Weathering an endless storm, a beautiful book with a good cause & giving ourselves permission to survive rather than thrive
Vol. 2, Issue 1
As I write this, thunder is booming and the temperature is dropping rapidly. We’re in the midst of a real winter storm, and in a few hours, the rain is expected to turn to ice. Since Claudette flooded us in June, storms tend to put me a little on edge. Every few minutes, I glance out the window nervously, hoping that our many trees hang in there—and that the water will flow tidily into the storm drain and nowhere else.
But after each reassurance to myself that all is relatively well, I try to relax, however briefly, into the sound of raindrops on the roof. I’m leaning on a large grey pillow to ease my third-trimester backache, and I’m eating a few chocolate hearts from our pre-Valentine’s Day stash. I’m reminding myself to be grateful that tonight I’m safe and dry and warm.
All of this is just to say that right here, right now, I’m making a conscious effort to pause and appreciate where I am and what’s happening in this exact moment. I am trying very, very hard to cultivate a stronger sense of sangfroid in myself, a sense of steadiness and ease despite duress.
Like many other parents of young children (and children-in-the-making), I feel an inordinate amount of uncertainty and frustration about the seemingly endless pandemic. I’m dismayed by our collective unraveling on many fronts, and I’m exhausted by the uncertainty and the impossibly heavy mental load of trying to determine what’s “safe” and “realistic” during this time. Stress and anxiety typically aren’t creative catalysts for me; throughout my life, I’ve been quick to shove my creative work aside in order to deal with whatever life/professional/school crisis is directly in front of me. But the pandemic has been so long-lasting and all-consuming that it’s simply not possible or healthy to fixate on it constantly. And so despite it, somehow, my creative self is persevering. Thriving? Perhaps not. But surviving, yes.
I’m ruminating on this thought tonight because I recently sent a draft of a new novel to my agent. My previous novel is still on submission, but I’ve shifted my emotional attention almost entirely to this new project about a hurricane chaser in conflict with climate-change deniers on the Gulf Coast. As I continue to wait for word on my previous novel, I’m trying to keep moving forward, which tonight has taken the form of holding my body very still and in place next to my bedroom window. I’m not frozen, not exactly, but I’m iced over with as much calm as I can summon while the storm thunders on.
In honor of the South’s winter storms last/this week, here’s an icy track about grief and perseverance from one of my all-time favorite musicians.
If the Spotify embed doesn’t work for you, listen here.
The first pandemic novels have arrived, but are we ready for them? The Guardian. “There will be more pandemic novels to come, novels asking what happened to us as a society in lockdown, novels exploring what Covid has revealed about whether our societies and the stories we tell about them hold together or not; lucid abnormality flashed through Covid’s searchlights.”
When your last-chance debut novel coincides with a global pandemic, Claire Cox. “Like me, my book will disappear. If I’m lucky, it will shine a little before it disappears, but I don’t have delusions about its significance, or about how this all works, at the level of publishing or the level of cosmology. I write to get it down, to render something I see. In a year of bad luck, I count myself lucky for publishing at all, and grateful beyond reason for what I’ve been spared—my job, my health, my family, a place to live … Like everyone else, I rise in the morning with a prayer and a bit of dared hope.”
New Year’s resolutions are not the vibe for 2022, The Atlantic. “The problem isn’t just with how we define or pursue our goals; it’s with the very idea of prioritizing tangible outcomes. Assessing our personal progress in terms of resolutions leads us to aspire to things that we can cross off a list, and that shapes our behavior in turn. ‘We often measure things that are easy to measure,’ Ordóñez told me. ‘Not what we really want to do.’”
Rain Before Rainbows is a popular book in our household, and whenever one of us has a noticeably bad day, my husband will add it to our daughter’s bedtime reading pile. The illustrations are as beautiful as the text, which follows a little girl through a terrifying storm. This year, the book also happens to be part of a fundraising campaign for Save the Children, a global charity that provides aid to children after natural disasters.
In these days of high speed, skyscrapers, subways, and sublimations, we have lost the art of seeing simply. We look at men and women as individuals, as romances, or sociological cases. We no longer look at them as manifestations of Nature, like trees twisted by the wind, or leopards with hides mottled in conformity with jungle shade.
Creative people are not machines; we simply aren’t capable of limitless, detached #artmaking on demand. We’re sensitive to the conditions around and within us, and it’s okay to acknowledge this reality and set aside unrealistic expectations for creative production when those conditions simply are unfavorable for us and our work.
If your headspace is similar to mine this week, I’d like to offer you permission to take a break. Cut yourself some slack. Not on track to meet your word-count goal this month? Haven’t sketched anything in weeks? Can’t bring yourself to look at your guitar? It’s okay, I promise. Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel like coming back to it. Or maybe not.
Maybe today it’s better to just absorb art rather than force yourself to make some. Listen to some music, watch a movie. Buy a book, even if you can’t summon the focus to read it. Just stare at the cover for a little while.
We’re all doing the best we can. Stay warm, stay dry.
You can find Sandra on Twitter, Instagram, and at sandrabarnidge.com. As always, thank you for being here.