“I thought I would have more time to write,” a friend shared during a group Skype. Four of us were catching up with a virtual cocktail hour late last week. We are fortunate, with day jobs that allow us to work from home, without reduced hours (yet) but with added responsibilities. “Once I’m done with work, I’m done,” she said. We all nodded in agreement, understanding the exhaustion, complimenting each other for looking well, if not a little worse for wear. Stress is thick as the smog that used to cover L.A.
We hoisted our glasses to each other, or at least our computer screens, toasting friendship, health and hope. We joked about our adjusted shower schedules, the odd adventures had simply by going outside, the changes in behavior—both our own and those we meet, and the shocking surprise at how many people think six feet is a subjective length. A deep discussion was had about toilet paper and our newfound philosophies of its use. There was a quip about what this administration has brought us to, but very little is funny about that right now. We found other things to laugh about. Thank God there are still things to laugh about.
The world is weird right now. Everything is at a distance but oppressive in its weight. We try to ignore what we can as best we can. We have to. It’s a coping mechanism, a requirement to face another day not knowing how many more like it we’ll have to force our way through, bidding farewell to the concept of normal as we go.
We try to be good friends and partners, supportive to those who need us. Giving to those in need. Endlessly praying for healthcare workers, first responders and those precious people essential to our daily lives. Watching as people ignore facts and science, are arrogant with guidelines, dismissive of people’s sacrifices. Waiting for some sort of breakthrough or good news.
Those of us who create usually find respite in that endeavor. Writing, painting, dancing, cooking, knitting, singing, jamming, spinning—that was the escape. We got to go into our own world and make something. We could drown out the noise and replenish our spirit. Now? Now there’s a cacophony of concern and fear and worry and sorrow and dread and anger and impatience, and all of that blocks the intersection of inspiration and imagination. Even if we have time for our art, we may not be in the mental or emotional space to enjoy it.
Last month marked the L.A.L.A. Society’s Writers’ March, where we dedicated 1 hour each day to progress on our WIPs. I put in my time each day, which wasn’t always easy, finding myself still stuck on the first three chapters of Novel 3 (yes, still). I re-read them, tweaked scenes, changed a word here or there and usually changed it back again. The story was alive and well and thriving in my mind, but it seemed to be following the Stay Home order, too; refusing to leave my brain to make it onto the page.
I didn’t push. I know better than that. I would still jot down scenes in my notebook or several squares of Post-Its. The creativity was there; it just couldn’t get to the other side.
As soon as I went into lockdown, I made a decision to move. Each morning, the first thing I did (right after making my bed) was exercise. Mostly yoga, but there’s some Pilates, a bit of kettle bell-ing, an urban hike every so often. Rather than feeling like a chore, like something I had to do, it felt nurturing. I looked forward to it. I did it before I could see the news, before checking Twitter…but after a quick glance at the top stories on my phone (because that’s responsible). Sometimes, it was a hard twenty, others it was an hour of flow, mostly it was hitting that 40-minute sweet spot. More than exercise, what it actually was was giving time to myself. Giving to myself. Taking care of myself. Caring.
After my workout, I make tea and breakfast. Then, I sit down to work, better prepared for the stress of that. Afterwards, I make dinner, settle in and open my MacBook to write. And the writing comes comfortably. It no longer feels like a chore, like another obligation. It’s heavenly.
The other day, instead of savasana, I went into a headstand. The first one in a while. The first time trying one in my tiny space—disaster looming on all sides if I were to fall out of it and not tuck into a small ball as I went. To my surprise, it was effortless, like someone was pulling me up from my feet. I held the pose for a while. I didn’t have to think about it, analyze it or worry. Deep down, I knew what to do. Somewhere along the line, I had gained strength. Somehow, I remembered to trust myself. Trust myself completely.
Surprisingly, my writing had relaxed even though my stress level rose. I wasn’t simply sitting down to write anymore, but rushing to get to my laptop in order to get it all out. Take what has lived in my head for so long and escort it to the keyboard, onto the screen that will one day turn into a page. I’m halfway through Chapter 5 now, enjoying the writing process again.
Every now and then, I go back to that airplane lecture we politely ignore, flight attendants telling us to put on our mask first. A whole other level of irony surrounds that now, in this crazy time of COVID-19, but the simple message is one we tend to ignore: You cannot take care of anyone or anything well unless you have taken care of yourself first. We worry that will make us selfish. Not at all. Self-protection, self-caring differs greatly from being selfish.
Take care of yourself. Find a way to be kind and nurture yourself. There is so much stress and fear and worry and sorrow we are wading through; you just need a few minutes each day to take care of yourself. Allow yourself that. You’ll gain more than you realize. Then you can give even more to those you love. Including your art and muse.