I have thirteen open tabs in Chrome.
One is a YouTube video on body language that I want my students to watch before they start job interviews upon graduation. We talk a lot about body language (or nonverbal communication) in the business communication course I teach at the local four year university. But this isn’t about how your body language affects how others see you; it’s about how your own body language influences how you see yourself. (It’s here if you’re interested.)
My class site is up, as are emails, and, of course, this page.
The other tabs are mostly tutorials. I’m trying to learn a new video classroom interface before teaching again on Thursday. The one I used today was glitchy and silenced some of my students. That is the cardinal sin of teaching in my opinion, and I don’t want it to happen again.
A month ago, if you had told me that by the end of March I would be teaching from home wearing a nice shirt and flannel pajama bottoms, that I would be officially laid off from my sales job until some uncertainty clarifies, that all of my social activities would be replaced by video conferencing, and that my relationship would suddenly be subject to travel restrictions and social distancing…well, I’m not quite sure what I would have thought.
Even writing it now, I’m not quite sure what to think.
John and I were in San Diego when everything with COVID-19 went a little off the rails. We were in California when they shut down the restaurants. We were at the San Diego Zoo just a few days before it closed its doors for the first time in decades. We walked through Balboa Park listening as every conversation we passed was about the virus. I listened as a homeless woman tried to calm a homeless man who understood that he couldn’t get away from it, that they both would likely be exposed.
We moved up our flight back home, and even so were rerouted in the air from Midway to St. Louis, Midway having been shut down to traffic after an air traffic controller was diagnosed with COVID-19, and they were forced to clear out the control room.
John and I quarantined for two weeks due to possible exposure. We thought we might be able to ride out the storm together; his job can be done on a remote desktop, but he was just called back into the office on Monday. His company, for better or for worse (but probably for worse), has a pretty firm “ass at the desk” policy.
Pandemic be damned.
This means that he will be following Illinois’ Shelter in Place requirement in Champaign, while I shelter in place here at the ranch with my critters. We’re figuring it will be at least 6 weeks, probably longer, until he gets to come back.
I’ve been running full-blast, trying to improve myself and the farm now that I have nearly all the time in the world to do so.
My head has been telling me to write and exercise and eat healthy, but yesterday I ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s before going to bed. I didn’t get the stalls cleaned, and that needs to be done, but I didn’t do them today either. I didn’t work on cleaning out the feed room or the mudroom. I didn’t work with the animals.
I didn’t hustle.
Right now, I’m seeing so much content, in everything from my Facebook feed to my email inbox, that is encouraging the hustle. “Learn Insert Exciting Skill Here“! Perfect Insert Necessary Experience There”!
Influencers (what does that even really mean) seem to be encouraging this as a period of self-growth. They are promoting classes and tutorials and kits and all of the things. We’re hearing accomplishment stories about all of the accomplishments that accomplishers accomplished during past quarantines. (Did you know God once created an entire universe during a quarantine? True story…)
Part of me thinks maybe I should learn Greek and pull out some watercolor paints and figure out how to play stairway to heaven on the guitar. Probably all at the same time.
Some of you think you’re failing if you aren’t accomplishing something right now.
I get it. Trust me, I get it.
Our culture determines value based on achievement. And some of us, especially those of us who maybe understood our self worth based on report cards or sports stats or extracurriculars as children, struggle when we aren’t achieving.
But our culture isn’t good at factoring in our humanity. It’s actually super shitty at it.
The truth is, this is hard. Staying home when you want to go out and see your people takes a toll. Physically distancing, even inside deeply meaningful relationships, takes a toll. Uncertainty takes a toll. Worrying that loved ones might get the virus…worrying that you might, it’s all hard.
If no one has given you permission to just settle in and weather this storm without finding the time to learn to speak fluent French, I hereby bestow it. (Also, you don’t need my permission, or anyone’s permission, but I know what it feels like to feel like you do.)
Here’s my advice, if you want it.
Take some time to just be still. Take some time to let yourself know.
I’ve been working really hard to let myself feel through all of this. For me, that starts with the heartbeat. I make a concerted effort to sit (or stand) still, sink into my chest, and hear and feel my heartbeat. I’m getting pretty good at it. It only takes me a moment or two now to sink and notice, as I catch that rhythm deep inside me, that I’m here, right now, living in this body. I do this in my bed or on my couch or when I’m checking on my horses. Just pause and sink. Notice my heart. It’s our hearts that will get us through this.
I’ve been trying to take walks whenever possible. It’s easier for me than for a lot of you, I know, with all the wild around me, but if you can, go outside. Breathe air that isn’t stale. Listen to the wind. Deepen your breath. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw.
Just let yourself be.
I felt myself needing a reset the other day, so I wandered out in the field to my favorite pasture to watch the llamas and sit for a spell. I knew I wanted to stay a while, so I tried to find a quiet place. I settled in against a gorgeous, old pine tree.
(How is it that I’ve spent more than half of my life in this place and only just noticed that my back fits perfectly against this curve in this tree?)
I listened to the wind as it blew through the pines, moving through the top branches and turning them into dancers that perfumed the air like Christmas.
And I wondered how many of these moments I had lost to the hustle.
I sat longer, and eventually the llamas took notice. I watched them as they watched me. Then I sat as they investigated.
They are so good at being present. I have a lot to learn from them.
If we do “work on ourselves” maybe we can work to stretch ourselves, just a little. Sink into ourselves just a little. Gently and without pressure. Maybe that will make it easier to stand up on our tiptoes, so that we’re able to see over the wall of this thing, this virus, this time, and see that there’s something on the other side. Or, maybe, if we can’t look over the wall, we can sit against it and breathe because we’ve been taking the time to do that, and because we know that a wall has never been created that doesn’t have something on the other side.
There are so many things I would like to get done right now, and maybe I will accomplish some of them, but I’m not going to confabulate work with worth. And I hope you don’t either.