Physics Lecturer Finds Healing in Former Hobby
By Bradi Zapata
The echoing sounds of gently pressed keyboard keys painted the blank walls of an empty California apartment where a bookshelf stood empty. Here, fragmented words and vulnerable thoughts bonded to form a hobby that would soon heal sorrows.
After moving to a new state during the COVID-19 pandemic and experiencing the unexpected loss of a colleague, Cal State San Marcos physics lecturer Claudia Torres Garibay knew she needed an outlet that would rejuvenate. In childhood, she was a proud and energetic writer who earned awards. But her joy for writing turned to fear and avoidance for many years, as she faced language barriers while learning English as a second language and placed her professional focus on obtaining a career in engineering.
In October 2020, she rediscovered the joy brought by writing fiction and moved this hobby to the front burner once again.
Torres Garibay received news that she was among 100 authors selected to be published in an anthology. The San Diego Decameron Project Anthology, shares 100 fiction stories loosely based around experiences shared during the COVID-19 pandemic. This anthology was inspired by “The Decameron,” a book also composed of 100 stories, but written by the singular author, Giovanni Boccaccio. “The Decameron” depicts experiences shared during the Black Death, or bubonic plague, which killed more than 25 million people in Western Eurasia and North Africa during the years 1347-1351.
In May 2023, Torres Garibay shared the recognition “Author of the Month” along three other featured authors in the Decameron Project Anthology. The event took place at the San Diego Central Library, where she read her short story, “Lost and Found.”
In “Lost and Found,” Torres Garibay tells the story of a man who, after experiencing furlough, must find a way to fill holes in his life and make himself whole again. He welcomes certain changes that the pandemic brings; mask policies allow him to cover his physical insecurities, isolation policies allow him to celebrate his introversion, and the slower move of the world allows him to uncover physical sensations like the smell of his home and the songs of birds in a quiet street.
But the pandemic also causes him to slowly lose much. He finds himself spending the days longing for the comfort of a friendly smile – one that belongs to his admirable landlady and dear friend. And when a tragic loss occurs, the protagonist must discover a new way to finally repair the holes in his heart.
“The story starts with somebody who cannot find toilet paper, which was the first thing that I noticed when the pandemic began,” Torres Garibay said. “People often felt they were missing so much, but sometimes something as simple as toilet paper reminds us of what we really need.”
Much like the protagonist, hardships during the pandemic required Torres Garibay to reevaluate how she measured fulfillment and how much she relied on material possessions. She would find that happiness was better measured by internal qualities and human connections.
In light of this, Torres Garibay’s plans to tackle English short fiction and poetry. The representational symbolism frequently found in these forms of literature does pose an opportune challenge, however. Torres Garibay is looking forward to learning ways to compartmentalize writing for poetry and writing for her profession as a physics and engineering professor at Cal State San Marcos.
“I think that in engineering, creativity is shown in different ways in terms of solutions to problems. But sometimes those solutions don't give you too much strength to be artistic,” Torres Garibay said. “And that's an area I realized I love in my life. I want to continue to be artistic, and so I will.”
“Lost and Found” can be read online and the entire San Diego Decameron Anthology Project can be reserved through the San Diego Central Library or can be read online. Hard copies of the anthology will also be available soon.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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