I've been coming back to this piece of writing over and over again these past few days.
This is literally Take 4!
It's Monday morning as I write this. Last night's storm has left snow on our threshold. No steps are visible. And it continues to snow. KrA is attending to D's online school, so I'm back here now, wanting to close this chapter and move on.
So here goes ....
A few days ago I announced on my Facebook and Instagram accounts that I was taking a hiatus from social media.
The day before that, I didn't post my #dailypoetry for the first time after having kept at it for four weeks in a row.
The relief I felt by giving up and stepping back from social media was inexplicable.
When I first started the project, I was quite intent on keeping at it until at least the end of June this year. I never once imagined it would culminate in four weeks, that too with me quitting social media.
As soon as I posted that announcement on my Facebook and Instagram accounts, I deleted the Instagram app from my phone, and it was literally like letting a giant rock roll off my shoulders, a rock I wasn't intellectually aware I was carrying, but one that my body and mind had begun to sound alarm signals about by sending me into spirals of anxiety every other day.
But before that, I want to pick up from where I left off the last time, and share some insights I have gleaned on this journey.
The last I wrote about this project was about my experiences one week into it. Several things happened in weeks two, three, and four, some great, some revealing, and this post is to capture all of those.
- Who am I writing for? (Or, is it 'Whom'?)
When I started the project, I had written about 14 poems upfront. It felt like a lot of inventory at the beginning of the project, but days have a tendency to pass by quickly, and I soon found myself left with only four or five more poems to tide me over for the next few days.
I was so stressed about it that getting to work and writing down stuff became a nightmare. I remember that one day when the words wouldn't come, and my mind so full of the thoughts of these elusive verses.
Whether I was cooking or playing with D or running errands, I was just not there. Not present at all. But caught up in this massive swirl of thoughts - I need to write, I wish I had more time to write, Why am I cooking?, Why did KrA end up with a fractured leg?, I wish D were in school, I am not doing enough for D, I shouldn't worry so much otherwise D will become like me, Gosh, what will happen if D ends up like me with depression or anxiety or worse?, D doesn't have any friends or family around, D doesn't have playdates, D has begun sorting his tiles by colour, is that a sign of anxiety? ... and so on, and so on ...
It pained me to observe myself struggling thus. This was supposed to be an experience in the joy of writing and not end up becoming a massive struggle to put words out there for the sake of external validation, but that is what it had quickly become. It was only my second week, and I was already panicking.
The following day, I sat down to write with a clearer mind and a clearer heart, and the writing was such joy.
A few days later, when it was time to write more, I fell into the same spiral of anxiety.
Truth be told, I know I spend more time 'thinking' about stuff that needs to be done than I actually spend doing those very tasks.
I know this intellectually, but knowing what's right and behaving accordingly are two entirely different things.
Now that I have stepped off social media, I can go back to writing without pressuring myself to put that writing to use. Sure, I will publish my works – which is what my original plan for this year was, in my head at least, a year dedicated to writing and publishing in book format rather than focussing on marketing efforts at this point.
Which was the other thing that hit me hard.
- Why am I doing this?
OK - so people were reading my poems, and then what? There was no call to action for them, no newsletter for them to sign up to, no book for them to purchase, so it all quickly began to feel like a very wasteful exercise.
I was generating all this IP and I was giving them away for free without putting in place any opportunity to engage with readers and invite them over to peruse my other writings.
My initial argument was that say, 1-5% of the people who read my snippets on social media go on to love my writing and buy my books, but all that fiction writing fell by the wayside.
Even though I tell myself I'm in this for the long-term, when one or two days slip by without me getting my words out on the manuscript, the panic starts to build up very quickly.
One day of non-writing easily gets extrapolated in my head to years of non-productivity, and I worry that five years from now, I'd be in the exactly same place I am now, all because I didn't write for one day.
I have somehow gotten on to this hamster wheel of productivity, pushing myself without realizing how much I can actually take on, how to allow myself grace for when things don't go according to plan, how to hold myself in compassion and simply be present without letting my mind catastrophize my life.
Catastrophizing is an extremely useful skill in writing fiction, but when it comes to real life, it feels like being in a constant chokehold.
- What is all this telling me about myself?
There's a certainly a lot going on right now and I'd miss the point if I were to blame my current lack of motivation and creativity entirely on the situation at hand.
Yes, KrA is bed-bound. Yes, D is at home and away from school. Yes, last week they announced schools are reopening, but we have made a choice to keep D home for another couple of weeks until the cases taper off somewhat. Yes, I see other parents who've made the decision to send their little ones to school and I worry endlessly about whether I've made the right decision or not for D.
But this is what I realized this morning.
We make choices based on what feels 'right' to us, but even 'right' is such a 'wrong' word to use here, because who can ever say with confidence what the 'right' thing to do is.
We once used to use hindsight as a tool to measure how right or wrong our decisions are. Business schools are full of case studies of industry leaders, whose decisions we mercilessly investigate in hindsight, sitting in the comfort seat of revealed knowledge, and picking apart decisions made in the dark unknown. It is presumptuous, to say the least.
I will share something personal with you here. There was an estrangement in my family several years ago. I don't want to share the details of that, but for several years, I saw my parents ask themselves over and over again if they could have prevented what had unfolded had they made different choices. It was heartbreaking to see that, their constant anxiety, and following that, their inevitable struggle but also deep desire to accept what was.
Now, as parents of a five-year old, KrA and I debate with ourselves endlessly whether we're doing the right thing by choosing to keep D at home for a couple of more weeks. Sure, Covid is not going anywhere. Depending on which news report we read, it appears as if more variants will keep emerging and we'll keep facing these cycles of lockdowns and exposure based on how stressed the healthcare system gets. We can't stay cooped up in our homes forever, but this is where I have to remind myself – 2 weeks is not forever!
Two days of not writing does not imply two years of non-productivity.
Two weeks of D being at home while many of his classmates are back in school does not necessarily mean he will grow up to be a child who is socially damaged.
It is this kind of catastrophizing and extrapolation of difficulties that makes me react in a way that is out of proportion to the situation on hand.
It takes me out of the present and puts me in a distant future of which I have already built a nightmarish vision in my head, and I spend my days and nights worrying about how we'd survive and tackle such a future, completely removed from the fact that the present is nowhere near as catastrophic and what is being asked of me in the present is far less than what I've inflated it to be in my head.
I understand this fear. This fear of being 'wrong'. This fear of reaching that distant future and finding out it is worse than anything I've experienced so far.
Sure, there's also the other possibility that it will turn out to be something quite amazing, but my fearful mind does not want to entertain that thought, not when it is gripped in this spiral of anxiety.
And so I let go. I let go of the need to be right. Of the need to know that the things I do today, the choices I make today, will guarantee a safe and successful passage for me through life.
Let me live today for today's sake. Let me live this moment for it's own sake. Not with the expectation of any reward or guarantee of safety or well-being in the future.
I don't have to be reckless. But I don't have to be grasping and clinging at the same time, running away from the present so far and so fast that I find myself always catching my breath.
But it's not been all disaster and doom. I received several unexpected gifts along the way.
- Connection is the most precious gift I received.
My posts on Instagram led a long-lost friend from my teenage years to reach out to me and reconnect. On Christmas afternoon, we spent an hour and a half catching up after more than two decades.
Turned out both of us had been looking for each other all this while. I had often thought of her, she was one of the closest friends I had had. It was an easy friendship without judgement or pretence, I remember.
Another long-time reader left encouraging comments for me whenever my poems tended to delve into the deep dark. Yet another reader and classmate shared her experiences on writing and publishing and finding not validation but criticism from the external world, and how that hurt so much.
As a writer, these are the connections I seek. When the words that come out of me coax more words out of others too, and we can rest comfortably in each other's presence, knowing that there is hurt, there is pain, and there is a lot of understanding too.
The snowplow has come and gone, making a courageous attempt at paving a path through knee-deep snow. More snow has since fallen, rendering that path invisible once more.
KrA has an appointment for physiotherapy this afternoon, and I had been wondering how we'd navigate all that snow. It's slated to snow until afternoon. Our shovel is broken and we hadn't gotten around to buying a new one; it had barely snowed so far this season, and with KrA being bed-bound, it hadn't been much of a priority until now.
I look out at the window, thinking I'd borrow a shovel from my neighbour, and guess what I see! My 70+-year-old neighbour shoveling snow out of our driveway and all the way up to the front door step, so we'd have access to the street.
Over and over again, life has shown me that all I am required to do is remain present. I only need to attend to the needs of this moment. The future takes care of itself - whether by means of help from unexpected quarters or a newfound ability in me to accept and surrender over and over again.
This is all I want to remember from this experience.
Life gives much more than we could possibly ask for.
Life gives much more than we could possibly imagine asking for.
And life asks very little of us, in turn.
All it asks us to do is remain present, do the best we can in this moment, and that's it. That is all there is to it.
The present moment is all we have. It is truly all there is to life in any given instant.