Oh, the irony of getting what you wanted

What I’ll remember most about this coronavirus ordeal (I mean, besides the thrum of imminent disease and death) is not the bother of looking like an old-timey bandit every time I ventured out of the house or how my husband and I managed to survive three months (thus far) stuck with each other 24-7 without going homicidal. No, what I’ll remember about this chapter is: irony.

Alanis Morisette, I must add to your iconic, ironic list of black flies in your chardonnay:  achieving your lifelong dream and then being unable to access it. My dream? Living in pajama pants and coffee-stained T-shirts, writing, writing, writing until cocktail hour, and then whittling away the remainder of the day on the patio under the shady albizia, with a fine glass of Napa Cab (dark, can’t see the flies), daydreaming about where the next day’s writing adventures will take me.

Turns out, I botched my “all the time in the world to write” fantasy because I was focusing on opportunity and neglected to include ability. And there it is. The irony.

Two things happened on my way to living my dream, one physical, the other psychological. First, just before the official Shelter in Place orders came down in California, I had shoulder surgery. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would take this much time and this much torture (physical therapy) to heal. And your body’s gonna take its damn sweet time to do so, and any time you challenge that timeline, it will remind you who’s in charge with stabbing, searing pain. While the fibers and nerves knit back together, you have no choice but to downgrade your expectations. My current big accomplishment this week was putting my own ponytail holder on all by myself.

Yay, me. You go, grrrrrl.

So, although our Shelter in Place lifestyle provides an abundance of time to do the things I’ve always wanted to around the house, like organizing my book shelves or planting rose bushes or digging through the layers of junk sediment I’ve squirreled away in the garage (it’s not hoarding if it’s in the garage) and clearing out some space for new stuff I don’t need, my shoulder vetoes everything. All the time in the world to do all the things I never had time for, and now I can’t do any of it.

Isn’t it ironic?

Don’tcha think?

But wait, you say, if you can’t do all those projects and tasks, that means you have even more time to devote to writing, yes?

Turns out, nope.

While I’m physically able to sit at the keyboard and type… my words are gone. For weeks, the well was just dry. I recently wrote a couple columns (I still can’t bring myself to call them blogs… it feels so… dirty), and managed to disgorge one little feature story for Witches & Pagans magazine. After 26 years in journalism, I have an abundance of experience producing publishable writing, no matter what’s going on in my life, be it divorces, or teenagers, or funerals, or PMS. Because, in journalism, not writing isn’t an option.

The Deadline Dominatrix.

She Who Must Be Obeyed.

So, yes, I wrote some stuff. But columns and feature stories are one thing. Writing books is an entirely different experience. Columns and stories are crafted. Writing for books emerges. Ideas and words and sentences burble up from a magical well in my brain and flow through my fingers. But suddenly it’s as if a brick wall has gone up around the well, and the gate to that garden has been slammed shut and padlocked. And I don’t have the key.

Well, hello, writer’s block. I thought we’d already met, but apparently I was mistaken. You’re much uglier than you looked in the photos.

And, there’s the second irony. All this time to write, and I just… can’t. I am creatively paralyzed. A verbaplegic.

Alanis, this is so, so, so much worse than ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.

I see other writers on social media turning this pandemic plight into stunning productivity, churning out finished manuscripts like word machines, and I look at them like I would an Olympic gymnast flying and tumbling through the air on the parallel bars. I watch wide-eyed and think, “Fuck! I can’t do that!!” And at that precise moment, my old pal Anxiety steps in to confirm my fears.

Just give up. Stay in place. If you never try, you’ll never have to fail. Stay here with me and let the entropy and decay do its work.

Anxiety has been my lifelong nemesis. It freezes you in place like the proverbial deer in the headlights, but the oncoming vehicle never actually gets there. You just stand there, frozen, immobile, while your mind runs an endless tape “what if, what if, what if” that all lead to doom and disaster.

But… when I was writing my last book, I felt like I’d left anxiety in the rearview mirror! I was unstoppable. The Queen Fucking Bee of my own life. Nothing ahead but bright light and success. I was writing like a beast. What the hell happened!

Coronavirus, that’s what.

And institutionalized agoraphobia as a way of life: Leave the house and DIE.

These are fat times for my buddy Anxiety. There’s a brand new universe of fear to exploit, from touching another human to forgetting to wash your hands to venturing out to buy a loaf of bread. The entire world has become treacherous. Lethal even. It’s too overwhelming to think about. How ’bout we shove it all aside and pretend it’s not there.

It’s what Candy Crush was invented for.

I’m on, like, level 7,000.

But… how, and why, did all this coronavirus anxiety express itself in writer’s block? I have no fucking idea. So I presented the issue to the source of all knowledge: Facebook. I asked other writers if their fingers are flying over their keyboards or, like me, are they dead in the creative water. Turns out… I’m not alone. Others are stuck too. And some offered some really valuable insight, in particular, that anxiety neutralizes creativity. And also, that maybe I should give myself a break for having feelings about an actual crisis, rather than perpetually flogging myself for being a failure.

From this, I got clarity. First off, maybe I should turn some of that kindness and compassion I’m always yammering on about toward myself. What a concept. Second, stop fleeing from my worries and take some time to just look at them there, swirling round and round like leaves stuck in a swimming pool drain. See what’s actually there. See them for what they are, not what I imagine them to be.

As opposed to the anxiety that I self-generate about stupid, obscure shit, like the drive shaft on the steering wheel breaking off while I’m driving and hitting the asphalt and impaling me, the corona virus anxieties are actually possible:  “Will I ever see my children again?” “Will people I love die?” or “Will my life end alone, on a respirator, with no one there?”  I don’t even have to use my imagination to envision gruesome, horrifying scenarios anymore. They’re happening all over the world, to tens of thousands of people.

“Will I be one of them???”

It’s too overwhelming to think about, and it all came upon us so suddenly, we didn’t even have time to process it beyond “Be afraid! Be very, very afraid!” Me, I couldn’t deal. So I Scarlet O’Hara’ed it: I’ll think about that tomorrow. Shoved it all into the back of my brain and tried to convince myself that this is just a long, weird holiday.

But my brain is not so easily fooled by the likes of me.

“Ha! You think you’re not thinking about those things, but I’m gonna run those little motherfuckers on a subconscious endless loop in the back of your mind like too many programs running in the background on your computer, and use up all your RAM, and shut you down.” And, there you have it: writer’s block. Anxiety, albeit subconscious, hijacked my brain.

“Outta the way, bitch, I’m driving now!”

However, funny thing about subconscious stuff. Shining a light on it and examining what’s festering and fermenting there is what helps you to conquer it, and anxiety too. Awareness is the mental Raid you can spray on all those cockroaches.

So, what’s there, really.

Yes, I could catch the coronavirus. I could die. However, I could also die in a car crash, and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that when I get in the car.  Ditto for riding my horse. I know that every time I ride, I could be hurt or killed. But the joy of riding my horse overrides the threat. So, I mentally slided the coronavirus fear into the driving and riding category, and that made it conquerable. I can acknowledge the fear and continue to live my life anyway, whether it’s cars or horses or viruses.

That little epiphany was the key to that locked gate. Click! I can step inside again. I can hear the babbling well. Words and sentences are bubbling up again. I just need to capture them on the keyboard.

I’m back!

I’m not giving my creativity to anxiety anymore. I’ll spend my mental capital on things I actually can control, and coronavirus ain’t one of them. Yes, it’s there, and yes, I must do everything I can to stay safe, and honor the safety of others. But I’m not going to let it consume all my creative bandwidth.

But I’ll probably still worry about the drive shaft from time to time. Because, virus or no virus, I’m still me.

 

Three Courageous things we can change right now

“The Serenity Prayer” has been drifting in and out of my mind ever since this whole coronavirus nightmare began. It’s the mantra of all 12-Steppers, and a reminder that not everything is under our control. When we feel compelled to take control of a situation, or person, we repeat this prayer in our minds as sort of a psychological reset button:

God, grant me the Serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

and Wisdom to know the difference.

A lot of people focus on the Serenity part of this, and stop right there. Some move on to embrace “Courage.” But it’s “Wisdom” that’s actually the key, because how do you know if you need Serenity or Courage if you haven’t used your Wisdom to figure out if the best course of action is acceptance or change? The entire concept of this mantra rests upon Wisdom.

As it pertains to coronavirus/Covid-19, it doesn’t take a lot of Wisdom to figure out that until a vaccine and a cure are found, this microscopic monster is completely out of our control. No point in wasting any Courage on fighting the virus itself. That’s up to the doctors and scientists. All the rest of us can do is focus our Courage on sheltering in place, wearing masks and gloves in public, amping up our hand-washing routines, maintaining social distance, and avoiding unnecessary errands. These are things we can change. The rest of it? This virus has a clear non-discrimination policy: It doesn’t care about your race or religion or age or income — anyone and everyone could be the next victim. Other than taking the precautions you can, the rest is all up to Lady Luck.

Maybe that’s where the Serenity (if there’s any to be found) comes in: We change what we can and hope for the best, because all the worry and anxiety and dread in the world will have zero impact on luck.

Zero.

All that said, it’s pretty much impossible to consider the proliferation of this pandemic in the U.S. without considering the one who enabled it: Donald Trump. First, he declared coronavirus to be a liberal hoax. Then, he downplayed it as something that would magically disappear in April (more than 30,000 dead in the U.S. and counting as of today). Next, he attempted to relabel the virus as the “Chinese Virus,” and paint the Chinese at fault (thereby providing a convenient enemy). The ultimate transgression occurred this week when he canceled U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, blaming the WHO for not taking charge of this virus (redirecting blame for its spread in the U.S. away from himself.) Right when the WHO needs our funding the most!

Trump squandered an entire month in the early days of this pandemic, as well as any opportunity we had of preventing its spread. Of course he denies all that, and seems to be utterly unaware that videotape exists.

Sadly, because the Republican Senate refused to give Trump the impeachment he so richly deserves and remove him from office, we’re now in the midst of one of our country’s biggest crises, completely devoid of a stable, mature hand at the helm. It’s the worst case scenario, in 365 degrees. We’re stuck with an infantile, sociopathic megalomaniac in charge, and all I can say about that is thank Goddess for state governors. At least there are some adults in the room.

I can’t be rid of Covid-19 or Trump soon enough. I’m not sure which will ultimately cause the most carnage. While all we can do is wait for an end to coronavirus, as for Trump, we can do something about that. The tick-tick-tick of his clock running out is the ambient background in my mind.  Sadly, we have to muddle through until November before we can jettison the worst President in U.S. history.

Thanks, Republicans.

The notion of a landslide loss in November has Trump worried. So worried, in fact, that I’m certain that his motivation for recently refusing a coronavirus relief bill if it included funding for the U.S. Postal Service is because mail-in ballots will contribute to his downfall. He’s mentioned them as “corrupt” multiple times, even though five states do mail-in voting exclusively, without incident, and ironically, even though he votes by mail himself. Mail-in paper ballots are almost impossible to hack electronically, so there’s  no room for remote manipulators to flip every other Democratic vote to the Republican side. Bottom line, Trump realizes that he can’t win if he can’t cheat. He doesn’t care what he destroys as long as he gets to call himself a winner.

What a loser.

How does all this tie in to the Serenity Prayer? I put my Wisdom to work, to help me recognize the things I could change that actually required no Courage at all: I contributed to Joe Biden’s campaign, because he’s our only hope of getting rid of Trump, and I bought two books of Forever stamps to funnel funds to the U.S. Postal Service. Just to be saucy, I did a third thing: I contributed to Amy McGrath’s campaign for the Kentucky Senate. She stands a good chance of ousting longtime incumbent Mitch McConnell.

McConnell is the main reason that the impeachment didn’t culminate in the removal of Trump from office. He sets the tone of this morally bankrupt Republican Senate, which blocks any and all liberal or progressive efforts just on principle, regardless of value or benefit to the public. If you think about it, McConnell is even worse than Trump because he knows better, he knows the Constitution, and he knows how government is supposed to work. But he’s willing to abandon all that, and all of us, as well as his oath of office, just to cling to the coattails of a shallow, self-serving imbecile.

When we #DumpTrump in November, it will be icing on the cake to #DitchMitch as well. Many of us will do so using mail-in ballots because we can’t let a nasty virus prevent us from exercising our Constitutional right to vote. And we’ll need those stamps to do so!

While the end of the virus is still not within sight, the end of this presidency is. Until then, stay home and stay Serene, my friends.

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Rebooted reboot

I know, I know, I know…

I popped back in from outer space on January 1, all ready to reboot this blog and get back to opining about all sorts of things about which no one asked my opinion, and then… *crickets*

So, a funny thing happened on the way to that reboot. Not “haha” funny, but unusual and highly distracting. I realize that “highly distracting” means almost nothing coming from someone who darts off after the first “Squirrel!” but this time, I think these things will qualify even for those with the most steadfast spans of attention.

I was waiting to really get going on blogging again until my book cover was done and I could swing down that path. Because yes, people, Squirrel or no, I did manage to complete my first book last year and all in all, I am pretty damn pleased with it and myself.

To kick off my celebration of finally accomplishing something, I attended the annual Pagan convention, Pantheacon, in mid-February and went to Llewellyn Worldwide’s author gathering, and saw my book cover for the first time! What a surprise, and what a peak experience that was! I was over the moon. So yes, “The Elements of Horse Spirit — The Magical Bond Between Humans and Horses” is happening, my friends! I have photographic evidence, and also heard that it went to press two weeks ago. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon right now! How cool is THAT!

I returned from Pantheacon all set to shine a spotlight on the next leg of my life’s journey and got slammed with an unexpected surprise. After many years of relentless arm pain and restriction, it turns out I had not only a bone spur under the end of my collarbone, digging right into the nerve that runs to the deltoid muscle, but also two rotator cuff tears — one partial, and one a full thickness tear, the latter of which being the truly troublesome part.

After consulting with a surgeon, a specialist, and my own dear doc, the opinion was unanimous: The rotator cuff must be repaired before the severed ends scar over because at that point, it will no longer be repairable. At that point, I’d be looking at a shoulder replacement. And ANY replacement of ANY body part weirds me the hell out, so that was incentive enough to make my decision easy.

In February, the surgeon gave me a window of six months to repair the damage. Initially, I wanted to do what all good journalists do, and push that surgery out to the last possible moment… let all that good old deadline energy propel me through. However, both the specialist and my doc said, “Do it NOW.” I have to wonder if both of them knew that coronavirus was heading our way, and if I stalled, there’d be a good chance my surgery would be denied as “non essential” during the midst of this pandemic. Thankfully, whether foresight or conservative medical opinion, I did as they said, and had my shoulder repaired on March 3.

I went in for surgery, and the world was relatively normal, albeit caution about hand-washing and being aware of activities that might spread the virus was floating around. I came out of surgery, and the entire world turned upside down. Within one week, the shelter-in-place orders went into effect in California and we were all thrust into a new, unfamiliar reality. And possibly not a temporary one. We will likely be living this way until a vaccine is found, and that could take as long as 18 months, so, well… maybe invest in a bidet because that’s a LOT of toilet paper that we don’t have, my friends.

What does this all have to do with your alleged writing reboot, Debra? Jeez, get ON with it.

Well, it’s this: I imagined that even though I had to wear a bulky arm sling 24-7 for the entire first month, I’d still be able to write. I imagined wrong. Sitting at the computer with that thing on required uncomfortable contortions that made focusing on writing pretty much impossible, and my hand and arm were as weak as a newborn kitten. Beyond the physical discomfort, I discovered that following general anesthesia, plus extreme sleep deprivation due to the sling and only being able to sleep (or attempt it, rather) in a recliner, I’d lost my words as if someone locked the room in my brain where they all are. Locked out! I struggled to find the exact word I was trying to say, and to even finish a sentence. For someone who lives in a world of words, this was most unsettling. I said a lot of things like, “I need to go get that thing to do that… thing… ” and sometimes I’d hear a sentence come out of my mouth and my ears would detect that I didn’t use the words I’d intended to. That was upsetting all by itself.

And then the coronavirus tsunami washed over us all.

It didn’t take long before my good old pal Anxiety roared back into my life, further paralyzing my ability to write anything longer than a snarky Facebook post. What irony, right? Suddenly I’m gifted with endless time to write, and between physical discomfort and psychological anguish over our impending collective doom… I’m unable to write a damn thing. And so… I gave up on writing for the rest of March, and on into early April, until I could get the sling off. Just completely furloughed my brain and decided that epic hours spent playing Candy Crush and watching reruns of The Office was forgivable under the circumstances. “Just heal,” I told myself. “That’s all you need to do.” And so, the days wore on, just an endless cycle of changing from P.M. pajamas to A.M. pajamas and back again.

Until this morning. Today is the first time in nearly six weeks that I’ve been able to sit at a keyboard and use both hands without pain, AND have enough psychological bandwidth to write something reasonably coherent. Milestone, people! Yes, the whole coronavirus thing is running like a ticker tape through the back of my brain, but as I said… this is now our reality. I must teach myself to write again in spite of it, because this is where we’re stuck, and this is where we’ll stay. Thank Goddess it’s totally comfy to write in PJs, which ironically was always my ultimate dream. Somehow, I didn’t quite imagine it this way, but this is what it is.

And here we are, all the way to the end of a column! Hopefully my writing Muse has been kickstarted! This may not be my best work, but hey — it’s SOME work, and that’s more than I’ve done since January. It may contain typos because my post-surgery anxiety-saturated brain is still struggling a bit, so apologies in advance. But hopefully, my reboot is officially rebooted! Now if we just could go awhile without anything else funny happening. (Note to the Universe: No more surprises, please. Enough’s enough. You’ve made your point: Control is all an illusion. We get it. Don’t be a dick and hammer it home. Nobody likes a dick.)

Me, seeing the cover of my book for the first time at Llewellyn Worldwide’s authors party at Pantheacon in February 2020!