We are living in a sh*tty first draft

Friends, I have no good advice for you today. No insights, no tricks, no shortcuts to make this easier.

I have my truth: this is hard and I am struggling. I have another truth: this is a chance to rethink my life, my family, my work, my kids’ schooling, my income, my day to day life, and I welcome it. It doesn’t look linear or neat or clean and progressive like the line on a growth chart. It’s meandering, sideways, going around in circles — and yet on some level I can sense a pattern forming. This might just be what I need to believe — which doesn’t mean it’s not real. The need to detect patterns is a deeply wired part of our instinct to survive.

I have my willingness to live in paradox, and to model what that looks like. I have my lived experience which has taught me: when things get unclear, when you’re in unfamiliar territory, retreat to your body. Follow your body where it leads.

My body is finding some aspects of this familiar. It’s reminding me of being home with a newborn baby, the way you find a rhythm not through the thinking mind, the way your energy organizes itself around what you need to survive on a daily basis. The way what you need surprises you.

I am using creative acts to survive. I draw to ease my mind; I dance to release my stress and anxiety; I sing to give voice to my sorrow, hopelessness and rage. I seek out jokes and laughter to get some relief. I seek out poems and songs to get perspective, to find out how I feel.

I’m thinking of my art garage as a playhouse, and I created a Facebook group to try and share this with others, though to be honest, I don’t know if I even have the capacity to show up in that space in any way that is meaningful for anyone but me. But even if it is just for me, the idea of a playhouse is keeping me going.

What is keeping you going? How are you surviving? What expectations have you let go of and what odd new habits (other than washing your hands like a surgeon) have you adopted? Who is helping you in this time?

Here is who is helping me:

Oh my — this is getting perilously close to me giving you good advice! I promised not to do that.

Instead, can I offer you some bad, dumb, stupid, awful advice?

I call this a Bad Idea Brainstorm (a BIB) and you can use it on anything — school closures, unemployment, grocery shopping, parenting, coexisting with roommates, living alone… anything you’re struggling with.

My inspiration for this is Anne Lamott’s advice on shitty first drafts  (which I’ve written about before)…

All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.

You want to sit down and stare at the page? Try to write a great novel from day one. Want to actually write a great novel? Write a shitty first draft.

How can we take this idea and apply it to other areas of life? Because we all want to survive and make it through this weird time not just intact but thriving and healthy, but aiming for success right now feels overwhelming.

Well guess what: that’s because NONE OF US HAS LIVED THROUGH A GLOBAL PANDEMIC BEFORE, so we’re all living in a shitty first draft.

What changes when you admit that — when you give yourself permission to do a bad job, because that’s all you can do in a new situation (what Brené Brown calls FFTs, or Effing First Times)?

One way to embrace and celebrate and revel and LAUGH with this situation is to do a Bad Idea Brainstorm on it. Lean IN to your awkward uncertainty, your weird instincts, your dumb ideas.

BAD IDEA BRAINSTORM: PANDEMIC EDITION

  1. Release live poisonous snakes into all the public areas where we want to discourage social interaction
  2. Follow our president’s instructions and whimsies to the letter
  3. Instead of wearing a face mask, get a tattoo of a face mask
  4. Fill the house with silly putty for the kids to play with
  5. What a great time to make paella with your small children! Or craft delicate glass objects to hang from windows and balance on tables!
  6. Oooh how about we make our own ant farm?
  7. I know! How about try to work a demanding full-time job while home schooling your child! (My apologies to anyone who is being forced to do this for real)
  8. Announce your plan for the day to the neighbors via bullhorn
  9. Forage all food instead of going to the grocery store. Can you eat grass?
  10. paint I AM STAYING HOME on my roof in neon pink

I did one of these around homeschooling on April Fools Day, and wrote out the worst homeschooling plan I could think of. Y’all… I cannot tell you how much more fun THIS was to create then the real ones I was making the first couple weeks (a practice I have now thankfully dropped).

This is the beauty of a Bad Idea Brainstorm — it gets you laughing, it gets you thinking outside the box, it gets you moving and in the mood to try things, and (this is the secret) once in a while, a brilliant idea sneaks in.

That’s what I have for you today! Until next time…

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