Writer’s Notebook: “The Shut-In”
Published March 2021, Issue #7
For a while I thought Maine might avoid the Delta-variant-driven spike in Covid cases. These past couple of weeks I’ve accepted that last year’s postponed Thanksgiving visit from my sister and her husband will be postponed once again. In a fit of disappointment over this, I asked my husband how many introverts like us might morph into shut-ins because of this pandemic. That term—“shut-in”—isn’t one I’ve heard or used much. It came to mind, I’m sure, because of Erica Kent’s piece we published this past March. And I’m so pleased it did, because it led me away from my frustration and brought me back to her good work.
I asked Erica about her inspiration for the piece:
“The Shut-In” is based on a true story. My parents moved into the shut-in’s home “sight unseen” in the summer of ’68, about nine months before I was born. As my dad was pretty acerbic, it proved easy to imagine his comments as he and my mom went from room to room unearthing treasures of their starter home. The story became part of our family folklore, or what was our family until my parents got divorced in 1983. A couple of years ago, when I set about writing the piece, I mined my mother for details. I wanted to call my dad too, but as he had recently died, I made do with what I envisioned he would’ve remembered. I tried to stay faithful to my parent’s personal history, as well as the character of the shut-in. In a few places I gave myself creative license, and, as such, technically the piece is fiction. My favorite part, the ball of hair, is true. It was the starting point.
When Covid hit and the country went into lockdown, the implications of the piece expanded. A revised story might very well include playing with time, creating more of a back and forth examination of what it means to be tucked away from daily life. But for now, after many drafts, I am satisfied with the scope of this version.
As usual, our search for companion pieces led us to images and articles we didn’t end up using that have nevertheless stayed with us. I love this photo-treatment of the anxiety behind agoraphobia, for example. And Cheryl suggested this video of Joan Cusack as Sheila, who suffers from agoraphobia, in the television series Shameless. I haven’t watched a single episode (yes, Cheryl, I will get to it) but was moved to tears by this video and still think about a couple of the scenes.
Thank you again, Erica, for your fantastic work, and for the timely reminder that art is refuge.