Merry Christmas—I hope the new year brings you peace and good health!
This Thanksgiving is going to be different, quieter and smaller, which is exactly what I need. It will be at home, just me with my husband, and far fewer sides on the table. I wish more of my family could be with us, but all of us are staying closer to home this year. The COVID pandemic has required that we shift, and shift we will, because we have so much for which we are grateful, and hopes for a calmer future when things settle down after the pandemic.
I am grateful for the fact that although we have had family members come down with COVID, everyone has recovered. Not all families have had that good fortune, and I wish them comfort during what has to be a hard time.
We have our jobs, and with jobs, the chance to help others who have lost theirs. That is another blessing. We also have our hobbies and other delights – some like to fish, others go to their instruments, or read, build furniture, cook, watch sports or movies, write, or play in the teepee that is resident in the living room. A weekly Zoom call is another way we stay connected and has made the distance much easier to bear.
I am grateful because even though I miss my mother—we all do—she taught us the importance of family and made our holidays special. That is a good memory. And my father is with us, still teaching and learning, sharing his insights, and reminding us where we come from.
This Thanksgiving will be quieter and smaller, but no less rich because of the huge changes many of us have had to make because of the pandemic. I hope you are able to celebrate the day in a way that has meaning for you. And if it is not quite what you had hoped for, I hope you will experience some measure of peace that helps you get through until the world gets better.
Have a peaceful and safe Thanksgiving,
Sometimes when I have been away from what once was a regular practice, I have to ease back into it, like when you add vegetables to a food a child already likes and hope that you can sneak them in without her noticing. For me, the two practices that have been languishing are Pilates and writing. I have been so busy lately that some of the things I need to do to feel balanced have been squeezed out. For a while, that even applied to reading, because by this time last year I had already read nearly 45 books, and this year I am at about half of that number.
I have adjusted to this new pace in life, with its restrictions on where I go and who is around me. I realize that more than ever, I need those practices that help me process what is going on in the world so I can tend to my physical and emotional wellbeing. I am back into Pilates, maybe not at the skill level I was at before, but I am practicing more frequently. And I have found that sitting for longer periods each day (aren’t we all?) means I need the movement that Pilates gives me. I worry less about how intense it is, or even how long I practice. I focus on just showing up.
And so, it is with my writing. This time last year I was immersed in my writing, heading off to a college library many mornings to write, and making progress on a book. For a while I switched to research because I had written quite a bit but wanted to go back and get more background material. The daily treks to the library slowed when cold weather came, but even at home, I wrote often. The busyness of life has crowded out my regular writing practice, or at least the part of my writing that I have not yet shared with the world.
Sometimes it is about shifting expectations I have of myself. Just because I may not have as many hours to write doesn’t mean that 15- 30 minutes isn’t worth it. Or instead of daily writing, I can shift to longer sessions over the weekend. These days, I plan for the future, but I take it one day at a time. I remind myself that these are strange times, and while the familiar routines from my past ground me, I cannot expect that things will return to normal just by doing what once was normal and routine. I sneak in enough of the familiar so that when the unfamiliar jolts me from my path I know how to find my way back home.
I hope everyone reading this is safe and healthy, despite a pandemic that has tossed our expectations of summer and its relaxing days like a trash can full of empty bottles. Continue reading
The following is an excerpt from Educated by Tara Westover, one of my favorite books from 2019. This passage made me consider the source of fear and if fear serves me.
Finally, the staircase opened onto the roof, which was heavily slanted, an inverted V enclosed by stone parapets. The wind was gusting, rolling clouds across the sky; the view was spectacular, the city miniaturized, utterly dwarfed by the chapel. I forgot myself and climbed the slope, then walked along the ridge, letting the wind take me as I stared out at the expanse of crooked streets and stone courtyards.
“You’re not afraid of falling,” a voice said. I turned. It was Dr. Kerry. He had followed me, but he seemed unsteady on his feet, nearly pitching with every rush of wind.
“We can go down,” I said. I ran down the ridge to the flat walkway near the buttress. Again Dr. Kerry followed but his steps were strange. Rather than walk facing forward, he rotated his body and moved sideways, like a crab. The wind continued its attack. I offered him an arm for the last few steps, so unsteady did he seem, and he took it.
“I meant it as an observation,” he said when we’d made it down. “Here you stand, upright, hands in your pockets.” He gestured toward the other students. “See how they hunch? How they cling to the wall?”
He was right. A few were venturing onto the ridge but they did so cautiously, taking the same ungainly side steps Dr. Kerry had, tipping and swaying in the wind; everyone else was holding tightly to the stone parapet, knees bent, backs arched, as if unsure whether to walk or crawl.
“I’ve roofed my share of hay sheds,” I said finally.
“So your legs are stronger? Is that why you can stand in this wind?”
I had to think before I could answer. “I can stand in this wind, because I’m not trying to stand in it,” I said. “The wind is just wind. You could withstand these gusts on the ground, so you can withstand them in the air. There is no difference. Except the difference you make in your head.”
He stared at me blankly. He hadn’t understood.
“I’m just standing,” I said. “You are all trying to compensate, to get your bodies lower because the height scares you. But the crouching and the sidestepping are not natural. You’ve made yourselves vulnerable. If you could just control your panic, this wind would be nothing.”
“The way it is nothing to you,” he said.
Two lines in this passage stand out for me – “The wind is just wind,” and “There is no difference. Except the difference you make in your head.” When I read this a year ago, I stopped to read it over a few times. These words caused me to consider the ways in which I work myself up or let fear and doubt creep in, over things that are either not in my control or smaller than I have let them appear in my mind. I consider a situation to be a stumbling block, when if I would look at it for what it is I would see it as more of distraction than any real obstacle.
It is easy to get so caught up in the swirl of perceived problems that I can miss the solution. There is usually a way through, but first I need to settle myself. Sometimes the wind is just wind.
This must be the season for guest posts for me! Last week, I wrote a post for Christi Craig, Publisher at Hidden Timber Books. My relationship with Hidden Timber Books goes back a few years, they published one of my essays and they are very supportive of writers, those they have published and many others. The essay talks about why writing is important to me and can be found here.
Recently, I have been so busy with work and other obligations that it would be easy to let my writing take a back seat to other demands. But I realized that writing is essential for my wellbeing and creativity, so even if I only have a half hour, I make time to write. I hope you are also doing something to nourish your spirit during these times.
I have a checklist that I’m trying to adhere to in this time of uncertainty, maybe some of my tips will help you.
My COVID-19 staying at home checklist:
- In the morning – wake up, give thanks
- Spend a little time being quiet – devotions, reading, prayer
- Move a little – I can stretch, do Pilates, even lift weights at home. I don’t need a gym to move.
- Check on family and friends, reach out – a note, text, calls later in the day
- Work – I’m most effective in the morning so I tackle the more challenging tasks first.
- Check reliable media to see if there is a useful update on the virus. I need to be informed, but not overwhelmed.
- Write or do research for my writing
- In the evening – Wind down, perhaps read, get several hours of sleep so I can do it again the next day
During the day, I try to eat simple, healthy meals (soups are filling and making them is relaxing for me) and drink plenty of water. I also am intentional about stopping during the day to check in on how I’m feeling—restless, tired, energetic, stressed, calm, grateful, etc. I realized getting a good night’s sleep was essential to being ready to go in the morning, and sleep is also important for a strong immune system and overall health. I hope to incorporate more time outdoors now that the weather is getting warmer, even if it means climbing the small hill in the backyard.
Stay safe, take care of your health. What are you doing to stay healthy in these stressful times?
My essay, I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You, appeared on the Brevity blog a few days ago and I wanted to share it with you. If you love creative nonfiction like I do, this blog, which has more than 46,000 readers, is one you should take a look at.
By Ramona M. Payne
My mother learned at an early age how to take care of herself. Her father died when she was six and life for her, her sister, and their mother was hard. I imagine that because her life was shaken by death and financial struggle, she sometimes had to go along with […]
Favorite Books from 2019
My list may not be the same as the New York Times bestseller list or another “best books of 2019” list, but here are some of my favorites reads from the past year. I read about twice as much nonfiction as fiction, but there are some great novels in this group.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
- All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
- Educated by Tara Westover
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
- Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- The Neapolitan Quartet (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) by Elena Ferrante
- In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow
- Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
- Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
My goal for 2020 is to keep up the pace of about one book per week, although some take longer, others, less time to read. I typically stay with one book at a time and I look forward to settling in on a Sunday and starting new book. Many readers like to use audible and e-books, but I prefer the actual book, for the experience and feel of the book, so I can make my own notes (I know e-readers let you do this), because I want to take my time with the story, trying to figure out structure and pacing and how an author keeps me turning the page. I also found that I read more since I started setting an annual goal, because I make time to read rather than waiting to have time.
How do you decide what to read—booklists, recommendations from friends and other readers, reviews, book club? I’d love to hear how readers choose their books.