Sorry. I listened to a bunch of old Barenaked Ladies songs on YouTube when I was feeling wistful the other day, and I was flailing for a title for this post.
Hello! I’ve been away from blogging for a while, and rather a lot has happened, hasn’t it?
I Believe I Can Pie, But I Probably Shouldn’t
My previous post, which was in December of 2019, was focused on my renewed interest in baking, specifically in pie. And I baked quite a few pies, although I only ended up blogging the first one. I enjoyed baking them, and for the most part we enjoyed eating them.
But I started to see a problem with my plan, which is that I was, well, baking a lot of pie while I was also trying to eat better and exercise more, and for me at least, that proved to be somewhat incompatible.
There were some ups (my pecan pie-ish mixed nut pie, my cranberry-pear pie with a nut crumb topping) and some downs (chocolate silk pie; I somehow hadn’t grasped that it’s essentially a pie shell full of icing even when well-executed, which mine was not), and you know, I was getting better at pastry there, which was one of my big goals.
But in the end, it just didn’t feel sustainable, especially when my Special Friend’s parents headed south to winter in Florida, leaving us without our regular family Sunday dinners and the other participants thereof who could help us dispose of all that pie.
So, I put my pie cookbooks back on the shelf. Of course, ironically, I’m now baking more and more regularly than I have in years — more on that in a bit.
And even if I hadn’t stopped baking, the pie post deficit I was already in probably wouldn’t have gotten better on its own. My blogging, never super consistent, was about to fall off a cliff.
Is It Too Late To Wish You A Happy New Year?
More evidence of that: I didn’t do my usual New Year’s posts this year either, which was a disappointment to me. I find the process of thinking about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and distilling it to a few words or a brief phrase, is valuable. It sharpens my thinking and, as I’ve said before, helps me figure out when I’m on track and when I’m not.
But even though I didn’t blog about it, I did think about what my guiding phrase for the year would be. It’s not as thought out or as refined an idea as it is in the years that I devote a blog post to articulating and unpacking it, but it’s there.
2020’s guiding phrase is ‘mindful progress’.
And Yet, You Reply, Stephen Has Neither Been Mindful, Nor Made Progress
Well, you’re probably not saying that, in fact. But it’s what I imagine people saying, and it’s what I’ve been saying to myself.
Even before the pandemic, I was finding this to be a stressful, anxiety-ridden year. The world is slowly- and constantly-unfolding train wreck, and that turns out to be bad for my productivity. I’ve struggled — as I often do, but 2020 has been worse — to make time to write. Blogging was one of the public-facing hits there, but so were my comics reviews for Skiffy & Fanty, and progress on my novel has been nonexistent.
It’s not just writing. Getting exercise has been a challenge — and that was when I could go outside, or to the building’s gym! Eating right is almost always the first thing to go when I get stressed.
A phrase I’ve been using a lot this year is ’emotional bandwidth’, and I haven’t had much bandwidth to spare, and the bandwidth that I have available, I’ve had to prioritize.
On what? On my job. On being a good father to my kids. On my Special Friend and building our life together. On working through the vital but time-consuming and sometimes emotionally difficulty process of finalizing my separation from my children’s mother.
And, you know, when I write it out? That’s important stuff. There’s a reason they’re my priority. It’s right that they’re my priority.
Even so, the things that have slipped by the wayside — exercising! Eating healthily! Writing, so much writing! — don’t become unimportant just because other things are even more important. They matter to me, and I feel their absence from my life.
I miss them.
I’m One Of The Luckiest Ones And It’s Still Terrible!
I’m safe. My Special Friend is safe. Our families are safe. The kids are safe. No one I know well has fallen ill or worse from COVID-19. We’ve been lucky, and I’m grateful.
But needless to say, there have still been impacts, bigger and more profound ones than the overall stress and the not exercising and the tending-towards-garbage eating.
The University of Toronto isn’t closed, but education has moved online and we’re all working from home, so I no longer go to the office every day. That’s been an adjustment.
My children’s mom and I decided that the wisest, safest course of action is for them to stay put, so we’ve temporarily suspended their visits with me for the duration. That’s for the best, even though it makes me sad to not be with them. Of course, I can talk to them via video calls, and I do, but it’s not the same as their presence, of having them here with me at home.
To be blunt, it sucks.
Time Is All I’ve Got
Because I’m one of the lucky ones for whom the disruption is more inconvenience than disaster, I really feel like it would be wrong of me not to do something good, something useful, with the time this disaster has allowed me to scavenge.
I miss my kids. I even miss my daily commute. But the absence of those things, which I regret, brings with it an enforced change in my priorities. Not having those priorities means that one thing I do have a bit more of is time.
There’s a whole lot of discourse around this online, about whether people should feel pressure to be productive during our time stuck indoors and maintaining social distancing during the pandemic
I believe with all my heart that all of us have had our emotional bandwidth eaten up by this crisis. I believe that people should absolutely not feel pressure to do anything other than get through this time as happily and healthily as they can.
But I know, that for me, and speaking only for myself, that it will be far better for my health, and my happiness, and will expand my emotional bandwidth, to use this weird pandemic hand I’ve been dealt to address some of the other priorities that I’ve — rightly and wisely — otherwise had to let slide this year.
So far, I’ve been mostly using the extra time to read (good!), indulge in quarantine baking (delicious and fun but not always good for me!), and noodle on Twitter a ton (characteristic! But unwise! And stressful!)
I’m not going to stop reading or baking; both of those are good and useful, by my standards.
I also want to exercise more — I think climbing the stairs of the building will be a good way to do that. And of course, I want to write.
I want to write, oh my gosh I want to write. I want to blog. I want to review comics. I want to finish my damn novel, after brushing up my near-future cyberpunk-inflected adventure to include some reference to how people manage pandemics of course.
But time management, even with a little more time, is still an issue for me. Emotional bandwidth is an issue.
So, I’m starting small, with this catch-up, state-of-the-me post. Well, not as small as I thought it might be when I started, but then brevity has never been my strong suit.
After that, I have some comics to read, and review. A novel to finish. I need to make a writing plan, set aside real time — daily if I can manage it, any time I can figure out if I can’t.
And I want to do more blogging.
One thing I’ve really been realizing anew during the pandemic is how important it is — for me, and in general — to build and be part of communities. To communicate with and listen to people. Over on Facebook, since I started being stuck at home, I’ve been doing daily check-in posts where I invite my friends to let me know how they’re doing.
I started doing that because, well, it was a pandemic, and I was worried about them. But what I realized over time was how much people appreciated the opportunity to check in. To be invited to share how they are. To feel, in these isolating times, like part of a community.
Blogging isn’t inherently like that, but it can be. We can use this medium not just to blather about what’s going on in our own heads, but to forge connections with other people.
I want to. I want to contribute to making connections and be part of more and better communities.
Which is why I got excited about my friend Shaun’s new idea.
The Blog Challenge Project
Shaun Duke is an academic, SF&F fan, editor-for-hire, and one of the rapscallions behind the Hugo-nominated Skiffy & Fanty Show podcast. He’s also a blogger, and like me, one who would like to be blogging more than he has perhaps blogged in the past (I’m trying to see how many times I can use the word ‘blog’ in a sentence before it loses all meaning).
To that end, Shaun conceived of the Blog Challenge Project, which he explains, naturally, in a post on his blog.
So: We have here two of my itches scratched at once! We have an inducement to blog more via the prompts, and a community of the other participants. Other writer, to draw encouragement from, and to encourage.
It’s exactly what I needed. Thanks, Shaun.
I have no idea, at present, how often I’ll post going forward. More often than I have over the past five months, I bet! I’m going to need to sort out how much time I want to spend blogging vs. my other writer vs. my other priorities, old and new.
But if I have nothing else, during this terrible, frustrating, sad, scary, confusing mess, I do have a little more time, to sort those priorities out. And to write about where I land.
See you soon.
Coming Up Next On The Blog: No idea, yet. This post just about squeezed my brain dry! I guess I should read one of those Blog Challenge prompts!