by Jenna Kalinsky.
My kids love this joke:
So the bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve time travelers here!”
A time traveler walks into a bar.
Time is such an interesting concept. Even though it is a construct imposed on the turning of the earth, humans have rigidly scaffolded it such that in every culture, people eat, sleep, work, and play according to specific determinations as to how time should be handled. This is why when a business contact says, “I’ll call you first thing in the morning,” we automatically know that said person will not be phoning at dawn but at 9 a.m.
Having a firm daily structure works for a lot of people, but schedules are not typically designed to allow for extras, things that aren’t allotted a segment within the structure. Fixing a cabinet, trying a new hobby, or beginning the book you’ve wanted to write for years often go undone not because they’re insurmountable projects- all three of these examples are entirely surmountable!– but because one has to battle against an unyielding system to make room to build or create.
People who already have existing writing practices have incorporated their writing into their allotted time. But for those new to wanting to create? One can only imagine all of the art left unmade because the energy required to fight the system is often more than one can bear.
But now, during this age of COVID-19, time has become fragmented, stretched, pixilated, and is flying around our heads like confetti.
One might imagine this upending is similar to what happens within a newborn in the house, when day is night and night is interminable, and when your body, mind, and spirit don’t know which end is up. That’s a time of survival and, while so is this, it’s different. We so know which end is up, and we’re still harnessed with our daily tasks – and far more if you have kids constantly underfoot, or are caring for a family member- but everything is different. It’s like Time Jenga!
For some, this upending of a foundational component of our lives is baffling, disorienting, and stressful; for others, it presents a unique opportunity for change. Now, with time so gelatinous, so blobby and jellyfish-like, the psychic pressure that you have to bulldoze your way into such a rigid existing scaffold is lifted.
Moreover, the stakes are lower because those pre-existing things we have to keep doing are now being performed in a whole new context, meaning everything we’re doing is in a sense new. We’re doing math with our kids (in French!); we’re baking with new ingredients because we can’t get our hands on all-purpose flour.
If you were to plunk down without much forethought, or grab some alone time in a corner, and simply launch into writing Chapter 1 of your new book project the way you’ve been doing everything else in your life, which is to say by plunging in and doing your best, then that writing of Chapter 1 would become just another thing in your day.
Not More Time, But A Different Experience of Time
This is not to say we have more time; for many, that’s a hard “definitely not.” We’re now our own and our families’ sole source of education, information, entertainment, and food processing, never mind the never-ending stream of Zoom meetings, checking in with loved ones, and living room Zumba classes. If you’re unable to work, you may find yourself with some extra time, which is a miracle. If you have a family, you’re as tapped as you’ll ever be.
For everyone, though, when and how you take care of things has become more forgiving, more elastic. This adds to our ability to push something new into the mix.
I have a client who has for months been very ready to begin working on a book. She has a vigorous therapy practice that since COVID-19 has gotten exponentially busier as her client base has grown and she’s navigating it all online, three young children, and a husband who also works full time. The other day, I wrote to her and said, “you’ll never have time like this again to write your book.”
At first, she basically e-laughed in my face. But then, as she kept writing, I could see her coming around to the same idea. She may not be able to sit down and write her book, but then again, she may, and her success may depend on how she perceives- and uses- her time.
Using Our Time
Some are coping with COVID-19’s impact by curling up and letting their bodies and minds dictate what or how much they take on. Fatigue and lack of motivation to do much of anything let alone extras is a normal response to this kind of stress.
But there are also those who are ready to occupy their time and give themselves the opportunity to finally start those projects that have been psychically weighing down their to-do lists. They’re seeing this elasticity of time as a gift, a way to inspire and expand, which in and of itself is motivating.
It is also possible to assert a schedule inside of this time. This writer talks about how if she doesn’t maintain a writing schedule, her work goes out the window. Holding down a schedule a) makes the work happen and b) is freeing for her so she knows that’s when the work will happen and she’s relieved, alleviated from not having to think about it
While writing this article, I got an email from someone I hadn’t spoken with in at least a year. She said she’d gained clarity around her priorities and was starting to do the things that gave her pleasure and deep satisfaction that she hadn’t let herself do before COVID-19. She was ready to write- something she loved that she’d shelved because life got in the way. Because, she said, if not now, then when?
This virus has shown us a lot of things, among them that life is fragile, special, and something to respect and to celebrate. Writing is how we arrest our attention and see things anew. It’s a beautiful time to put our voices to the page.
Un-Scheduling Your Writing
If this elastic interpretation of time is going to be our normal for the next several months or longer (the latest prediction is 2022), then how wonderful it is to imagine coming out of this experience with something productive and positive to show for ourselves.
Ordinarily, because I believe that our bodies are as in tune with our schedules as our minds, I am a proponent for embodying your writing process by putting it on a schedule so that it becomes an organic aspect of the scaffold. I created an entire self-guided course (Cultivating Creativity: How to Start and Sustain a Writing Habit in 31 Days) to support writing becoming a habit through embodying the practice every day for a month for this exact reason.
But if now is when our time is dancing in the air like so many particles, then what matters is that the writing happens. To begin the book you’ve been wanting to write now and let it unfold among all else, what a gift you will have given yourself when the time of COVID-19 has ended.
We are here for all writers to help provide support, guidance and mentorship during this time and always. We write to keep stories alive, and we are here to help you do it too.