Short story published on Fox Paw Literary Blog

Hello, all, and happy weekend!

If you, like us, are enjoying a cool and rainy Saturday, and you, like me, enjoy nothing more than reading something short and not too intellectually taxing or requiring too much concentration on a cool and rainy Saturday afternoon, I invite you to pop over to the Fox Paw Literary Blog, where my short story (really, a sketch story, at just over a thousand words), “Keeping Promises,” is now published alongside the other stories shortlisted for their fiction prize. It’s the seventh story in the “fiction” column at this link: https://foxpawliterary.com/shortlisted-pieces

The shortlisted creative nonfiction pieces are also posted, and poetry is coming soon. Happy reading!

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My first craft essay

Hello all!

One of the first questions people ask you as a writer is “where do you get your ideas from?” or, “How do you come up with things to write?” or, “How do you write/ what’s your writing process?” To answer these questions in terms of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems, I wrote a craft essay discussing my thinking and theoretical process toward developing the collection, and that essay is now available in The Year’s Work in Medievalism 34 (2021): https://ywim.net/volume-34-2019/the-art-and-heart-of-arthurian-things-a-craft-essay/

I hope you enjoy it! And if you have any other questions about where I get my ideas from or my writing process and rituals, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

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Teaching essay: “The Chaucerian Miscellany” now available at Once and Future Classroom

I’m thrilled to share that the pedagogy article describing my Chaucerian Miscellany assignment that won the 2020 Teaching Association for Medieval Studies award is now published in Once and Future Classroom 17.1 (Spring 2021)! This assignment was designed to help my students engage with Chaucer in personally meaningful ways while also developing the skills of an English major. You can read it here.

Many thanks to all of the students who took my classes, completed this assignment, and shared their thoughts about it, and to my colleagues at various colleges and universities who used it with their classes and shared how it worked for them. The best part of the job is always when you are able to help your students really engage with what you are teaching them and I’m always glad when an assignment I designed hits the mark!

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“Green” now published in In Parentheses 7.1

Just a brief update to share that I’m delighted my prose poem “Green” has been published in In Parentheses 7.1 (Summer 2021) and is available for anyone who would like to read it here:

https://inparentheses.art/…/contributor-list-in…/

You’ll find the Green Man, kelpies, sirens, and melusines romping through this one. I hope you enjoy it!

Please also admire the gorgeous cover for the issue, “Semana de Moda” by the Brazilian artist Igor Aquino or Marble Astronaut, and read the other contributors’ work. The whole issue is devoted to the color green!

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Thinking, Scribbling, Sharing

Hello, All! I hope your corner of the world is pleasant and that you are safe, happy, and engaged in some activity that brings you joy.

I have been busily thinking, scribbling, and submitting things for publication. Some of the things were done by request, and some of the things were unsolicited. But several of the things have made their way into print at this point, so I figured a little round up and share of what I’ve been up to would be a good idea, for those interested in reading things I’ve written.

True to form, the things span across multiple genres and styles. In the academic area, I’ve published a review of Francis Leneghan’s The Dynastic Drama of Beowulf, out now in Apardjon Journal for Scandanavian Studies: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/sdhp/current-issue-1934.php

Together with my co-editor, the marvelous Kristen Bovaird-Abbo, I assembled a collection of essays entitled Food and Feast in Premodern Outlaw Tales, which came out in April from Routledge’s Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture series: https://www.routledge.com/Food-and-Feast-in-Premodern-Outlaw-Tales/Elmes-Bovaird-Abbo/p/book/9780367224905 . The volume comprises eleven chapters and an introduction, and covers material ranging from Beowulf to John Fletcher’s Beggar’s Bush. My essay in this book is about outlaw feasts in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and As You Like It. If you like scholarship on food and feasts, and/or Shakespearean comedy, and/or identity construction, you might enjoy reading it. If you are teaching a course on Medieval/Early Modern literature and want to theme it around food. feasts, and/or outlaws, this would be a great supplemental title for your class. And if you are writing a scholarly or critical book on any subject related to outlaws, I definitely recommend pitching it to this series, the series editors, Alex Kaufmann and Lesley Coote, were wonderful to work with.

Our Book is Out Now!

If you are more interested in my creative work, I have poems currently out in Thimble Literary Magazine 3.4: https://www.thimblelitmag.com/2021/02/18/trust-issues/ and in Gyroscope Review 21.3: https://www.gyroscopereview.com/2021/07/the-summer-21-3-issue/ . These are two poems I really loved when I wrote them, and I find I still really love them when I re-read them. I hope you enjoy them as well! I also highly recommend these magazines to other poets. Both were wonderful publishing experiences with smooth and responsive editing.

I have several other things in various states of being: a short story and a poem currently in press, several book reviews in the pipeline, several critical and teaching essays in press, and I’ll share those as they come out. Meanwhile, I am also bubbling away with the Dr. Watson short story collection, a couple of stand-alone stories, a number of poems that may grow up to be a chapbook or two, and of course the book projects.

After the survival mindset that like so many others I adopted to get through the past 1.5 years where pretty much everything was centered around staying healthy, keeping my family healthy, and getting my students safely through the difficult academic year, I am finding joy in thinking, scribbling, and sharing things again. I hope you are also enjoying what you are doing!

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A Lesson Learned

Hey, y’all, how are you doing? How are you feeling? How are things going in your corner of the world? I hope you’re well, and safe, and healthy, and happy.

I’m just beginning to emerge from my post-academic year recovery period, which usually spans about a week or so after the spring term ends, but this year took just over three weeks. This past year was the hardest of my teaching career, a sentiment I have no doubt is shared by many of my colleagues at all levels of education. From the pivot in Spring 2019 to now, we have all of us who teach undergone a complete transformation of what we do and how we do it. We undertook this pedagogical shift on the fly, without training, learning as we went, because we had no choice. We have all learned a lot about teaching, and about ourselves as teachers. I could write thousands of words about this experience–I think we all could. Many of us have written and will write about our pandemic pedagogy and teaching experiences. And that’s important and needs to be done, by as many of us as possible, so we can all learn from each other. But, having spent the past several weeks trying to get some distance from it so I can process things and figure out what I’ve learned and how to use it best to improve my teaching going forward, I don’t want to write about that now.

What I do want to write about now is a bit about what I’ve learned over the past year more personally as, like so many, I’ve struggled to find ways to articulate work/life balance, job/career/work/hobby distinctions. When you are living in your apartment, and wifing and parenting in your apartment, and working in your apartment, and when you are teaching asynchronously online, and then even when you are teaching hyflex online, what are the boundaries between your various life spaces and duties and responsibilities and “on” time and “off” time? This past year and a half really threw into sharp relief how much I depend on the spatial boundaries of home, office, other; and on the temporal boundaries of home time, work time, weekday, weekend, holiday, “me” time, “family” time; and how much I have relied on conference travel over the years, the space of a hotel room to myself for a few nights a few times annually, for the essential “reset” that permitted me to return to my regular routine feeling reinvigorated and able to handle everything and be successful. But all of this concern about life and schedules and routines and spaces and places is predicated on a sense of permanence that the pandemic has both exacerbated (this is never going to end!) and ravaged (nothing is certain, nothing is stable, nothing is reliable, tempus fugit!)

My family has survived. We have even thrived. We are so incredibly fortunate. I do not take any of that for granted, amidst all of the loss and trauma and grief, the upending of lives that has occurred. I am acutely aware of the tremendous amount of sheer luck involved in having stayed healthy and employed through all of this, and enormously grateful. But this has been a period of constant uncertainty, anxiety, essentially marinading in the fear of the unknown. I have watched alongside the rest of the world as people who were healthy one day died the next, as businesses and universities hemorrhaged layoffs and firings through downsizing and program cuts as the pandemic raged on, as so many people lost both lives and livelihoods. It’s not that people weren’t dying and losing their jobs before, but that it was now happening on such a massive scale and there was no sense of when or how it would end. Anything like a sense of security personally or professionally was whisked off the table right before our eyes regardless of how careful we were and how hard we worked, and suddenly we were staring down not only mortality, but also a possibility, however distant, that everything that a working class background teaches you to fear most–unemployment, financial ruin, displacement–could happen. If that sounds like dire and gross exaggeration to you, congratulations! You’ve grown up privileged enough not to have such catastrophic thoughts cross your mind when things go south. For many of us, the pandemic has been a sustained period of psychic crisis.

I’m grateful for it, TBH. The past year and a half have been so difficult in so many ways, but one wonderful thing that I’ve gained is a much clearer sense of what matters to me and how I want to spend my time. There are certain realities I have been willfully ignoring, and certain fantasies I have been stubbornly clinging to; there are certain ways of being and ways of knowing I have struggled with; and there are certain demons that have been needing eviction from my headspace for a long, long time. Chiefest among these demons is my lifelong fear of not being “safe,” of having my life yanked out from under me and upended, and having no control over it. As a highly sensitive and introverted child growing up in the itinerant lifestyle of a military family, I spent the majority of my childhood, and have since spent a large portion of my adult life, longing for stability–to stay in one place, put down roots, and just live there forever. Visions of the March family, or the Campbell clan, all living in walking distance of one another and popping in and out at will throughout the day; visions of Anne Shirley and her friends growing old together; visions of some happily-ever-after lifestyle where you and your high school buddies all get together once a week for brunch until you die. Sex and the City friendship stability. A sense of belonging to and in a particular place in some permanent way.

What was I thinking, though? I’m not that person. I’ve never been that person. Would being a homeowner somewhere for thirty, forty, fifty years make me into that person? I hardly think so. I doubt I could manage being a permanent homeowner somewhere, unless I had a couple of houses in different places that I bounced around to throughout the year, or lots of friends to visit in various cities for extended periods of time. I get antsy living in one place for more than a few years. I start looking for the next place to live. I live for the conferences that whisk me away to new places for a few days to a week. I grow restless and difficult to put up with if I’m confined to one location for too long, and especially if I have to share that space with other people with no break in our interactions. While I value a sense of security and belonging, I need space and mobility. That’s the reality. That’s my fundamental personality makeup. I like the idea of being a homebody. I even like the reality, for short spans of time. But ultimately, I am not cut of the cloth that would permit me to be a good hometown homebody. This fact should have been abundantly clear to me simply by observing the difference between myself and my sister, who is still living in our hometown, who has never lived more than an hour from our hometown. I haven’t lived in my hometown in twenty years. I love going back, I love visiting. In fact, I get really agitated when I can’t get back for a visit. I even fantasize about going back and buying a house and living there. I am deeply and profoundly jealous of my sister, that she gets to live and work in our beautiful hometown.

But it doesn’t stand to reason that if I moved back there, bought a house, and settled down, it would satisfy me and bring me that ultimate sense of security I’ve been craving. I wouldn’t really belong there. It’s been twenty years or more since I lived there. And there is a reason I left in the first place. I can love it all I want, but that doesn’t mean it’s what I want or what I need. I mean it might be, who knows? It’s one of my favorite places in this world, and I’ll always love visiting. But I think the fantasy of some semblance of permanence is the real draw in the end, that because that’s where I lived the longest it feels most stable to me. I think, too, for a long time I have been utterly enamored of the promise of stability that comes with the idea of buying of a house. But, I mean, we did that, my husband and I. We moved from the city where we met to a new town, got new jobs, got married, bought a house, started our family. We lived there for ten years. It wasn’t permanent. We don’t have those jobs now. We don’t own that house now. We don’t live in that town now. We will most likely never live in that town again. Since then, we have lived in apartments in two different cities. I loved the last city, but it wasn’t a permanent move–we were there for me to complete my PhD so I could seek out a full-time position and find career security, and then had to go where the job offer took me. I love this current city, but there is no guarantee it will be a permanent move, that depends on our employers and my institution doesn’t offer tenure. I can only hope they like me enough to keep me around for a while. The more academia devolves from stable career path into a gig economy, the more that hope of permanence I’ve clung to for so long, the dream of a tenured position where you put down roots in a community and teach in the same place for thirty years, fades into fantasy. I think, though, the reality is that sort of stable lifestyle was always only a fantasy of mine and never going to be a reality, at least not in the way I envisioned it in my mind’s eye–if not because of circumstances then certainly because of my own proclivities towards restlessness, my fear that any moment now, my employers will decide to take it all away and I need to do and be more to stave off that inevitability. What can I say? Working class terror of unemployment and financial ruin runs through my veins, y’all. Coded in my DNA.

I don’t know why I’ve clung for so long to this dream of permanence in this utterly, utterly impermanent world, except that it offered some sort of comfort, an ideal to strive and work for. Well, one thing the pandemic has certainly done has been to cut those particular apron strings. There is no guarantee anywhere of safety, stability, security, or permanence–not in terms of health, not in terms of employment, not in terms of finances, not in terms of living arrangements. And that’s terrifying to this working-class person, but also, it’s been the story of my life. It’s the story of most of our lives. How many of us are still where we were five, ten, twenty, thirty years ago? How many of us only ever own one home and have one job in our lifetime? And would I really want that, truly? Well, I think about it a lot, and it seems pretty great to me, but if it were my reality and not a dream I was chasing, I’m pretty sure–like, 80% sure–I’d hate it and want something else from my life. So, taking this DOA lifelong dream of a sense of permanence and stability off the table, and (besides my family, whom I love and adore beyond all reason and will happily continue to cherish and serve for as long as I humanly can) what’s left to wish and want and work for?

Perhaps to the surprise of no one besides me, the answer to that question has been right under my nose, hiding in plain sight. The only truly enduring aspects of my life, the only through lines linking my earliest childhood memories to the present moment, have been curiosity–a drive to know, to ask Why? Yes, why? But why? What now? what comes next? and find the answers–and a burning urge, a need, to write, to make, to create. I’ve left and returned to writing over, and over, and over again–sometimes writing every day for months, sometimes not writing for years at a time, my attention and energies occupied elsewhere–but I always return to it. Typically, when I’m not writing regularly, it is because I have thrown myself into some other enterprise that has promised some degree of anchoring, a semblance of security. Mostly, that’s been education, or job-related activity, although at times it’s also various hobbies or community endeavors; sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned burnout. And that’s my own fault. I have burned off so much of my energy and attention over the years in pursuit of what I’ve come to understand is an impossible sense of safety in place and person. I have burned off far less energy writing and making by comparison, and I think that’s been my greatest mistake. Over the past few years, from just before and through this pandemic, I’ve returned in earnest to writing and making, and it’s been crucial for my ability to weather everything; more importantly, perhaps, writing more regularly has instilled within me a sense of well-being, of existing wholly and essentially in my own person and my own here and now, that has been sorely lacking for a long time now, lost in my hustle to secure–something, anything.

Well, lesson learned. This pandemic has taught me that my hustle, all the doing-doing-doing and achieving- achieving-achieving, has not been in vain, but it has largely been mis-employed. While rewarding in many ways, it will never result in that strange, shadowy sense of security I’ve spent a lifetime chasing, and not only is that okay, it is the way of things. Time, health, employment, safety, financial and personal security–they’re all constantly moving, all passing states and conditions. Energy spent trying desperately to force their conversion into something permanent is wasted energy. Uncertainty in life is right, and true, and holds greater meaning and promise for me than any permanence of place or job could, when I am being honest about who I am and how I am. If I cannot hope for permanence, I can harness everything in service to my creativity and convert the uncertainty and anxiety and fear into art. Uncertainty is a form of not-knowing, not-knowing breeds curiosity, and curiosity has always been a foundational characteristic for me as a person, as a teacher, as a writer. And so I’m brought full-circle: curiosity and writing, writing and curiosity, these are my constant and steady life companions, no matter who else and what else comes, remains, or goes, no matter what else I’m doing or being. These are where I want and need to put the majority of my time and energy. I’ve spent too much of my life not honoring that truth in my efforts to procure some form of security, but that is my most primal form of security: the drive to know, and the drive to create texts based on what I know. It cannot be taken from me, except by myself. For a long time I did take it from myself, for reasons that are no longer important. Now, I’m giving it back.

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Manifesting Done Right

Ten-year old me: I wish I could just write and read things I like and talk about them and be nerdy for a living.

Adult me: Hey, Kiddo, knock yourself out.

Just your semi-occasional reminder that your ten-year old self knows who you are and what you want and need better than anyone. Honor that child’s instincts in whatever ways you can. 🙂

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It’s Been a Hot Minute, Hasn’t It?

Hello, Blogosphere!

So, I just logged in to this space for the first time in . . . a while. Reading through my last post, written in July of last year, I find it truly resonates with me, and I know many of you reached out to me to thank me for writing it because it was what you needed to hear. Well, I needed to hear it, myself, so I wrote it. I think that’s how so much writing gets started, no? We write the things we want and need to read. We’re always lucky when someone else wants or needs to read it, too. I’m glad you’re here reading. #ThanksForReading.

And I’m glad to be here, writing. I do enjoy blogging. I don’t have the same amount of time and energy to devote to it as I once did, and I’m not sure that’s going to change for the better going forward, but I hope to be able to settle into something of a regular routine of posting again.

I always do an annual recap, and this year it’s late but here you go. In 2020 I . . .

. . .Survived–so far and with luck and the grace of all the universal forces and spirits we collectively believe in–this global pandemic.

Honestly, I’d like to just stop there, because that in itself is an enormous achievement for we mere mortals, that we live, that we survive. And I want to honor that for all of us, that if we are here writing and reading this blog post it’s because we survived, and that is enough. Let’s not trivialize the significance of that achievement in itself. But it would also be a lie and disingenuous, and y’all know how I feel about lies and inauthenticity. For me, individually, barring the stress, the anxiety, and the massive increase in work that came with taking all of my classes suddenly online in Spring and then teaching a strange form of hyflex this past Fall, 2020 was actually personally and professionally a pretty great year. Here’s a run-down of things I managed to accomplish:

Publications

Fiction

My short story, “Dr. Watson and the Werewolf,” appeared in the Full Moon and Howlin‘ werewolf anthology: https://www.amazon.com/Full-Moon-Howlin-Werewolf-Anthology/dp/B08P3H135V/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=full+moon+and+howlin&qid=1611068409&s=books&sr=1-1 . This is the first in a series of stories I am writing featuring the great-grandson of Dr. Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame, who finds himself taking on the mantle of his predecessor, whose extracurricular activity featured serving as the medical attendant of nocturnal and underworld creatures.

My short story “Truth and Toe Shoes” appeared in HeartWood  Literary Magazine: http://www.heartwoodlitmag.com/truth-and-toe-shoes

Poetry

I published my first poetry collection, Arthurian Things, with Dark Myth Publishing. In addition to my book, I published three poems in 2020: “Akasha” in the North Carolina Bards Anthology of Poetry, and “Shadow-Dwellers” and “Lines” at Spillwords.  

Scholarly Article

“Failed Ritualized Feasts and the Limitations of Community in Branwen ferch Lŷr.” Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Studies Colloquium 38 (2018; pub. 2020). 201—215.

Scholarly Reviews

Fantasy in Greek and Roman Literature, by Graham Anderson. Bryn  Mawr Classical Review, 13 November 2020.Available online: https://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2020/2020.11.23/

Classic Readings on Monster Theory: Demonstrare, Volume One and Primary Sources on Monsters: Demonstrare, Volume Two, by Asa Simon Mittmann and Marcus Hensel. Medieval Speaking, 25 June 2020. Available online: https://medievallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2020/06/mittman-and-hensel-demonstrare-classic.html?fbclid=IwAR2V6nyoNc4R_dOaQRV0WA34rba_WxwPFlLzARTO8QoFzqAHBA-SwRFBOJY

Teaching

I taught my usual nine classes across Spring, Summer, and Fall terms in 2020: 2 sections of comp, 2 sections of World Literature to 1500, 1 section of British Literature to 1800, Celtic Literature, Chaucer, History of the English Language, and Senior Capstone in English Studies. And my students continue to be on my “best things in life” list. They have been extraordinary in handling these uncertain times, resilient, resourceful, vulnerable, creative–and as always, I learn so much from them.

Recognitions

I was deeply honored to be awarded two prizes for my teaching this year: the TEAMS Medieval Teaching Prize and the Southeastern Medieval Association‘s Teaching Excellence Award.

Beyond these, I continued to serve as the President for the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, chaired the Modern Language Association’s Celtic Studies form and the Medieval Academy of America’s K-12 Committee, and continued to serve on the boards for SEMA, ASIMS, and MEARCSTAPA; continued as Associate Editor of The Heroic Age and book reviews editor for Medieval Feminist Forum, stepped down as book reviews editor for College Literature, and joined Medieval Institute Publications, Monsters, Prodigies and Demons series as a series editor.

And, last but not least, personally and, again, through the grace of whatever unseen forces govern our existence on this planet, our family was able to remain healthy, happy, safe, and together this year. And I do not take that lightly, with so many people suffering unspeakable tragedies around us. I really feel my privilege, the weight and responsibility of it, the obligation to use it to support others through all of this. There’s a strange, schizoid reality involved, when you have so much to be thankful and grateful for and to celebrate, while also living with the enormity of loss and pain surrounding you. I’m trying to find the center, where I’m able to feel and celebrate my own successes, while also being desperately worried and afraid for others. I haven’t really managed it, or at least not well. If anyone’s got answers to how to do that, I’m all ears.

And still, the good. I learned, much to my delight, that I love my husband EVEN MORE when we are cooped up together for months on end in social distancing (I mean, I’ve known for a long time he’s the love of my life, but living confirmation of that day-in and day-out never hurts, does it?) And watching many relationships fizzle out this past year because people realized they were NOT especially compatible when confined only to the company of one another, I do take great joy and comfort in the stability and even deepening that ours has enjoyed.

And . . . we added a new member to our family. Those who follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter already know this, but for those who do not, here’s Korra Ruth (the) Corgi Elmes, the Notorious KRC:

Don’t worry, the cats are (mostly) fine with this new development:

Korra, Raven, and Ariel, sharing the prime real estate that is the couch

Yes, she is named for a combination of the Avatar character, Diana’s familiar in A Discovery of Witches, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because she is a big dog in a little package. Our Korra is beautiful, stubborn, headstrong, courageous, tenacious, hilarious, obstinate, willful, adorable, playful, fun, energetic, cuddly, and insanely intelligent.

It’s really nice to have a dog again; we haven’t owned one since our shelties and golden retriever passed away ten years ago.

And I didn’t know that I was a corgi person, but it turns out that I am.

So, what’s next?

I’d like for 2021 to be a little . . . simpler than 2020, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that this is a virtually impossible ask. First and foremost, I’ll be continuing along with the rest of the world to weather the pandemic and our uncertain political climate, and I’m teaching several new courses, again in our adopted hyflex fashion, that require a lot of preparation. We’ll be spending this year helping Korra learn to be a well-behaved dog, in itself an enormous undertaking, as anyone who’s raised a willful puppy knows. I have several scholarly collaborations in the works that I need to make progress on (because other people are involved, and it is always easier for me to work on behalf of others than for myself) and several scholarly projects in the works that I want to make progress on, time and energy willing. And while creativity has not come easily to me in 2020 and I continue to struggle with it here at the beginning of 2021, nonetheless I am working away on the Dr. Watson story series, a collection of poems, and several smaller stand-alone projects. It would be nice to complete a draft of my novel-in-progress. I’ve taken this month to trying something new: listening to a poetry or writing podcast, and just letting my mind wander on the page as I’m listening. This has been helpful to me in terms of jump-starting some sparks. We’ll see where those go. I have a writer’s goal of submitting 5 works a month. I definitely want to read more, for fun and not simply for work, which is something I’ve found I struggle with. And to watch more television and film, which my family has been urging me to do but, again, which I struggle with (all those “you should be spending your time . . . instead of . . .” thoughts are loud, y’all.) Obviously, my main goal is to stay healthy, and to take care of my family and get my students successfully through this Spring term. And beyond that–we’ll just see what happens. It’s sure to be unexpected and interesting, whatever else it is.

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I don’t know who needs to read this, but.

I’ve been seeing a lot of graduate students and early career researchers and new writers bemoaning their inability to focus, concentrate, or get much or any work done right now.

You know who else I am seeing these comments from? Extremely established and well-known scholars and authors. People who seem to be perpetually publishing, always able to sit down, open their computer, and bang out a thousand words daily towards the next product.

There are those who find solace in their work, who are productive right now because that’s their means of coping with things. They are producing, in some cases, even more than usual. But that’s how they are managing their stress, anxiety, concern, worry, whatever-it-is. Not everyone handles it that way. Not everyone can get lost in work. I’d argue, in fact, that statistically far fewer of us manage to be more productive than usual in the middle of global events like this pandemic and the uptick in violence and cruelty. (I have no idea if that’s true, but I elect to believe it’s true because it seems very realistic.)

I don’t know who needs to read this, but: If you are not able to be productive right now, that’s okay. If you are sitting in front of the computer beating yourself up because you are supposed to be working but all you can do right now is doomscroll, that’s where you are at (maybe consider just knocking off for the day and doing something else; the doomscrolling can be really hard on a person. Don’t ask me how I know that.) If you just cannot read, or write, or research, or revise, right now, that’s okay. It’s not a permanent state of being. It will pass. Thoughts will come. Words will come. You will want to work again. You will find your concentration again.

And furthermore: If you are fine and manage to get a couple hundred to a couple thousand words down one day, and then are unable to follow through the next day, that’s okay. If you start out fine during a writing session but then trail off into I-just-can’t after twenty minutes, that’s okay. If you wake up planning to write like the wind but then lose steam waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, that’s okay. If you write hardly anything and then need a two-hour nap to recover, that’s okay. If you don’t do anything related to writing for a week and then wake up and write three things in a day, that’s okay. And if you are having absolutely no trouble at all writing, thank you very much, and are hitting all of your targets without struggle, that is also okay (and I am very, very jealous of you.)

Throw the “should be” and “could be” and “ought to be” inner dialogue out for the time being. We all know we “should be” able to do our work. But “should be” and “are” are not the same thing and there isn’t any use beating yourself up because that’s true and inconvenient.

We are in an unprecedented global moment, or at least it feels that way. The way you are reacting is how you need to be reacting. You’ll eventually sort it out and find the ways to handle it that work best for you, find a way of entering back into your working-self that makes sense and is sustainable. You cannot rush that process. You need to give yourself permission to be a real, living, breathing, feeling, human being-being. It’s messy and complicated and emotional and stressful stuff. It’s also real, and you cannot magic it away by trying to install some sort of perverse militaristic order into things (“I can have my nervous breakdown after I’ve written 500 words.”) Well, you might make it work for a day or two, or even a week–but the body and mind have funny ways of always, always thwarting those kinds of efforts in the long run. You’ll be much better off if you just let yourself have the responses you are having, and are patient with it all.

Go easy on yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You’ll get your research done. You’ll get your reading done. You’ll get your writing done. The process will be absolutely nothing like you expect it to be, and will be unique to you. And that’s okay. You’re okay.

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Pandemic Poem #36

(Reading tip: if you are reading this on your phone screen, turning the screen sideways will result in a correct placement of each line; otherwise, they are broken up in unusual and not especially poetic fashion.)

 

Empty Agenda

Remember when you’d look at your overscheduled life, a
planner packed with wall-to-wall meetings and to-do lists,
and wish for just one deliciously blank day in your agenda?

How long ago that seems, and still so impossible to achieve
as long as you fixate on what you should be doing but aren’t
instead of celebrating the chance to just be here, at last with

No requisite immediate plans or goals or objectives to meet.

 

(Originally written 4/25/2020)

 

I invite those who are also writing creatively in response to the pandemic to share their words in the comments below. I am sharing the “poem-a-day” on Instagram and Twitter, as well; follow me @mridleyelmes !

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