“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
— T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
April is my favorite month of the year. It’s the month I was born in and the month the earth and nature warm and begin to come alive again. April is a month of resurrection, of renewal, of hope. April is the light at the end of the long tunnel that is winter, but this April was none of that. Yes, the sun warmed, and the leaves began to sprout, but our hearts stayed locking inside as if winter had never ended.
The novel coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen across the globe and much of the world sheltered in place somewhere in the spectrum between voluntary and strict lockdown orders. Schools all over the world have shuttered for the year and many are making drastic changes already to their calendars and curriculums for the 20-21 year. We’re all looking at a changed world but nothing is certain and nothing will be set in stone for a very long time to come.
This April then was one inverted from what it ought to have been then. Instead of hope, we felt fear. Instead of emerging into a bright, lively, and connected world, we slipped further into isolation, depression, and anxiety. Instead of coming to life, we set our sights on mere survival and asked the very bare minimum from one another just to stay sane and safe. This April has truly and literally been the cruelest month.
But not all is lost to despair and to find spring again you only have to look out your window, go for a walk, unplug, or call a friend. Through the worst crises in recent history, we have come together. You may not see it but you can certainly feel it all around you in the cooperation of those who stay home and in the courage it takes for our most essential workers not too. In the end, the human race is a force if not of good or pure determination and we can do so much more than we imagine. April has been proof of that, at least.
As for me, it’s has been hard, but it has been far from catastrophic. I am still practicing strict social distancing and doing my best to keep from wallowing too much in misery or falling too far into self-pity. I’m balancing the pressure to be productive with permission to idle. I’m working to be mindful, to find joy, to be grateful, and to banish guilt. These are absurd times we are living in and there is no right or normal way to feel, react, or be. Gentleness, patience, and persistence is all we need.
April has at the very least given me time to think and prioritize. I think I have taken myself much too seriously in the past and this has been a grave hindrance to my progress. Perfection has been the enemy of any good I hoped to do. Knowing I am not perfect has kept me from trying but what I need to know was that being good at something has nothing at all to do with enjoying something and joy is what I intend to pursue through my writing going forward. I’m reviving an old goal of writing one essay and week and working out a way to reach it through small, enjoyable, fulfilling actions every day.
But before I start, here is what I am currently:
Writing essays and poems. Not one every day, but working on one every day. There is a difference, and the latter is a much better fit to the kind of writer I think I am. I like to dive a little deeper, express more emotion, and find hidden connections, and I’d like to do that a lot more but the pressure to be a blogger who posts daily is high and rather than fail I’ve often opted not to even try. In April I tried a little harder to do things my way. I did write a few pieces in a day, but there were a lot of pieces that I am still working through, and that’s okay. The goal is to finish the drafts by working on them every day, and that’s all I’m asking of myself.
Making an effort every day. I know it sounds like I’m doing a lot or that I have such big goals and aspirations but every day is a struggle and at the end every day feels like a fresh failure. When I was a kid my mom, when lecturing me about my grades would tell me that if a failure had been my best, then she wouldn’t be mad, and then she would look me in my eye and ask me if I did my best and so many times I said no and knew my failure had been on me. I’m asking myself that question now and I’m seeing too many of those same old answers. An effort, that’s all I’m asking anymore.
Planning everything. These past few months I’ve started a new to-do list and logbook system based on a system by Jeff Huang using Google’s docs, calendar, tasks, and keep products. Events and to-do items start out in the calendar. I add them as they come up or pop into my head. Recurring tasks like daily Spanish lessons and reading goals are added to the tasks list. Notes and ideas are added to the keep app all day long. Then, every night, at least, I open the to-do list document and write a few lines about what I did or felt that day. Afterward, I review the calendar, tasks list, and notes in the sidebar and type out all the things I want to do the next day in the document. It has been very helpful, and I have done more this past month than I have in the past year perhaps, but it still needs tweaking.
Reading Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. April was not a great reading month. At the end of March and through the first few weeks of this month I was making a lot of progress but trying to write more ate up time and feeling down when I couldn’t ate up even more. I watched way too much TV, slept in more than I’d like, and simply gave up trying. But that’s only half the excuse. Borne is also boring me a little. It’s interesting but a little too sci-fi to allow me to suspend as much belief and required and I end up putting it back down after only a few pages. I’m not a reader who can bring myself to quit though, so I have to push harder in May. No more excuses.
Watching Mrs. America. The show, starring Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly and Phyllis Schlafly as Gloria Steinem, follows the women’s rights movement of the early 70s and the struggle to pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment against a growing conservative women’s opposition. I’m also all caught up with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’m still as confused and thrilled with Westworld as ever. I’m losing interest in Killing Eve fast. Insecure is still making me laugh, and old episodes of Six Feet Under are keeping me entertained in between.
Learning about The Science of Well-Being and tips on writing Memoir and Personal Essay. The Science of Well-Being is interesting, but I felt I wasn’t getting the most out of it without access to a printer for the handout and “rewirements”. Luckily we were able to borrow my wife’s desk printer from her workplace and the hurdle was quickly cleared. I would have made more progress through Memoir and Personal Essay, but I got stuck on the first assignment trying to work out an idea that perfectly fit the prompt. From now on, I’ll focus on doing my best writing and take the prompts and strong suggestions only.
Anticipating returning to work. Everything is going to be different from the role I play to the way I work. The promotion I was offered in March has only just been finalized this past week but it means when I do go back to work I will be doing a bit of a different job and under very different social norms. Already there is talk about wearing mask and gloves all day and working one on one during our training classes rather than in groups of 3 or 4. My work is going to become a lot more tedious and a lot more emotionally draining and will take a lot of strength and enthusiasm from me. I’m looking forward to new challenges.
Reflecting on what I am learning about myself during this time. Looking back over the past six weeks or so I can see how much I have done to take care of myself and work out my own needs and goals and there is so much I’d like to go on doing and being once this is over. I’ve already mentioned the writing, but there’s more to it than that. It’s the focus and the direction. It’s the passion and the emotion I am trying to harness. I’m learning that I have to dig deeper and the roadblocks are showing me something too. I need more life. I need to do more, live more, talk more, learn more. So much has changed already and so much more is going to change too and for the first time, instead of being afraid I’m excited.
Fearing that these economically motivated calls and initiatives to reopen the country will win out over the value of human life and undo all the hard work we’ve done and sacrifices we’ve made to flatten the curve and save lives. I’m afraid capitalism will win and no changes at all will be made to protect worker’s rights, well-being, or safety. I’m afraid of the widespread homelessness and hunger I feel approaching on the horizon if those with the means and the power don’t muster the courage or the imagination and compassion to adjust their priorities and reshape the world while we have the chance. I’m afraid voters will forget all too quickly or misplace their blame and anger and allow the status quo to continue unabated.
Hating how quickly major brands and corporations were able to create advertising campaigns to pull at the heartstrings and capitalize on the pandemic. From car manufactures and dealers to home colon cancer testing kits, every commercial I see now tries too hard to pry their way into our pockets by forcing a narrative of understanding, compassion, and connection. I’d care and identify with a company much more if I saw a commercial that simply said what they are doing to help save lives, not how they’ve made it easier for them to continue to take my money.
Loving my friends and family more than ever. I miss them all so much, though I haven’t been the best at showing it. It’s always been hard for me to reach out to the people I care about and it’s always been hard, I believe, for them to reach out to me, but it’s never frustrated me or hurt me as much as it does now. For a while I was wallowing in a lot of self-pity over it but this week I’ve started to shift my perspective from a self centered and victim centered on to one of gratitude. I am hurt because I love and am loved in return. I feel lonely because before this pandemic I was so rich in warmth and community. It’s up to me to maintain that community, so re-establish community and lessen my feelings of isolation.
Needing nothing at all. I’m one of the lucky ones and to ask for anything more right now when so many are losing everything feels wrong. I am content as I am, which what I have. I ask nothing from others or the universe and only from myself. I need more from me, for me, and perhaps for others too. I certainly haven’t given enough in any sense of the word. Perhaps what I need then is to donate, to offer my time and money, to find a way to help that is more than just getting out of the way. I need to know, when this is all over, that I did something.
Hoping that life doesn’t just go back to normal after all of this. If we simply carry on like nothing happened, then this will have all been a terrible and tragic waste. We are so much better than we give ourselves credit for and we can be so much better than we imagine. We’ve seen that, haven’t we? We’ve proven it, surely, so let’s do better and be better. I hope that people all over the world who have lost jobs, healthcare, and stability remember what was needed when it comes time to vote and I hope that those who profited from the pandemic or who would like to profit when it ends, remember that our memory is long and clear. We won’t stand for the way it “used to be”. Either you are for the people or you will find the people are no longer for you.
So, yeah, all in all, April, though isolating and often terrifying, was full of some very big wins. My wife and I, our loved ones and friends, and even our pets are all safe and healthy, working or at least being paid, and the future is still bright and life is still worth living. I have learned something, written some things, rested, and reflected. That’s more than I have been able to ask of any month in years. I know it could all end in the blink of an eye and I am watchful for that other shoe to drop.
But what about you? Are you and your loved ones staying home? Staying safe? Staying sane? Are you working in person? At home? At all? Do you think we are ready to restart the world? How do you think the world should change now that we have had a glimpse of how vulnerable we all really are?
Let me know in the comments.
The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love