Taking It Day By Day

When someone asks how we’re doing, I answer, “We’re taking it day by day.”

But what I really want to say is, “We’re taking it bird by bird.”

My second answer is a reference to what is considered a classic writing book, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. 

I’ve read this book in the past, but now seemed like a perfect time to take it off my bookshelf and re-read it.

While it’s especially valuable for writers, I do believe much of the book can be applied to readers and artists in general.

During these challenging, scary, unchartered times here are some words from Bird By Bird that I hope help get you through your day-by-day.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off.”

– “I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world.” 

– “My deepest belief is that to live as if we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things.”

– “To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children.” 

– “Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.” 

– “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

In Pursuit of ‘Stubborn Gladness’

One view of our back patio garden.

More and more, I find myself in a conscious pursuit of happiness. And calm. And simple moments of joy.

Like most people, I find it too easy to become overwhelmed and frightened by the news.

When I was a teacher, my students had “independent time.” During that time they completed “must do’s,” and when those were done, they could choose something from the “may do” list. 

I know my days should not only be filled with “must do’s” such as homeschooling my sixth grade son, cleaning the house, paying the bills, and cooking the meals. 

I know that it is just as important to incorporate “may do’s” into my day – things that fill me with happiness, things I do for the simple pleasure it brings me.

And I’m lucky. There are plenty of things that bring me joy at home. 

I read. Books and magazines. Non-fiction and fiction. 

I tend to my garden – both the back patio and front porch. I sweep the jacaranda flowers, pull weeds, and water my plants. My son and I go outside every day for a neighborhood walk and sometimes a bike ride.

But, these things that take me outside of the house and bring me joy also bring me additional pain.

Since this pandemic shutdown, my pain has been consistently worse. Sometimes it’s immediate. From the moment I wake up in the morning, often after a fitful night’s sleep, my legs feel heavy. Each step makes me feel like I have invisible weights strapped around my lower legs. Sometimes the pain gradually increases as the day goes on, until one trip back up the stairs leaves my knees creaking loudly and me gripping the banister, taking each step very slowly, very cautiously. Sometimes, I may be reading on my patio, swatting away a fly, and my jeans suddenly feel very tight and restrictive around my left calf. And all I can think of is David Schwimmer’s character, Ross, struggling with his leather pants in a Friends episode. Except when it happened to him, it was funny. When it happens to me, it means it’s time for me to go inside and roll up my pants so my calf doesn’t feel the fabric against it. 

And sometimes, my pain wasn’t too bad until I squatted down to pull weeds or on the way back home after a mile-long walk with my son. 

Yet, I continue doing these things. When so many other simple pleasures have been taken – browsing my local bookstore, enjoying French Crepes at the Farmers Market – I continue to do these things that make me happy in the name of “stubborn gladness.” 

(In case you missed it, click here to read an earlier blog post, “Announcing My Motto For Life” which explains the term “stubborn gladness.”) 

And you, dear readers? How do you find joy and moments of pleasure during these challenging times? Feel free to share in the comments section. 

 

10 Ways Our Family is Dealing with the Shutdown

During one of our daily neighborhood walks, my twelve-year-old son said out loud what most of us have been thinking.

“This is hard.”

It is hard. It’s hard when the world, as he’s always known it, is so vastly different. It’s hard when he can’t hug and kiss his grandparents. When he can’t go to school (and this is a boy who loves school). 

We talked about it. About how sometimes it’s easier than others. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem so bad. We’re all sleeping in a bit later than we would be if the world was back to normal. 

And other times, it just feels like too much. Too many unanswered questions. Too many fears.

I’m a list person. So I thought one way to help would be to make a list of the ways in which our family is doing good, the ways we’re helping and contributing. Because we have it easy. We’re not frontline workers. We are able to pay our bills each month and continue to put food on the table. 

And the best part of the list is realizing that there are so many ways each of us can help. 

1. Follow the guidelines.  We keep our distance when we’re out walking or biking in the neighborhood, and we’re washing our hands more than we ever did before.

2. Shopping only when needed.  I used to go to the market weekly. It was something my son and I did each Saturday. But now, venturing into the market feels like I’m entering a battle zone. I’m armed with my hand sanitizer and mask. I try not to browse. I check my list, get in, and get out as quickly as possible. And I’m stocking up so we don’t have to go out each week.

3. Thanking others.  I don’t always get to the door quickly enough to offer our mail carrier or delivery person a bottle of water. But after we hear the mail drop through the slot or a box bang against our front door, we yell out “thank you.” I hope the delivery person hears us. I hope it makes them smile.

4. Support local spots.  We visit one of our favorite cafes each week. We purchase lunch and bring it back home. It saves me from preparing a meal, but more than that, it provides some monetary support to a small business.

5. Make a monetary donation.  We learned through our favorite cafe (see #4 above) that there was a way to help not only the cafe but our frontline workers as well. Restaurants are preparing meals that are then delivered to local doctors and nurses. It’s a win-win for everyone, and a cause our family felt good about donating to.

6.  Shop online.  I don’t think I’ve ever done this much online shopping before. I like to browse. To wander in my local Barnes and Noble (click here to read my blog post “Who Else Misses Libraries and Bookstores?”). To go to Target not just with a list of things I need but with an eye open for a surprise, an unexpected treasure that would make a great gift for a family member or friend. Instead, we’re being responsible, buying online the things we need, and once in a while, a few items we want. (I recently ordered former President Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father, a book that has been on my want-to-read list for several years now.)

7.  Purchase With a Cause.  Originally we were wearing the masks that were included in our emergency backpacks. They got the job done, but they were rather scratchy and plain looking. We’ve since upgraded to “Los Angeles Clippers Face Coverings.” Not only are we protecting ourselves and others while showing our team spirit, all proceeds are donated to Feeding America. 

8.  8:00 pm Cheering.  Each night at 8:00 pm, our family either opens the front door or stands near one of our windows and starts cheering. My son whoops and hollers like he’s at a Clippers game. My husband and I clap our hands. When we pause, we hear others clapping and shouting and horns honking. It’s one small way to show our appreciation to our frontline workers and one way to feel connected with our community.

9.  Cleaning Out Closets.  We’ve spent some of this time at home going through my son’s closet and bookcases. We have a full bag of gently used clothing, books, and games ready to donate to Baby2Baby as soon as they’re taking donations again. It’s nice to know that the items that my son enjoyed will soon make another child happy.

10.  Express Gratitude.  It won’t change anything to start listing all the reasons why we’re unhappy about this shutdown. Instead, it’s important to remember that we’re lucky. My husband is employed. My son is completing his sixth grade year. We’re together. We’re safe. We’re healthy.

And right now, we can’t ask for more than that.

Readers, what are you doing during the shutdown? What helps you get through the difficult days? Feel free to share in the comments section.

 

Invisible Forces Can Be Scary

We’re all waiting for the rainbow. Hang in there!

Lately I’ve been thinking about this invisible disability of mine that has changed my world (and by extension, my family’s world) and this coronavirus that has changed the entire world.

My autoimmune disease is invisible. Just by looking at me you couldn’t tell I have a blue handicap parking placard in my car’s glove compartment. 

When I was still visiting doctors and specialists trying to figure out what was going on with my legs (it took over a year to receive a diagnosis), my biggest concern was the possibility I may have passed on this mystery illness to my son. Ryan was two years old when I first became ill. He was described, by some, as a “late walker.” I was experiencing pain and inflammation in my legs. Was there a connection?

Thankfully, my autoimmune disease is mine; it is limited to me. There is no family history, and there is no fear that I have passed this on to my now twelve-year-old son. 

COVID-19 doesn’t work that way. It’s a scary, invisible, powerful force lurking just outside our home. On things we could touch. On air we could breathe. 

The most scary thing to me, in regards to this coronavirus, is that it is possible to be infected and yet be asymptomatic.

My autoimmune disease isn’t fatal. 

But COVID-19 can be.

Wear your masks. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. 

Please, continue to be safe and careful out there.

 

A Few Ideas to Get You Writing

I’m a writer. Yet during this coronavirus shut-down, I don’t find myself writing much about the immediate world around me.

Instead, I’m writing about my life with an invisible disability; writing that will eventually become my memoir-in-essays.

I’m writing in response to calls for submissions.

But the bottom line is, I’m writing.

And I’m also reading.

I recently finished Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Whether you’re a writer, or someone like my dad who, during this unprecedented time has begun keeping a journal for the first time in his life (he jots down a couple of sentences about each day), here are a few writing prompts from Ms. Goldberg’s book I’d like to share with you this week:

“What have you waited a long time for?”

“What do you no longer have?”

“What I can’t live without – “

“Where did you always want to go but didn’t?”

“Memoir is taking personal experience and turning it inside out. We surrender our most precious understanding, so others can feel what we felt and be enlarged. What is it you love and are willing to give to the page? It’s why we write memoir, not to immortalize but to surrender ourselves.”

 

Who Else Misses Libraries and Bookstores?

Ryan (age 3) and I reading at the library.

I was thinking about the things I miss because of this coronavirus pandemic and the shutdown of the world as we knew it. 

I miss being able to hug and kiss my parents.

I miss stepping into a grocery store without fear. (And I miss finding eggs and toilet paper on the shelves.)

I miss public libraries. 

I miss bookstores.

Because shopping for books online just isn’t the same.

My son received several gift cards for his recent birthday. (On a side note, Ryan is such a trooper. He celebrated his 12th birthday at home, with the largest chocolate cake we’ve ever had for the 3 of us, and promises of a major “do-over” when all this is done.)

He’s shopped for books on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. 

But it’s not the same.

I miss browsing. Wandering the aisles, discovering a book I didn’t know I’d want to read. 

And you just can’t do that online. 

During the shutdown, our reading habits haven’t changed. I’m reading library books that I had checked out before they were closed down. I’m re-reading books from my personal library, some of which I don’t remember having read the first time. It is during this re-read, that I make a decision to either keep the book or donate it (when the libraries re-open).

And Ryan?

He’s reading everything. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly feels that way. (Often we read together, during the day, and always at bedtime.) In the last month, we have read a fictional book about a zombie apocalypse (and he ordered a few more in the series). We have read inspiring biographies on people who make me proud to be a member of the human race – people like former President Barack Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rosa Parks.

What about you readers?

What are you missing?

And, what are you reading? Feel free to share in the comments section.

 

Dressing Up During the Shut Down

How are you handling the world-wide shutdown?

Are you starting a new project? 

Cleaning? Organizing? Cooking? Painting? Reading?

I’m doing a bit of everything.

Teaching – while my son now completes the rest of his sixth grade year through online assignments.

Cooking. Every day. 

Reading. Nothing has changed there.

And there’s one other thing I’m doing. 

“I’m getting dressed each day. And for me, dressed doesn’t merely mean clothes. Getting dressed also includes my jewelry.”

The quote above was taken from my most recently published personal essay, “Why I’m Dressing Up While the World Is Shut Down.” You can read it on The Mighty by clicking here. 

And, readers, I’d love to know how you’re handling the shutdown. Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

A Shout-Out to Classroom Teachers

The library corner in my fourth grade classroom, September 2010. (The cozy rug hadn’t yet arrived.)

Our family’s world changed on Friday, the 13th. March 13th, when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced that all schools would close for two weeks due to the spread of the COVID-19. 

My son was supposed to return to school on Monday, March 30th. 

Since then, LAUSD has amended its original plan and called for all schools to remain closed until May 1st. But even that date is tentative. Rumors are swirling that our children will not return to a classroom for the remainder of this school year.

In the meanwhile, teachers scramble to put together lesson plans and instructional programs that children can access online. Which means parents are now being called upon to serve in the roles previously held by the schoolteacher – taskmaster, cheerleader, supervisor, tutor, coach.

Now, many parents are taking to social media, claiming “that being with their child day-after-day helping them with assignments is giving them a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher.

“And to those parents, I want to say, ‘No it’s not.’ “

Those words begin a personal essay I wrote  and that was published last week at Motherwell Magazine. You can click here to read the essay in its entirety.

 

 

Who Else Needs Some Encouraging Words?

“Unprecedented” is the big word in our house. It perfectly describes what our city, our state, our country, our world is going through. 

As I tell my almost-twelve-year-old son, no one really knows. Everyone is making it up as we go. Trying to figure out what needs to be done to keep people healthy and safe.

I recently read Michael J. Fox’s slim memoir A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Future…

They say that sometimes books come into your lives when you most need them. Well, there was one part I most definitely needed to read. It helped me, and I share it with you this week in hopes that it will also help you during these uncertain times.

“Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice. When things go bad, don’t run, don’t hide. Stick it out, and be scrupulous in facing every part of your fear. Try to be still. It will take time, but you’ll find that even the gravest problems are finite — and that your choices are infinite.”

Worries and Promises

Now is a time for art projects, reading, and homework. My little artist when he was just 2 years old.

It’s a difficult time in our world right now.

It’s scary. And unpredictable. And more scary.

And in the midst of all this uncertainty, all this toilet-paper-buying, all this hand-washing, I’m trying to remain calm and reassuring, both for my son and myself.

No one prepares you for difficult conversations with kids.

I remember when I was still teaching. Having to talk to my fourth graders the day after the Sandy Hook tragedy. They were scared. They wanted reassurances and promises. And I could only promise them so much. I promised them that my number one job each day is to keep them healthy and safe. And I promised them that everyone at our elementary school felt the same way.

Now I’m having to talk to my almost-twelve-year-old son about a virus I have difficulty spelling. 

For my son, the coronavirus became more real when the NBA cancelled games and suspended the season. And on the same night we got that information, we found out one of our favorite actors, Tom Hanks, had contracted the illness. 

Though Los Angeles schools are now shut-down for at least two weeks, our family is managing. We’re lucky. I write from home, and thankfully, we’re not reliant on the meals provided by my son’s school. We’ll get through this, because really, what other choice is there.

But what do I tell my son? What can I promise him during these unprecedented times?

The same thing I told my students. My number one job is to keep him healthy and safe.

Wishing you all health and safety and hope you surround yourselves with things that make you feel good and cozy. For us, it’s hot chocolate, good books, microwave popcorn, and the reassurance that we have plenty of toilet paper stashed away.