I started writing this post with the intention of sharing all the interesting things I’d been doing over the past month. I’ve cooked, read over twenty books, watched lots of TV, several movies, played games, started on my spring gardening routine, extended my walking route through the neighborhood, written some words (about half a novella), finally compiled all the novellas and short stories in a single series into one volume for publishing, queried an agent, written blog posts, updated my website, and started sweeping and mopping weekly instead of leaving it until I can no longer see the floor.
I’ve been tempted to start a chart on how many times I have personally unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher so I can compare my dedication to kitchen maintenance to that of the rest of the family. Ditto laundry duty and bathroom cleanings. I don’t need a chart to know I’m putting in the most hours, there, though. I mean, every time I arrive in the kitchen, both sinks are full. I harbor a monster peeve about the stacking of dishes in both sinks. Why not confine the stacking to one sink so at least the other is useable? Or, you know, why not stack the effing dishwasher?
Let’s add experiencing increasing frustration with family members to the list of things I’ve been doing.
Wait, this isn’t the post I wanted to write.
I want to share my thoughts about this new normal, and intended to title this post “Are We There Yet?” Yesterday, the first line read: No. No, we’re not. Not even close.
Really, though, this post is going to be more about the middle of the pond, because I’ve increasingly come to realize that the other side isn’t in sight yet.
When this all began— Okay, let’s back up. In January, I watched the news out of China with compassion, but a sense of detachment. I honestly thought the virus would be contained. That perhaps a random case or two would escape, but that the scientists would be on this shit. I wouldn’t end up locked in my house. And if I did? Eh, it’d be okay. I already had a year’s worth of toilet paper in the basement and we mostly eat beans. We’d be all right.
Then shit got real, like, really real, and for the first couple of weeks, I struggled with what felt like an inordinate burden of fear. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m the worrier in the family. But it’s more than that. Aside from being the one who consistently projects themselves three months into the future (if my husband is ten minutes late, I’ll have moved from imagining the scene where the police call, or come to the door, to dealing with financial matters, and how I’ll process the grief), I do not cope well with change.
True story: One Friday afternoon, my daughter asked if we could go to the late movie instead of the early one. My world fell apart. I couldn’t figure out how to order the rest of Friday with this significant change in my schedule. As a result, we didn’t make it to any movie because for me it was easier to skip the outing than to try to reschedule all the separate parts—those separate parts being the time we left home (including the time it takes to get into the car and out of the neighborhood), the errands we needed to run before the movie, eating dinner at a reasonable time, and being home again when I needed to be home, which is an exact time before I start on my evening routine.
This has happened more than once. I can see you pursing your lips and nodding, and diagnosing me with certain disorders. Okay, sure. Whatever. It’s not like I don’t know myself—which is why I spent the first two weeks of the government-mandated lockdown sticking very closely to my schedule of writing, admin, working at the shop, and following my post shop routine with extreme faithfulness. Missing my half-hour of television between 3:30 and 4:30 (before I cook), can blow my evening. I won’t know whether to catch up on that episode, read, try my jigsaw puzzle or shirk routine entirely.
Before this post veers into the territory of mental health, mental diversity, and varying mental fortitudes, let’s get back to the point: I was not okay. I wrote about it and then took some time off to simply flounder. Like an old computer, I needed a hard reset. Switch me off and back on again.
Then, one day, I got up and followed my routine. I wrote early, I worked out, I did some more work, I took a break to clean something, worked through ‘til lunchtime and then decided that six hours was enough. I had completed my day and my afternoon would be left open to interpretation.
This worked for a while. My usual deadline is noon, which is why I try to hit my desk by six every morning. After midday, I usually have to go to the shop and if I don’t, I get outside and do some gardening until I do have to go to the shop. When we closed the shop (out of fear we would contract and spread the virus), that lack of deadline meant every day felt like a Sunday (the only day I don’t go to the shop).
After having read how rigorously I attend to my routine, you’ll appreciate how this one small change threw me. I had to mentally decide that afternoons were free time and then mentally affirm that free time did not need to be productive in order to cope. To be okay.
Is it working? Kind of. I don’t feel like writing every day and I’ve stopped forcing myself to put words down. I’m letting myself choose any single item on the To Do list to get started, and doing only what I feel capable of doing. As I outlined in the first paragraph of this post, I’m actually doing a lot.
What I really wanted to write about, though, is how this middle of the pond feeling might extend toward the opposite edge. In coping with having my usual routine—I want to say shredded, I really do, even though I realize that would be somewhat dramatic. In coping with this change in routine, I’ve discovered something super important.
I… *deep breath*
I don’t need to do things in the same order every day.
I feel better when I do. I feel as though all is right with the world when I can check these tasks off one after the other, in the same order as always. But I also feel pretty good when I can check one thing off. All this checking? Not metaphorical. My paper planner has a daily list of things to do. I start this list on Monday, assigning tasks to days, and move them forward when they don’t get done.
Today, the first item on the list is the working title of my current WIP. I moved it forward from Monday to Tuesday, checked it off on Tuesday and Wednesday. Today, it’ll get moved forward to Friday. I might write tomorrow. We’ll see.
I do wish I could write every day. I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time being home for all of these hours. In the time I’ve been stuck here at home, I could have written a novel. I can literally feel the minutes ticking by, wasted.
But increasingly, as I (begin to) perceive that life will not be going back to normal any time soon, I have come to realize that my routines might be permanently changed. I can continue to cling to five workdays and two days off, as I have for the past few years, or I can embrace the chaos.
No, I can’t embrace the chaos.
Okay, but what I can do, what I am doing, is figuring out that I’m not as inflexible as I always thought I was. Yeah, I know I already said as much just a little while ago, but it bears repeating because, for me, it’s a big deal.
Not feeling bad about not writing today—knowing that I’ll be putting my energy into plotting my next project instead (after debating whether or not I’ll actually post this)—is a huge deal. The irony of all of this? I set my own damn schedule. I’m the one who decides whether or not I’ll write today. So… today? I will not write. Well, except for this.
Or, maybe this post will energize me and I’ll flip screens and bang out two thousand words. Who knows?
A lot of people and a lot of industries are going through the same thing right now. Figuring out what day it is, is only half the battle. What we need to be thinking about… No, what should be settling in like an indelible stain is the realization that normal, as always, is going to have to be redefined. The world is never going to be the same again—and it shouldn’t be. Just as I needed to learn that my daily schedule was disposable, the world will learn that 9-5, 5 days a week, is archaic. Doing things the way we’ve always done them because we’ve always done them that way isn’t the way we need to always do them.
Not everything is working right now, but enough is. And new opportunities abound—not only to rectify great social wrongs, but for everyone to take a pause, actually look outside of themselves, and figure out what their new normal will be.
I’m not going to suggest we needed this. We never need to lose so many lives—so many unnecessarily. But we’re here now and… God, so many metaphors are bouncing around in my mind right. I’m seeing the toys that play when the lights are off and no one is home. I’m seeing cracks in plaster with bright purple light pushing through. Veils torn, illusions shattered. Deep breaths and heartrending cries.
But you know what comes from chaos? The substance of life. Everything. All we can do is keep going, eyes open, shoulders square. Remake ourselves, whether that’s learning to relax or realizing we have more to offer than we thought we did. Count our blessings and share them with those who have fewer.
For me, it might be as simple as remembering every day ends in Y. I get up, I chose something to do, and I do it. Learning how to tread water so that I’ll last long enough to see the other side of the pond.