had to leave early. I took the train back to LA with hundreds of people. I’m fine and normal, although there are people who would question if I was EVER normal in my entire life. See you the next time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was in the grocery store the other day. There were about nine tissue boxes left on a rather high shelf. One Per Customer. I got one and put it in my cart. Another woman, shorter than me, grabbed a roll of shelf liner and started trying to bat one of the boxes close enough for her to grab it. I reached up and moved one in her direction. Rather than thanking me, she looked as if I’d slapped her. Either that or vomited on her. We were both embarrased.

    Stay well!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m always fascinated by people’s reactions to things, big and small. Like you, I think, “how would I describe this in a book?” Maybe it’s a way to take control over it. Glad you got home okay!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Such a timely and insightful post! I, too, find myself thinking how I’d describe situations in a book–although I think mine sound like the narrator in Arrested Development. “Me: I’m going to use this time at home to finish my WIP. Narrator: In fact, Kathy used her time at home watching YouTube and eating CheezWhiz.”

    I’m SO happy that you’re home safely. My aunt got the second-to-last plane out of Kenya where she was working as a teacher, and my cousin-in-law and her husband are suck in Argentina under quarantine. Prayers and good wishes for everyone near and far. ❤


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