July 30, 2020No Comments

How Do We Rest in a Pandemic?

I came back to myself after an hour and a half of workflow. Though I had the intention of working on titling my new group coaching program for forty-five minutes at the most, I got sucked in. Surely the perfect title would emerge if I thought about it long enough. I’d been asking myself the same questions in the hopes that I would land somewhere that felt right. What do the single Christian creatives I serve need most from a coaching program? What words do I use to ensure that when they read them, they will know the program was designed for them? 

Long past the forty-five minute mark, I told myself, I’ll stop when I find those words. I’ll rest once I’m done

The habit of only taking a break once the task was done had only gotten more pronounced in quarantine. Perhaps this mindset is a hangover from farm life, when a project such as mowing a pasture had a definitive start and end. I’d climb onto the tractor with my noise canceling headphones and a Gatorade. Then I began to cut an increasingly shrinking rectangle of unruly grass. When there was no more rectangle, I would leave the tractor where I found it and walk back to the house. 

“Done” is less straightforward these days, when the finished project is by nature incapable of perfection. Words can always be rearranged to make the intent clearer. And for almost all projects, I get to decide when it is done. I get to determine what is good enough and what needs more work. The decision is subjective, rarely presenting a clear right or wrong. 

After coming up with two pages of potential titles with nary a satisfactory option, I looked up from my computer. I felt hunger and the tension of clenching my shoulders, neck and jaw. It was day 8 of my two week isolation in anticipation of a trip to North Carolina. There was nowhere to go and no one to see. It felt like all I had was the work. And Ramon, the decorative metal deer head that hangs in my living room. 

I rose from my workspace, a 29”x29” Ikea table I moved into my bedroom during week 17 of the pandemic. My 450 square foot apartment is railroad style--one long, narrow rectangle split into a living room/kitchen, and a bedroom. The two outdoor-facing windows are in the bedroom. After 17 weeks of working in my windowless cave of a living room, I finally succumbed to the “rearrange the furniture” stage of quarantine. It was one of my many weekend projects, which included purging my wardrobe, trying new cookie recipes, meal-prepping for the week, deep cleaning my apartment, reorganizing the cabinet that is my pantry, and rearranging all the books in my apartment into sub-niches (then alphabetically by the author’s last name). 

Though I increasingly felt the pull to take some time off, I couldn’t see the point. What would I do, sit around my apartment all day? Even if I were to plan some sort of trip, where would I go? Could I ask friends to go with me, though we hadn’t been quarantining together? And yet, I was becoming increasingly dependent on productivity to stave off the boredom and frustration of living through a pandemic in a tiny apartment. The beauty of this crutch laid in the fact that when one is self-employed and lives alone, the work is never done. There’s an endless list of tasks that nobody is going to do for you. 

In a sermon on Sabbath, Abe Cho said that taking time to intentionally not be productive trains our minds and hearts to trust that God will continue to move and act without us. He said that resting works the truth of God’s provision into our bones.

It’s easy to get caught up in self-importance and obsess over all my work. There’s part of me that believes that, if I just work a little harder, I will be able to guarantee the outcome I want all on my own. If I just finish the next thing, then the next thing, then the next thing without stopping, maybe I will finally reach that last line of grass to cut. 

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes, “For a type A personality, it is not hard to push oneself hard… The real challenge for the person who thrives on challenges is not to work hard.” The more I sit in this chair and write words, the more I know this to be true. And yet, the how of it all wrankles. 

How do we build in habits of rest when so many of our leisure activities are no longer available? How do the achievers among us, particularly those of us who are not quarantined with a spouse and/or children, establish and maintain our workday boundaries? And how do we plan rest-filled times that honor vulnerable neighbors and loved ones while still caring for our own mental health? 

That day, as I plowed through planning work for my up-coming group coaching program, I forced myself to stand up and pace the length of my apartment while breathing deeply. It was my substitute for the walks through Central Park I used to take to break up the day. I thought about how lovely the beach would be, how good it would be to see my friend who was to pick me up in just six days, and the call I scheduled with another friend for later that day. 

After a few minutes, I grabbed my lunch from the fridge and sat back down at my desk. I took a bite of my salad and mulled over my list of potential names. With my head cleared, a quote from Anne Lamott rose to the surface of my thoughts. “Almost anything will work if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.” 

I put down my fork and searched for the source of the quote, a TED talk she gave called “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.” Anne Lamott is about the only person who can use a title that vague and still get almost 6 million views, I thought ruefully. As I listened to her wisdom and her quintessential humor and lyricism, I knew what my people needed. They need a refresh--the intentional time to take a step back, reconnect with their why, and to learn new, sustainable creative practices. They could use a coach who has cleared the way for them and a group of companions to walk with. 

I texted a friend my top 5 titles, and she replied that “The Creative Refresh” was her favorite. I thought it could be better, but it was good enough. Though I felt the temptation to continue noodling with it, I moved on. I worked for another hour, then shut down my laptop and climbed out onto my fire ledge for my end-of-day activity--laying on a towel and listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Though there are no longer big signals that the work day is finished, like leaving my coworking space and getting on the subway, or meeting up with friends for drinks, this little ritual has been sufficient. 

As I put in my headphones, I made a mental note of what I learned that day. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is stop being productive.

If you are interested in learning more about "The Creative Refresh," click here!

June 11, 20204 Comments

The Unseen Work of Creativity

In years when the solstice was just so, we planted corn in our family garden on Easter Sunday. Though I started the day in boots, I was barefooted before long. I reveled in the loose, warm dirt, feeling my feet sink in and small clumps of soil crumble over top. The day or weekend prior, my father drove the tractor down the pasture to the rectangle of land. First, he went over it with an attachment that unearthed the weeds and grass, then another that formed the tilled dirt into rows. Then, it was time to plant. 

We went to the local hardware store with its paint-chipped exterior and plywood-patched floor, where a man my brother and I called Dr. Seuss took us back into the warehouse to scoop fertilizer-dusted pink corn kernels into a paper bag. He always showed us the new chicks, which were kept in a large, raised wooden box. He lifted the worn, hinged lid to reveal peeping, the red glow of the heat lamp, and a dozen or so chicks scampering around. 

Back on the farm, my dad divided up the tasks. One person would drop the corn at measured intervals directly in the center of the row. Too close to the edge, and the stalk would fall over as it grew. Too close together, the corn wouldn’t be able to flourish. The next person, usually me, would come behind, pushing the corn into the ground. The part of my finger at which I was supposed to stop changed as I grew each year. At first, it was my full index finger. Today, it would be to the second knuckle of that same finger. I then covered the hole and moved on. Then someone would come behind and water. 

In ensuing years, to increase efficiency and accuracy, my dad took a small plank and drove nails partially through at the allotted intervals. Instead of pushing the corn into the ground, we used this board to make the holes first. The tasks altered--one person to drop the seed in the hole, and another to come behind and cover the hole. And the watering. 

Every day, there was watering, a task shared between me and my brother. Some years, raccoons or deer got into the crop, necessitating various methods of deterrence. A scarecrow, a boom box with the radio turned on at night, an electric fence. In spite of the persistence of these pests, at the end of the summer we ended up with a harvest of corn. 

Not all the corn was ready at once. We walked the path each evening over the course of two to three weeks, a slotted orange bucket bouncing between me and my brother, and looked for ripe ears. We learned to spot a particular dark color in the dried silk tufting out of the top, and then to squeeze the top. If there was still plenty of space between the top of the ear and the top of the husk, it wasn’t ready. 

Once the orange bucket was full, my brother and I each grabbed a handle and walked it back to the house. We then sat down on the porch and shucked. Pulling the husk off was easy-a matter of peeling down the leaves and snapping off the excess stalk. The silk was a menace. Our parents taught us to rub the corn between our hands to get the silk off. No matter how much we tried, silk remained in the grooved rows. Then, we took the husks and tossed them over the fence to the grateful cows. 

We ate fresh corn on the cob all harvest, but cut the majority off the cob and froze it. And we enjoyed fresh corn that we grew all winter. With a combination of diligent, everyday work and the magic of nature, the fruits of our labor were abundant most years. And even more so, the years we spent going through the process, gave us first hand experience of what could go wrong. We saw stalks growing sideways out of a row, trying to orient itself toward the sun as it grew, then giving up, the ears thin and kernels barely peeking out of the cob. And we learned. 

The stakes were low. Farming has always been more of a hobby than a money-making venture for us. But there was room to experiment. What happened when we planted zucchini? Green beans? Tomatoes? My father would determine when to plant what, then we would wait and water and watch. 

Sitting in my one bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side, these days, I’m planting seeds of a different sort. The creative life seems to be a series of seeds planted, then seeing what grows. The investment of time and behind-the-scenes labor involved are not evident to many. I live alone, and so nobody, save me and Jesus, have an accurate sense of what I do all day. Still being new, I don’t have a sense of which seeds will grow and which will come out sideways and which will be gobbled up by raccoons, etc. But I think, like farming, there is the planting and the watering and weeding and doing all we can to provide the right environment for the growth to happen. 

But there is also the waiting. 

There is no glamour or romance in the waiting. Perhaps there is a bit of magic that I will understand better in ten years. But the practice of leaving space, the art of when and what and how much to water, the not-knowing-if-you're-chosing-best-until-you-choose ambiguity I live with--these are the unsung and unseen heroes of the creative life, the ones I didn’t imagine in my years of school dreaming about the great things I might do and be. 

When I think of the stakes that I put onto my creative life, I wonder what it would take for my overwrought brain to calm down. I wonder how to approach the process with the attitude of experimentation, like we did in the garden. I wonder at the mental shift it will take to answer the question “What would happen if…” with “Why don’t we try and see?” 

Perhaps for today, remembering is enough. Recognizing that, though there isn’t another human here to see my efforts, they are not in vain, whether I get the harvest I expect or my harvest ends up being a long list of what not to do. Remembering that no matter how I strategize and plan and prepare, there is no substitute for walking to the field, taking off my shoes, and dropping some seeds. And perhaps if I remember enough times, that truth will work its way into my bones, and the process will involve less frustration and fear, and more exploration and delight. Perhaps, with time, I will learn. 

May 20, 2020No Comments

How’s That Working for You?

The three of us were discussing the unspoken rules we live by, and what happens when other people don’t play by those rules. The question: How do you respond when God puts people in your life who don’t fit into your plans, make you feel out of control, or upset your way of doing things? We took turns answering, as we had for the six previous questions in the study guide. My response: I double down, trying to keep things in control through my own perfect behavior, and when that doesn’t work, I get frustrated/defeatist and shut down/try to disappear. 

There was a pause, then one friend asked, “How’s that working out for you?” I replied, “Not well,” with a self-deprecating laugh. It was a question posed to me many times, and my answer was ready and worn-in. 

She replied, “Well, it’s working on some level. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be doing it.” 

I opened my mouth, inhaling, preparing to respond. But no words came. After a beat, I said, “Right… I guess… I guess that’s true.” I scribbled down her words and our discussion moved onto the next question. 

Later that evening, as I stood over the stove making dinner, I considered my friend’s question and comment. It was said with a good natured laugh, a recognition that she, too, experienced the tension of knowing something doesn’t work and continuing to do it anyway. I rinsed broccoli crowns, moving them one at a time from colander to cutting board to be trimmed. 

I recalled a series of moments with my ex-boyfriend. These moments all tangled together in my memory, the pattern identical in each. He did something that bothered me. I didn't know how to talk about it, so I turned it back on myself, carefully figuring out what I did wrong. I’d come to him and humbly apologize for the role I’d played in the situation. And then I waited. I looked at him, expecting him to read my mind and apologize for his nonsense. 

It never worked. Not once. And yet I kept doing it, as if a perfectly executed apology would enable him to read my mind and know what I wanted. An impulse of conscience told me that this was an effective means of communication, and if he wasn’t getting the message, well, I should just try harder. 

He should just know, I thought to myself each time, not knowing that my habit of obsessively turning interactions over in my head looking for my mistakes was not a habit most people shared.

After preheating the oven, I tossed the broccoli in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. I pulled out my non-stick pan and heated a drizzle of oil. I cut open the package of chicken and patted it dry with a paper towel, preparing it for the pan. Thinking back on slight after slight, adding up like so many papercuts, it was a particular feat of dysfunction that the relationship lasted as long as it did. 

My method, though entirely ineffective, provided me with a way around the discomfort of confrontation. I remembered the chronic turning in on myself, my refusal to direct my annoyance and anger at another person.

I didn’t see it at the time; I was too far down the rabbit hole, buried under an endless list of rules for how the world works that I pieced together in other moments. My place in the world was one that didn’t make a fuss, that didn’t ask for anything, that didn’t feel anything other than fine. 

I saw it, rifling through my memory as I pushed and turned the knob on the stove and considering how desperately I clung to my method and my rules. But I didn’t see it at the time. I thought of that moment and the ones to come. How many of my habits continued to work in a way that was not healthy for me or my relationships?

What wasn't I seeing that would one day become obvious? And why did I expect myself to know it all at once, right then and there, as if thinking hard enough could illuminate the path to perfected control.

I slid the chicken into the pan. The corresponding sizzle and lack of leaping flecks of oil confirmed that the pan was hot enough. Five minutes on this side, the recipe told me. Then five minutes on the other. The details of the new recipe jumbled together in my brain. How much cumin? When does the chicken go in? Only half of the seasoning? Why can’t I find when to use the other half?

I substituted ingredients with reckless abandon when I didn't have the right kind of milk on-hand. I missed it in my scan of what was needed before beginning. Always read the recipe all the way through before you start, I heard my mother say in my head. My method was more chaotic, a lawless rush to toss prepared ingredients here and there-this in the oven, that on the stove, this in the sink, that in a bowl.

This recipe, one from a meal kit, required me to make a sauce. I groaned inwardly. I never add the ingredients at the right time or over the right level of heat, and I always want it to simmer down to a thicker consistency than it wants to. Cooking for one allow me the freedom of cooking without fear of offending someone else's palate. Any missed ingredients are mine to reap the consequences of alone.

The timer dinged, announcing that the broccoli was done. I turned off the oven and let it sit until I had room for it on the stovetop. Stirring the fig and balsamic reduction, I watched the small bubbles dance in the too-thin mixture. I turned off the heat, resigned to a runny reduction. 

I plated the meal and poured the sauce over top, then settled onto my couch to eat. Tentatively, I tasted a bite of dripping chicken. I chewed, considering. Tastes fine to me, I thought, shrugging. I turned on an episode of The West Wing for company. I might still be operating under the same rules of conflict that I had at seventeen. But that night, at least my haphazard, fast and loose recipe-following method worked well enough for me.

May 13, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Egg Whites

It started with a dull discomfort in my mid-abdomen. Could be anything, I told myself. Until the discomfort turned into sharp pain.

I sat outside the tiny Australian-inspired coffee shop writing in my notebook. Its front wall is a garage door of windows. On nice days, they open the door and the tables and customers spill onto the sidewalk. It was just such a day, and I sipped the best cold brew on the Upper East Side and dug into a turkey wrap. I noticed that the wrap came with mayonnaise, but told myself it would be fine.

Recently diagnosed with an egg white allergy, I was still testing its limits. So far, baked goods were fine. Omelettes? Definitely not. Mayonnaise-based sauces lay somewhere in the nebulous middle. 

After consuming the wrap, I felt the familiar cramping I could finally identify as an allergic reaction to consuming egg whites. I decided to finish what I was working on before heading home to ride it out, until the pain reached a level I hadn’t experienced in this context.

I didn’t fully understand what was happening or why the reaction was so severe. I just knew it hurt more than it should and I needed to do something to make it stop. 

My pain-addled brain concluded that the only solution was to walk to the closest ER. None of my friends had a car, and they all worked normal jobs. As this was the middle of a weekday, they would be tied to their various desks. I thought about taking a cab, but I was not so far gone that I forgot that walking is free. 

I walked the thirteen streets and two avenues (one mile) with the pain level steadily increasing, but still manageable. But upon arriving at New York Pres, I realized I had no idea in which of the monstrous buildings I might locate the ER.

Pain Brain thought, I can just figure it out without looking it up, and I proceeded to spend seven more minutes wandering around the streets of Manhattan looking for an indication as to where the ER might be. 

By the time I walked in, I was doubled over and tears leaked out of my eyes. I waited for the random yahoo in front of me to ask every question under the bless-ed sun about their non-emergency “emergency” before I made it to the check in desk. 

“How may I help you?” the nurse asked.

“I… I’m having… stomach pain… I think… I think it’s… an allergic reaction to eggs… I need… to see someone,” I managed to gasp out. She handed me a clipboard with a form to fill out, and I sat down to wait. 

As I sat in the waiting room at NY Pres, still bent double and crying, I had a passing thought about a friend who was in her final year of P.A. school. Didn't she live somewhere around here?

I texted her to get her opinion, and it turned out she was doing her rotation at the hospital where I was waiting. In fact, she was about to come in for a shift, and would I like for her to come a few minutes early? Yes, yes I did. 

She sat down and asked me some questions. The pain was beginning to ebb a bit, so I asked if I was ok to leave. She said it was my call, but if I went back to see a doctor, they would do imaging, I’d be there for hours, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything for me that some over the counter medicine wouldn’t also do for a lot less money. I told the skeptical lady at the welcome desk that I was feeling better and had decided to leave. 

She raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah,” I breathed, smiling to conceal any residual pain. 

“You were crying when you came in. Don’t you think you should see someone?”

“I really am feeling better, so I’m going home.”

My friend told me exactly what to get at the pharmacy and suggested I take the bus instead of walking home. Would I be able to make it home on my own or should she call someone? I said, “No, I’ll be fine.” 

I made it back to my couch without incident, and the medicine took effect right on cue. I sipped a ginger ale, texted my friend to let her know I was feeling better and to thank her, and turned on an episode of Parks and Recreation. As I watched Amy Poehler and the gang work through the minutiae of planning the Harvest Festival, I made a mental note to avoid mayonnaise and all its derivatives moving forward.

April 28, 2020No Comments

An Ode to What I Left at My Office

Sitting at my table in the living room/office/kitchen, I count the weeks since this quarantine started. Six, going on seven. I find myself pining for the office for which I pay rent, and all the things in it and all the things around it. 

As I sit in the minute nook of my apartment that has temporarily replaced this creative haven, I recall the things I left behind, convinced this situation would resolve itself in a matter of weeks, not months. I didn’t think I needed to bring it all with me; I grabbed only the essentials as if dashing for a life raft. 

And so, this is my ode to you, the items (and humans) I left at my co-working space. 

To my external hard drive, which satiates the angst of the increasing day count since backing up my laptop. Though the quarantine has only lasted 42 days, daily does my laptop note that it has been 93, 94, 95 days and counting since it was backed up. 

To my 4’x6’ rug that has never been vacuumed. I miss your color splotches and the random strands of fallen hair that form into balls for me to discover and discard. You always knew how to keep me humble. 

To the pile of books I swear I’ll finish one day, staring at me judgmentally from my gold and glass bookcase. Your bookmarks peek from where they’re nestled, reminding me of a task unfinished. I’ll circle back to you at some point.  

To the pile of books I used to quote directly instead of paraphrasing. You contain wisdom that I have definitely read but only partially remember. Oh, to be able to pull you from where you sit and flip through your pages, glance at highlighted and underlined sentences, until, at last, I find the one I was looking for.

To the pile of books I swear I’ll start one day, bought on impulse to support the author or to indulge a momentary intellectual rabbit hole upon which I stumbled three months ago. I’ll get to you eventually. 

To my Study Bible, filled with snippets of commentary and context that help me feel like I’m not guessing at the meaning of certain passages. It was a comfort to know that, if pressed, I could point the blame for any controversial interpretations in your direction with a shrug. 

To my 32oz Yeti. How you kept my water cold and my thirst quenched. I regret leaving you at the mercy of whatever bacteria is festering in the last of the water contained in your depths, because I neglected to wash you before my abrupt departure. 

To my desk chair, which rolls and swivels and raises and lowers. The chair I rely on now was not made for marathon sitting sessions, even with the recommended adjustments. As the sages have said, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” 

To my office slippies that have a hard sole. Though I have home slippies, you were always an indication that it was time to work. Now I am in a perpetual state of lounging, and for this I only have your absence to blame. Nothing else. Just the office slippies. 

To the woman down the hall with the impossibly loud laugh. I miss being annoyed by this disruption multiple times in a day. You always kept me on my toes. And, by measuring my level of irritation, I could gauge when I was due for a break. 

To the one guy on my floor whose name I know. I miss our random conversations, which were entertaining and enriching, but also pulled me out of my head. You made me feel social and friendly without the undue pressure of meeting anyone else.  

To the kombucha on tap which made me feel healthy. You never revealed how much sugar you contained, and for this, I was grateful. 

To the bathroom I didn’t have to clean with seemingly unlimited toilet paper. The journey to your stalls was filled with steps and turns, a welcome respite from staring at my computer. You satiated my fitbit’s hourly demand for movement. 

To the scribbled quotes and verses taped to the wall and littering my desk. You made my office look like something out of A Beautiful Mind, which made me feel smart and important.  

To the glass walls with nary a bit of sound absorption. You gave me the illusion of coworkers and companions. Hearing and being heard, we all pretended not to hear each other. I learned much about your life and office drama without ever learning what you actually do. 

Soon, dear co-working space and even dearer glass box office, we will be reunited. Perhaps I will commemorate the moment by reciting an inspirational speech from one of the LOTR movies. But until then, we must make do with what we have and dream of the glorious day when we shall be together once more. 

April 22, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Email

On an unexceptional Tuesday in November, everything changed. 

The week started like any other that time of year. It was nearly the end of my first full year as a writer. Though the year started with the usual fervor and commitment to 87 unattainable goals, November arrived with only a handful of them met. Stepping into my office and flopping down into the chair, I tried to resist the mental pull of the spiral of overwhelm that inevitably ended in defeatism.

I started my computer, then pulled up Gmail and read through an email from the online writer’s community I joined two months prior. The subject read, “We’re starting a mastermind!” I received the email that weekend, but assumed it was something to do with their conference, which was happening that weekend, I decided it could wait until Monday. 

I opened it and felt the dormant thrill of excitement rekindle as I read through the email. Clicking on the button to learn more, I was whisked to a web page filled with details. I devoured the descriptions of monthly one-on-one coaching calls with the co-founders, all-cohort calls, weekly office hours, and three in-person gatherings. All focused on helping the cohort members make significant progress toward their writing goals in 2020.

Every word echoed a deeply felt need inside of me, missing links I’d been unable to complete on my own. I wanted someone to help me see what was possible for my work, someone who had been in my position or was currently in that position to run ideas by. I craved someone who might notice if I gave up on a project before it had time to take off. I wanted someone I felt entitled to ask for help and guidance. I didn't need someone to do the work for me, just someone to challenge and encourage me in the way only another creative can.

As I reached the bottom of the page, I knew they were building up to the cost. With all they were offering, it had to be steep. I inhaled sharply as I saw both the price and the application deadline-that Saturday. 

Five days to make a monumental decision that would require significant monetary and emotional commitment? Would you also like my social security number while we’re at it? Could I trust these people to follow through on what they were offering? Would I allow myself and my work to be truly seen?

As much as I wanted to click the button to fill out the application and pay my non-refundable application fee, I worried I was getting swept up by my own desperation. I needed time and space to think. I tried to put the offer out of my mind as I thought about completing that week's writing tasks, my upcoming podcast season, and the query letters I’d sent to literary agents. Each reminded me how deeply I wanted what the cohort offered, and that the current trajectory of toiling away on my own was not pointed toward success. I struggled through my immediate tasks before giving in and turning my attention to the mastermind. 

I mentally walked through my options and reflected on where my hesitation came from. Part of me logically deliberated the offer and potential ROI, then considered the business-y variables. But there was also the fearful, self-doubting voice that demanded its day in court. 

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to measure up to the challenge, that I wasn’t a good enough writer or marketer. I was afraid it was a bad investment. I was afraid that I’d get into this cohort only to find that I didn’t like working with the other masterminders. Cohorts are, I reasoned, dependent on the people in them

The next day, Tuesday, I fought to focus on the day’s tasks, but my brain drifted to the mastermind in my unguarded moments. That evening before shutting down my computer and leaving for the day, I said a tentative yes. I decided to apply. 

I can always decline, I reasoned, and who even says I'll get in? Maybe I would be rejected-I’d get my application fee back and the decision would be made for me. I filled out the application as honestly as possible, put in my credit card info, and hit submit. 

Over the next week, I talked to five confidants: my therapist, my sister, and three friends. Two of those conversations happened on walks, and one perched atop a rock in Central Park. Each helped me move through the pros and cons, and asked what I wanted. They helped me see potential alternatives. 

But, in their wisdom, none of them told me what they thought I should do. None of them would make the decision for me. Even as I hashed and rehashed the variables, I realized I wasn’t just looking for advice. I was hoping to defer responsibility. 

Frustrated by the high quality of my friends, I sat quietly with God, asking for some guidance. I heard a quiet, It’s your decision. What should have been freeing was just maddening. If I couldn’t even cast responsibility on God, I didn’t have a fall guy if things went sideways. Rude. 

One week after submitting my application, I received an email from the co-founders. It took me to a webpage with a video. The first word uttered was my name, “MaaaaaryB!” They each said their lines, obviously scripted but with enough personal details to show they knew who I was and what I was about. They said yes to me. They wanted to help me. 

I knew they also wanted my money, but I started leaning toward trust when I heard them say my name. They didn’t call me “Mary,” as countless other professional acquaintances had in the past.

They made the effort to say the “B.” 

The information below the video stated that I had five days to indicate my acceptance by making my first payment, with the assurance that I could reach out with any questions. Over the course of those days, I privately pondered, and watched my acceptance video at least thrice daily. It was nice to feel wanted, but I was determined not to let it go to my head. 

The day of the deadline, I met a friend for brunch. It was Sunday and our neighborhood go-to spot overflowed with energy as we sat at a hightop table near the door. After catching up on her life and work situation, I burst out the practiced spiel of pros and cons. Each point ended with the same phrase: “I dunno, though.” 

She also did not tell me what I should do, but listened patiently and asked questions. I barely ate as I explained and gesticulated, fretting myself in circles. We paid and parted, me leaning toward saying no and creating an accountability structure of my own. 

I  went about my day wondering why I couldn’t just decide. It should have been straightforward. I wanted and needed accountability and guidance. I knew this could be a game changer for my creative work. And yet, the thought of investing that amount of money in something I wanted sent my brain into a tailspin with only one objective: talking me out of it. It wanted guarantees and assurances. It wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these people were trustworthy, that they were the ones I should ask for help. 

That night, with the deadline looming, I slumped onto my couch and grabbed my iPad. I opened the web browser to the saved page. I watched the video and nearly chose my payment plan. The familiar reel of questions and “should’s” started. But after ten bless-ed days of spinning my wheels and thinking myself into many-a tension headache, something released in me. 

Bottom-line, I wanted to do it. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it would be the best decision I ever made. Even if by some happenstance the cohort was made up of garbage humans, the rest of the offerings were well worth the price. I realized that it’s always a gamble when humans are involved. And since I exhausted all avenues of objection and still wanted to go for it, I had my answer. 

I took a deep breath and clicked “Select my payment plan.” When the deed was done, a confirmation page popped up. Animated confetti rained down over the brief welcome message. I hoped to feel relief, thereby confirming that I’d made the right decision. It didn’t come. Excitement came, but clicking the button satiated none of my fears. There was so much I wouldn’t know until I was in it. 

I sat back on my couch. I said a big yes to my creative work, a yes that other people would hold me to when I inevitably questioned the decision and the work. I decided to gamble that these people could be my people. Whether that bet would pay off or not, I’d said yes to the step that seemed best given the information I had in spite of my insecurities. And for the moment, I reflected, that was victory enough.

April 15, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Masterclass

I stood on the stage in front of the renowned German vocal coach and 30 of my new peers and professors in the sweltering performance space. It was early July, and I’d arrived in Austria only five days prior. Two months before that, I walked across a stage and received my Masters of Music in Vocal Performance. And two months before that, I walked into a classroom at a university outside of Atlanta to audition for a six-week opera training program in Austria. 

I arrived three days before the program officially started. The six weeks were littered with a series of masterclasses and performance opportunities, culminating in a final Meistersinger competition. The auditions that would determine in which concerts we would sing occurred within the first three days of the program. Knowing that jetlag adversely affects the voice, I decided to give myself a few days to adjust so that I’d be in tip top shape for the auditions. 

I’d learned a few new pieces for the program, and brought a couple more I wanted to work on with my new teacher. It was my first time choosing and learning songs without the guidance of my voice teacher. But I had a masters, so I figured I was up to the task. For the audition, however, I chose to present pieces I knew inside and out. In the three days I spent acclimating to the new time zone and learning the layout of the city, I focused all of my nervous energy on the auditions.

Orientation day arrived with its flurry of meetings and introductions, tours and information. The program would start in full force on Monday, after the auditions. In the meantime, they had arranged a few opportunities for some lucky singers. One of those was a masterclass with a vocal coach whose resume was enough to make any opera singer gulp nervously. I was in that weird emotional place of confidence from my freshly minted degree and lingering insecurity of being a student. I knew the degree gave me heft, but it was a perception I didn’t feel I totally deserved. 

I walked into the Heim (our dorm building) and inspected the bulletin board on which they posted announcements. My stomach dropped when I saw I’d been put on the list for the masterclass. There was a space next to my name to write which aria I would present. I paused and considered before writing down one of the brand new pieces I’d brought. It was lovely, and it was short, so there’d be plenty of time to work through it. As the masterclass was the next day, I didn’t have time to arrange a rehearsal with the pianist. I shrugged and figured it would be fine. 

Masterclasses are their own special kind of hell for a perfectionist with performance anxiety. One stands before the teacher or coach, sings their piece, then the teacher coaches one through areas of improvement. This would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that it occurs in front of an audience. It is sold as an opportunity to learn from a great teacher, and for the audience to learn along with you. For me? It amplified my general insecurity and dialed it up to eleven. I learned, over the course of grad school, that in such situations it is best for me to go first and get it out of the way. Otherwise, I compare myself to all the singers that go before me and work myself into such a state of anxiety that my brain shuts down. 

The hour of the masterclass arrived, and I walked into the small performance space dressed professionally and made up. I grabbed a program and groaned when I saw my name in the middle of the list, just before the break. I sat down and focused on my breathing. At least the seats were mostly empty, I told myself. 

The first four singers worked through their arias, all of which were lengthy and impressive. They were all older than I was, and had come into this program with the intention of meeting agents and taking their singing careers to the next level. The seats had gradually filled with late comers who snuck inside in between singers. 

My hands shaking, I climbed the three stairs onto the stage, handed my music to the pianist, and walked to the center of the stage. I took a deep breath and said, “Hello, My name is MaryB. Safrit, and today I’ll be singing ‘In quelle trine morbide’ from Manon Lescaut.”  

The second I started singing, I realized I had made a colossal mistake in choosing this aria. Having only practiced it a capella, I neglected to make note of the piano part, which didn’t line up with the melody. Except, since I hadn’t practiced, I kept trying to make it line up with the piano part, and the pianist kept trying to play it correctly. I lost track of the rhythm, where I was in the piece, the emotion of the piece. Everything crumbled and my face became a granite sheet of wide-eyed terror. Any shred of confidence I’d managed to cling to evaporated, culminating in the cardinal mistake a classical singer can make-I breathed in the middle of a word. 

The teacher stopped me. Though the piece consisted of a mere two pages of music, basically a jingle in the world of Italian opera, she cut me off. That’s when I knew I was in for it. And the worst part was, I knew I deserved it. I knew I’d made the wrong choice, and now it was time to face the consequences. It was the second day of this program, my first time singing in front of my peers. And I had completely whiffed it. 

The teacher spent the next 10 minutes eviscerating my performance. I didn’t know the rhythm, I wasn’t leading the pianist, my Italian wasn’t pure. But worst of all, “You have no passion. And you will not make it as an opera singer if you have no passion.” 

As I ingested every unfiltered word, I focused every ounce of energy on receiving her feedback graciously. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t argue. I forced my face into a polite smile and swallowed the heat of shame threatening to overtake me. My humiliation was bad enough without adding an inability to receive criticism to the list. She asked me to try again. I began, and this time it was, if possible, even worse. She stopped me again, then told me to sing the last couple lines of the song. I obliged, not completely butchering it and even mustering out a passable sustained high note and some acting. 

When the music ended, there was an excruciating pause. She shook her head, then told me to sit down. It is customary to applaud when a student finishes their time up front. The room was silent as I collected my music and climbed back down the stairs. 

The teacher announced that we’d take a ten minute break before hearing the next singer. Everything in me wanted to leave, lock myself in my dorm room, and try to forget what had just happened. I considered this course of action as I shoved my music back into my bag. The room was not only filled with peers, but the faculty of this program, professional voice teachers and coaches who would hear me sing for my audition the next day. There were few things more unprofessional than showing up unprepared for a masterclass with an esteemed teacher. The only thing worse would have been if I performed in cut-offs and a crop top. 

I decided that I’d lost enough dignity that day without adding “cry baby” to “unprepared” to my list of terrible first impressions. I sat through the remaining singers, some of whom also got stern lectures, but all of whom at least got to finish their arias. Once the masterclass concluded, I did my best to exit at a normal pace and walked back to the Heim. 

I reflected as I lay on the twin bed in my dorm room rethinking my entire life. The worst part of it was that she was right. The opera world was becoming tougher every year as houses closed and opportunities dwindled. If I didn’t have a deep passion for the work, I wouldn’t make it. 

I’d left grad school unsure of what exactly I wanted to do with my degree. Becoming a professional opera singer wasn’t a lifelong dream of mine. But I now had that skill in my tool chest, and there was something comforting about the fact that I was on a designated and respectable path. I stumbled into grad school having never sung an aria, and yet here I was, getting yelled at by a big name vocal coach on a stage in Austria, the birthplace of some of the classical greats. 

I realized that she touched on something in me that day-a belief that lived in my bones and came out in moments like this. At least part of me didn’t believe I had the talent to make it as a singer. And every time I walked onto a stage, I carried that with me. Every song I sang was infused with a need to prove to myself and the audience that I was good and I deserved to call myself a singer. 

Like with any moment awareness, I wasn’t sure where to go from there or how to perform differently. But I knew that I had an audition the next day, and then a few days after that, the classes and performances would start. I reminded myself that I was there to learn, and in that regard the masterclass was a success.

As I prepared a binder for my audition, I made a mental note to figure out who the pianist would be and to find time to practice with them. I texted a couple of friends from grad school, who commiserated, and made the scheduled call to my parents. Once my affairs were in order, I showered and got dressed for that evening’s mixer, met up with my suitemate, and prayed none of the people I spoke to would bring up that day’s masterclass.

We mingled and made friends and for a moment I forgot the humiliation of earlier that day. There were a lot of unknowns about what was to come, but for the moment, learning and living to fight another day was enough.  

April 8, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Singer

I stood outside the door, fifteen minutes early and ambivalent as to my next step. It was my first lesson at this big name studio. Was there a waiting room situation behind the door, or did I risk walking straight into the middle of someone else’s lesson? I received no clues as I pressed my ear to the sound-proofed door. Worried that the rattling could disrupt the artistry unfolding inside, I was too nervous to even check the handle. It was safer to wait in the hallway until the exact moment my lesson was scheduled to begin. 

A month before moving to New York, I was waiting tables in my sleepy seaside hometown. It was towards the end of an unremarkable shift. I had gotten one of the last tables before we stopped seating, two gentlemen around my parents’ age. They were the type of table I dreaded most--chatty. Ok, condescending dudes who said, “Why don’t you get me another beer, sweetheart” were worse. But chatty was up there. 

They each ordered burgers and settled in for a leisurely meal, oblivious to the near empty restaurant around them. Like many of our customers, they were on vacation. Time moves more slowly in Beaufort, even more so for tourists. 

The ordering process was punctuated by personal questions. Who was I? What was I doing in Beaufort? How long had I lived there? Did I like it? Against all odds, I was in a cooperative mood, though I mentally tracked how each exchange would prolong my side work, and thus the hour of my departure. I told them that I’d lived in Beaufort my whole life, but that I was about to move to New York. 

“Oh,” one asked, “for work?”

I replied, “Sort of. You see, I’m a singer, so I’m moving up there to audition and whatnot.”

“A singer?” 

“Yep,” I said, bracing for the inevitable request that I sing for them immediately.

“You know,” he commented, “I know a voice teacher in the city. We went to college together, but we’ve kept in touch. Would you like her contact info?” 

I said that would be great. Most people, upon hearing I was moving to the city, stated some connection or connection of a connection to someone living somewhere in the greater New York area. I  envisioned an older lady ushering hopeful students in and out of her cramped, musty apartment. In my head, she was chain smoking, though this defied all logic

I returned to the kitchen to check on their food and hastily begin transferring the condiments from their current containers to fresh ones. The chef placed their burgers under the heat lamps, and I loaded the plate with the appropriate accoutrements--1 oz ramekin mustard and mayonnaise and a 2 oz ramekin of ketchup. 

When I dropped off their food, the man with the NYC connection said that this teacher was pretty well known, and her studio was probably competitive. He’d be happy to be a reference for me. But in order to do so in good conscience, he’d have to hear me sing a bit. In spite of the fact that I already had a voice teacher lined up a short bus ride outside the city, in spite of the fact that I would rather improvise a song buck naked on the Metropolitan Opera stage than sing at any restaurant job, I said alright. But I’d have to think about what to sing. 

I went back to the kitchen and considered my options. I studied opera, but was also interested in doing musical theater. As I scraped mayonnaise into a clean container,  I chose eight bars each from an aria and a song. After dropping the dirty containers at the dish pit, I walked out to the table. I glanced around before crouching down and singing the opening lines of “Quel guardo il cavaliere” from Don Pasquale, and “Popular” from Wicked as quietly as possible and wishing that Jesus would just take me up to heaven right then and there.  

I sang even as I felt my face reach lobster status and my armpits release a deluge of sweat. I sang because some instinct inside of me, one I had never felt before, said I should make this one exception. As I concluded my uncomfortable serenade, both men applauded. The one other table in the restaurant remained quiet, which induced a brief moment of indignation. 

I allowed a brief smile and a melodramatic bow before pulling out my notepad and asking the man for the teacher’s contact information. I didn’t know if I would ever use it, or if it was even a real email address. I raised my eyebrow as I considered the “@icloud.com” I’d scribbled down. I thanked the man and left to print their separate checks. They each left an average tip. 

After a year of auditions and monthly commutes to New Jersey for voice lessons, I reflected on my situation. I had, by that point, fully transitioned from opera to musical theater. Each presented its own challenges and pressures. With opera, I was doomed to pay my dues until my voice fully matured around 35, and by that I mean pay for auditions for gigs and programs that were at best low-paying and at worst, I had to pay for. With musical theater, it was difficult to even be seen for a ten second cattle call with 200 women auditioning for 2 parts. I had to come to terms with a reality any creative knows well. Talent and time do not guarantee success. 

I began to ask myself how I defined success. When I realized that I might not want to sing the same music eight times a week and give up any semblance of a life outside of the theater, My remaining motivation evaporated. I no longer practiced, because every time I tried the voice of everything I should be doing drowned out any concentration I could muster. I no longer traveled to New Jersey for lessons, nor did I even open the emails detailing upcoming auditions. 

I didn’t sing for seven months. I couldn’t remember the point of it, nor the last time I’d truly enjoyed singing. 

On an unremarkable day, staring guiltily at my piano, I remembered the man and the little slip of paper that was sitting in my wallet. I retrieved it and absentmindedly googled the name of the teacher. My search resulted in pages of articles and videos about this woman, who had worked with some of the biggest names in Broadway and some film. I listened to her describe her background of classical singing and how she came to a similar moment that I had. She developed a holistic method, which she now taught at her studio. 

I opened my laptop and typed an email. After asking a friend to proofread, I hit send. The teacher didn’t respond personally, but the studio manager did, and offered to set me up with one of the other teachers. The main teacher wasn’t accepting new students, as she was personally overseeing the casts of two different Broadway shows. I graciously accepted, and she sent me the details. 

I knocked timidly before entering what turned out to be a waiting room. My teacher walked out of the studio moments later and greeted me warmly. She invited me in and asked me to sit on the couch. “So, what are your goals?” she asked. 

I pondered for a moment. Ten years of doing all the right things and following the prescribed path had only led to burn out. After all this time, what did I want?  

I said, “I’d like to enjoy singing again. I have ten years of study under my belt. I know how to sing. But that whole time, I was always trying to sing like somebody else, like I was imitating what I thought good singing was. Basically, I want to start over and see what my voice actually wants to do.” 

She nodded and said, “Alright, let’s get to work.”

April 3, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Invitation

He’s getting married tomorrow, this guy I liked one time.

I never wanted to be the one he turned to see when waiting anxiously at the altar. I just liked making him laugh. I was never sappy and love-sick, moony or weak-kneed. But we understood each other and at the time that was enough.

It’s been a year since our little chat, when I explained why I needed to take a step back from our friendship. There isn’t a template for that conversation, by the way. In youth group, I never learned how to tell a friend’s significant other that I had feelings for him and our friendship was no longer healthy, and then also know how to talk to her about it or if I even should. 

In a classic, evasive move, we chatted normally for half an hour, and when he said he needed to go, I said, "Cool. Before you go, there was a serious reason I called." I then proceeded to recite the speech I’d been running through all week. We signed off on good terms, though without the intention of resuming a friendship. Or so I thought. 

I received an invitation to their wedding eight months later. Maybe there is a human who could waltz into that situation filled with foppish aplomb, jauntily skipping to her seat with all dignity and presumption. I am not that person.

When I RSVP’d, there was a box to write a message to go along with my response. 150 characters, a blank box and a cursor blinking judgmentally at my rejection of the invitation. How does one communicate such complicated feelings and reasoning in 150 characters? That’s not even a full tweet. Did I go all southern belle on them? “SUPER bummed to miss your big day!! Congrats! I’ll be there in spirit <3.” The obvious subtext being “I am clearly overcompensating because I’m uncomfortable and do not know what to say.” My instinct was to send that Randy Jackson meme which says, "It's a no from me, dog," but there wasn’t an image option. 

I left it blank. 

The eve of the big day, I’m left with recollections of awkward moments, messy feelings, and the back and forth pull of wanting and not wanting. I sit with the memories of two friendships, once vibrant but now broken. I’m turning the scenes over in my head, wondering when the shift happened, and how much of it was my fault. 

I don’t regret my decision to not attend, and I’m not weeping into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. But oddly enough, seeing the pictures already on social media leading up to the day, my feelings are complicated. I’ve gone from wanting to block them both to feeling an impulse to comment on how amazing the bride’s hair looks, and occasionally pettily holding out likes on Instagram as if they will even notice because, hi, they’re getting married tomorrow.

It is an inconsequential weekend in September, but many of my friends are out of town. I would have to make a concerted effort to find someone to hang out with. Turning my options over in my head, I’m leaning toward isolation. 

I didn’t call it that at first, obviously. I thought, You know, I just really need to make sure I’m taking care of myself spiritually and spending quality time with Jesus. But no matter the purity of my intentions, my day would not live up to any of my optimistic plans for spiritual renewal. I know myself too well. I would do some reading and writing, have pretend arguments with various people, meticulously laying out my point of view, defending my frail dignity to thin air, then end the day writing at my favorite bar, surrounded by people but completely alone.

Letting people see me when I am so emotionally conflicted and unsure sounds like an actual nightmare. By retreating I can pretend that I am running to Jesus, when really I am just folding into myself. 

Pondering my situation, I think about when Jesus was in the garden, sweating out drops like blood. He asked his closest friends to stay up and keep watch with him. They immediately fell asleep… thrice. But still. If Jesus, on the brink of humiliating and excruciating torture and execution, reached out to God and his derpy friends for support, why do I think I am above it?

Mulling it over, I decide that I don’t want to sit and wallow. Texting my work husband from my restaurant days, I ask if he’s tending bar the following night. I envision walking in, him greeting me with a squeal and a “Hey, boo! French 75 with a splash of St. Germaine or an Old Fashioned?”, taking my seat and pulling out my book, my other friends and former colleagues occasionally sneaking over for a hug or a story about a ridiculous guest. We’ll all go to The Old Haunt after they’re cut, and laugh over the pervasive nonsense of the industry. 

I smile to myself as I picture it. Why sit alone overthinking my feelings when I could spend that time with people who have already seen me in innumerable moments of unguarded stress and joy?

My phone buzzes. His message says that yes, of course he’s working. I shoot back, “I’ll see you then!” A tension releases in me with those words, and I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. At least for the moment, I have this plan. And it's enough.

*Note: Some details have been changed to respect the privacy of certain characters.

April 2, 2020No Comments

Live from New York, It’s Quarantine Life!

I’ve worn real pants once in the past ten days. That day, Saturday, I slept in. But once I rose I moved through my new routine--morning ablutions, prayer and reflection, workout, shower, breakfast (ok, lunch), work. It’s the same as my old routine, just all occurring  in the 450 square feet I call home, and now also called “gym,” “office,” and “commute.”

This space, already so many things at once, has now become everything. 

The previous night, a friend and neighbor texted to say she was leaving suddenly to go stay with her family in Ohio. Looking for a place to off-load the groceries she’d just purchased and the eight plants she calls by gendered pronouns, she asked if I would be able to help. I said yes to the groceries. As for the plants, I baldly stated that if she left her plants with me they would almost certainly be dead by the time she returned. 

She dropped off more groceries than I could possibly eat and the eight plants that I would absolutely kill. All the essentials were there--eggs, bread, milk--but also an assortment of fresh veggies and eight individually packaged yogurts. I texted five friends I knew had chosen to remain in the neighborhood to see if they needed any of the items I wouldn't eat.

Two of my closest friends, who recently got married, started showing symptoms, the first two weeks ago today and the second one week ago. They were relying on delivery for everything, and their groceries wouldn’t arrive for four more days. 

I pulled on a pair of jeans, and placed many of the items so generously lavished upon me into a paper bag. After carefully stacking yogurt, eggs, bread, bananas, and a package of spinach, I stepped out into the misting rain. One needed a prescription, which I agreed to pick up. 

A third friend had accepted my offer of supplies and met me out front of the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Shop, its interior dark and door locked. I placed the bag on a dry patch of sidewalk, then backed away so she could pick it up. We walked together for five blocks on opposite edges of the sidewalk, occasionally dodging other pedestrians.

The negotiation of space is infuriating on this island at the best of times. Now, there is a tinge of anxiety layered in when one approaches a space narrowed by scaffolding or a dirt patch intended for trees and foliage. The pause and brief eye contact, the gesture allowing one to go first, has become commonplace, where formerly the more aggressive walker would simply speed up, daring the other pedestrian to a silent game of chicken. Now, only the most hardened New Yorkers opt for this method. The rest of us choose deference in the face of a potentially contaminating interaction.

After a few blocks, my friend and I went our separate ways. I noticed the sounds of birds chirping in the absence of constant traffic. I supposed the birds had always been there, their voices buried beneath the din of horns, engines, and sirens. 

I walked into CVS and stood on the yellow paper that had been taped to the floor to indicate appropriate spacing in the pharmacy line. The space above the counter was draped in clear plastic and a folding table acted as a barrier to prevent me from getting too close to the pharmacy tech. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to pick up my friend’s prescription, so I pretended to be her. This became complicated when he did not see the medicine in the system and began asking questions. Have you ever gotten a prescription filled here, and, Is it under a different name, followed by, Is this the correct address? 

Ambivalent as to whether to persist in my small con or come clean, I said that I’d figure it out and come back, thanked him, and left. 

I took the elevator up to the appropriate floor, walked down the hall, set the groceries at the door, knocked, then quickly moved to the end of the hallway. I texted them a short message, “Clear,” and they emerged into the doorway. 

I’d seen their faces on a screen several times, but experiencing them in three dimensions, albeit at a distance of twelve feet, tears filled my eyes. We gave updates, as many updates as one has when spending every moment indoors. Exchanging bits of news, saying what we’d heard from friends and family, passing familiar banter back and forth, I felt the warmth of hearing their voices undistorted by a computer microphone.

I felt the tug to stand in that hallway in the presence of these two humans for the rest of the day. But they needed rest and I needed to finish my errands. After a series of air hugs, I pulled myself away and walked back out into the mist.

I wandered back to my apartment, taking my time. Though the uninviting weather made any errand less essential, delivery workers zoomed up and down the streets with their insulated bags and motorized bikes. There was a line of brave souls outside Whole Foods, awaiting their turn inside. Signs had been posted in the window stating limits on how many pieces of certain items were allowed per trip. Eight frozen meals, 4 packs of toilet paper, etc. The line spread itself down the block, people leaving more distance than my last trip past only four days prior. 

I walked into my apartment, dropping everything at the door, removing my shoes, then stepping into my bathroom to wash my hands. I internally mapped out the rest of my day as I scrubbed, filling the emptiness of my time with tasks and recreation. I spent the rest of the day cleaning my baseboards and vacuum, composing a jingle for my Instagram TV series, and FaceTiming friends. I cooked dinner and cleaned the dishes immediately after eating, a ritual I found an excuse to avoid in normal life. 

I settled onto my couch, the absence of another physical presence filled with Restaurants on the Edge, my latest Netflix show. I nervously pondered the next day--Sunday, my day of rest, considering what feelings might pop up in the place of structured tasks and achievement. 

I pushed the thought from my mind as I watched the team make over a tiki-themed restaurant on a small Canadian island. Three specialists, a designer, a chef, and a business expert, help Coconut Joe’s return from the brink of collapse. I teared up with the owner, a man who had done everything for himself and taken care of everyone else for his whole life, a man who had, at last, been taken care of. 

Turning off the TV, I brushed my teeth and got into bed, two plants precariously placed on the window ledge and a voluminous aloe plant atop my dresser. After reading for a bit, I turned off my light and counted my breaths as I listened to the absence of noise from outside. Alone with my thoughts, I wondered what the next day would bring. But I returned to my breath.

1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out…

My fridge was stocked, my body was working, my friends were within reach. It was enough certainty to settle my mind and lull me, at last, to sleep.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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