writing into this new reality

Jen wearing a light-colored mask

My mom has been sewing masks for us. Here, I’m getting ready to go to the post office – I’m smiling under there, you just can’t see!

Hello hello hello –

Hey, I have a new book out! I’ll tell you more about it at the end of this post, ok?

I have been thinking about you a lot these days – you writers and readers, you survivors and healers. How are you sustaining yourself through this strange and difficult new time? I hope you are taking good care, and I hope those you love are safe and sound. If you are sick, or you’ve had sickness in your community, I’m sending all the good thoughts and energy that I can.

How are you holding the anxiety, the worry, the fear, the grief? Are you being gentle with your good and struggling self?

I’ve been baking. A lot. I’m exploring new recipes, using up what we’ve got in the pantry before the move to the East Coast this summer. The puppy and I take walks in the woods most days, enjoying the company of hawks and turkeys.

I’ve watched closely the family life of the mourning doves that have nested in a hangin

My companions over these weeks…

g planter outside my front door: already they’ve hatched one clutch of young, who were up and flying within a week of hatching(!), and now the parents are nesting again. I write letters to my beloved and postcards my nephew.

photo of adult morning dove next to two chicks in a nestphoto looking down a grassy hill, across a cityscape and out to a bay

I’ve also been watching a lot of tv.

To be honest with you, I’ve been moving through many months of not being so gentle with myself. I may be moving through to the other side. I have my fingers crossed, hopeful.

Between releasing the workshops (and sinking into a slick, grey burnout) and spending several hours each workday commuting to a new day job, I found I had little-to-no energy for writing. Or much of anything else. I couldn’t reply to phone calls or email messages. I made popcorn for dinner (with brewer’s yeast — that’s protein, right??). I didn’t want to read anything at all. I felt drained, not not at all sure how I was going to fill my cup again.

(I still had energy for self-recrimination, though. Why is it that, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter how much we understand why we’re feeling the way that we’re feeling, we still have some energy left over to beat ourselves up?)

And now we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic.

My sweetheart started her new job as CEO of the amazing Fenway Health in Boston, MA, at the beginning of March, right as many folks in this country began to grasp how dangerous this new virus is and started taking action. I was with her the first week of March, and returned home just before the San Francisco Bay area instituted the shelter-in-place guidance. I spent one week commuting in to UCSF, where the hospital had been treating COVID-19 patients for several weeks, and then was sent home to telecommute, thankful that I have the sort of work that can be done from home.

My beloved and I have not been together for over a month now. Did you know that the word quarantine comes from the Italian quarantina, meaning forty days’? It feels almost like she and I are being quarantined from each other; it’s going to be more than 40 days before we’ll get to share the same physical space again. We are planning our cross-country move while we are cross-country from one another. Maybe that makes a weird kind of sense.

I am both struggling with and grateful for this time of isolation; maybe some of you introverts out there know what I mean. It’s just me and the puppy at the house these days, and this sheltering in place has made space for me to go back to the beginning with my writing – to spend mornings with candles, tea, and a notebook. Slow writing. Remembering myself into and through the page.

For the last many months, since last fall at least, I’ve felt profoundly disconnected from my writing. I’d grown tired of what no longer felt like an authentic voice, yet I felt trapped in that voice when I wrote pieces that I wanted to share with others. I struggled with feelings of failure (do they ever go away for good?) and old grief, a certainty that I would never succeed as a writer (and what does that even mean)?

candles, tea, and peanut butter bar on a plateEarlier this year, I started setting my alarm for the early, early hours, which also meant that I had to go to sleep early early; there were nights I was in bed a couple of hours before anyone else in the house. But I needed to retrain my body to those dark morning hours, 4am, 4:30am. I needed the candle and the quiet, the writing time that is wholly unobserved by anyone else (well, maybe the puppy, but she slept through most of it, curled into a ball in her chair).

I needed to go back to the beginning of this practice – just writing to write. Not writing-to-blog or writing-to-self-promote or writing-to-brand or writing-to-Patreon or writing-to-publish. I’d lost touch with the sense of joy and urgency, the play and curiosity that had once upon a time me when I sat down at the page.

For awhile I’d been afraid that it wasn’t working, that I wouldn’t be able to reconnect with that deep love of writing. I wrote, in a letter to my sweetheart, that I was afraid it was like after I quit sucking my thumb as a child: once I’d broken myself of the habit, it was like a spell had broken. When I put my thumb in my mouth, it was not soothing, not enjoyable — it felt weird, a little silly, wrong.

But something has shifted for me this week, and I’m feeling new growth in this writing place of me. In the midst of worry and fear, I’m also feeling a quiet hope. I’m trying not to make too big a deal out of it, to leap ahead, to make big plans. Just keep writing, Jen, I say to that eager self inside. Just keep writing.

Maybe you are taking some of this time to reconnect with parts of yourself that have felt quiet or absent or lost. Whatever you are doing to get yourself through, into this new normal, is the right thing to do. We have to be gentle with ourselves, don’t we?

We who are survivors of trauma know very well the sense of dislocation that arises when we move from one normal to another. We know what it’s like not to be able to “go back to the way things used to be,” to be forced to adjust to a new way of being and seeing and interacting and engaging. We can help those around us who are struggling with that reality. We have wisdom and deep experience to share, in whatever way we choose to do so.

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Stack of Write to Restore booksLast month, Mango released my new book, a guided journal that’s meant to be a companion to Writing Ourselves Whole: Write to Restore is a guide through an eight-week writing practice, with new exercises and readings (and illustrated with my own photos!).

As with Writing Ourselves Whole, Write to Restore is for individual practice as well as for writing groups or other collectives, and is available in hard copy and Kindle formats.

For some of us, writing is the way that we find out where we are, what we’re thinking and feeling and dreaming, and the way we play with the stories of our lives. Write to Restore can accompany you on this journey, if you choose…

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