Of Zebras and Workhorses

The most excellent thing about having flu A last week: I had very few worries about Covid-19. I knew about it and vaguely considered the ways it impacted my family, but my nervous nervous system was subdued by flu.

This morning was the first day I awoke feeling truly like I had overcome the flu. Yay! And cue the nervous nervous system.

My stomach clenched. My chest ached. I could not breathe or function. What was happening? Was the flu back? No. Just plain old stress as usual.

Only it’s not plain, old, or usual. It’s fancy and new and, dare I say, novel. These are strange times with zebra worries. But that doesn’t mean I get to ignore the plain, old, usual workhorses of worry. The things I’ve always worried about remain. Notable exceptions: I don’t worry about school shootings currently, which is amazing; I don’t worry about my husband’s commute, as he doesn’t have one; I don’t worry about the ordinary school worries, as my kids are home. But my low-level anxiety over my kids, husband, extended family, community, and self continue for the most part.

Additionally, the zebra worries. What if Covid-19…No, but really, what if Covid-19…What if the vulnerable people I love contract it? What if we all contract it? What if people lose their jobs in droves? What if we have a New Great Depression? What if?

Zebra worries are a sort of bread and butter for writers. The propensity to generate those what-ifs grants a writer a powerful tool to explore ideas. Left unchecked, zebra worries become an ever-growing stampede of anxiety that can and will kill.

So it’s time to get back to checking the zebras. And back to work and managing the workhorse worries.

Last night we sat down with our boys and explained that this is our new normal: We are all at home for the foreseeable future. We each have jobs to do. We each have work stations and schedules and responsibility to keep to them. I said, “Do not make this a possibility in your minds. Make it an absolute. This is happening right now. Absolutely.”

We will have bumps, like any group of people working in close quarters. The kids will need sufficient guidance to follow any sort of home education program three-quarters into the school year. Among us we have a mom, dad, preteen, and two teens. We will need to build in breathing room.

What’s my point? Those are workhorses. Not zebras. Consuming myself with zebras I can do little about [but seriously, follow the CDC guidelines], carries me further from situating my workhorses of time management, household management, mothering, education, and creative work.

If you’re feeling a little zebra-focused, bring your eyes back home. Where your workhorses are. Make a plan and work the plan. And we will, inasmuch as is possible for each of us, all get through this together.

Annual Theme Life

A Speck of an Inkling of a Possibility

Recently I invited someone close to me to share in a vision with me for my future as a writer and artist. Being admirably honest and intensely specific, they said of my prospects: “It is like a speck of an inkling of a possibility.”

That was Sunday. On Monday I returned to my desk and reviewed my theme for this year. Lo and behold! I discovered a grave mistake I had made.

Let me back up. Every year I choose a theme to guide my work and other aspects of my life. For 2020, my theme is Shared Vision. Each of my past themes has been introspective, gazing internally at trouble areas and solutions. This year, I’m focusing on my own visions and how others relate to them, but I’m also seeking to share in a vision with people I’m close to. To seek to understand what they want in their own lives and how I might relate to that vision through emotional, physical, or spiritual support.

Last November I prepared the Spreadsheet of Destiny, aka the spreadsheet of my intentions for my theme. Turns out that November-me had a pretty clear notion of what January-me would need.

One line item on my spreadsheet reveals the vision to be present. One strategy for being present? Don’t indulge fantasies (for good or ill) of the future.

I reread that line on Monday, and Sunday’s conversation suddenly became clear. I had asked this person close to me to indulge a future fantasy. Why? Because it’s more entertaining than doing the work and more satisfying than failing. The other person couldn’t indulge in that fantasy. They couldn’t. Because the fantasy felt like a speck of an inkling of a possibility.

On Monday I understood where they were coming from. I understood my mistake was indulging a fantasy and dragging another person into it.

Another thing happened on Monday, though. A speck of an inkling of a possibility didn’t sound like such a bad thing. During a depression dip, that phrase might have blocked my writing for a week or a month as I focused on the tininess of myself. But Monday. Monday I had the health and sight to see it as enough and expansive and not a bad phrase at all.

In the universe, I am a speck of an inkling of a possibility. So are you. And that is plenty. From that, we can write worlds, compose galaxies, paint the heavens themselves. From just a speck of an inkling of a possibility has been born every song, book, movie, masterpiece, and machine ever created. Inhabit the speck. And let it expand as you create. And fill the world with art.

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