Time won’t give me time*

With all this extra time I should be writing more, right? I should be reading more, binging more shows, baking, organizing my house, learning a new skill. I’m not. I don’t know where the time goes, really. In the beginning it was spent watching daily news briefings, mindlessly scrolling through social media, and feeling hopeless. Recently? Who knows.

I’ve become an expert at wasting time.

Does that count as a new skill?

I’ve started a blog post in my head more times than I’d like to admit, but nothing ever gets to the page, and I wonder if perhaps it is because my brain can’t seem to handle more than bite-sized information lately. I no longer plan meals for the week, no longer coordinate who needs to be where/when, no longer need to hold a hundred things in my head because those hundred things have all been canceled.

Last night my critique group met for the second time during the pandemic. I’m embarrassed that I have had nothing to share, nothing to show for my three months with hours of empty afternoons to write. Part of the issue is that the space where I normally write became my home office, and as much as I love my day job, its accessories and post-it notes are not inspiring. The other part? I’ve been tired, and sad, and listless.

But I want to write.

I need to write.

My novel waits, eager for the next scene. It has become impatient.

Today, I set out to write something, anything. I wrote a journal entry that turned into a poem, and while somewhat gloomy, helped shake off some of the cobwebs and remind me of the healing power of words. I’d love to hear what you think, and to hear about all the things you haven’t been doing with all your extra time.

BRUISED

Sometimes,
the weight of everything
crushes me.

Husband asks what’s wrong
and I try to explain –
but the words all sound
trivial.

Each tiny problem
seemingly insignificant
until you pile them
all together
and begin to
suffocate.

He wants to compartmentalize –
take each one and solve it,
or if we can’t solve it,
push it aside like the basket
of bread at dinner.

He tells me to
control what I can control.

Therein lies the quandary.

There is so little
I can truly control.
So little predictability,
routine,
normalcy.

The only thing left are my reactions,
which – if I’m being honest –
are out of my control
most days.

For some,
these tiny,
insignificant things are
much larger,
much heavier.

Loss of work,
Illness, death,
Fear that pulls like a riptide.

I have suffered only one of these.

I am lucky.

But, whenever I stop
to think about that luck,
the weight of other people’s suffering
sits on my chest and refuses to budge.

We will crawl out
from under this.

We must.

With scars and bruises that may
never truly heal.

 

*the title of this blog post comes from my favorite Culture Club song, Time (Clock of the Heart)

Alphabetic Exploration of a Virus

Last weekend a friend and colleague who teaches Creative Writing sent me a challenge:  write a poem where each line begins with the letters of the alphabet in succession. Back in my teen angst poetry writing days, I did something similar as a dedication to a good friend. It rhymed, was full of goofy inside jokes, and had the sappiest ending:

Y is for You at Cornell in “Vet style”
Z is for NaZ where I’m missing your smile

When I sat down to write the abc poem last weekend, I knew it had to address what’s been going on in the world — the dark, hopelessness we are all feeling. The uncertainty of each day, of what the future holds. Here is what I came up with:

Alphabetic Exploration of a Virus

Alone. The only way to
be safe, to stop the
contagion.

Don’t trust your neighbors.

Everyone is at risk
as we are all
forced inside.

Gone are feelings of
HOPE.

Instead we
journal our deepest fears,
keep our
loved ones distant, hold onto
memories like moments that may
never happen again.

Once upon a future,
when the danger has
passed, when the
quiet streets
return to their
steady pulse of life, only
then will we
understand how deeply the
virus changed us.

Humans full of
worry, a global community turned
xenophobic.

Can our
youth—the risk-taking Generation
Z—help us rebuild?

The New Normal

Today is Saturday, March 28, 2020.

Three weeks ago, I danced in a crowded club while a DJ spun songs from The Cure and The Smiths, two of my all-time favorite bands. I hung out with the mom who would be chaperoning my oldest son on his class trip to Washington DC, and we laughed about how crazy she was to spend the long weekend with 20 teenagers. We were all acutely aware of a virus that had been spreading through other parts of the world. I washed my hands several times during the night, as I always do. I drank from glasses that other people had touched, shook hands with strangers, breathed in communal air.

We had no idea what was coming.

Two weeks ago, my family went to two plays; Friday night at our local high school and Saturday afternoon at a community theater. People’s behavior had started to change. Restrictions against large gatherings. Hand sanitizer everywhere (but not a bottle to be found on store shelves). Ushers wearing gloves. When we went to the theater on Saturday, I washed my hands before and after the show, and then again before we ate poutine at a local restaurant across the street. I made sure my family followed suit. “This may be the last time we’re out in public for a while,” I said. And it was.

On Sunday of that week, the first case of COVID-19 hit our county, and a few hours later the schools were closed down for five weeks. My youngest was due to participate in his crossing over ceremony for scouts, an event we’d been planning for months. With a heavy heart, I sent out the cancellation notice.

“Crisis school” began Monday. (It is not homeschooling. Homeschooling is a choice.) Oldest had a meltdown the first day. Youngest on day two. Mom nearly every day. I went into work on Tuesday, where the air buzzed with fear, despite the industrial sized bottle of New York made hand sanitizer. I worried that I would be sent home without pay, or worse, lose my position entirely. I worried about our office plants and packed them into my van to bring home. I worried about my mother-in-law, who was recovering from pneumonia and refusing to stay home. I worried about my parents down in Florida, especially my mom, who has a heart condition and recently had her spleen removed after a terrible car accident.

I am an anxious person by nature, a worst-case scenario person, the sort of person who was already wiping down grocery carts and door handles, washing her hands frequently, and being leery of strangers. Who imagines her spouse in a ditch on the side of the road when he doesn’t return from work on time. Who can’t stop thinking about all the people in the world who are suffering and how we need to save the planet before it destroys us. That’s me on a normal day. Before I began to consume far too many news reports and articles on social media.

Late Tuesday night we got word that our jobs were deemed “non-essential”, which seems like it would be a disappointment but meant that we could work from home. I struggled the first few days to balance work with home/kids/school. School was slow to send over plans (understandably so seeing how quickly they were forced to improvise), and the boys balked at my attempts to teach them. There were fights and meltdowns as we adjusted to life together 24-7. My husband works for a plant that manufactures pumps for power generation, so he was deemed “essential”. Classifications became important as each day more and more businesses shut down. By the end of the week, the state declared only essential employees could go to work. (He is now working from home two days a week to minimize the number of employees on site.)

One week ago, oldest would have been on his DC trip, experiencing our nation’s capital for the first time. Instead we stayed home, played games, ate takeout, and watched movies. We tried to make the best of our new found family time, as weekends are typically spent running around to practices and other events. Now, the calendar is completely empty. It is a blessing and a curse, but it is a necessity for survival.

The only public place I have been in the past two weeks is a single trip to the grocery store on March 19. I wiped down the cart, as always, and washed my hands when I got home, as always, but in the store my behavior had changed. I avoided aisles with people in them, waited for the person before me at the register to clear before proceeding, and anything I picked up to examine went into the cart because I could be an unknowing carrier. I tried to be extra nice to the cashier, a high school senior who said she was bored because she was only allowed to go to work and nowhere else. My heart broke for her and all the other seniors missing out on their final year of high school.

Last week I consumed more and more media, the daily updates my safety net in these uncertain times. My anxiety continued to rise, and with it sleepless nights and a lack of desire to start each day. There were pockets of joy – virtual chats with my writing friends and my parents/siblings/nephews, laughing with my family as we invented new games to entertain ourselves, lots of extra cat snuggles. And I guess at the end of each day, I need to concentrate on the joyful moments and pray they will help me get through the anxious ones. Every time I reached out to a friend, they too expressed anxiety, worry, fear. We are all united in the unknown of what lies ahead. People have become more paranoid, yes, but also friendlier, at least from afar. We all want to get through this, to get to the other side and return to normal. We all want to survive.

Today is Saturday, March 28, 2020. It is raining outside. I am still wearing the same clothes I put on yesterday morning. It is almost noon. I am worrying about the doctors, the nurses, the patients who are dying. I am worrying about friends and family members who are struggling, emotionally and financially.

But my husband and children are here, and they are safe and healthy, and today we will play board games and make brownies. And maybe I’ll chat with a friend or two. And I will try to focus on those moments instead.

2020 Hindsight

Ah, the first day of a new year and a new decade. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media recently about what people have accomplished/gained/lost over the last ten years and what they hope to accomplish in the future. Cute side by side pictures of what they looked like in 2009/2019. I chose not to participate.

Instead I’ve reflected on how things have changed over the past ten years. In the final months of 2009, we received the referral for our youngest son and were in the throes of bureaucratic preparations. Oldest was three years old and so damn cute and precocious. I had no idea what sort of roller coaster ride I was in for.

Parenting has been amazing and heartbreaking, and I know there are many more heartbreaking moments to come. When I look back on the past ten years, I wish I had held their hands a little longer. Snuggled them harder. Taken more pictures before they started making ridiculous faces for the camera and had to be bribed with toilet humor. They are on their way to becoming independent beings, and it is really freaking scary. I can only hope the next ten years fare well and we survive teenage-dom.

Sometimes you need to let go and have faith.

My career has ended up in a completely different place from what I expected in 2010. Back then I was substitute teaching in the district I had attended as a kid, with dreams of landing a full time position. Life had other plans. After four years of subbing, I failed to get a renewed position and spent nearly a year unemployed and trying to figure out a plan B. During that time I started to write a book and volunteered at the elementary school. Those two things led me to my friend Dee, an amazing human being and writer, who led me to other writers and a whole new set of opportunities.

Some days I really miss teaching. But if I hadn’t been passed over, I never would have met Dee and written my first novel. I never would have joined BNCWI and met my editor, never would have published SECOND IN COMMAND. An entire network of friends who I love with all my heart would have remained strangers.

Sometimes you have to trade one dream for another.

While I was unemployed, I attended a networking class for out of work teachers and cast my net wider in hopes of finding something to help cover our bills. (I didn’t make any money from writing until this past year.) In May 2014, I received an invitation to interview for a local community college. Part time, barely above minimum wage, and totally out of my comfort zone, but I went for it.

Sometimes you have to take chances.

I got the job, which led to a promotion, and then another, and even though I’m still not back to full time and I’ll never have summers off or long holiday breaks, I love what I do, and I get to make a difference in the lives of others. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me.

These past ten years have been full of ups and downs, as everyone’s lives have I’m sure. People and animals have left my life and others have arrived, I’ve seen more of the world, gotten a bit wiser and a bit wrinklier, learned to not give a crap about what others think and revel in joy when I find it.

As for the next ten, who knows. I’ve learned to stop fighting with the universe. My boys will become adults, hubs and I will start planning the next phase of our lives, and my books will grace the shelves of libraries around the country. I will have lost friends and family members, endured physical and emotional pain. But I vow to take more pleasure in the little things and be the best human I can during my short time here.

My wish for everyone: may you find health and happiness in the new year, and when you face heartache and setbacks, may they lead to growth and new opportunities. Be grateful. Be present. Love when you can and ask for help when things get difficult.

Most importantly: take care of each other and the planet. Happy New Year!