These days—in the midst of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty—I feel like a tiny cog. My job isn’t essential (except to our monthly household income). I’m not homeschooling or parenting or caring for sick family members. And with work deadlines staring me in the face, I can’t slow down and “enjoy” this strange quarantine time. I get up each morning, sit at my laptop, and keep doing the job I was doing before all this started. And most days, I’m not convinced it’s enough.
When that happens, I read a poem. It’s called “Famous” and it was written by Naomi Shihab Nye. I first discovered it in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Hallelujah Anyway. Its final lines ring like a pep talk in my ears, especially now:
“I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.”
The poem has helped me find peace with the fact that I’m not doing anything spectacular right now. I’m not helping to solve the current crisis, and I’m not using this time to better myself. Each of us is having different experiences during this pandemic. Here are a few things that are shaping my mine: I work from home. I’m married and we don’t have kids. I’ve had lifelong anxiety that sometimes fades to the background and sometimes—like now—flares up in ways I can’t ignore. My experience is also shaped by the uncertainty that’s inherent in being a working writer. I quit a job with a dependable paycheck more than a year ago to become a freelancer. I have work to do…for now.
I’ve been on a tight book deadline since before the pandemic started. It’s an opportunity that I’m incredibly grateful for, but this hasn’t been a slow, reflective time in my life. No, this has been a time where I feel like a tiny cog that just needs to slowly, faithfully, keep doing its job; a small pulley that never forgets what it can do. This is what that looks like on an ordinary day:
6:32 a.m. – My alarm goes off and I hit snooze. A few years ago I bought a digital clock radio to help me cut down on my screen time. When I charged my phone on my nightstand, it was the last thing I looked at each night and the first thing I looked at each morning. These days, I charge it overnight in the living room, and I don’t turn it on until my work day officially begins.
6:37 – My alarm goes off again. I turn it off.
7:08 – I get up and head to the kitchen to make coffee with the coffee maker we got for a wedding gift nearly seven years ago. My husband and I love coffee. On weekends we make lattes with our espresso machine, but during the workweek we need unfussy coffee that stays hot on a burner all morning.
7:20 – Shower
7:30 – For the past ten years, I’ve started my day with about 30 minutes of alone time. As an introvert, it’s a habit that’s mentally and spiritually grounding for me. I sit on my sofa with my coffee (after adding too much flavored creamer) and journal, read, or pray. Since January I’ve been reading Surprised by Hope by theologian and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. It’s not a long book, but to me, it’s dense and thought-provoking. I read only a few pages each day because it gives me so much to think about. I’ve also gotten into the habit of writing down five things I’m grateful for each morning. I think it has a subtle way of shifting my perspective.
7:35 – I hear my husband Peter’s alarm. He starts getting ready for the day.
7:56 – Peter heads into our office to begin his work day. It used to be my office but since he started working remotely a few weeks ago, I’ve had to create a workspace in our bedroom instead. He’s a mental health therapist so he (legally) needs complete privacy (and a reliable internet connection) for his work.
8:00 – I finish getting ready for the day. Even though I work from home, this includes putting on actual clothes. I know a major selling point for the freelance life is “you get to work in your pajamas,” but I’ve never understood the appeal. I feel more like myself when I’m wearing things like jeans and eye make-up. I like structure, even in my clothes. Some days, I wear perfume. My current favorite is Philosophy’s Amazing Grace.
8:15ish – I try to start my workday by 8:15. Some days it’s closer to 8:30 if I take time to do 5-minute office yoga. My main project right now is writing the first book in a two-book series about nature exploration and environmental stewardship for kids. It’s an idea I had nearly two years ago and last fall, I was offered a book deal. The first book will be published by Quirk Books in April 2021. The work I’m doing right now is a mix of research and writing the first draft.
9:07 – Time to find my noise-cancelling headphones. Living in an apartment, there can be an unbelievable amount of noise throughout the day. This week a construction crew is re-siding one of our buildings. We also live in a dog-friendly complex so there can be a lot of barking dogs too.
10:35 – Peter and I take a short walk through the city park by our apartment. We make our usual stops at the robin’s nest we found in the cattails and the park’s smallest pond where we always see muskrats. I’m always comforted by nature but that’s been especially true these past few weeks. The trees keep pushing out new leaves, the muskrats keep eating cattails, and the birds keep building nests. The familiar rhythms are reassuring. (And even though I’m researching the effects of climate change right now, one thing I’ve learned is how resilient nature can be when we give it a chance. I can’t help but think about that as I watch so many animals and plants live their lives alongside us in the city.)
11:00 – Back to book research and writing.
12:30 p.m. – I take a break for lunch—either a sandwich or if I’m lucky, leftovers. Sometimes Peter and I will eat together but usually I’ll watch a few minutes of The Great British Baking Show. It’s one of my feel-good shows. I love to bake, and I nearly always learn something I end up using later in my own baking. My lunch usually lasts long enough to watch one challenge.
1:10 – Check the news. Big mistake. Head down a rabbit hole of scary headlines and “what if?” scenarios. Try to remember that just because someone has a headline and byline or social media account, it doesn’t mean they can predict the future. (This is where my journalism degree comes in handy.)
1:25 – I continue researching and writing but switch to a different section of my book. The book will include some biographies and this research has been the most energizing part of my work lately. It’s good to be reminded of the things that people in the past have had to overcome.
2:35 – Find myself shopping for graphic tees and face serums at target.com. Do I need to use a face serum? Oops. Back to work.
3:55 – Back to work.
4:02 – For the tenth time, I contemplate asking my upstairs neighbor if she could stomp less and close doors and drawers more quietly. Once again, I decide that no one needs to be nagged by their downstairs neighbor during a pandemic. Time to put the noise-cancelling headphones back on.
4:03 – Back to work.
5:30 – I often work until at least 5:30. I’d love to be done with work each day at 5 but I always seem to get a second wind at 4:52.
6:00ish – Peter and I go for a run. I’ve been a runner since college. (Before that I always hated running. But I joined my university’s rowing team my freshman year and running was a part of our training. I’ve been doing it ever since.) Peter and I try to run together a few times a week. He runs faster and farther than I do, but we usually start and end together.
6:45ish – We return home after our run and cool-down. I try to remember to stretch.
7:00 – We should probably think about dinner. I snack on some Wheat Thins instead. The taste reminds me of eating lunch at my grandparents’ house as a child.
7:20 – We start cooking dinner. I cook most of our meals and tend to be overly ambitious about it. Lately I’ve been cooking a lot of recipes from the new Half Baked Harvest cookbook. Sometimes Peter and I will cook together and sometimes I’ll listen to an audiobook while I cook. I’m currently listening to Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. That woman was a force. I’m really enjoying learning more about her.
8:30 – As usual, dinner takes way longer to make than expected. But anytime we’re able to start eating dinner before 9 p.m., I consider it a win. (We’ve eaten dinner as late as 10 p.m. and that’s a big mistake.)
9:20 – Dinner’s over and the kitchen’s (mostly) clean. We fall onto the couch and talk about what to watch. If we had more time, we might watch an episode of Endeavour. It’s our favorite show but we’re about one season behind. Usually on weeknights, however, we watch something shorter. We just finished watching all the episodes of The Way Overland, a travel vlog on YouTube.
10:00 – I start getting ready for bed. I like to read before bed to help me wind down. Our local libraries just started doing curbside pick-up after being closed for weeks. One of the books I had on hold came in and I’m eager to start it. It’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.
10:40 – I set my alarm for tomorrow and turn off the light. I used to fall asleep pretty easily. But these last few months? Not so much. I toss and turn and can’t quiet my mind.
11:20ish p.m. – Finally drift off to sleep.