Now that we’re a couple of months into this quarantine, I’ve been asked how I’m utilizing my time, and how I’m making sense of what’s happening in the world. Am I more or less productive? Are the words flowing or am I stuck? The answer is neither and both.
Most of us on planet Earth have had to simplify and take refuge in our homes. Our regular lives are on hold, and many of the things that used to fill our days are off limits. We’re living in one prolonged moment of pause. This extra time could present us artistic types with an opportunity – an opportunity to focus on creative things if we are so inclined. But, is that what’s really happening?
I have many writer friends, and we actually talk a lot about this. We all feel like we should be super productive. After all, Isaac Newton invented calculus while in quarantine during the Great Plague of London. If he could accomplish something so monumental, we should at least be able to crank out a few thousand extra words. But, that’s not how it is. At least, not every day.
This quarantine isn’t like attending a writer’s retreat, where we’ve purposely cleared our calendars and removed ourselves to some peaceful cabin on a lake in order to get our creative juices flowing or finish up that manuscript on deadline. Nope. We are at home, worried about our families, our finances, about the possibility of getting sick.
One of the things I’m struggling with personally is the feeling that I can’t be helpful. Years ago, I was an EMT, and I worked as a first responder in the field and in a hospital ER. Later I worked in education. If I were still doing either, I think I’d feel more useful. But even on a simpler scale, I can’t watch my neighbor’s kids for a couple of hours so she can get some work done. I can’t do a friend’s laundry who isn’t feeling well. I can’t bring over a bottle of wine and visit with a friend who’s struggling. I can’t do many of the usual things I normally would to support my friends and neighbors in a time of crisis. And we’re all in crisis, make no mistake. The world is suffering, and we don’t know what it will look like when we emerge on the other side.
So, even though I have extra time, I’m not always in the frame of mind to use it.
Here’s what I am trying to do. I’m trying to find some sort of balance between setting a schedule that will accomplish something, and being gentle with myself. I don’t want to tip too far into non-functional, because that’s a hard pit to crawl out of. It’s easy to spiral into my own head, or circle the drain, as I like to call it, when I don’t have access to the things that keep my head in a good space. For me, most of those things are socially driven. I’m giving myself permission to breathe through the bad days guilt free. But, I’m also coaxing myself to set modest fitness, mental health, and work goals. They are watered down compared to the ones I had in pre-Covid days, but they still encourage forward progress.
Mostly, I try to remember that I can choose to feel gratitude for what I have. I am grateful for my family, for my home, for simple things like a sunny day and my cat purring on my pillow, for getting words – any words – onto a piece of paper. This is a strange and scary time for us all. I don’t think we should put pressure on ourselves, but at the same time, we will emerge from our cocoons and reenter the light at some point, so we don’t want to lose ourselves in the dark.