This last week I have been taking firmer note of a personal phenomena, which is utter exhaustion starting around 4 PM. I've started planning my days around it, I can't count on myself to be willing to do much of anything in the early evening beyond making some dinner and chatting with my friends on the phone, an activity I haven't taken on with this much interest and enthusiasm since high school. Reading is out of the question beyond a couple of pages because I just fall asleep. The giant stack of library books next to my bed is being whittled away, 5 pages a day at a time. I usually love to garden in the evening when it's cooler outside, but can't seem to do that either.
My sister is calling it low-level depression-- she is experiencing the same-- and I was agreeing with her until I read this article by Rebecca Solnit, who posited that we are all having trouble focusing and being productive because our minds and bodies are busy doing other, more important work: readying and adjusting ourselves for the profound economic and social changes that have already begun to sweep over us.
These changes mean that many of us will be doing something very different with our lives than we imagined at the beginning of 2020. I read Gabrielle Hamilton's essay for the NYT about closing her restaurant, Prune, and it hit me hard. (It's a long article and you can listen to it here.) I read Hamilton's book, Blood, Bones, and Butter when it came out, and at the time felt a kinship with her. We started our businesses around the same time and share a similar desire to not just make things and make them well, but to create an experience with what we make. She does something special with her restaurant, and I try so hard to do the same with my pottery. I ate at Prune the last time I was in New York almost exactly a year ago, her place is just a couple of blocks away from where a dear friend lives. I called on a Tuesday evening to see if they had a table, and the hostess told me if we could get right over they had a table waiting for us. I was sweaty and grubby from being on a plane, but I didn't bother to change. We had a sublime meal and I expected to go back, but may never have that chance again. And my friend who I shared that meal with has gone through other shattering experiences since that evening. It's possible that he will never do business in New York again.
Early on after stay-at-home orders were issued, I was in my studio and looking around at the shelves, packed with the ceramics I make. I had a strange feeling of disconnection take over for a few seconds. I thought, "I may not be making pottery anymore by the time this is over." It wasn't a thought that made me sad or anxious, it was just acknowledging to myself that whatever was coming, I had almost no control over it, and it would affect my life in ways that I could not possibly anticipate. And I had to be ready.
I have been writing down words that I want to bear in mind as we all move through this experience. I think of them as my watchwords. "Watchword" is defined as a word or phrase expressing a person's or group's core aim or belief. My newest watchword is "surrender". Surrender is such a rich word, full of meaning, layers, associations. For me in this moment, it means that I must be ready to give up things I never thought I would give up, or would be asked to give up, and to do it with grace and willingness. I must be open to the unexpected, the uncomfortable, and possibly the unthinkable. Quarantine itself has been a surrender. Resting instead of doing is also a surrender. I'm going to bed early and waking up late, not trying to do more than the day can possibly hold, preparing for what is next.
What comes to mind when you think of surrender? What are you surrendering and what are you holding tight?
April 22 was Earth Day, an event that seemed to slip by without much acknowledgement this year. I will leave you with this article, which may help all of us think about how we can re-orient our relationship to the ticking clock by spending time in nature. Being in nature, however that may look and however you may access it, is a step toward not only healing our abusive relationship with time, but also our abusive relationship with the Earth itself. This is article is another long one that you can listen to here.
Remember to check up on people who may have slipped your mind in the past week or two, especially people who may need help and don't ask for it.