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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

What I Would Have Written

Shannon Walters

Table of Contents

Keywords: child care, pregnancy, references to death penalty, ableism, racism, sexism, police violence

Categories: Creatively Caring for Self, Others, and Place; Writing the Process of Writing; Reflecting on and Refusing Racial and/or Gender Inequity

Content warning: death penalty; racism, sexism, police violence

If I had had time, I would have kept a journal. 

I’d write about the medical rhetoric of being pregnant in a pandemic. 
I’d write about  my photo circulating online in news segments around the world when I received my covid vaccine at 38 weeks pregnant before clinical trials on pregnant people began.
I’d write about talking with other pregnant people waiting in line for our shot, being asked by a photojournalist how we were feeling (excited, relieved, teary, angry, rebellious).
I’d write about the impossible situation of being a parent to young children working full time in a pandemic without any childcare and how the “second shift” became the third, fourth and fifth shift. 
I’d write about the agonizing wait for vaccines for children. 
I’d write about the nearly 900,000 women who dropped out of the labor force in September 2020.

I’d write about waiting years for a sabbatical just to see five months of it evaporate when childcare closed during lockdown.
I’d write about locking myself in my home office all weekend to work and the artwork my kids slid under the door. 
I’d write about the cognitive whiplash of one week being immersed in researching the esoteric sources of an Italian Renaissance humanist philosopher and the next week searching constantly for online grocery delivery windows, while watching videos of Italians singing from their balconies.
I’d write about Tiger King and disability.
I’d write about what I learned from my Depression-era grandparents. 
I’d write about rage cleaning.
I’d write about how post-partum time is a lot like quarantine time. 
I’d write about the rhetorical affects of doomscrolling.
I’d write about checking the death toll every morning. 

I’d write about when the memes stopped being funny.
I’d write about the meme of the coffee cup handing a baton to the wine bottle and how I despise mommy wine culture.
I’d write about the crafts we badly attempted in quarantine and the rhetorical speed at which they spread in parenting groups on social media. 
I’d write about when I ran out of ideas of what to do with the kids.
I’d write about how my first precious hours of daycare after it reopened were spent completing a mandatory online teaching certification, and then receiving an email informing me I hadn’t started it yet.
I’d write about informing Human Resources I was pregnant the day of a positive pregnancy test so that I could request online teaching under the ADA. 
I’d write about all my students turning on their cameras when my three-year old crashed our Jane Eyre discussion to talk about her purple play doh.
I’d write about my students not knowing I was pregnant most of the time I was teaching online and their joy when I told them.
I’d write about the resolve I saw on some of my students’ faces when I made class optional on Election Day.  
I’d write about zoom asking me if I was trying to talk all the times my colicky infant screamed when I was on mute during committee meetings. 
I’d write about zooming in five minutes late to a meeting after a neighborhood-wide power outage with a five year old home during a school closure and my presence barely acknowledged, while our food rotted in the refrigerator.
I’d write about being in the sandwich generation: between my parents and my children, between my students and the administration and between junior  and senior faculty. 
I’d write about having to fight for my contractually-entitled benefits to parents, again, and the privilege I had to do so. 
I’d write about Dorothea Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother tugging uncomfortably at the back of my mind when I saw myself, rooted at home yet adrift in the world, reflected in the blank screen of the tablet after storytime videos ended, zoom school finished, or digital dance class dismissed, two kids hanging off me, one growing inside me, my face etched in worry.

I’d write about having to report my number of works published, students taught, committees served and graduate students directed, just like any other year.

I’d write about how it took a pandemic to make access a concern in teaching, research and public life and then how that concern dissipated.
I’d write about how I never want to hear the phrase “a new normal” ever again. 
I’d write about convicted killer Lisa Montgomery, significantly disabled by prolonged physical and sexual abuse and the first woman put to death by the federal government since 1953, executed at the height of a pandemic, in the last days of a misogynistic presidency.
I’d write about how rationing of care, based on ableist assumptions about quality of life and chances of survival, is a form of pandemic eugenics.
I’d write about how my state ostensibly provided initial vaccine access to the most medically vulnerable people but also ranked access for nondisabled people by their occupations, itself an exercise in capitalistic ableism. 

I’d write about hearing police helicopters for three days straight while people in my city protested the murder of George Floyd.
I’d write about how Floyd called for his mother. 
I’d write about being pregnant and feeling too vulnerable to protest in a pandemic. 
I’d write about watching my city’s police tear gas “rioters.” 
I’d write about watching the video footage of “looters” at the shopping center just over the county line and seeing a man exit a big box store carrying a single box of diapers, which reminded me to order diapers.
I’d write about seeing a young Black woman the next summer called “crazy” by her boyfriend, being restrained by police and put on a stretcher, while I stood witness with four other bystanders, all of them women.
I’d write about how Audre Lorde taught a course on urban racism fifty years ago, enrolling Black and white police officers at John Jay College and I’d wonder what we could learn from her. 
I’d write about what my students of color said about protesting in a pandemic peacefully and safely as they logged into class wearing masks, outside, and while commuting to work.
I’d write about the cultural phenomenon of pandemic dreaming and what Aristotle says about dreams.
I’d write about pulling How to Have Theory in an Epidemic off my shelf. 
I’d write about what Gloria Anzaldúa had to say about viruses. 

If I had time, I’d write, I’d write, I’d write. 


Shannon Walters, Associate Professor of English at Temple University, is the author of Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics (U of South Carolina Press, 2014); her work has appeared in journals including College Composition and Communication, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Feminist Media Studies and Technical Communication Quarterly

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