Writing? Writing?!?!

Welcome to the pandemic, where half of my social media feed consists of people extolling the virtues of staying in and working on new projects (didja know Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined?) and the other half of my feed have young children.

I apparently have an introvert-heavy feed, as no one gives a shit about going out, except to bring children to daycare or school.

I am home, as always, with my infant daughter and (new!) my husband and preschool-aged son. If it were the two adults, or even the two adults and the baby, we’d be fine. I have to force myself out of the house at the best of times. But an active preschooler who needs everything just so (“He’s very particular,” says his preschool teachers. “He knows exactly what he wants.”) is not exactly a Shakespearean-style quarantine.

There are a lot of online suggestions for keeping kids occupied while schools are closed. I am unconvinced that they were made with real preschoolers in mind, though I remind myself that I signed him up for daycare as a toddler when it became abundantly clear to me that guiding a young mind through any sort of structured activity on a daily basis was not among my skill-sets. No one can love him more than me, I said, but someone else can teach him to put on his shoes.

Subscribing to Disney+ only gets us so far.

In the midst of all this, I am taking a poetry class. I did not think I’d be writing poetry in the middle of a pandemic, but here we are. In the middle of a pandemic, not writing poetry.

The saving grace of this situation is that it’s shaken me out of the slothlike low-level depression of being home with a baby all day. Instead I am in full anxiety-fueled problem solving mode, scanning depleted grocery store shelves for more things we should have on hand lest we become too ill to shop. I bought instant noodles in the event that one of us needs to self-isolate in the bedroom and the other is too busy wrangling two children to bring up food; we could keep the kettle in there.

Amazon is shutting down. Is that in Canada too? Should I buy all the things now while I can? My kid has found every toy in the house already and we have nineteen more days of this to go, that we know of. (I cannot think beyond that.)

One of the poetry exercises involved writing a list of words, and all of mine had to do with this coronavirus.

Today at the grocery store, I ran into a woman I’ve seen at daycare pickup. I don’t know her name, or her kid’s name, but we’re both brown so we give each other the nod. We made small talk at a distance, which is the longest conversation we’d ever had, but I am hungry for regular, every day human interaction, even though I hate people.

The anniversary of my dad’s death is in a few days. This will have to be postponed. But making cake for my husband’s birthday is a child-occupying activity, so we will make cake. I hope our babysitter is free once this is all over. The last time she was here she had just got a part in a play, and I’m sure that is cancelled now.

Friends of mine met for brunch last Saturday. We hesitated, but met while we still could. Restaurants are closed now. I’m glad I went, and saw some of my people before we went underground. I have not been seeing enough people lately, but never mind that now. We saw my 82 year old father-in-law that day too. I wonder if that will be the last time we see him, although he is (fortunately) a misanthropic hermit on his best days, and I cannot think beyond a blank cement wall spray-painted with “Everything will be fine.”

I wish I had never seen the Walking Dead, not even the excellent first season where they actually cared about the pandemic. Rick was in a coma for just two months, and look what happened.

I started out hyperfocusing on the data, but I can’t keep track of all of Canada now. I look up Ontario’s numbers each day, but I don’t remember how it grown. I can’t keep track enough to write a post about how I am not writing, and fuck all you people with projects.

So let me just say, if you able to make use of this weird-ass time, more power to you but shut up. The rest of us are just getting through.

We have food, we have toilet paper, we have public health. We have anxiety, we have active children, we have no idea when this will end.

The Year of the Habit

Judging by the articles popping up lately, the latest thing is about forming habits. We’re over mindfulness, we’ve decluttered everything, we’re resilient as fuck. Now we need habits. (Good ones. Bad ones are easy.)

I’ve never been good at habit. I start almost all of my writing classes by proudly announcing that I do not write every day and that I have no writing routine. The relief is palpable: somewhere along the lines, that very good advice about writing daily has become prescriptive, and most of the writers I encounter in my classes beat themselves up about not having a routine, and I then spend the our time together trying to convince them that a writing routine is not necessary to be a writer.

I know what they go through because I remember the first time I was in a writing class with a teacher who mentioned he had no routine and did not write every day. The guy had published a book! A good one! He had an MFA! If he didn’t have to write every day then neither did I!

And so I gave up on New Year’s Resolutions about writing every day. I ain’t never gonna. I don’t do routine.

But I’m at a point in my life where I realize running around crisis-driven and multi-tasking and declaring war on every problem I see is not sustainable. I’m burned out on fixing problems for things I don’t even like and no longer want to do, and the short bursts of writing are simply dwindling. Challenges are becoming too tiring.

I need a new way of operating my life. No more dealing with business problems first and writing second. Frankly, I am mostly out of the business these days, and so why prioritize something I don’t really do anymore?

And I think I need to eat my words and try routine.

I’m trying to keep it simple and realistic. Write every day. The definition of ‘write’ can be anything. Working on my novel. Writing a blog. (Day 1, done.) Teaching writing. Freewriting. A list of words that start with O. Anything.

I’m looking up these articles on habit and see that tagging it to another habit helps; we only have so much willpower, so the key is to use as little willpower as possible. I don’t have another habit. But my kids have a routine, and I can tie it to naptime. Or when naptime fails, bedtime. (Bedtime had better not fail.) I don’t know what happens when the baby goes off to daycare and my time starts free-floating. Maybe I’ll need a (gasp!) schedule. One thing at a time.

I’m resisting the urge to add in every other habit I want to work on, although genuinely, I should go to bed earlier and drink more water and read more and also hold more 5 minute dance parties.

Routine is not for everyone. I did an MFA and had several publications and a produced play and many drafts of a goddamn novel without routine. I don’t think my life was conducive to peaceful routine.

But my life needs to be different and so I need to try something different.

Here goes nothing.