Missives from The Green Study in Quarantine

This is the 11th draft blog post I’ve written that may never be published. What do you write when every person you know is some combo of depressed/okay/depressed/not okay?

I went for an early walk this morning. I’ve been having a bad couple of days mentally, while stalking news on the internet, Twittering angrily, otherwise feeling paralyzed and despondent. Our family had been getting a lot of good news recently, the cupboards were stocked, and I’d been doing some writing work about which I was mildly pleased. Still, I found myself just turning over and over in my head the idea that things would continue to decline in this country, that the boiling point would just keep boiling. That there was a reckoning ahead for even the most mild-mannered and conscientious among us.

The only way to step off of this incapacitating ride is to shut the information off and do one concrete thing. Something tactile, something with a start and a finish, something mundane and ordinary. One thing at a time, doing it only for the purpose of doing it. I found this difficult. My mind was bouncing from one subject to another, all with a sense of alarming urgency. I brought my mind back to the dishes. I thought: I am doing the dishes. This is what I’m doing, I’m washing this thing, then the next. It was a relentless battle to pull my thoughts back into the moment.

I did that one thing and then I sat down and wrote a thank-you note to my daughter’s oncologist. She’s been doing well, scans are coming back clean, and she will go off the chemo drug in a couple of months. A year ago, the tumors had come back with a vengeance. Two months later, she was in surgery again. Right now, she’s a high school junior taking full online college courses. She passed her driving test. She got accepted into a university orchestra. She looks well and healthy and happy. I had to send gratitude to someone for that.

For the last few months, I’ve been on Twitter. I’ve opened, closed, and reactivated my account numerous times. It really is quite the shithole. As an unknown writer, social media is a must in terms of marketing and finding markets. I’m not adept or prolific enough for it to have much worth right now. On occasion I’ll come across another writer, a cause worth helping, or something that makes me laugh. I haven’t yet learned to avert my eyes from politics, which is the most ugly, polarized conversation one could ever see. I don’t think I wanted to know this much about the country or its citizens. But you can’t unsee it. Many of us are really quite stupid creatures.

I’m reading SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. Much like reading about the 1918 pandemic in Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, I’ve learned there is an incredibly steep learning curve for humanity. Even crows manage to pass on generational lessons. Humans? We make a good show of it, but as soon as we get scared, we revert to unevolved amoebas. Don’t argue with me, biologists – I do know there are better analogies.

So perhaps that is the crux of the problem – the focus on human foibles and flaws. The nihilist in me has gleefully shouted see, nothing matters!  This is where religion might have proven of some use to me, but once you stop believing, you’re no longer going to leave cookies out for Santa Claus. I’ve tried to explain this to my handful of religious friends. There is no mechanism in my brain that will allow me to believe in a grand puppeteer. I’d have to pretend and that seems like a lot of wasted energy.

Yesterday I read an excellent article in The Atlantic by Ed Yong titled “America is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral” talking about conceptual errors in our thinking. Really worth the read and bizarrely reassuring to me that what I’d been feeling and experiencing was common. I finally stopped washing my groceries after reading Derek Thompson’s “Hygiene Theater is a Huge Waste of Time“. We still don’t go into retail stores. We use Shipt for Target and pick up our groceries already shopped for us from the local grocery store. No one outside the vet who put our cat to sleep in May has been in our house. Even then, she was in the garage.

Today I showered in the 15 minutes between my husband’s work calls (the bathroom is next to his office). I vacuumed upstairs on my daughter’s break between classes. I haunt the space between her bed/classroom and his basement office. Some days, I work in the garden, but the joy of that usually dies in late July with the emergence of bugs and heat. Some mornings I drive out to a regional park and take pictures of birds, quickly putting on a mask when surprised by a hiker rounding the path.

I participated in NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Competition and did fairly well on the first challenge. Waiting to hear back on the second in October. I am pitching a novel at a writer’s conference in October, doing NaNoWriMo in November, rejoined an old writing group, am working with a fantastic writing partner, and generally getting my writing groove on – between or through bouts of self-doubt, artistic pretension, and self-loathing. Feels about right.

I’m finding it hard to get into the blogging groove. Every well-formed thought is mired in sludge. I keep moving forward  – so slowly as to be undetectable to the human eye. But I’m here, you’re here. Let’s make the best of it.

Make some new blogging friends for starters. Check out Stephe Thornton at Manuscript. Head. Drawer. Snack on some enjoyable book reviews at Bookmunch. Enjoy historical bits and bobs by writer Victoria Blake. And lastly, drop the link to one of your favorite blogs in the comments to help make more connections.

22 thoughts on “Missives from The Green Study in Quarantine

    1. For some reason, your comment ended up in the spam folder. Hopefully that won’t happen again, so sorry I didn’t see this initially. Today is going to be another “put one foot in front of the other” day or else I’m paralyzed by all the bad news. Hoping for some light breaking on through soon. Until then, onto the next chore. Wishing you a good day!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m keeping you in prayer. If it’s not overstepping, Lisa Harper has a beautiful message she did years ago on how sometimes it’s a second by second thing. It’s called, “What It All Falls Apart”. I’ve shared it with folks who have been struggling and many have found something in it they can take away from it to help them through tragic and difficulty situations.

        You can find it here if you’re interested. She has a way of making you cry and laugh simultaneously so you laugh at yourself. And her storytelling is phenomenal. She’s been through a lot. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/wrNtwp5i-IQ

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  1. I feel guilty for feeling needy. I feel shame for feeling anxious. I feel embarrassed, well, for several things. Staying a step ahead of all these feelings isn’t as easy as it once was. As always, your writing squarely set out the facts of the matter in a way that encourages me to get a grip on my feelings. 😀

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    1. I think it’s less about getting a grip on our feelings (that adds a whole other level of pressure and stress) than it is to acknowledge and respect that we are having them, that it’s okay, that it is not reflective of weakness or failing. On days when I think I should be feeling incredible grateful, my joie de vivre is nowhere to be found. On days when the news is bad, I’ll laugh about something and marvel at my irreverance. There’s no right way to live in these unprecedented times. I think living by the misquoted Hippocratic Oath is the best we can do on some days: First, do no harm. To ourselves or to anyone else. Anything beyond that is bonus mileage.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I keep arguing with myself: Am I depressed? No, I don’t get depressed…I think I might be. I don’t want to give in to it, but Jesus, who could NOT be depressed at this point. But yeah, gratitude and some normal activity that doesn’t revolve around social media helps. Glad your girl is healthy and moving forward with her studies and activities. That is such good news. Your posts always remind me that I’m not the only one struggling, and for what it’s worth, it helps to hear that sometimes. Thanks Michelle.

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    1. Since I am depression-inclined, I’ve had to really pinpoint what kind of depression I experience, since it changes how I deal with it – biochemical/hormonal or situational. Even the most biochemically balanced person can experience situational depression and I think we’re seeing a lot more of that. My friends who have coped with clinical depression during pre-pandemic times are really struggling as well, because there is also a limit of therapeutic resources – from therapy to access to prescriptions, etc.
      Beyond gratitude and normal activity, if there is any energy left at all not sapped by depression, is finding small ways to help others. Isolation means that some of us introverts who do well, have to make a concerted effort to reach out. There are days that I’m wiped out just from overcommunicating, but to my extrovert friends, it is a lifeline to connect with others. I’ve done more written correspondence, small donations to personal Venmos and public charitable organizations. It takes a person out of themselves and relieves someone else’s anxieties. Bandaids on gaping wounds, but it is something.

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      1. I agree. Everyone is struggling, some stretched so thin it is important to offer comfort where and when ever we can. I keep looking for the silver linings but like your inability to latch onto a religious faith, they seem like just another cliche meant to soothe the seething of humans in real turmoil. I saw a FB post reminding that these thick clouds of smoke and ash overtaking the west coast are the remains of many loved things from homes to forests to farms and the loved humans, pets and wildlife that have all been lost. Very sobering times we are living in. I hope the folks I know who are believing that these are the necessary growing pains of some great shift in our global consciousness are right, but none of it feels particularly illuminating to me at this moment.

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        1. You bring up an interesting point. Anybody obliviously claiming some sort of necessary growth/fatalism needs to have a prompt seat. As individuals, it’s important that we recognize, honor, and grieve for the losses and the pain that so many people are experiencing right now. This is why sometimes small, individual actions to help are the only grace and/or relief we get to experience in the midst of utter chaos.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. You have captured my mood so well. I too am living with a cancer patient on top of all of this other nonsense. Congrats on your daughters scan; I know how important that is in keeping one’s optimism. I too practice no “One day at a time” but “One task and then one more” in order to maintain some productivity, self-respect and equanimity. Such a crazy time we are in!

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    1. This is such a tough time for a lot of people, especially those who are vulnerable or love someone who is vulnerable to the coronavirus. This morning, especially after the death of Justice Ginsberg, I am thinking about grief and loss and how we have to work to not be overwhelmed and blinded by all the bad things that happen in life. The practice remains the same. What do we do in our moments, our day that helps us put one foot in front of the other and not be paralyzed. It’s just do one thing and then the next.
      I hope you and your family stay well and I appreciate your kind comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just want to let you know I enjoy your writing – keep it up. You have a gift. I am in a writers’ group. I find it inspiring and encouraging. The news can bring us down – but it’s good to know what’s going on. I have a silly trick I do when I find myself feeling low – I stir within myself that exciting anticipation of a child. [Of course I do this when no one is around.] Go back to your youth – recall a memory when you were on the edge of your seat anxiously awaiting to see someone or go somewhere or do something. Our youthful imagination expected nothing but the best. We didn’t know disappointment – we were always positive and optimistic. Find that moment and live in that joy for a few minutes then go about making a great day happen. All the best to you and your family.

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    1. Thank you, Barb. There is something to your practice – the ability to see the world without the cynicism or skepticism of an adult. I try to cultivate that more since I tend to be an overthinking, overly serious person. Plus, as a writer, maintaining a fertile imagination is so important! Best wishes to you.

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  5. WOW! What wonderful news about your daughter! I am thrilled and relieved for you.

    And terrific news about your writing and the progress on that front. ❤️

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    1. Thanks, Fransi. It’s a start and stop experience, as I was up with my girl at 3am since she was having side effects from the chemo drug. Still, we are in a stable time where most of the personal/family news has been good. I’m very grateful for that! I hope you are keeping well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have had some non-covid issues come up myself actually. At some point I plan to write about it because I am learning the most powerful lessons. So despite it all, I am well and also very grateful. ❤️

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        1. I’m sorry to hear that, Fransi. I hope that you are able to get the care and support you need. I’m so tired of “life lessons” at this point! Just want to slow down and enjoy the moments. In between all the social media doomscrolling! Take care – sending healing wishes your way.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Thanks Michelle. The care and support I am receiving is nothing short of miraculous. I am beyond blessed. Thank you for the healing wishes. I accept them with gratitude and, as I hope you know, I match with my own for you and your family.

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