Seven Seattle women spent 2020 writing, writing, and still more writing. When the pandemic first hit a year ago, the women decided to use their time to produce stories, essays, and poetry, trying to make sense of it all. They wanted to remember little things, details of an event or experience. Their just-published paperback is a collection they’ve titled: “Writing While Masked: Observations on 2020.”
The seven authors, retired after professional careers, are members of a women’s writing club. For a dozen years, they have been meeting to share what they wrote that week. Some had been writing fiction, others nonfiction. They have worked on would-be memoirs, novels and poems. The seven first got to know one another in various ways — attending a writing class together at Hugo House or becoming members of a downtown walking group. Several had spouses who met while working at Group Health.
Before the pandemic, they were gathering weekly at one another’s homes to read passages, critique and offer direction over coffee and snacks. Once into lockdown the members turned to meeting by Zoom, varied only during a few summer weeks when they could gather masked and socially distanced in backyards. Come cold and rainy weather, it was back to Zoom sessions.
One of the seven, retired physician Laura Celise Lippman, reports, “When it came to putting together a book, we were rank amateurs. We self-published on a shoestring. We’ve placed books on consignment at Third Place Books in Ravenna and Lake Forest Park, and at bookstores in Phinney Ridge and on Vashon Island. Proceeds from the $14.95 price go to Literary Source, which offers free classes and tutoring for King County adults.” Lippman tells how delivery of the first printing of a few hundred books went astray, held up during the Texas storm and power outages. Once the books arrived, it became apparent the group would need another printing.
Lippman says that one of their members, Beth Weir, served as the production’s primary organizer and motivator. A New Zealander by birth, Weir had been especially distressed over Trump’s faulty handling of the pandemic as compared to success in her native land. Formatting was handled by Tyson Greer, who once worked for Microsoft and edited a non-fiction book there. Greer drew on her artistic background to create the cover design featuring seven colorful masks created by Mary Ann Gonzalez, who retired after managing AIDS and MS caregiver programs.
In the book’s March episode, Gonzalez explains how her family and friends helped obtain yards of fabric and taught her to make masks. She says the original pattern morphed as she tried to make better designs. But then: How to distribute? Gonzalez comments that, as a book lover, she cannot pass one of the Little Free Libraries without peeking in. That was when she suddenly realized: “What a great distribution venue.” Last March, she wrote: “Now every day I take from six to 10 masks to the little box (with the homeowner’s permission) and “every day for 52 days the box has been empty. As a side bonus I sometimes find thank you notes and even an occasional contribution, left for ‘the anonymous mask maker.'”
The other seven women include fundraiser Jane Spalding, who worked for Harborview and Seattle University; documentary film producer Suzanne Tedesko; and Wanda Herndon, a corporate executive who retired from a top communications post at Starbucks. Herndon, who is African American, is completing work on a memoir titled “Dreadlocks in the Boardroom,” and has penned poetry reflecting her observations after the nation learned of the George Floyd killing.
The book showcases Herndon’s poem, titled “I Cry.” Also published in the Seattle Times in June, Herndon’s poem, an anthem in prose, concludes with these two verses:
I cry because of our sacrifices for America are unrecognized
And our deficiencies emphasized
Equity eludes us.
I cry because our ancestors died for my chance.
Decades later, hate still festers and threatens our souls.
The pain is too much.
I cry for justice.
“Writing While Masked,” is well-timed, arriving during Women’s History Month. The bad news is that it may be difficult to locate a copy, even though more are being printed. The seven women linked each month’s national events (death tolls, presidential rallies, wildfires in California, and so on) to the homey stories of what they were doing at the time. There were grandbabies arriving, a son’s 9-11 medical emergency, and even one writer who found love with a shelter-in-place companion.
Unable to find yeast on the supermarket shelves, one amateur cook looked after a cranky sourdough starter she named Ovid; another fended off the rabbit explosion while tending a vegetable garden; a third celebrated the wet season that “morphs into lovely mushroom memories.”
The seven have framed a year that fortunately is over, but they have given readers honest, vivid, all-to-human stories of their lives. As Tyson Greer listed some revelations: “We’ve laughed harder at the silliest things. Phone time and real time with family are even more precious. I haven’t gained weight, my novel is almost finished, and breadmaking is as much a rhythm as breathing.”