Consider donating to Nashville Tornado Relief.
It has been an extremely weird week. On Monday, we left our apartment after midnight and bunkered down in the mailroom while a tornado ravaged the city. After returning home, we were awoken ninety minutes later by the fire alarms. The power had gone out, and we stumbled in the dark to pull on pants and shoes, to find the traumatized cat and shove him into the crate for the second time just a few hours. When we woke this morning, it was to scenes of destruction and chaos. Friends came to use our electricity, family and close friends from around the country called and texted to make sure we were okay.
A tornado on its own, especially for this east coast girl, is an experience. A tornado on Super Tuesday in the midst of a pandemic is another entirely. I joked with my partner that I was glad I went shopping for virus provisions, in case we didn’t have access to food. But it wasn’t really a joke. And neither was the reality that in a time of extreme collective vulnerability, we are both pushing people to the polls and pushing storm refugees into community spaces, each place another potential catalyst point for the spread of a fatal virus about which we know little. Biblical events converging in a single, very weird day.
It is a single, very weird day where I still have to work. Let me preface this with, I did not have to go into work. I was able to get some five am-on sleep and started my day late morning, so I am lucky. I didn’t have to worry about getting kids to school or finding childcare coverage. I am not an essential employee by any stretch and my editor has been very understanding and supportive with me.
And yet, with these swords of Damocles in their various states of fall, a painful crick in my neck I can’t seem to shake, four hours of sleep under my belt, and the 24-hour news cycle on in the background, how in the hell am I supposed to write? How in the hell am I supposed to find the creative brain that makes it possible for me to string sentences together, to come up with unique ideas, to focus on anything other than survival and the survival of friends and family, both literal in the instant and long term, and metaphorical as it pertains to American politics?
It’s hard. Some days, it might be impossible.
At the moment, I’m focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to take small bites out of big projects. I need to bring in more freelance work, but that can wait until tomorrow. I need to finish preparing for my upcoming conference, but not right now. I can wait. For now, I need to organize this article, this one project. For now, I need to focus just long enough to complete one more thing and then I can take the night off. It is not an easy mindset, not for someone always trying to get ahead of work, to stay prepared and organized, but sometimes, it is necessary.
I hope, in your life, you never have days when it feels a little impossible to be alive. I hope in your life, you never need to walk around with the feeling that you are underwater and that you’ll never truly make sense of the world again. I hope that for you, but I don’t expect it. Life throws us curveballs. Very often, those curveballs come all at once, when the day feels apocalyptic and the night feels worse. Sometimes, they come as plagues and acts of god and American politics.
On those days, more than any other, you need to know how to work. You need to have a sense of your own limits and your own strengths and you need to know how you can make it through the dark cloud to achieve even that one simple project, to put on your thinking brain and ignore the poll numbers and the destruction photos. You need to be able to do this, because in the life of a writer, you will have days when nothing goes right, and you will still be called upon to tell stories. Perhaps more than ever.
It feels fitting that I started this post watching poll countdowns on television. Right now everything feels like a countdown, a countdown to the worst of the virus, a countdown to the tornado’s touchdown and flooding, a countdown to the presidential race. The universe goes on, and I have to as well.
Being a writer means we not only have to record the world and history as it unfolds. It also means we have to interpret it, to try to make sense of it in times when very little seems to make any sense at all. It is an all-important job and I commend anyone who attempts it. Very often, there is no filter in what we take in. But sometimes there has to be. Sometimes we cannot write about stories of which we are the subject, and sometimes we simply need to take that step back and say, “maybe I’ll try this tomorrow”. There is no shame in protecting yourself. That story will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
Consider donating to Nashville Tornado Relief.