Anyone else feel like they’ve been holding their breath for the past two years? So many aspects of our lives are simply on hold. We’re waiting, breath held, for a return to normal.
While I wait to breathe, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what normal is and how my idea of it has changed. So far, I’ve learned that the longer I stay home, the more I want to stay home, and the less I see people, the less I want to see people. The less I do, the less I want to do. As my circle of influence shrinks, I seem not only to be welcoming the tightening of my social confines but actively looking for ways to further constrict them. I imagine it’s a sort of self perseveration instinct; one both mental and physical. I also think it’s not entirely healthy. But I tell myself I’ll deal with it after, when we all stop holding our breath.
Thing is? Normal (however you quantify it) isn’t constant. Normal changes all the time. Regular everyday things I did ten years ago—setting my alarm for 4 am so I could write before my daughter got up for school, packing lunches, driving her to music lessons—are no longer a part of my schedule. Normal changed when she left for college. Normal changed again when we rushed into Manhattan early in March 2020 to bring her home again. Normal continued to change as we transitioned from newly minted empty nesters to having an adult child living at home.
Another aspect of my normal has always been a need to plan. I love having a schedule; knowing what I’ll be doing at a certain time on any given day is a great comfort. Lunch is always at twelve, in that I will start preparing my lunch before then so I am sitting with my plate at exactly noon. Mostly. Exercise is at nine. Friday night is pizza night. I can’t watch TV before lunch. Only with or after. I clean the bathrooms on Saturday. We grocery shop on Sunday mornings.
Any deviation to these plans must be submitted (in triplicate) three days before the proposed change. Don’t ask me to watch a movie tonight, at 5:05. First, I’ll be eating (dinner is at five). Second, it’s too late to change my evening trajectory.
Lately, though? You could propose a movie at 4:45 and I’d probably go for it. Currently, my schedule is full of holes. And I kinda like it.
See, no one can hold their breath forever. And what I’ve realized over the past couple of months is that not only had I stopped holding air in my lungs, I’d stopped breathing altogether. Metaphorically, of course. I had stopped moving forward. Stopped planning. That bubble around me? The slowly shrinking one? All the air had leaked right out.
The pandemic will end. There will be an after, but it’s not going to be the same as before. Planning for that is hard. I don’t know what my future trip to Scotland will look like—the one I’ve cancelled twice and have stopped bookmarking stuff for. I don’t even know if we’ll go to Scotland the next time we fly overseas. We might go to Australia, instead, to catch up with the family I haven’t been able to see for the longest stretch since I left over twenty years ago.
But I’m not sure how to plan that, either. We’d been thinking about it. We’d been tossing dates around, and then everything went pear-shaped again.
Then there are the conferences I used to attend as an author and fan of all things nerdy and good. Will I ever be comfortable in a large space with too many people again? I wasn’t all that comfortable before but managed to cope for hours at a time. Now? I’m not so sure.
The largest gap in my schedule presently, however, is the time I used to spend writing.
I had been intending to take a break from writing for a long, long time and I have taken a week or two off here and there between projects. I tend not to enjoy my time off, though. I get twitchy and anxious and end up opening my ideas folder at least once a day to add a new idea or flesh out an existing one. I worry I’ll enjoy not writing so much that I’ll never go back, or that I’ll forget how to do any of it.
Now? I sort of feel as though I should be writing something, but only because I sort of feel like I should be writing something. I don’t feel like writing at all.
There’s an underlining sense of guilt, as though I should be working harder. Planning more. Planning forward. But it’s not poking me hard enough to be annoying. To motivate me to do anything other than write a blog post about the fact I don’t feel like writing. Usually, by early January, I’ve posted about what I hope to accomplish as a writer this year; a list of books to be published and a list of books to be written. I’ll have sent out a newsletter with the highlights and I’ll have posted somewhere about my goals.
I don’t have any goals this year. None. Except to remain healthy and mostly in possession of my mental faculties. But I do have a vague plan.
I’m just going to breathe. Draw in some air, savor it, and let it go slowly. Do it again. And then again. And while I’m breathing, I will strive to keep this space inside my head empty. To not think about the next book (until I have to) and to not think about what will happen after.
The thing about normal, my various normals, my plans, or lack of them, is that there has never been a space to just do nothing. There have been jokes about my need to plan even spontaneity, but never a word about planning nothing.
So, for the past month, I have avoided all plans. I have done a spectacular amount of nothing. There is no bubble. I popped it. The air around me is sweet.
Lunch happened at 11:45 yesterday because I was hungry.
I have three books with my current publisher, all in different stages of edits, and I will have to work on one of them very soon. After that, I should probably open my ideas folder and think about what I might write next.
But right now? I’m just going to breathe. I’m going to dress in all the layers and stand outside in the snow, look up into the sky, watch the clouds drift overhead, and breathe, knowing I can stand there, just breathing, until I get cold. I’ll think about spring and all the hiking I might do once the trails are dry enough. I’ll think about Scotland and Australia and the other places I might go to see one day. I’ll think about the friends I want to catch up with, in person.
Or I’ll just let random thoughts collide as my brain roots boxes of crap from the bottom of every closet. I’ll think about nothing.
Normal will adjust again soon. My routine will follow. That big bubble of air around me will either expand or constrict. Until then, though, my only plan is to recognize this space for what it is; to embrace it and to remember it.
To make this simple word, this simple act, my goal for 2022.