Maintaining a Practice in Challenging Times
I thought I was going to write four books this year.
(I’ll wait, so you can finish laughing hysterically, while also crying.) (Or is that just me?)
I had a plan and everything, a system, a schedule. I made a big cheerful public commitment about it, and recruited a team of folks to write with me. We would check in with each other, cheer each other on, share our word counts and triumphs and challenges.
I was also exercising regularly, when 2020 started. I belonged to a gym. Remember gyms? I swam three times a week, and played racquetball with a friend twice a week. Racquetball! An hour running around and sweating inside an airtight box with another sweaty person.
Our local gym has closed down for good now, and the owners have put the business up for sale. Though I can’t imagine anyone investing in a health club right now.
When the pandemic hit, things were of course hard and scary and confusing, but I, along with so many others, took all this positive productive energy and redirected it. We baked bread, ordered dried beans, read all the news about how to stay safe. Stocked up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, latex gloves. Came up with hand-washing songs. Learned how to use Zoom; experimented with different kinds of face masks. I made a whole bunch of ice cream, and also limoncello.
What I didn’t do was write. The book I was working on in February…I haven’t opened that file since, well, February. I used to write articles regularly — that fell by the wayside as well.
Now it’s looking like we need to stay hunkered down for the longer haul. Things are still hard and scary and confusing, and all that “novelty energy” is long spent.
It’s time to get reacquainted with practice.
As a longtime yoga fan, I love the concept of practice. I am never going to achieve some ultimate end point — in yoga, in writing, in limoncello-making (okay, maybe I do have that one down). Practice is making an attempt, showing up, even if the results are disappointing. I roll out my mat in the morning and assume the position (Downward Facing Dog, for starters).
In April, before the first round of novelty energy had abandoned me, I restarted my Ashtanga yoga practice. I’d let it drop, since I was doing all that swimming and racquetball, so it was quite a process to rebuild my strength and flexibility.
I will never look like the people in the videos, or even like the thirty-year-old I was when I first took up the practice, but I am beyond pleased to report that I now do an hour of sweaty yoga every morning.
Well, except for the mornings when I don’t, because I’m tired, or a spider bit me and made my eyes swell up, or because the moon is full. But that’s the great thing about a practice. Every day is a new opportunity to roll that mat out again.
It doesn’t matter if it ever “goes” anywhere. The important part is the doing — and the being kind to yourself about it.
Everything is hard. It’s going to be hard for some time to come. Do what you can, and try again tomorrow.
And the next day. And the day after that.
I am rediscovering my writing practice as well. The book I set aside in February was a memoir; I don’t have it in me to work on that right now. Not this year. I don’t know enough about what this world is going to look like, and how I’m going to be in it, to even approach it.
But I do have a novel due to a publisher in a few months. So, after an enormous amount of delaying and avoiding and making more bread (and more limoncello), back to fiction I went.
At first, it was hard. I could not find the voice, the story, the characters. Everything they were doing seemed so — well, frivolous, and unrealistic. It feels really strange to write about a world in which people travel, eat in restaurants, meet up in bars. Even join hands to work magic together. Is anyone going to want to read about my witches and warlocks and their love lives and power struggles?
Actually, I bet they are. If we can’t escape into fiction now, even just for an hour here and there, then we will never make it through these times.
So I’m writing a few thousand words a day — most days — on the novel. And once I found the voice again, those words started to flow.
And that’s what’s bringing me back to essay writing too, I think. The practice of writing regularly was healthy for me. Yes, most writers (me included) write with an audience in mind — but the real reward was, and always has been, internal.
For months, I felt like I didn’t have anything to contribute, anything to say about the huge global calamity we’re living through. My husband and I live in a peaceful, safe place; we already worked at home, and that work is still showing up; why was my voice needed out there?
I’ve finally realized that out there isn’t really important for me and my words. I need to do this practice for myself; I want to do it for myself. If others read my words and enjoy them, so much the better — don’t get me wrong, I love an audience. If you find comfort or inspiration or even a chuckle about something I wrote, that’s great!
But I need to write for me.
Just like I need to do yoga, and go for daily walks, and…make limoncello. (Hey a girl’s gotta have some fun.)