“Ahhhhh!” Screams emitted from my toddler’s bedroom. I sprang up from my work and ran in. My husband was rolling around on the floor, writhing in pain.
“What happened?” I asked.
“My toe!” he gasped. “I think it’s broken. Broke it on the dresser.”
His foot was starting to swell as I looked to the corner of the dresser he had accidentally slammed into while chasing our 2-year-old. So much for that fun game of hide-and-seek!
That was last Monday.
The rest of the week, we had x-rays, multiple pressing work deadlines, a serious issue at preschool, a diagnosis of a stomach infection (and beginning of requisite treatment), a search for a contractor to fix our broken bathroom, a sick cat, and many adventures in potty training. Not to mention navigating my husband’s pre-paid weekend hiking trip that then had to morph into a pre-paid weekend sitting trip.
More broadly, in our country, Covid cases are spiking once more, and time is ticking toward one of the most contentious elections in history. The future of millions of people’s healthcare and rights is at stake. The U.S. feels as divided as ever, and the threat of political violence on and after election day looms.
Did I mention the endless hurricanes and wildfires?
Yet throughout all of this, people still have to work. Pay bills. Rent. Mortgages. Put food on the table. For us writers and artists, it means somehow figuring out how to stay creative and productive amongst all the crazy and the tension and the worry. Especially if writing equals keeping a roof over your head, you can’t let distractions get to you. Deadlines don’t wait!
I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been doing to keep the creativity flowing and cope with the chaos during my open writing assignment this year. It hasn’t been perfect, or always healthy. (If I’m being honest, I just finished stuffing candy that’s supposed to be for trick-or-treaters into my face.) So do what works for you, and take my advice with a grain of salt (or a fun-sized Snickers, whichever you prefer.)
Make Self-Care a Priority.
Earlier this year, once our quarantine ended, I had been writing by myself for many hours a week in a sad, lonely corner of a Panera Bread, wearing a mask, eating You Pick Twos, and downing jumbo iced teas. I can’t write much at home, because as any toddler mom will tell you, if your child knows you are home, you will not get one waking second of peace!
After many weeks of this, I realized that my sanity, my wallet, and my waistline weren’t going to survive it much longer. I had not exercised in months, and had picked up some bad habits while in quarantine, and they all involved chocolate and wine. I was feeling depressed, which definitely wasn’t helping my writing.
I decided enough was enough and I had to stop eating junk and get my body moving. But how? I had no space to exercise between full-time childcare and full-time writing. Then—bam! I had an idea.
All I really need to be able to write is electric outlets and WiFi (a stiff drink is optional). I searched around and found a gym nearby that has a little café. It has now officially become my office. When I’m done writing, I go upstairs and have a quick work out, take a yoga class, or relax in the sauna. Once the virus eases, I will also have childcare there for 2 hours a day. An office, gym, yoga, and childcare for about $100 a month. Keeps me in shape, on deadline, and far away from sweet teas, cookies, and those little chocolate bundt cake thingys that are always calling my name.
Now if I can just stop bringing in Halloween candy whenever I go…
Often, I’ve been finding myself getting overwhelmed by the weight of everything. Family commitments, work responsibilities, deadlines, civic duties, ever-changing Covid updates and protocols, entertaining my child, trying to keep some kind of a social life and community going…it can be beyond exhausting, and I 100% realize I am one of the lucky ones.
I can’t even imagine the heartache of those who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. I also feel terrible for anyone who has lost a job, a career, a livelihood. I have been there. I distinctly remember getting laid off of my job via a mass e-mail during the 2008 housing crisis (classy, I know), and being unable to find any other viable work. It was a dark and terrifying time.
My husband and I have just started a gratitude practice. Yesterday, we had a long chat about everything we have to be grateful for. Our health, for starters! A roof over our heads, even if it has a broken bathroom at the moment. Our jobs, however stressful they might be at times—we’re still employed! Our daughter—thriving, no matter how many gray hairs she gives us! Every day, I’m going to be writing down something I’m grateful for on a post-it and stick it to my bathroom mirror as a reminder to look on the bright side more often. Negativity blocks creativity, and I simply can’t afford to let that happen.
No News is Good News.
I will admit it. I am a news addict. Not TV news—I have no desire to throw up in my mouth on a daily basis, thank you. I love the News App on my iPhone. I get a little thrill opening it up in the morning to see what fresh hell opened up overnight.
This year, however, keeping tabs on Covid numbers, watching our country implode, and navigating toxic political ads in real time didn’t do anything positive for my psyche. And it was distracting me from my work. So I had to get rid of it.
I didn’t delete the app, mind you. (That was a step too far.) I hid it in a folder on my phone so I can’t see that tempting bright red button that I love to push so much. I’m not saying I never open it up. But it’s not top of mind anymore, so the addiction has settled into quieter background noise. Sometimes out of sight, out of mind really does work.
Let It Go.
I was taking a Lyft not long after the birth of my daughter a couple of years back, and got to chatting with the driver about the trials and tribulations of new motherhood. At a stoplight, she turned around and asked if she could give me one piece of advice.
“Sure,” I said.
“Don’t worry about keeping a spotless house. Your daughter won’t care if your house is clean. Your house will never be clean again. All she cares about is that you spend time with her. So don’t worry about it—let it go.”
We weren’t even talking about housekeeping, so I was surprised at her insight. I was indeed having trouble getting used to the fact that my formerly tidy place now looked like a bomb went off inside a tornado.
I was reminded of this again during lockdown, when my husband and I found ourselves working from home full time, with a toddler home full time. My house suddenly needed to multitask as a home, office, preschool, and playground. (Thank God we had just bought a toddler trampoline—that thing is worth ten times its weight in gold.)
For many of us in this country, this is still the case, if we are lucky enough to still be employed. Many people are being forced to wear too many hats at once—parent, employee (or employer), homeschool teacher, cook, housekeeper, handyman…the list goes on. How do we keep everything neat and organized on top of it?
The answer is: we don’t. I’ve had to come to a place where I can accept that the house is just going to be a mess. Toys and plastic balls are usually strewn everywhere (why did I buy that ball pit again)? My 2-year-old refuses to keep clothes on, so her clothes are strewn everywhere too. There are dirty dishes in the sink and half-full sippy cups on every table. I still haven’t unpacked everything from our move almost a year ago—a source of frequent frustration. There are projects all around the house begging for attention, but what can I do?
I have to choose sanity. I have to preserve my mental powers, whatever is left of them, so I can figure out plot points and storylines and character arcs. So during my daughter’s naps and after she goes to bed, I write. The house can be cleaned up late at night when I’m done, or the next day. Deadlines don’t wait.
One most poignant thing I realized during this dumpster fire of a year is that there is so much out of my control. Looking back on the past 10 months, the only thing I have been able to truly control is my attitude and my perspective, as cliché as that may sound.
If 20/20 is perfect vision, then I need to look back on 2020 with clarity. With all of its travesties and tremendous challenges, for me, it has been a year of incredible growth as a person and as a writer. I’m hoping I (and all of us) can hold on just awhile longer, and come out with our sanity and our creativity intact on the other side of all this.
In the meantime, I wish you productive writing, and all the Halloween candy you can eat (if I haven’t gotten to it first, that is)!