Don’t Look Back

I did a very foolish thing the other day as I worked to get my desk ready for my return to the writing world. I found a series of little folded papers which I remembered, vaguely, as gratitude/diary entries from 2019. In a January that seems to belong to a different century, not just an earlier decade, I cut up a bunch of brightly-colored scrapbooking paper (which I have used for everything BUT scrapbooking) and each day I would write one thing I was either grateful for or wanted to remember.

The entries I found were from October 2019. What I read, and how my brain responded, pierced my soul:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019: I had my first talk with D. since . . . January, and I had missed her! Today she told me to see my life as a play with three acts, and how act 3 is about being who we really are. Self-actualization. Like, delaying gratification in Acts I and II means getting it in III! At the time I had an eighth-grader and a sophomore in high school. My husband and I were coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary and were talking about taking a trip just the two of us. We were starting to break out of the parenting-children world and into the parenting-teens world. Act III was about to begin. We were supposed to go to a church mass and luncheon for all couples celebrating milestone anniversaries in late February, 2020. We decided not to go because we weren’t sure how much we wanted to be around people with this new virus they were talking about going around.

Saturday, October 5, 2019: Today was Beth’s first thespian competition. She competed in solo and duet musical and got superior in both. Then, she and her duet partner made SHOWCASE. They performed in front of 800 kids. My daughter performed in a school auditorium that held 800 people. She was supposed to go on to states both solo and with her partner in March of 2020–scheduled for the week after everything shut down. They never had a chance to compete in person, together, again.

Saturday, October 19, 2019: I am so ready to head home, but I’m so glad I came. I learned so crazy much, my head is spinning. The food was awesome, there were lots of nice people, and I watched the Hallmark Channel every night. That was the last night of the first writer’s conference I’d attended in years. I was dreading it, but it turned out amazing. I stayed at a hotel by myself, hours from home. Alone. And spent my days in rooms filled to the brim with people. Unmasked. Two agents were interested in my work, and wanted to see it after I made a major revision to the narrative voice.

Sunday, October 27, 2019: Beautifully early breakfast with my Gloria Sirens. Got to meet Katie and Suzanne face-to-face, caught up with Lisa and Delaney, discussed the future of the blog, then got really good advice on submitting my book to agents with revisions. I thought I’d dreamed that meeting. I completely forgot it happened in real life. Getting together with friends for an early breakfast the day after we presented at a conference. I did that. I was starting a public writing life again. With friends. It was wonderful.

I wrote these things. They happened to me. Yet it feels like those are reflections from another world. There was once a time when I did not live without the specter of illness around every corner? I lived a life that wasn’t conditional on the spread of a virus? I spent almost five decades making plans that weren’t likely to be cancelled anywhere, any time, with little notice, because of a nasal-swabbed test result? Could it be true?

Well, that’s what I get for looking back, I suppose. Lot’s wife turned to salt. Euridyce, much to Orpheus’ dismay, got dragged back into the underworld. Both metaphorically evoke my current feeling of being de-centered, off-kilter. The stage of grief that is both denial and anger and acceptance all in one. The feeling of living in one time and in another, of not believing the world has come to this at the same time as not believing the world was really ever any different. This liminal space, this in-between. I’m stuck here, and I don’t know the way forward.

So, what to do? Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • No lie, but the program Ten Percent Happier is currently running the “Getting Unstuck Challenge.” It’s free. All that’s required is to download the app. It’s been going on for nine days now, and it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve done. Ten minutes of meditation a day, for 10-14 days. I’ve worked on becoming friends with my anxiety, calling on mentors and those I admire to sit with me in my mind as I meditate, getting some meditative movement going on to have a little bit of fun, and just learning to love myself whether I meet all my daily goals or not.
  • Listening to the Bible in a Year podcast . . . again. Last year I stalled out on day 50, right around the end of Exodus and Leviticus–the furthest I’d ever gotten reading straight through the Bible, yet no surprise that’s where I stalled out. On January 1st I picked up on Day 51 and have been going strong ever since. Even if I only get to day 100, I’ll get to day 365 in about five years. And in the process, every day I learn something new about the Catholic connection to the Jewish faith and the Biblical roots of why we do what we do. It’s absolutely fantastic, and beautiful, and enlightening, and just what I need to move forward in my faith life.
Photo by RODNAE Productions on
  • Making physical health a priority to help manage my illness-related uncertainty. Obesity is a risk factor for a myriad of diseases, and as the age of 50 crests on my horizon, I need to get a little more on-board with treating my body like I want it to be here in for 50 years. So I am starting The Galveston Diet because I am the demographic and also signed up for a year of Body Groove On-Demand. None of these programs are paying me, by the way. I’m just sharing what I’m doing. Others out there might want to try other programs. Go nuts. I’ve chosen these two because I can’t imagine a nutritionist or doctor criticizing me for cutting down on refined sugar, eating more vegetables and fruits, and spending 1/2 hour dancing in my kitchen. On days I can’t do the full 1/2 hour of dancing, I do household chores to the Encanto soundtrack. Because, I mean, it’s one of the best Disney movies ever. And if your hips don’t start to sway when you listen to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” well . . . I’m sorry. That’s gotta be rough.
  • Getting back to my creative life. Thankfully my dear friend Lisa Lanser Rose’s post from last week, 4 Ways to Become Creative in the New Year took care of that part of this post for me. And what, pray tell, am I doing, other than cleaning off my desk and putting myself in a tailspin? As Lisa suggests, I’m learning something new. One of my dear new friends, who I met through my work with Angels for Change, is a quilter and embroiderer. She’s going to teach me English Paper Piecing. I even got an adorable starter kit (based on her recommendation) from a local merchant, Sewcial Distance. I would have bought the kit just for the little scissors and clips! But it has great fabric, too. I’d tell you what my first project is going to be, but it’s for someone who I occasionally force to read my blog. Don’t want to spoil the surprise!
  • Focusing on the positive changes. What are some things from the past that I am grateful to have lost? Living in my car, for one. There is one entry that reads: Friday, October 4, 2019: What a day! I am so grateful for my second house–I mean, the van. Drove to my therapy appointment, came home to hang with John, then spent 4 hours on carpool. Got Beth and I. at 3, dropped them at improv, then went back to get Christa and J. from retreat. I am thrilled that I no longer count my van as my second residence. Heck, I don’t even have the van any more! There’s something to celebrate. My eldest daughter gets herself where she needs to be, and my younger one–well, she’ll get there.
  • Continuing to do the things that have brought me joy amidst the insanity. Being with my family; Sunday dinners; playing video games with my husband; writing for the Sirens and for my non-profit work; reading; volunteering; meditating; being outdoors; seeing friends solo or in small groups; going to the occasional theater or orchestra production; listening to Bethany sing, whether on stage or in the shower; listening to Christa drum, or do percussion, or play base; listening to music; watching movies on demand; petting the cats; enjoying a cup of vanilla coffee. I can keep doing those, and factor more and more things in as they become available. It doesn’t have to be a full return to what it was before in order for it to be good, even better-than-good. In fact, it might be best if it never returns to the way it was before. We were all very, very broken. How many times did I go out into the world, or send my kids into the world when we knew we were sick?

Finally, I need to listen to my kids. If they can move forward in all of this uncertainty, they who have so much ahead of them, so much to live, so much to lose, then so can I. And what have they told me? Well, if the Christmas gifts they bought me–on their own, without anyone’s input–have anything to say about it, it looks like I have to get back to what I love best. The mythical, the mystical, the colorful, the joyful, and the imaginary–the place where there is no past, future, or present that are not of my making, and where unicorns are real.

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