A Present Normal – Lockdown Day 47

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is May 1st. The month of March seemed to be about 3 years long, but April sped by. Perhaps this is a sign that I am adjusting to the new normal. Or perhaps I should call it the present normal, because the situation is ever-evolving, and there can be no true new normal until we have a treatment or vaccine for this virus.

In my present normal, I am able to indulge my night owl tendencies to an extent, by getting up a couple of hours later than I did when we had to be out the door for school, and therefore be able to stay up a few hours later at night. In spite of this, I really don’t feel well-rested. I am too on edge to sleep deeply and well. My anxiety is strange, in that when I am at a certain level of anxiety, I feel the urge to not sleep. As if my being awake can stave off whatever impending doom I am fretting about. I did this the night Superstorm Sandy blew through, as if my prowling the windows all night long could keep us safe. Apparently, that’s the level of stress I am currently experiencing. If I move into deeper stress, I move into the I-want-to-sleep-all-the-time escape mode. I am not there yet—and hope to avoid getting there.

Also in my present normal, I spend more time than I thought I would helping my daughter with her schoolwork. A large part of that is organizing and time management. My daughter’s organizational and time management skills are non-existent, so I spend a lot of my day putting her back on track and helping her with things she doesn’t understand. I also spend a lot of time feeding her. She eats constantly, but you’d never know it to look at her. Of course, she has grown an inch and a half in the last 4 months, so perhaps that explains the voracious appetite!

The one thing my present normal does not have is writing time. Part of it is because I am doing a lot more work with everyone home. Part of it is “pandemic brain” where a lot of the time my brain is fuzzy and it’s all I can do just to put out fires, forget about creativity. But even when my creative brain is working, I can’t seem to get to putting words on paper. I need some quiet alone time to do that, and that simply does not exist right now.

So hopefully my future present normal will have some time for that. I might have to wait until summer, when my daughter’s school will be out and I won’t have that time issue. But finding that time is my next challenge, the next step toward an inner normalcy, if not an external one.

How are all of you doing out there? How are you finding a new balance in this new world?

Back to the Routine – Lockdown Day 40

Last week was my daughter’s Spring Break, this week we are back to “school” as usual. Her school made a change over break, with 4 structured days (alternating Math and Language Arts focus) and then using Friday as a catch-up or free-choice study day, as needed. I think this will work really well.

I know some people are complaining about the amount of work their kids are getting with remote learning. Speaking only for my own experience, my daughter’s teachers have gotten it perfect. We have been remote learning since March 16th, and they have been refining as they go. Daily work takes a couple of hours, which is what experts say is right for my daughter’s age and grade. Her teacher has a GoogleMeet chat with the kids every school day so she can check in with them, answer questions, and go over new material. I am very pleased with the experience, so far.

This weekend, I successfully picked up groceries at my local store, and it went smoothly. Didn’t get all I wanted, but got all we needed, and that is good enough for me. Will try and snag another pickup time for two weeks from now.

Emotionally, I am up and down. The past few days have been good, but today has been hard. I am sad, and angry, and frightened. Sad for the people who are truly being hurt in the lockdown that our federal government refuses to help. Angry at the protestors so willing to put other people in danger for their own convenience. (“I need a haircut”? Really? Buy some scissors. “Sacrifice the Weak”? How very Christian of you. How very pro-life of you.) And frightened because the news of the virus is not good, and the premature reopening of states is going to cause a terrible second wave when we have not yet emerged from the first.

I am not in a creative place today, so doubt I will write, even though I know exactly what scene I want to work on next. Instead I will keep my family close, snuggle with my daughter when I put her to bed, be thankful we have survived another day healthy and together, and wait for the sun to rise on a new day.

Celebrating Easter on Lockdown – Day 33

So we’ve been at this unwanted adventure for a month. Can it be an adventure if you aren’t doing anything or going anywhere? Regardless, we are on a quest to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe. A quest to stay home? Very odd.

This week contained Easter, which my family celebrates. There is something innately surreal about celebrating a resurrection during a pandemic. Much like my Jewish friends celebrating being spared from a plague…during a plague. But the juxtaposition of new life and stalking death wasn’t lost on me.

I won’t lie, this was a tough week. We normally visit family over Easter, and not seeing them was hard on all of us. My daughter would say, “I really miss Grandma.” or “I wish I could see Grandma.” I am hoping that this virus gives us a break in the summer and we can get a visit in then.

Honestly, I would have just as soon let Easter pass with no celebration, no reminders, but I have a child who loves Easter, so thankfully, the Easter Bunny came and delivered candy and Legos, so our young one squealed with delight on Easter morning! (And woke us up quite early in the process.) My daughter left the Easter Bunny a note asking if he had been impacted by the virus, too. He left a note back saying animals don’t get sick from it like humans do, so the bunnies were fine. He also said that magical creatures seemed to be immune, as the leprechauns and elves were not sick, either.

The week was hard, with a lot of heavy feelings and held-back tears on my part. But it has passed and for the moment we are on a somewhat even keel. Tomorrow will be 14 days since I was last out in public, so I seem to have come through another incubation period okay. I got a slot for grocery pickup this time around, so I will not have to physically go into the store.

So Easter has passed, and it is hard not to try and find meaning in the conjunction of the theme of resurrection during a pandemic. The coronavirus has laid our country low, has bared all sorts of underlying inequities that have been ignored for a long time—racial, economic, health inequities that must be addressed when this is over. When we put this virus behind us, America must rise into something better than we were before—something closer to the ideals America has always proclaimed. Just as Jesus rose as something more than human, America must rise as something more than we were.

Concentration Fail – Lockdown Day 26

It’s been almost a month since we have been on coronavirus lockdown. The first few weeks were the hardest, as disruption and anxiety invaded everything. This week has felt a bit better. Not normal, by any means, but…almost.

I went food shopping again last Friday. So it’s been 5 days. Most people who get the virus start to show symptoms days 5-7. So I’m in the target zone, although I have until next Friday to get to the end of the 14 day incubation and be sure.

I never loved food shopping, and now it’s become a dreadful, anxiety-producing task. I also worry about my mother shopping for herself, as she is in multiple high-risk groups, but I am not close enough to help. She finally got a spot for delivery at her local store, and we are both so happy! One less thing to worry about for the time being.

I’ve got to tell you, though. My. Concentration. Is. Shot. I lose hours a day and I have no idea where the time went. I spend way too much time on Facebook, scrolling almost mindlessly through the feed. This is at least partly a function of my anxiety disorder. My anxiety craves information—it’s part of the illusion of control my anxiety demands. But then the information is so unbelievably bad, it boosts my anxiety. So it’s a vicious cycle, and one I need to take more control over, if I can.

So I’m not focusing on stuff the way I should. Taking me forever to do basic work, and forgetting what day of the week it is. But, weirdly enough, I AM getting some writing done. Not much, not nearly what I could have done pre-pandemic, but every so often I get a spurt of creativity and get another scene revised. 4,200 words edited since lockdown started. Not too bad.

Next week my daughter’s school is on Spring Break, so any semblance of routine will likely dissolve with no schoolwork to do. I have no idea what that will mean for my sanity or creativity.

But today I am thankful for progress. Progress in my writing and progress through this lockdown. As endless as it seems, the lockdown will eventually end, and every day is one day closer to that moment.

And on that day, the world will be reborn. So let’s make it a good one.

Anticipatory Anxiety: The Other Shoe – Lockdown Day 19

As we finally enter into April, my initial shock over the coronavirus pandemic is lifting. The first week and a half or so, I had a weight on my chest, and my brain felt fogged over. This week I have felt more myself, clearer-headed, lighter-chested. But I have moved from initial overwhelm to the next phase: anticipatory anxiety.

And what’s anticipatory anxiety? It’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’ve got the pandemic (shoe one), and now we’re waiting to see who we know gets sick (shoe two). They are estimating several million people will be infected by this before we are done—what are the chances at least one of them isn’t in your circle of friends or family?

So now I am haunted with the waiting. As someone with anxiety disorder, this type of anxiety has always been my undoing. I am good in an actual crisis. Once I can see the enemy, know the parameters of the crisis, I’m good to go. It’s the waiting that unravels me. Because I see every possible path, and can follow each to the worst possible outcome. Over and over.

And so I lay in bed at night with the silent tears falling, and see so many futures I don’t want to see. What if I get sick? What if my husband and I both do, what happens to my daughter? What if my daughter gets sick and needs to be hospitalized? Will they let me go with her? What if one or both of my parents gets sick—especially if both of them do? Do I go to them, knowing it’s for the duration and I can’t come home?

Anticipatory anxiety. The other shoe.

Each day to come will be a lesson in patience, a lesson in seeking peace, a lesson in staying sane.

Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

Right Now. Coronavirus Lockdown Day 12

I’ve never been very good at being “in the moment.” My brain is always making forays into other times and places, so “right now” has always been rather hard for me. I sometimes wonder if that’s why my memory is not as strong as I think it should be—I don’t absorb enough from being there in the moment because my brain isn’t paying close enough attention.

Being in coronavirus lockdown is all about being in the “right now.” Because of the uncertainty of how long this might last, we are in a perpetual right now. Our world has become smaller as we draw inside our shells and time has changed its flow. It’s a series of right nows, rather than a timeline.

Right now my daughter needs to finish her homework.

Right now we should go for a walk outside because it stopped raining.

Right now I’ll make a meal.

Right now my blog post needs to be written.

There is no end in sight, so it all becomes an extended right now. And in an odd way, even though “normalcy” was only 12 days ago, it seems like another lifetime. A parallel universe.

The anxiety can overwhelm me without warning. My temper can spark for no real reason. The enforced 24/7 with the people I love can grate on my introvert nerves—and the forced distance from other people I love leaves a hole in my heart.

Right now is surreal. It is fear and peace and disruption and normalcy all wrapped up in one moment. Multiple levels of consciousness felt all at once. Looking out the window as if it’s a TV screen, with the outside as unreal as a Hollywood set. And when outside, almost—almost—being able to forget the invisible enemy that stalks us all.

We are struggling to find our footing still, find our balance on this new tightrope between life and death. Between living and hiding. When it gets too much, I just hang on to the fact that we are all together, we have the things we need, and we are healthy.

Right now.

Coronavirus Lockdown – Day 5

We got the call Friday—schools in our county would be closing until April 20th. More than a month away. The mad scramble began for all our families. Granted, since I work at home anyway, I was in a better position to handle my child’s sudden homebound state than many. And I give many kudos to the teachers and administration of our particular school who made this transition appear almost flawless. The children have work to do online and/or at home, and the children who relied on free or reduced meals are still getting fed. I cannot thank our school’s staff enough for everything they have done in this trying time.

Let me just say that I am not cut out to be a teacher. There is a reason I never homeschooled. However, we are beginning to adjust to the new reality. We have to do it quietly, though, as my husband is also suddenly working from home and is often on teleconferences.

This is a very strange existence, hiding from a germ. When your enemy is invisible and indiscriminant, it is very hard to combat. It puts us into a war-time mentality, and an odd dichotomy where our neighbors are simultaneously our allies and enemies. We are all in this together, helping each other out, but at the same time any person can be carrying the virus and not be aware.

I went grocery shopping today. I think I now understand what cavemen felt when they went hunting. Danger everywhere. The unknown around every corner. I have never been so stressed getting milk. Stayed as far from other shoppers as possible. Luckily, it was not crowded. Some shelves were pretty empty (mostly the meats and Club Size items), but I got everything I needed, and hopefully I can stay home the next 2 weeks. I got home and felt like I had bugs crawling all over me, even after I scrubbed my hands.

Uncertainty is a killer for me—for most people, really. We as a species do not handle the unknown well at all. I have an anxiety disorder, and the uncertainty has inflamed it greatly. I have parents who are in the high-risk age group, and I cannot be with them through this, as we live in different states. My child and husband are home all day, and although we are forming a routine, it is not there yet. And every time one of us ventures out into a public space (like the store), the 14-day waiting period resets.

I am trying to reign in my anxiety and carry on. I get outside (not public places, just outdoors) every day it’s not raining, usually with my daughter because she needs to get out of the house, too. I try not to stress-eat, but that’s hard. I stay in touch with my family and friends so we can help each other through this. But the fear still nibbles at the edges all the time, laying heavy on my heart.

The only time it lifts is at night, when I cuddle up with my daughter while she falls asleep. In that moment, she is safe, I am safe, we are safe. I listen to her breathe, as I used to when she was an infant, a lullaby that calms every mother’s heart.

Find your peace. Stay safe. Be well.

Never Travel with Alec Ramsey

Recently, in a purely escapist mood, I have re-read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. This also includes the Island Stallion books and the stand-alone The Horse Tamer. I have never read them all in such a compressed timeframe and I realized something rather terrifying: you should never travel with Alec Ramsey.

Alec is the owner of the Black Stallion, and of course they have many adventures together. Unfortunately for anyone traveling with them, many of these adventures include transportation or natural disasters. I’m going to go through them below, so if you don’t want to know, stop here!

***mild spoilers***

I am only doing books that center on Alec, as he is not in all the series books.

Black Stallion

1. The Black Stallion (1941) – shipwreck and months on a deserted island
2. The Black Stallion Returns (1945) – abandoned by his caravan in the middle of the Arabian desert during a sandstorm
3. Son of the Black Stallion (1947) – no transport issues, although he does nearly die
5. The Black Stallion and Satan (1949) – forest fire
8. The Black Stallion’s Filly (1952) – no issues
9. The Black Stallion Revolts (1953) – falls out of an airplane, which subsequently crashes
10. The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt (1954) – no issues
12. The Black Stallion’s Courage (1956) – no issues
13. The Black Stallion Mystery (1957) – abandoned at night in the Balkan mountains
15. The Black Stallion and Flame (1960) – plane crash into the Caribbean during a hurricane
16. The Black Stallion Challenged (1964) – no issues
17. The Black Stallion’s Ghost (1969) – lost in the Everglades. At night. With a madman.
18. The Black Stallion and the Girl (1971) – no issues
19. The Black Stallion Legend (1983) – meteor strike and cataclysmic earthquakes and eruptions

If you travel with Alec Ramsey, you have a 57% chance of being in a transportation or natural disaster. Those are not good odds!

What fictional character would you NEVER travel with? Alternately, are there any you’d LOVE to travel with?

Stay safe out there.

Practice social distancing.

Wash your hands.

When a Story Refuses to Work

I’ve been working on my science fiction YA story Veritas for a long time. Maybe 5 years. Which isn’t as long as some people have worked on books, but it’s long for me. Finally, about a year ago I felt like I had gotten it to a good place, and sent it to my editor.

She and I both felt it was the best thing I had ever written, and after I fixed a few flaws she’d pointed out, I sent it around to agents.

No one wanted it.

I finally found one agent who loved the writing but was less enamored of the story as told. Gave me some feedback and said she would be happy to look at it if I revised it. I hemmed and hawed for a long while—I wasn’t a fan of some of the changes she wanted, and it took me a while to find a way forward. So I sliced and diced and added and pretty much rewrote the whole thing. It came out very different.

But was it actually any better?

I knew something wasn’t right, but I had worked on Veritas so long and hard that I had lost objectivity. So I sent it back to my editor, hoping the edits needed would become clear and not be too onerous.

The result was not good.

My feeling that something wasn’t right was correct. In fact, most of the story wasn’t correct. And before you think I am just accepting the editor’s notes at face value, I agree with what she’s saying. I’d just been too close to see it—but I knew it somewhere inside. I’d done a lot of work and gone backward. I had been left with a disaster wrapped in a catastrophe.

So now what? I think I finally figured out why I am struggling so much with the story. My protagonist’s goals aren’t clear enough. So I need to think about that. But I also need to think about whether I want to invest more time and emotion into this story.

If I do go forward (and I likely will, because I am nothing if not stubborn), I may go back to my original manuscript and start over from there with the new perspectives of the agent and this misfired rewrite. Just because version one was the best thing I had written to date doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved. I’m not vain enough to think anything I write is perfect.

I will likely put Veritas aside for a bit, though. Let my subconscious chew on everything. I have a first draft of a manuscript I want to work on, so will probably jump to that and get that moving.

Have you ever had a story that was SO CLOSE but you just couldn’t get right? How did you overcome that?

Professional Development

This weekend I went to training for my Board of Education position. It was intense. Classes from 6 PM – 10 PM Friday and 8:30 AM – 10 PM Saturday, then 9 AM – noon on Sunday.

I. Was. Fried.

Despite being tired (but not hungry—they fed us well!), I learned a lot. And there is so much more to learn. It will take years to become truly knowledgeable.

A writing career is no different–it takes years of continuous professional development to even approach mastery. You work on one craft element, then another, then another, constantly learning as each element intersects and influences the others. David King calls this the “web of writing” and it’s one of the trickiest parts of writing. No element exists in a vacuum.

So we learn about each element separately (because it’s the only way to stay sane), but then have to integrate it into the whole. Which can lead to your story feeling lopsided as you excel at some elements but not at others. Continuing professional development will eventually smooth it out as you bring all the elements up to par.

But even after mastering the basics, the learning never stops. Writing is a craft of infinite depth, and I am not sure there is an actual bottom. Creativity has no boundary, the horizon is ever just out of reach.

One time, a friend asked me why I continued to come to the same writer’s conference every year. I replied that I learned something new every year, because I was in a different place as a writer than last year. Things I could not grasp the year before, I could this year. Learning is a constant process of building on what you already know. It never ends.

And that is one reason I love writing so much.

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