Interviewed by Rachel Wild
Read Barbara Lock’s nonfiction piece, Insect Music
Rachel: “Insect Music” is a complex, affecting piece about COVID. Was it something you felt you didn’t have a choice in writing?
Barbara: Sure, there was an internal pressure for me to explore my experience during peak COVID through my art, which is writing. The death by suicide of my longtime friend and colleague Dr. Lorna Breen made the pressure more intense, I would say. It felt existential, like if I couldn’t put the puzzle together correctly, if I couldn’t tell a story that made emotional sense to my artistic self, to my own unconscious, that I would continue to carry an unbearable weight. It was only after I had completed the second draft that I thought—hey, maybe this art can help others. Maybe there’s an emotional truth here that is additive to logical truth. Maybe my story can be part of the artistic record of the pandemic.
Can you tell us a bit about your process, when writing creative non-fiction please?
I wrote “Insect Music” in November 2020 as a side project while I was taking a non-fiction class for my MFA. The traditional essay I generated for class had some bright moments and a certain elegance, but it wasn’t a story. It is story—narrative—that holds our attention. So, as I’m writing a piece of creative non-fiction, I try to refrain from using expository or persuasive text until the reader is firmly engaged in the story, if at all. I let the details of setting, existants, literal choreography, dialogue, draw out the metaphor and support the emotional tone.
In the piece, the image of you sleeping in the basement reoccurs throughout. Can you explain to us why this is so?
Instead of explaining, maybe I’ll ask another question: what associations might the reader draw among the various objects in the story, such as sleeping underground, dreaming, solitude, and being largely powerless to hold back a pandemic? What kind of vibe is generated? Every reader will have a different experience of the details, but there is an intention to them, to the syntactical choices, and to the order in which scenes appear.
You talk in the piece about fear, and how it made you prepare and protect yourself during this time. In such an extreme situation, how did you manage to get up in the morning and go to work?
There wasn’t much of a choice, really. We were soldiers fighting a half-hidden enemy with inadequate protective equipment and resources, with a federal government that was initially dismissive and often obstructive. The alternative, quitting, was unthinkable and unprofessional—no one wanted to leave colleagues to fend for themselves in the trenches. No one wanted to send their families away. No one wanted to watch previously healthy patients die on an hourly basis. This sense that there were no good options and poor support contributed to the moral injury that so many healthcare workers have suffered. And our families suffered along with us. I will say, though, that after the pandemic settled down from apocalyptic to merely horrible, I was grateful to go to work, for the human contact.