Putting COVID-19 into the Box(es)

It’s been a week since Mr. Trudeau gave that talk. (Yes, there have been others and will be more…. but I’m talking about the first one that really registered.) Last Monday night, I went to hear some live music, for what I knew would be the last in what will be way too long. There was a small number of people there, all keeping distance. And each thoroughly enjoying, because we all knew, This is It.

Tuesday, I began to teach the first of my two UBC classes online. And just as I thought: my quietest class EVER bloomed full-on with active participation! I have been so heartened by them.

Days tick by. Slowly. I am managing to write almost 1000 words a day. But there are–of course–other demands on my time. And as I was standing outside my corner grocery store, Union Market, in a lineup that did not look like a line, waiting for my turn to be one of two people inside, a thought occurred to me.

This time we are going through, while very different from my time of caregiving, also shares some commonalities. In that time of crisis, I found that I needed to create mental boxes to place pieces of the reailty, and to differentiate between what needs to be considered or responded to each day/week/month.

And now I am doing that again. I have had moments of thinking of “future.” The first few times that my mind went there, I began to feel some bit of panic at the edges of the thought. I had to pull myself back from it. ( I have learned how to do that.) The panic and the need to pull back made me realize that I am back in crisis-land, and I realized I was going to have to unpack and use those old boxes again.

The boxes: The today box is for what needs to be done Right Now. Today I will think about the meals I will be making. I will look to see what I have. If I can delay shopping, I will. I’ve always loathed shopping of all sorts, anyway. What do I need to do for my teaching? Can I get my daily word count written? Are there phone calls I need to make? My mother is very lonely, and a phone call can make a big difference. Are their emails I need to make for the same reason? Then, too, there are emails and things that must be written in lieu of the book promotion that I had planned. When my mind begins to slip into that other mode–the thinking ahead or panic mode–I pull back to Today mode, and the Today Box.

But then there does have to be a This Week box, too, and in that box I plan when do I really have to grocery shop (Forage For the Family), and what do I absolutely need. I keep a running list so I don’t have to go out again for something I’ve forgotten. I do not want to hoard. And my new home is not big enough to hoard. But I also don’t want to be in a store for a minute longer than need be. I’m finding being in a store to be overwhelming. When I leave I always feel I have a sore throat…psychosomatic or what? When I get home, I do the rinse-with-hot-water-and-too-much-salt thing…and it goes away.

For This Week, I look at the calendar and plan for the on-line meetings, and class lectures.

Then there is the This Month box. This month…well, you get the idea.

There IS a Future Box, too. One for the looming summer. What will that look like? And now we are hearing rumours that the fall will be about Wave Two of This Virus Thing. So, for five minutes a day, I need to think about that. And on Facebook, when a friend posted lovely pics of the pottery candles she is creating, I wrote about how they look like Christmas shopping to me…so that is in a Future Box, too. I hope.

Oops. Don’t go…

I have become too good at cutting off mid-thought. Getting back to what is at hand.

When my mother was dealing with my dad’s ALS, she said she worried constantly about the future. I reminded her she had a lot to do today and this week. But she said she still worried.

“Put on a timer,” I said, almost harshly, really. “Ten minutes. No more. Think about the future, with a pen and paper and jot down what you need to do for it. When the timer goes, you know you’re done. You’ve done as much planning as you need, and as you can. and then get back to today.”

What’s that quote about writing a novel…? “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (E.L. Doctorow)

Same thing really. Thing is, you have to drive and you have to write (if you are a writer). You can make the trip. That will happen. But you are only ever exactly where you are on the road at any given moment. So be there. In your This Minute Box.