The Second Quarter

The schedule is shot. Obliterated. Smithereened. Kaput. Things look bleak. Shall I despair? Don’t be stupid. My “schedule,” like my “plan,” is a phoenix that has arisen from the ashes so many times I’ve lost count. Things fall apart; we put them back together. Suffice it to say, for the last two months I’ve been in the falling apart portion of the program. Maybe you have as well.

April: When the new normal due to COVID19 started, thanks to the current administration’s criminally negligent failure to adequately prepare, I was like everyone else: determined to make the best of it. I tried to stay on task and did for awhile. During all of April, for National Poetry Month, I posted an original poem on my Instagram feed every day. Sometimes I posted poems that were previously published. Most days I either dragged out old drafts of poems that needed revising and revised them, or I wrote new poems. At any rate, it was a poem a day every day for 30 days. Maybe some of y’all write poems that you’re going to immediately allow other folks to read every day. I don’t normally write a poem every day, much less one I’m going to be ready to share every day (and I’m sure in some of those IG offerings, it shows). At the same time I was doing my bit to celebrate poetry month I was also working on my novel. As a result, I had no writing energy left over for this blog during April. Sad, but true. Anyway, when the calendar flipped over to May 1st, I was pretty tired.

May: About this time, I noticed many people were writing entertaining things about working from home and the challenges it poses. At first I was, “Welcome to my world,” but then I grew resentful. I’ve been writing (and by “writing” I mean “alternating between writing and TRYING to write what with the incessant interruptions and intrusions on my time because WRITER isn’t the only hat I wear and when you work at home but don’t have an editor, agent, or publisher for your current project so ‘deadlines’ are open-ended and people start to make jokes behind your back because you’re ‘still working’ on that novel EVEN THOUGH you’ve written a ton of other things since you first conceived of ‘the novel’ and it’s not like you’ve been working on it NON-STOP the whole time, everybody thinks it’s okay to interrupt you because, hell, that novel has waited this long it can wait some more, and that includes you, Moose, and if you aren’t vigilant you stop setting your own priorities because you don’t have an editor, agent, or publisher for the novel or any current project”) at home for a long time. Are people interested in stories about working from home now? ‘Cause I got stories. I decided I probably had missed the boat on that one, dammit.

I also had a Reimagined Love Story hanging over my head. I blogged back in March to expect its appearance here. I toyed with it off and on in April and early May. I couldn’t get it done. I couldn’t capture my concept with my words. Nothing I tried gave this unlikely couple’s story the breadth and depth required. Self-doubt is a powerful drug, and not in a good way. When it came to my writing, I was in a period of constant frustration. It’s easy to de-prioritize a source of frustration. At the same time, I was experiencing the pandemic shut down with the rest of you with its requisite anxiety, worry about loved ones, uncertainty, and sadness. Even though I am a hermit and I stay home most of the time, I don’t stay home ALL the time. I go places and, like you, I miss it. I miss going out to eat. I miss going to the pub. I miss hugging people when I greet them. I miss dropping by a friend’s house, sitting close by my mom or daughter, being in the physical as well as spiritual company of my poetry group, going to the movies. I love going to concerts and all kinds of live sporting events … I hadn’t realized how much my relatively meager social life means to my self-care. So we’re talking frustration, anxiety, and the slow but sure erosion of self-care and routine throughout May. The days started to run together and everything seemed more fragile …

Then on May 25 we together witnessed the horrific murder of George Floyd.

June: Nationwide, an already emotionally vulnerable citizenry was begged AGAIN to finally own up to our nation’s most deadly and despicable original sin: racism — the kind that’s baked in to the system; the kind that has allowed with impunity the killing of unarmed black citizens over and over and over all over this country. I became obsessed with the news, the updates, the marches, the speeches, the mourners. I marched in my little hometown. And I watched with hope and elation as people from all demographics stood up to be counted on the right side of history in numbers that are staggering; even in the face of the same old missteps and mistakes of well-meaning white people; and, in spite of the backward, ignorant, ancient, virulent, irrational, active hatred of the white cob rollers. They’re still standing up. Of course, being obsessed with the news made it damn near impossible to filter out the daily onslaught of chaos brought to us by the most corrupt president and administration in modern history, and we were still in the midst of a worsening pandemic. Still are. So my June was spent crying and grieving and planning and hoping and despairing and fighting and learning and scratching my head and sometimes just being paralyzed. It’s likely my June was much the same as your June.

And now comes July. My 2020 plan has not changed. The goals for the year have not disappeared. I’ve just added new goals. A poet friend, Dede, and I are starting a new project to confront racism (ours too: see “White allergies”). We don’t really know what the project will end up being. Maybe a book will come from it; maybe a series of blog posts; maybe it’s simply a “salon” devoted to exploring the issues that matter to us. Whatever it turns into, we hope to inspire conversations that improve race relations because it’s a subject we each have cared deeply about for a long time. We had begun our discussion about such an undertaking in March after I heard her read a poem she had written that so beautifully described a brief and subtle moment in the mind of unconscious white privilege. The poem hit me hard. Last year, a friend of mine had told me a story about a recent racist encounter she had experienced. I shook my head and said, “I’m so sorry,” to which she replied, “Don’t be sorry — just talk to your peeps.” Dede’s poem was, for me, a great example of how to do just that. Soon after Dede and I started to talk about a mindful sharing with one another, more details emerged in the news about Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia and law enforcement’s criminal negligence regarding same. And then came George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Dede and I didn’t speak about any of it until the middle of June. The need to “talk to our peeps” had gone from compelling to urgent in a short period of time for us. For our black brothers and sisters, the need for real and lasting change has always been urgent.

And now you know: I took some time to fall apart in quarter number two. Now I am reassembling myself. It happens all the time. What’s different this time, though, is everything else. Look at the world. It’s falling apart too, and I think it needed to fall apart. I believe even as the dust settles, we will reassemble it together. We’ve already begun. In a new way. A better way. Selah.

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