Robert’s Review: My suggestion for the writer of this wonderful and timely piece: struggling with writer’s block and going stir crazy – bake a pie. Pie fixes everything.
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The circus has packed up and left town. Gatherings are not permitted. The acrobats feel bloated and lethargic. The big cats are napping. The elephants have committed an unforgivable, species-specific faux pas–they have forgotten me. Nothing is moving. It’s up to me to write this piece and in my loneliness and desolation, I begrudgingly carry on with the task at hand.
It’s a cold morning in April. I’m not good at this. This turning the page of the calendar and staring at all the scribbled outings we had planned, experiencing regret and mourning. I remind myself I am not sick and there is food in my refrigerator and an internet connection. I recollect that the simplest things are my greatest bounty. I come from hearty New England stock and I will persevere past this mere blip of a disconnection from physical human contact. Still, the internal circus, that noisy, messy chatter that lives in my head, is eerily quiet. The silence unnerves me.
I have been asked to stay home. To keep myself and the rest of my local community safe from harm. It’s not that hard to do. Except…it is. Home is where I sleep and do my yoga and take some of my meals. My Discover card has been sitting for a while on my dining room table, all forlorn and without purpose. I used it in the beginning to pay for something online and left it sitting next to the decorative bowl my husband has managed to make during this time of reclusive activity and placed in the middle of our table. I have not been as productive.
My knitting group
I adopted the practice of doing the daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles from the Asheville Times. After three weeks, I am bored with them. They feel like repetitive, useless, chair-bound activities. I am about 30 pages away from finishing the last unread book in the house. Once again, I find myself without a library. Bereft of a library seems like the kind of deprivation one should not have to suffer more than once in a lifetime. None of this sitting around, lazy stuff is stirring the brew in my brain, which refuses to ferment and create figurative life.
I have discovered, in my so far three-week confinement, that the source of my productivity, that which fuels my energy and creativity, is being around a vast and varied number of human beings. Like a drug addict in need of a fix, I seek out my substance of choice—daily contact, conversations, hugs, laughter and the consumption of food and/or warm beverages in the company of other people. People I’ve known for years or for five minutes. People who, through their speech, gestures and emotional displays, feed me new information, spark stories and engage my imagination…catalyst for the circus to perform.
And yes, I know that interactions are accomplished via screens of various sorts. My needs are more organic in nature. Riding the bus provides the right kind of contact. Previously, I would board, greet the driver, look around for the best place to sit. Most people walk to the back of the bus and sit away from other passengers. I have what I like to call My Seat. It’s just past and nearly opposite the back door. The seat is strategically located to allow for maximum contact with everyone on the bus, being somewhat in the middle, yet close to the exit. This allows for conversational opportunities and shameless eavesdropping. Believe me, I know stuff. If I find someone sitting in my seat when I board the bus, I squeeze past them, giving them a quizzical look, then settle for next best roost. My silent communication conveys much information. They know they are in my seat. What they do with this message is up to them. This type of interactionary source of sustenance is currently on hiatus. The buses are running, but I am not on them; no longer enveloped in the nourishing energy their occupants provide.
These interactions might not seem like much, but all the data is collected and fed to the workings of the circus. The more human contact, the more sub-cerebral fuel. I just need to feed the beast, which in turn feeds me. It’s a bit like being a vampire. You can’t go out vampire-ing, suavely seducing unsuspecting victims into vampire-hood, without draining a few bodies along the way. It all becomes a vicious, bloody cycle, until you lose your way in metaphoric mumbo jumbo and you forget what you wanted to convey in the first place. We are all dependent on the fuel that keeps us going. Yes, that’s it. Mine, it appears, is human interaction…. I’m one of those people who needs people. It appears as though I can’t be productive without them!
So, I’ve turned to that age-old pastime that comes in as a close second to the circus. Worrying. The fuel is not of the same quality as waving to my friends from across the way, but it has a certain amount of nudging that pushes me along in short, slow increments of energy. I don’t worry about my friends or family; I know they are working or at home and getting by. I take it one step beyond my immediate social circle to people I know but don’t have a strong, ongoing relationship with. As fuel to finish this week’s post, I wonder if the cashiers at the grocery store that went bankrupt have found new jobs. Are the delivery drivers taking the proper precautions to stay safe? Is my mailman (Mike from Boston) not delivering today because he or one of his family members is sick? Is that lady who works at the Salvation Army store still taking the bus?
Impetus is hard to come by these days. As you can see, I have struggled to finish this post, driven by gallons of tea and a little stress. There are no rules here. So why do people insist that we be productive to pass the time and take our minds off the horror outside? People who are rarely productive might just be happy for the momentary normalization of their mode of being. Perhaps we, who are usually productive in typical, semi-happy times, need a break from all that producing, at least from our normal ways of contributing.
When my son was an infant, I met the author/artist SARK. When I lamented that I felt so unproductive during this time in my life, she pointed out to me that when there’s a major shift in the ground underfoot (like having a baby or being in a flood or a global pandemic), productivity may shift as well. Instead of all that hand-wringing over lost creativity, search your entire day for ways in which you are innovative. It’s there, you just aren’t seeing it because it is not manifesting through the usual outlets. This was the most astonishing advice I have ever received. While scanning the activities of my days as the mother of a young child, I realized I was writing songs and singing them to my little one. What a revelation and a relief. I was making up stories and entertaining my number 1 fan. Clearly my creativity had found ways out of me without my knowledge or permission.
So, in this time of upheaval, I have decided that it’s okay to be unproductive. That knitting project, the great American novel, mastery of the hammer dulcimer can all go back in the hand basket, where I’ll find them when I feel like indulging in new pastimes. Unlike the plot from Groundhog Day, I’m not striving for improvement. I’ll take my growth and learning in more subtle increments, allowing my creativity to find new channels of expression on its own. For now, I’m playing with my dog and taking as many naps as I want. That’s enough progress. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Keeping the jets cooled,
Guest Editor Robert will do most anything for pie. Thankfully one of those things is editing. He wanted me to include something about the movie Groundhog Day. I gave him that, plus pie.