I didn’t learn to knit or make sourdough bread during the pandemic. I didn’t get in the “best shape of my life” (and a big middle finger to everyone and everything that ever made me feel like the shape of my body’s shape isn’t acceptable as it is.) I didn’t do any of the cool projects I saw in the New York Times’ At Home Section. Not even the make your own newspaper tent that my kids would have loved. I didn’t perfect my home-made challah. I didn’t become the calm, centered parent I’d like to be (although I did renew my commitment to daily meditation).
But covid has shown me something important: I am happiest when I am creating.
All these months I haven’t had girls’ nights, date nights, Thursday matinees, races, massages, or facials. I’ve missed my occasional Saturday morning Zumba classes, the chance to wander aimlessly through the stacks at the Boulder Public Library and fill my canvas bag with any random book that looked even mildly intriguing. All this time, I haven’t gone to The Hill to have my eyebrows threaded. I haven’t counted down the days until I could get on a plane and visit friends or family.
All the “extras” were deleted from my calendar overnight. In their place was a big, gaping hole and a question: What could still bring me joy? There were, of course, the no-brainers — the sound of my kids laughing, the daily miracle of the sunrise shining in through our generous east-facing windows, the simple pleasure of going for a walk with a neighbor, a cup of hot coffee, a long bath. Also: making stuff.
This fall I completely transformed my office closet. I took the doors off, removed the wire shelving, put up wallpaper and installed wood shelving that I made myself. I bought, measured, cut, sanded, stained, and screwed the shelves in all myself. Dan thought I was nuts. We’d just moved into our house and he said I had bigger fish to fry. He said we should focus on other house projects. He said I would get no help from him.
Reader, I am not a handy woman. The only tool I’m really comfortable with is a plunger. When Dan refused to be part of my closet vision, I was very close to giving up on the whole idea. But something (Pinterest?) called to me. I couldn’t let my dream die. With help from a kind woman at Boulder Lumber, the internet, and a lot of cursing I made it happen.
Up to then I’d felt really stuck. In the spring, I completed my pitching e-book and in the summer I sewed myself a couple of Morning Glory tops, but by fall I was feeling burnt out. The ideas just weren’t flowing. And then, like magic, (not exaggerating, it really felt like magic), I finished the shelves and my head was filled with ideas once again. Everything shifted. I felt energized. A small voice inside of me said, “See? Creating things is your jam. Don’t stop.”
Creativity is one of the rare resources that grows more abundant with use. (Just like breastmilk!) I’ve always known this but living in a pandemic served as a not-so-gentle reminder. The thing about creativity is it’s an act of boldness. Because you can’t know if what you’re making is going to work. You can’t know if it’s a waste of time, or if you or anyone else will even like the finished product. Other people might not even notice it, let alone like it. Every creative endeavor is leap of faith. A blank screen, a few yards of fabric, a few two by fours, they’re all scary and delicious. Scary because I don’t know how badly I’m going to mess them up and delicious because each one is a love note to myself that says: “I believe in you.”
I also believe in stories. They have a way of getting into hearts and minds. They connect us. Which is why I’m launching a podcast. The truth is, I don’t know if you will like it. I am learning about audio production and sound editing as I go. I’d like to think I’m getting better at asking good questions with every interview.
Here’s what I do know: stories are meant to be shared and I can’t think of anything more fun than sitting around a virtual campfire and telling them. I know this is something I’ve been pondering for years and that if I wait for the perfect time, I’ll still be pondering it when I die.
Stay tuned for more details…
Books I’ve loved this year:
Bravey by Alexi Pappas: I listened to this one and I just loved it. I’d classify it as part memoir part self-help/inspirational. If a young woman who lost her mom as a child to suicide and later became an Olympian won’t inspire you I don’t know who will. Also, she’s a poet and it comes through in every paragraph.
Empty by Susan Burton: Another audiobook memoir. Burton struggled with binge eating disorder before it was considered a legitimate diagnosis. Her story explores the family dynamics that created the conditions where her eating disorder thrived for many years as well as the deep shame she carried.
Self Care by Leigh Stein: I read it in a couple of days. Fast, funny, fiction that shines a harsh light on influencer culture, as well as the white privilege, and misogyny of the wellness industry.
The best thing that has happened to my pandemic workout life is The Boulder Elks Club outdoor pool. If I’ve learned anything about myself during this pandemic (besides that I love to create), it’s that I thrive on external accountability. Swimming during the pandemic requires me to reserve (and pay for) a lap lane in advance. Which means I show up at the appointed time no. matter. what. GIve me a workout that can happen whenever and there’s a decent chance that whenever is never. But give me a workout that someone expects me to attend — even if it’s only my credit card and my calendar — I’m there. I’ve been swimming there a couple times a week and it’s basically the best.
I also re-discovered the Peloton app recently. I don’t have the bike but I have my own bike and a trainer and I figure I’m getting 90% of the enjoyment out of the workouts for a fraction of the cost and that works for me. (Without the bike, the app, which includes cycling workouts as well as strength, cardio classes, yoga, and barre, is 12.99/mo.) I love the quality of the instructors, the music, and the absence of diet talk. And no, I don’t get anything in return for this endorsement.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged so instead of posting everything I’ve published since December, here are a few of the pieces I’m most proud of:
At 50, She’s Tackling a Lifelong Dream of Hiking more than 2,000 Miles (Next Avenue)
If you have time to read only one of the stories I’ve written lately, make it this one. I initially met Gwen Buchanan, the woman I profiled in this piece, when I interviewed her as an expert source for another article. As we got to chatting, I learned that the death of her mom and two life-threatening accidents had interfered with her lifelong dream to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. She was finally ready to do it in the spring of 2020 but covid ruined that plan. Last month, she embarked on the journey (solo) at the age of 50. I’m so thankful that she let me tell her story.
The Best Exercises to Sneak Into Your Workday (Time)
I’m including this one not because it’s among the best or most innovative articles I’ve written but because the editor commissioned me to write it. Which is just a fancy way of saying, she emailed me out of the blue, introduced herself, and asked if I would be interested in the assignment. Yes, please!
The pandemic has boosted sales of e-bikes. Here’s how to buy one (The Washington Post)
Again, not a piece that really highlights my writing skills or creativity but important to me for two reasons. One, I pitched this idea thinking it would kill two birds with one stone; Dan and I are in the market for an e-bike anyway, so why not take the opportunity to write about the shopping process. However, as I dug in and realized I was going to need to distill a firehose worth of information — most of which was new to me — into about 1200 words I panicked a little.
But once it was published, a couple of things happened. One, I got more than one complimentary reader email, along with some hate mail. (You would be surprised how easy it is for people to find something to hate. Or maybe you wouldn’t.) I love when my work moves people to reach out to me in any way.)
Two, Wisconsin Public Radio invited me as a guest to talk about the article, which was so much fun. I was super nervous to be on live radio but I think I did okay. Listen here.
Learning to be Unladylike (Timber.fm)
I had a blast talking to the co-hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, Unladylike. Figuring out how to convey the essence of their show in about a thousand words was also fun, in its own masochistic way. I’m not sure if I did them justice but my editor said my first draft was only a few edits away from being “stellar,” which was delightful.