For the past few years, I have felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice managing my anxiety. I learned in the run-up to the 2016 election to never, ever go on social media at the beginning or the end of the day. I learned where to get my news (and the many places where not to get it). I learned to expect that a lot of otherwise decent and reasonable people will check their rationality at the door when it comes to some issues.
During the pandemic, I learned how to stay virtually connected to friends and loved ones, and how to put a higher degree of isolation to productive use. I learned not to expect the grocery store to have everything on my list, and I learned to appreciate little restaurants with outdoor seating.
If life isn’t handing us the lemons of divisive politics, privacy-pillaging social media, or two Zoom meetings a day, then we’re dealing with variants, climate disasters, Big Oil baloney, or–why, oh why now? Why ever?–war.
I am not powerless. I know this. I give to certain charities, I limit how much doom I allow into my life. I start most days writing tales about love prevailing despite the odds, because I know our hope as a species lies in that direction. I just feel powerless sometimes. I feel powerless rather too much of the time, lately.
When my resolve to be kind and tell the truth wavers, when I just want to collapse into a quivering mass of gelatinous protoplasm (as my dad used to day), I can sometimes light a candle in the darkness by asking myself, “What is the smallest step you can take, in the right-est direction, at this moment?”
Sometimes that step is ridiculously unambitious: I can assert a little more positive control over my environment by putting a bouquet of yard-daffodils on the counter. Or scrubbing the bathroom sink. Folding clothes (echoes of last week’s post, Grace Ann?). I can go to Bookbub and leave a complimentary recommendation on a book I just finished because I am always finishing a book. I can do fifteen minutes on the tread desk (three games of cribbage). I can read from the stack of articles, TED talks, and YouTube videos I’ve bookmarked.
I can send an email to a friend, just checking in. Text my daughter that I’m thinking of her. I can plant some irises or lilies of the valley that I hope will be blooming every spring long after I’m gone. I can read history, and reassure myself that as a species, we have endured much and prevailed over the unthinkable, time and again.
So that’s my pep-talk to myself, when I’m losing my grip on hope: What’s the smallest step I can take in the right-est direction, at this moment? Do that, Grace Ann.
What is giving you hope these days, or keeping you from despair if hope is too much to ask? To three commenters, I’ll send an ARC of Miss Desirable.
Every year, not just this year, spring brings me hope. This year ESPECIALLY there is reason to hope in my own life and family. Hard won victories are happening and we are on the right path but BABY STEPS instead of the desired *right away* steps. There is hope if those small steps continue and why wouldn’t they? I agree with you, Grace, the right direction, no matter how small a movement toward it is reason for hope.
There’s not much I can do about the war we’re all observing. But I’ve purchased sunflowers for my kitchen table and some beautiful Easter eggs made in Ukraine that I hope will benefit the maker. I can pray and do what I can if presented with the opportunity and then, it’s out of my hands. That’s tough!
Have a good *first week of spring* Grace!
Spring is meaningful to me too. The old earth goes back into production, as do the birdies and possum and posies. Nothing like spring flowers and birdsong to lighten the heart.
I look forward every Saturday night to reading your blog. I find it hopeful and frequently helpful. As winter rolled on and on and the snow got deeper and deeper and another variant moved through, hope did fade. It got harder to concentrate, stuff piled up, things didn’t get done or finished. Then Lent arrived and being a church person I thought no point in giving up sugar, that won’t work, but I will try and give up procrastination. With the emphasis on try. So every time I complete something that’s been hanging fire for much too long I feel I have taken a small step towards spring. Today I took a large step I ordered garden seeds and perennials. I always find that very hopeful.
Please keep writing and stay safe,
I do so much appreciate the modern interpretations of Lent. I recall my parents giving up booze and cigarettes, and yikes–it was a long, grouchy, loud forty days! My mom, oddly enough, could just down the cigs and not miss them. My dad… erm. But they did both quit eventually, and I think Lent got them primed to do that.
The wonderful children’s book The Secret Garden was made into a beautiful musical that played for a time at the Kennedy Center. In that musical was a song called Hold On, with the line “it’s the storm, not you, that’s bound to blow away.” I guess it’s a musical version of “this, too, will pass.” That’s what I find myself humming when I need to focus on hope.
I hear Dory telling Nemo, “Just keep swimming!”
I get creative.
I make all of my own cards — for birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, and also when I need a sympathy card. Despite Hallmark charging the ridiculous $6.95 for a decent card, I know I out-cost them by about $30.00 per card because I have an entire room filled with craft stuff. But when I’m in my craft room, concentrating on one particular person or couple, I can shut out the world. I never make two of the same cards, so each one is made specifically for them. When I’m in craft mode, I forget to eat (well, for a while, at least) and the rest of the world goes away.
You are in the Zone. It’s like that for me when the writing goes well, and even a little bit when it doesn’t. I love that.
I think I have a little more hope these days. As we’re FINALLY below the high transmission rate in my area, I am able to got places unmasked now, which is thrilling! Who knew it would take so little to make me excited. I am giddy to go to the grocery store now. So I feel like a weight has been lifted (for now!)
I am glad to hear you are finding some happiness in the little things, Grace. Attitude can make all the difference, and that can be hard to remember sometimes 🙂
I notice that my grocery store is better stocked than it has been in a long time, and that bolsters my hope. I also think the stock market wobbling is a sing of hope, because for too long, Big Tech was having a field day with lockdowns, and WFH. Still not much cat food though…
Operation Rosemary is underway in my front yard. Each trip to the grocery store, I buy at least one of the rosemary plants available in the produce section, bring it home, add a few cups of organic matter to the horrible fill dirt in the beds where the developers bunged in hapless inappropriate to the climate shrubs, & plant my living treasures. Rosemary being climate-appropriate to the full sun, poor soil conditions, they’re rewarding me with spikes of new fragrant growth & beautiful healthy green where there were only gray twigs of dying shrubs & abundant weeds.
High gas prices & supply chain shenanigans might keep me from the garden center & instant gratification, but I can manage the 5 mile trek to the new grocery store & cut back on groceries enough to manage a few plants a month. Time, patience & compost will give me banks of good smelling greenery. And I’m expanding to basil on the back porch for fresh herbs to offset my reduced grocery options.
Rosemary for remembrance–and there’s science behind the memory boost we get from sniffing rosemary. My parents had a patch on their patio, and once it got going, you could not kill those bushes. Here’s hoping yours is as vigorous!
I am trying to help my fellow veterans reconnect with our groups
Good on ya! The pandemic gave me a higher tolerance for isolation even than I had before (which was enormous), but another way to say that is, my connecting skills have atrophied. That you take the initiative to make the connection happen doubtless makes quite a difference.
I noticed that our crocuses are in bloom…the purple flowers made my day. I checked the daffodils and they are sprouting . Spring is really here!!!
Can’t tell you how happy I was to see these signs of spring!
I bought myself a bunch of tulips to brighten
the kitchen table and rearranged the front porch furniture and put the stone bunnies, Easter eggs and grass in the urns.
March is a long month for me. I am tired of fighting the icy driveway, stairs and walkways. Work is always overwhelming during tax time and another re organization has added to my stress level.
I finished two books this week because I did not watch tv. It was peaceful to just read with my dog. And I slept better because I walked…getting away from the computer is hard for me. So, that my goal for the week…walk during lunch with Greg.
I bought the first three MissViolet books…the covers are simply gorgeous— and will hopefully start them this week. Looking forward to a bit of romance and mystery.
You are going to LOVE Lady Violet & her friends.
Those covers were custom shoots, Sue. I am very pleased with them too, and hope you like the stories!
Oh how I empathize with your anxiety and worries! Turning on the news is just darn depressing, especially when we are powerless to do anything about the “big” things going on. So I try to think small. First, what can I do to make my kids’ lives easier? Even though my husband and I are both well and truly retired, we get up at 6:00 am two days a week to bring our grandson to honors band while his parents trudge off to work. Thinking a bit larger, I joined an organization that cooks and brings meals to anyone who needs it, no questions asked. If someone is having a health crisis, an economic crisis, a financial crisis, or is just in a bad place, they can request a hot meal, delivered to their door. Through this group, I also just spent the morning making 6 mini-lasagnas which will be delivered to the essential workers at our local hospital, along with homemade chocolate chip cookies. They have worked tirelessly in incredibly difficult circumstances to keep us as healthy as possible during these crazy times. It’s a very small way to say “Thank you for all you do!” When the next election gears up, I will do what I have done in the last several elections and write letters encouraging people to get out and vote. Again, it’s a tiny thing, but it’s what I can do in my small way to make this world a better place. If we all strive to do one small thing, maybe they will add up to a better world for all?
One of the best ways to manage any negative emotion is to exercise kindness. It’s empowering, connecting, and often fun. Good on ya, Tina Ann!
At the moment I am having trouble having a decent nights sleep,my brain won’t calm down all sorts of worries are racing around my head.I am overreacting at everything and bursting into tears several times a day.Lack of sleep takes its toll.This can’t go on.I have given myself a severe talking to,walked several miles when I really didn’t want to.Did more housework and spent a couple of hours in my garden patch.Washed Windows and front door.All looked perfect.I was tired but not enough to crash into a deep sleep that night,not the next night either.What next___!!!!!.wine!No!____chocolate No! Wait and eventually drop into my dinner No!.Just have Hope,Keep reminding myself it will happen,I will sleep soon.How do I know!!!.Because I’ve been this way before.Many things are wrong at the moment and I feel for all the victims of war and feel helpless.But HOPE is all.I will get there I know it.I wish you well Grace with your struggles.Do you think a trip to Scotland will help you!!!.
Brenda, it sounds like we get into some similar dips of the sleep/mood cycles. I find when the insomnia and lack of focus hit that if I set the alarm for 7 am, no matter what, I do eventually get a better night–and then I feel like a superhero for at least one morning.
And yes, OF COURSE, any trip to the UK is good for my soul, and Ireland helps too, but alas… not yet. Not quite yet. Soon?
Drugs, alcohol & therapy all have helped. Five days in San Diego didn’t hurt.
Love the encouragement here and appreciate the connection.
My parents retired to San Diego. My dad saw it when he was in the Navy (WWII), and fell in love. Forty years later it wasn’t the same sleepy Navy town, but it was a WONDERFUL place to retire. I’m convinced sea air and plentiful Vitamin D contributed a lot to my parents’ long, happy, healthy retirement.
Mostly, I just read, especially historical romances. I prefer historical because even though bad things might happen and bad attitudes annoy me, I know we’ve survived past the bad things and many (though unfortunately not all) of the bad attitudes have moderated over the years. I avoid books with unhappy endings and more than a miniscule amount of angst. And I say to myself “This, too, shall pass” and “In a hundred years, this won’t matter.” That and denial (or refusal to think about the bad things currently happening), get me through.
In general, your weekly essays are always steps in a right direction and I look forward to them, so if it makes you feel better to write them, know that it makes us feel better to read them.
Thanks for that, Karen. I’ve been told I’m going about blogging all wrong. I should be dropping keywords in every paragraph, writing on lifestyle issues (what are those?), featuring recipes because that draws traffic… I don’t want “traffic,” for pity’s sake. I want to share a few ideas with some people who might enjoy them. Your comment made my day!
The book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer has been giving me a lot of hope and a little bit of peace within myself. She talks about ways to help the environment, but almost more important for me is the way she relates to land and the philosophy she shares which is very different from the one I was raised in. The audio-book is very soothing.
I have resisted the audio book lure, but that sounds like a good title to start with. I’ve heard other complimentary things about that book, which suggests it’s time to give a read or a listen. Thanks!
I read romance and paint. Painting and drawing has always been my escape hatch and lately it is the only place where I can just let go of the world and build up some hope. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to paint, or my brain cannot detach enough from my high-stress job or there are too many other things that has to be done. Then I submerge in romance novels for some hours.
Recently I painted a series of flowers that reminded me of the strong wonderful women I work with – one woman is this really bright powerhouse of a woman who never makes excuses or backs down, she is just honest and cuts through all the bs – so I painted her a bright golden sunflower. Another woman is this incredibly warm and understanding woman who have time for others and can help look at the bright side of things, so I painted her a waterlily. Another woman reminds me of a bright red poppy in the field of green.
When I gave them the paintings I was surprised of how happy they were – not just for the paintings but for the acknowledgement and that I had thought of them. It was a small thing for me but I was taken aback how much it meant to them.
Just an example of how small things that bring you joy and hope can bring joy and hope to others as well.
That is so cool! My brother-in-law is an artist, and painted the cover for his debut novel. I was sooooo envious (he painted daffodils). I am a visual thinker, but I just did not get the visual artist gene. My daughter has it, though, and I am always encouraging her to draw. She would love this idea.
It’s hard not to despair when such terrible things are going on in the world. But, when I see that there are good people who truly care and who want to help those that are suffering I have hope. Thanks for the pep talk!
I hear old Mr. Rogers reminding us, “Look for the helpers,” and BOY are there are lot of helpers putting a shoulder to the wheel these days!
Well, the news has been very distressing, so there is that.
For a personal matter, the appliance bad fairy has been camping out on my roof, recently. Washer needs work (again)(but is still working) and the The central heat and air unit has to be replaced but the upside to that is that most of the cost is covered. We’ve had mostly no heat since around Christmas or thereabouts but fortunately, the weather has mostly been mild. I have been making some inroads on catching up on the mountain of laundry.
Best of all, my family is well, and spring is here. The ornamental pears blooming all over my neighborhood are gorgeous. When I read the news about the people in Ukraine, I know I have no problems to speak of.
There is that. I don’t have choose which few among my many cats I can try to save as I walk hundreds of miles to the border, shells falling all around me… assuming I even could walk that far. Puts things in perspective.
I mostly read romance novels and watch romantic comedies on t.v. I try not to watch too much news right now. The war is heartbreaking. I used to sew – a lot. I may try working on a couple of new spring frocks. I don’t really go anywhere, but maybe I’ll wear them to doctor appointments. LOL! But mostly it’s reading romances of all kinds that keeps me sane. My 43 year old daughter died the day after Mother’s Day in 2016. It was the many stories of the romance authors of the world that helped me through grief. You are one of my favorites. You are such a gifted storyteller. So, reading romances is my happy place to escape to.
Mine too, Diana.
Condolences on your loss. My aunt lost her husband and then a few years later, an adult son died. She said that losing a spouse is sad, but Uncle Jay had a good life, and one of you has to go first… but losing her son was beyond awful. It’s a violation of the natural order, and the hole in her heart was (and is) bottomless.
All of which is to say, you are why I write. Because that’s what stories are supposed to do–comfort, console, encourage, entertain, and connect us. I am not much of one for hugging people I don’t know well, but I feel strongly that we are all in this together. What I have to contribute are stories. If they make life less unbearable for a reader here and there, I’m a successful author. (Hugs, in other words. Hugs to you.)
My friends and the kindness of strangers are giving me hope these days. Also, authors like you who have continued to write and produce books and stories that take us out of the “regular” world and let us rest – that gives me a lot of hope.
Thank you, ML. I am standing on the shoulders of giantesses, reading right along with you. I’m halfway through the Ngaio Marsh Inspector Alleyne series, which is thirty-some books, and already fretting, “But will I read after this series?!”