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The last couple of weeks I’ve been asking this question to almost everyone I talk to. Particularly after the first presidential “debate,” as I felt myself losing my grip, feeling as though I were somewhere deep inside John Barth’s not-so-funny Funhouse, and as I continued to shelter in place, wear my mask, social distance, and otherwise spend most of my time alone—I began to pay attention to what was keeping me from truly going off the proverbial deep end.
So I started asking around. My beloved grandnieces, now teenagers, reported being bored and cranky, tired of online sessions and “being stuck at home—yuck.” Their answer to my question was a new puppy, four-pound dachshund Maeve. They sent funny, adorable videos of Maeve (yes, they knew about Queen Mab and had her in mind, they told me) in her new home, happily chewing on everything in sight, playing, and—especially—cuddling. Good answer.
Two of my best friends responded by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise.” They are both relentless walkers, and they are lucky to live where they can walk out in the open air without encountering many (or any) others. In addition, both are doing weightlifting and stretching classes via Zoom. “Just work out those frustrations,” they say. Another good answer.
For me, the answers to my own question have been several. First, doing work that I love, such as writing this blog post, revising two of my textbooks, and working on two new projects. Second, reading for pleasure—more than I’ve been able to do in years. Right now, I am deep in to Alexander Pope’s translation of The Iliad, which I’m reading alongside Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, which tells the Iliad from the point of view of Briseis, one of the few women mentioned in the saga. So for hours, I am back there on the plains outside Troy, at sea with Agamemnon, or—mostly—in the “women’s hut” with Briseis and the other enslaved women. And finally, I too turn to exercise to stay sane. I am lucky to live on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and I can walk the bluff trails and the little roads of my neighborhood daily (though wildfire smoke has kept me inside some of the time, we’ve been remarkably lucky so far this fire season). And then there’s the garden: Posh Squash, an all-organic community garden, with row upon row of vegetables and fruit, where I work on a team once a week. I love attending to the strawberry beds—snipping away dead leaves and stems, pulling weeds, making room for sun to ripen the berries. And I do think that pulling weeds is about the best therapy I know of: “Take that, you dandelion devil!”
Now I would like to ask my question to a lot of students: what are they doing to stay sane? This would make an outstanding writing prompt. I’m not teaching right now, but I’m hoping to pose the question to students as I have time to contact them. And I hope someone out there will ask the question of students—and report their responses. We need all the tips we can get on how to stay sane, especially for the next few months.
In the meantime, above is a photo of last week’s garden harvest. Stay safe, and stay sane!
Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford
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