This is the newsletter I sent out to my readers today. I wanted to post it here as well. If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter so it arrives in your inbox, you can do that by clicking here.
This morning my alarm went off and I rolled out of bed. It is never easy to roll out of the warmth of my blankets and my sleep, but morning called. Or beeped. Whichever. I was three steps toward the bathroom when I remembered that the world is changed. I no longer have to wake my son and feed him breakfast before taking him to school. That was last week. This week everything is canceled, and teachers are scrambling to figure out how to teach children who aren’t allowed to come to the school building. This morning the alarm was to remind me to put the garbage cans by the curb. The task had popped into my head as I climbed in bed and I’d set an alarm to remind me to do it before the first truck arrived. We have no patterns yet in this newly changed world. No habits to remind me to take cans to the curb. It is not so simple as applying our summer habits, though many of those will be adapted and put to use. I sat with my son before bedtime last night as he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” I looked at him and answered that none of us do. The whole world is off the map, swimming in uncertainty.
The sound of my rolling garbage cans was loud in the crisp morning air. My cul de sac had none of its usual morning activity. No one leaving for work, no kids off to school, just me adding my cans to the line of cans. A strange mix of normal garbage day and extra ordinary quarantine. On the way back to my house I saw a blue jay feather. There was no mass of feathers to testify of a feline attack, just a single blue feather laying perfectly centered on my doormat like a gift that had been left there on purpose. I carried it with me into the house and carefully taped it into my journal. Gifts should be acknowledged and honored even when it is the accidental gift of a dropped feather.
Among the hundreds (thousands?) of things I’ve seen written about living in various states of quarantine, the one that spoke most to me was a poem by Lynn Ungar titled Pandemic. In it she asks us to treat quarantine as the most sacred of times, a time to draw inward and connect more deeply with those closest to us rather than scattering ourselves thinly across the world. Her words are more beautiful than my summary of them. You should go read them when you’re done with this letter. I first read Ungar’s words on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week. I know it was during the first flurry of cancellations, back when I was agonizing whether to inconvenience a group of 50 writers by requesting to give my presentation via Skype rather than boarding a plane to California to teach them in person. That decision seemed so hard to make six days ago. Now the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including my parent’s house where I would have stayed, are under orders to shelter in place. I thought about Ungar’s poem on Sunday when those members of my household who still do church gathered together for prayer and sacrament. We fumbled around trying to figure out how we wanted to arrange it. The result was an intimate spiritual experience that I look forward to repeating next week. A gift dropped into our lives like a bright blue feather on the doorstep.
Today the poem reminds me to step away from the endless cycle of updates both personal and governmental, and to think of the accidental gifts this new life bestows. I have a unique opportunity to focus on the people in my house. We get to find ways to tend to each other while all the activities which were helping mental health and growth are canceled. We will find new ways to be healthy, new ways to engage with the world and with each other. We invent reasons to get up in the morning rather than sleeping until afternoon and seek ways to engage with our new existence. It begins with making lists of tasks that are still available to us. Then from those lists we will craft a flexible schedule that sits comfortably on our lives and doesn’t require a lot of will power to maintain. The schedule will fall apart of course. First drafts always require revision. From the pieces of that first schedule we will make a new one. The process will repeat until we have new habits and new rhythms of being.
Our house is fortunate in that our income is not disrupted yet. Howard and I already worked from home. We have enough resources both financial and physical to carry us through the coming months. So while the world is extra ordinary around us, we go about our regular tasks of telling stories. Howard draws comics, we both work on the next Schlock book, and I write my newsletter. I hope that you also have a place of relative security in this newly uncertain world. I also hope that you find gifts within it, either smaller ones like my blue jay feather, or larger ones like special times with those closest to you.
Wishing you wellness and joy,
If you’d like to put a gift or two you’ve found into the comments, I’d love to read about them.