Write Now Columbus – September 2020
How’s everyone holding up?
Ed and I have reached the pandemic stage many people hit a few months back: Quarantine Crazy. For the most part, we’re self-isolating and wish we could safely do things we did without thought before.
Since he and I spent the first few months of the pandemic dealing with his health crisis, we experienced a lag. Only now do we feel the pandemic grief. The pandemic stress has just begun to catch us. Ed’s grieving in-person classes at Ohio State, volunteering at the Upper Arlington Senior Center’s Cafe UA, and attending face-to-face meetings.
I’m grieving writing in cafes.
I’ve written about my love of walking into a coffeehouse nearly anywhere in the country and sitting down to an empty table and a cup of coffee. Before the pandemic, I haunted Colin’s Coffee or Kingsdale Market District here in Upper Arlington where we live. The pandemic closed both to indoor seating.
I can still walk to Colin’s for a sleepy mudshot and a McRoy, and visit Market District for groceries and a quick chat with the staff. But the pandemic ended my days of spending five uninterrupted hours in either place. I try to adapt, but I’m exhausted and frustrated.
If, like me, you’re thinking, “Shouldn’t I be used to this by now?” check out Tara Haelle’s article “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful.” She offers explanations (grief/stress) and suggestions including “Expect less from yourself” which has been my mantra since Ed’s first hospitalization in February.
Haelle talks about “both-and” thinking. Life plods along. Despite the grief and stress, in many ways, it’s lovely. We grieve the losses while enjoying the wins.
Here are a few of my recent wins:
On Twitter, I’m a stone’s throw from 5,000 followers. If you Tweet, I’d love a follow and will follow back. Ditto for all the social channels.
The fabulous Ohioana Book Festival which went virtual for the first time in its fourteen year history, wrapped up August 30th. The replays will be on youtube soon. I hope you’ll check out our “Living Your Best Life” panel. Pia Fitzgerald, Conlee Ricketts, Diana Bosse, moderator Yolanda Tonette Sanders, and I had a blast. I closed my laptop so inspired by their stories.
Legendary blog goddess Nina Amir invited me to co-teach “Blogging for Authors” for the Women’s National Book Association of San Francisco on September 30th. Like pretty much everything else, it’s virtual.
My blog, Bum Glue, was selected as one of the Top 100 Blogs for Writers by feedspot.
And finally, due to COVID19, the Columbus Bar Association postponed my continuing legal education program originally scheduled for May to October 8th. It too has gone virtual.
Ohio State’s own Pulitzer Prize Finalist Lee Martin often cites Isak Dinesen. Dinesen said, “Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” If only for our sanity, may we each keep our writing near the top of our list.
As always, I would love to hear what each of you are up to, how you’re thriving in place, and what keeps you going.
A Love Note to My Running Tribe
My running group, Marathoner in Training (MIT), asked members to write a “Good Thing” that happened during the ever-so-odd and nearly cancelled 2020 spring season. I contributed this love note to my running tribe.
This week’s “Good Thing” comes from Nita Sweeney who refuses to choose between the 13:00 Run/Walk group and the 14:00 Run/Walk group, and who often finds herself finishing after the Walker group.
This MIT season has been filled with both “good” and difficult things.
In February, while my husband Ed and I were on book tour in California, for Depression Hates a Moving Target, Ed, had a heart attack. He also had pneumonia twice, and open-heart surgery in March that left him on a gastric feeding tube for two months. Gratefully, he continues to heal and is returning to good health.
Ed and Nita Sweeney returning from California in February 2020
Meanwhile, with bookstores and libraries closed, and book festivals cancelled or postponed, I launched a second book. This, a writing journal, You Should Be Writing, I co-authored with Mango Associate Publisher Brenda Knight.
For my sanity, I returned to running after everything I just mentioned (combined with a pandemic and a civil rights revolution) had derailed my training.
Nita and Scarlet the #ninetyninepercentgooddog
But those aren’t the “good things” I want to share.
When Ed came home from the hospital, and his care transformed me from “award-winning author” to “accidental home health aide” overnight, I feared I wasn’t up to the task. My MIT friends saw my distress. Food, supplies, cards, and stuffed animals flooded in and have not stopped even now that Ed is recovering.
All You Need is Love and a Unicorn
But their real gift came one Saturday when I got a text that said:
“Look out your front door.”
After a few of them had met for a socially distanced run, they had each driven separately to our house. When Ed and I looked out, we saw them, standing six feet apart, holding motivational signs like those normally seen at races. It brought Ed and I to tears. We both felt as if Ed was in a race for his life.
MIT Folks at the Door
That brings me to the “good thing.”
Whether you’re struggling to get in the miles, having a bad day, or feeling so low you’re not sure you want to stay on the planet, please reach out to me or any other member of the MIT family. We will stand with you and cheer you on the same way these MIT members have done for Ed and me. MIT is family, nothing less.
Even if you don’t live in central Ohio and can’t join our MIT family, if you run, you’re part of the tribe. That makes you family! The offer I made to the MIT members stands for you as well.
Self-care has gotten a bad rap. Bubble baths. Pedicures. Massages. But what does self-care really look like? Recently, here’s what it means for me.
My Current Experience of Self-Care
When Ed was in the hospital, self-care to me meant going home every night to sleep in our bed. The alternative was a hard, too short, not quite wide enough pull out sofa under the air conditioner ceiling duct by Ed’s hospital window. It meant buying a small, green salad from the hospital cafeteria and trying to make the salad portion larger than the macaroni and cheese portion. Self-care meant finding a long, almost empty hallway, and walking back and forth. The nurses forbade me from doing laps on the cardiac ICU ward. I needed to burn anxious energy and didn’t have time to run.
Once Ed was home, self-care meant going into the basement for 10 minutes without my phone. I only did that once. I returned upstairs to liquid food all over the floor because the feeding tube line had come unhooked while Ed was napping and Scarlet was lapping the spillage off the floor. We had to clean the recliner, Ed, Ed’s clothes, the floor, and the dog. But that ten minutes alone in the basement was nearly worth it.
Mid-pandemic, mid-revolution, mid-book launch, and now that Ed is on the mend, self-care looks like longer, slower runs, and walks with the dog after dark when the humidity and temperature have dropped enough that Scarlet can go more than half a mile. I also reach out to others even if I prefer not to talk to anyone and listen instead of giving advice. Holding space for others who are hurting helps me as much as it does them. Self-care also means blogging more often, doing more writing practice, and reading deeply.
What Does Self-Care Look Like for Others?
A friend whose mother is in a nursing home finds solace by sitting outdoors in a lawn chair outside her mother’s window where her mother can see. Her mother has dementia but smiles at the nice lady who visits her. My friend takes a long nap when she gets home.
A runner friend has embraced hard training. The long miles and intense workouts reduce her anxiety.
Some writers have started new books, while others are back to basics, filling blank notebooks with ink.
Thousands of people are taking care of themselves by protesting and pushing the edges of society in an effort to break hundreds of years of racism to smithereens. For others it’s choosing to buy books by authors of color and supporting black-owned businesses because the person is immunocompromised or lives with someone at-risk. I support them by buying from black-owned businesses and listening to any of my friends who are in a marginalized group. It’s a way to care for my heart.
And what about the people on the front lines? How does a doctor or a nurse or a restaurant worker or a janitor or a teacher or a bus driver take care right now? And how about the people with children, especially the single parents, who are trying to work while school and daycare and summer camps and vacation are all essentially cancelled? I’d bet their self-care looks a lot like that ten minute break I stole in the basement, ten minutes that resulted in more work than if I hadn’t taken it.
But let’s not forget internal self-care: Meditation. Therapy. Mindfulness. Mantras. Affirmations.
For my inner self-care, I joined a 28-day meditation challenge. It’s free to essential workers and activists, and is offered on a sliding scale to everyone else.
What does self-care look like for you? I would love to hear from each of you.
I am Your Witness – Write Now Columbus – May 2020
My old friend, impostor syndrome, has returned.
“Who do you think you are?” it chides as I try to pen this essay. It says I have nothing to offer since I have barely written all month.
Ed, my husband, continues his amazing recovery from open heart surgery, the complications of which left him unable to swallow. He left the hospital on March 26th on a feeding tube. Two weeks ago he had just begun to eat soft foods. Today, he is eating full meals and swallowing all his pills. A surgeon will remove the tube next week.
I’m darned proud of how hard he has worked to heal and just as proud of myself for how quickly I learned the home health aide duties his care required. You may have seen my #accidentalhomehealthaide tweets. They began in jest, but he and I have been in a home health care bubble since he got home. I had neither time nor energy to do anything more authorial than the occasional social media post.
But things are turning.
As mental health awareness month begins, I have a podcast recording scheduled, a mental health-related feature interview, a lovely chat with author Mag Dimond set on Facebook live during the month, and the new writing journal, You Should Be Writing, coauthored with Brenda Knight out in the world.
Still, my mind could care less.
“Who do you think you are?”
Across the room sits a statue of the Buddha in the “earth-witness” pose with his fingers touching the ground.
Legend has it, in the final hours before the Buddha’s enlightenment, Mara, the demon taunting and tempting him with all manner of things, made one final challenge: doubt.
“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
The Buddha touched his fingers to the ground and said, “I am here.”
The Earth responded, “I am your witness.”
We writers are all Buddhas.
When doubt arises, we touch our fingers to the keyboard or put our pens to the page.
Let’s say it together:
“I AM HERE!”
I see you. I am your witness, and you are mine.
Doubt, be gone.
Guilt in the Time of COVID19 – Write Now Columbus – April 2020
A friend recently admitted to feeling guilty that she wasn’t writing during what is, for her, a sudden slow time. I could relate.
The second week my husband was in the hospital, after they closed the doors to visitors and implemented social distancing across the country, I thought I might use the suddenly empty days to tidy my office, you know, the one that looks like a bomb went off in it.
But there’s this thing behind my ears. Silent, distracting, like a computer program hogging all the RAM. I can’t see it or hear it, but it’s there, draining my focus. I’d wager many of you feel it too.
Instead of sorting stacks of paper, I moved my laptop into the living room and surfed social media, waiting for his calls and texts. I went into my office to get my sunglasses so I could walk the pupperina, closed the door, and barely opened it for seven days.
I shared this with my friend and told her I refused to feel guilty for not learning a new language or writing a book during this time.
Guilt serves no one.
Instead of trying to write, I’m gathering the sensory details I will forget when I once again have the energy to write. The green rubber gloves with the little nibs on the fingers which, now that Ed is home, I wear to apply Lidocaine cream to his aching back. The whir of the nutrition pump and the slightly sickening vanilla protein shake smell of the liquid food. Stuffed bears or bear cutouts in some of the neighbors’ windows, including our own, so the children can go on a “bear hunt.” Feeling surprised at how much I miss hugs.
I admire people who can work under these conditions and worship the medical professionals and other essential workers out on the front lines. I urge everyone else to just keep their kids alive and try not to scream at that zoom call coworker who turns off his video, but fails to mute his microphone so the entire team hears his toilet flush.
We are all doing our best.
And now, repeat after me:
Wash your hands.
Don’t touch your face.
Set the guilt aside and do your part to save someone’s life.