Exhaling

I did not realize that it had been nearly two months since I posted here. This seems to be the nature of pandemic time – it’s all one big day until you look at the calendar. I got burnt out on the critical thinking and anxiety about politics and the pandemic. I took a breath, but now am back doing volunteer work for voter education, knowing that in another couple of years, elections may have worsening consequences. On top of that, due to a scheduling glitch, I am in the throes of two writing workshops and barely keeping my head above water.

Window iced over with sun glowing through.

Yesterday was the second coldest Valentine’s Day on record in Minnesota. Today, the subzero sun is shining through windows dripping with condensation over ledges of ice that formed last night. Usually, this is the time of year when cabin fever is at its apex, but it feels like doubling down after a nearly year-long quarantine. We’re still holed up, masking, avoiding contact as much as possible. The emotional work of unrelenting communication via email, text, Skype, Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, and even, on occasion, a phone call or letter, is necessary for school and work and for supporting those in our lives that are more isolated.

A friend once said I was the most extroverted introvert they’d ever met. Part of me wanted to let out a wail but I’m exhausted! Lately much of my communication with others has become a tad rote. I don’t know what I’ve said to whom and I’m pretty sure that the lack of recollection on their end renders it all moot. I protest on behalf of silence. The viola player in our house is currently learning cello as well. Never in my life did I imagine that I’d find beautiful music so aggravating. Or that my husband wandering about the house to escape his work desk would be distracting and irritating. I live with some of the more easygoing humans on the planet. They, however, do not. I can’t imagine how it is for families who don’t get along under normal conditions – they’re either undergoing a severe and prolonged intervention or are ghosting their own living rooms.

Sparrows on snow covered branches.

I keep reminding myself each and every day that I have a lot to be grateful for – we’re relatively unscathed in the scheme of things. I try to focus on helping those who are not. Still, it feels like too much now. When it feels like too much, I look to the small moments – warm food, the birds singing outside my window (sparrows, man, they don’t give a shit about the temperature), a nap at just the right moment of the day – with the sun warming my reading chair through those drippy, drippy windows.

One of my February goals was to focus on one long poem for the entire month. I chose “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, because I’ve always liked the lines when I heard them out of context. It has 52 stanzas, so I read a couple each day, and then listen to an audio version. I started with the theory that poets know how to write efficiently and that my own writing could benefit from that. It’s still a theory, but I ran across some lines that hit me in my Buddhist pretensions:

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Cello leaned up against a bookcase.

Suffice it to say, it is a reminder that all the anxiety in the world, all the imagined possibilities cannot be the focus right now. I need to look around and see what there is to see. I need to value the time when a cello makes the wood floors vibrate. I need to value that my husband still seeks out my company. I think about how my soon-to-be 17-year-old, who is chomping at the bit to be away from her aging and predictable parents, will become a rarity – overcompensating for the independence put on hold these last couple of years. And that silence will perhaps bear down on me oppressively instead as much-missed necessary solitude.

I’ve been forcing myself to meditate in the mornings. Like everything else, there’s an app for it. Mostly though, I focus on breathing deeply and exhaling slowly. There’s a lot of mixed messaging in meditation. Some visualization gurus have you focusing on drawing in breath to the areas of your body that experience tension (although I’d have better luck finding an area that doesn’t!). Or they have you exhaling the “bad” feelings or stress. I’m not sure what I’m doing except reminding myself I’m alive and my pulmonary system is still working which, in this world is a damned good thing. Part of me likes to think of it as a conversion process – taking in the bad and breathing out the good. It’s a literal way of thinking about what I’m putting out into the world.

Winter scene on Lake Superior

With a vaccine a few months or more out for our family, I think about how I want to emerge from this weird little cocoon in which we’ve been living. I think about the muscle memory we lose – how to be around other humans, traveling, attending events, being part of an extended family. Still, it also makes me realize what I don’t want to be, how I no longer want to spend my time. Like breathing in the bad and converting to good, positive energy, I went into quarantine with all my baggage, but I intend on leaving some of it behind. With an end in sight this year, this can become purpose-driven time, if I can rally myself. How do you want to emerge from this time? For now, I’m breathing out and hoping we find out sooner, rather than later.