These past two weeks have been FULL. Full of checking news updates all day… and isolation.. and escalation of the virus… but also EMPTY. So many of us face, for perhaps the first time EVER, an unknown amount of days stuck in our homes without the daily routines and structures that give our lives order and rhythm. We have never had this amount of free time.
Yesterday I went for a hike with Dad. Usually we chatter away at each other the whole whole way. But yesterday I hiked in near silence. I couldn’t put into words my current combination of depression, confusion, desperation, and self-deprecation. Our lives now look nothing like they did at the beginning of this month. And it’s given us all whiplash.
I wished I could consider this past week my “throwaway”… take a mulligan at my first week of social distancing. Cause I feel like it’s just been a big waste- I made no progress on my book. Instead, I slept in, had a lot of wine, did a few workouts, taught some lessons… but I didn’t start to conquer the big project that’s been looming in the back of my mind. My book.
I go back and forth about it. Who am I to write a book? Why would anyone be interested in my experiences. On the other hand, I would have clung to a book like the one I want to write when my mom started dying. I needed it then. Which is why I feel like I need to write it now.
And so I feel really mad that with a week of nothing to do behind me, I still made no progress. I’m even shaking my head at myself as I tap this out on my phone.
But you probably already know what I’m gonna say. Punishing and criticizing myself does no good. It is not a helpful push, it’s a deterrent. Giving myself grace and understanding motivates much more effectively in the long run. So I decided to take a step back and look at the whole scenario. Pinpoint what I found overwhelming, locate the source of my bad feelings, and get a grip on the reality of what I actually can control.
The scenario: I started to get nervous about this virus when I was still up in Maryland for a performance, at which only about 10 people attended because self isolation had begun. I flew back to Nashville on the 14th, realized this was just getting started and decided to pack up my car and my dog and leave my home for an indefinite period on the 19th. I made the trip out to Montana, ran into lighting, rain, hail, a blizzard, and eventually got into a fight with some black ice and landed myself in a ditch along the way. Oh, and I had my passenger read to me from an email on my phone that I was getting laid off. We arrived home on the 21st and since then… I have been drinking wine and sleeping-
Sleeping… in the same house in which my mom spent her last painful month.
Of course I resisted the writing. It’s harder to make myself revisit my worst memories while surrounded by their setting. It didn’t occur to me before, but it does now that I try to do the work, here, in this house.
I don’t know if I possess the strength to dive back in when I seem to be already submerged.
The constant background chatter about sickness and death does not help.
This is not a carefree, blasé time. This not a vacation. As much as I love sleeping in and waking up every day back in my beloved mountains, this is not for fun. There’s a reason we aren’t even sure what to call it- social distancing? Self isolating? Lockdown? Quarantine? We can’t seem to land on a name that doesn’t sound complex and scary. Because this is… complex and scary.
I shouldn’t beat myself up for hesitating to go back to the worst time of my life and try to wrangle it into a finished project. In an ideal world, I would start poking around in those memories only when I knew I had a level head and a healed heart to fall back on. How can I blame myself for avoiding the extra hurt in the midst of all this chaos? I can’t.
I CAN, however, forgive myself for taking some time to shake it off and stand back up. (I’m imagining a cartoon character that’s just fallen off a cliff and miraculously survived, hallucinated birds twittering and circling it’s head, and then its eyes go uncrossed as it stands back up, winds up, and shoots back into the fray.) Yeah. If you followed that, I do in fact feel JUST like Wiley Coyote.
But hey. Even Wiley couldn’t just stand right back up immediately. He needs to take a second- and that’s saying something cause that dude can take an anvil to the noggin like a champ.
So here’s my advice to myself going forward.
-Do this for your mind: Document everything. However you want. Journal, take pictures, etc. That way when Tuesday feels like it could be any blob of hours in this blob of hours we just called a week, you can go back in your camera roll and say “oh yeah, that day I took a screenshot while I video chatted with my niece.” Note the days. Do not let them pass without distinction.
-This is important for your soul: Follow your creative whim and share it. This is not a time to be regimenting your creative work, forcing it, or bending it to your will. Let it pop in for a visit when and how it wants. And then send it out so it doesn’t just live in your phone or on your piano or in your head or on your sketchbook. Don’t worry about being strategic. No one cares. There’s no “best time to post” now (not that I ever thought about it anyway), a piece doesn’t have to be polished, or even finished, to start sharing it. Send it out there. Let it be. Don’t monitor the reaction it receives. Hope it sparks a chain reaction of creativity in others. Just DO without feeling watched and pressured. Cause… you really aren’t. That’s all in your head. No one thinks about you as much as you think about you.
-Finally- remember to think about others more than you think about yourself.