In a yoga class I took twenty years ago, the teacher told us our bodies are different every day. So, each day, I restarted. I tried not to expect to stand on one leg for the same amount of time as the day before. I brought that same advice with me to writers in my workshops: Each time we sit down to write, we start over, and because our minds are different every day, we don’t necessarily start from the same place. One day the words flow from our imaginations to the page, and the next day words jump into the same black hole where all the missing socks and Tupperware lids live.
When the Covid-19 restrictions lifted, I forgot about restarting. I expected to experience the return to more freedom as energizing and exciting. Instead, I feel sluggish and anxious in a whole new way. According to my doctor, I’m not alone. The guidelines are confusing, and the Delta variant hides in plain sight. The introverted among us enjoyed avoiding large gatherings. The more extroverted missed seeing friends and live concerts. Though the time in quarantine took its toll on our mental and physical health, we all adjusted our lives to fit the virus’ needs.
Many months have passed since March 2020. In a conversation with a friend who lives in San Francisco, we commiserated about feeling socially awkward now that we can see people in person. We laughed and went over the steps involved in reconnecting with close friends: 1) Pick up the phone 2) Invite them over 3) Clean the dining room, the bathroom, and maybe the living room and, 4) Make the meal. The invitation will delight them, but picking up the phone, cleaning up our dining rooms, and planning a meal requires restarting.
Remembering that we need to restart multiple times a day may be an excellent suggestion, but that doesn’t make it easy, particularly with an event as dramatic as the pandemic. Unlike restarting a creative or professional pursuit, the pandemic changed nearly every aspect of our lives for a long period of time. Logically, the restarting process will be more taxing and provoke a range of emotions, but people aren’t logical, and we generally prefer to avoid unpleasant challenges and feelings.
The complexity of Homo sapiens’ evolution never ceases to fill me with awe. People perceive change as a threat to our safety, which sets off a sophisticated reaction to protect ourselves. A series of signals release the hormones we need to stay and fight or hightail it out of there (“the fight-or-flight response”).
Even positive changes like returning to activities we considered normal and fun can make our brains tell us, “Uh-oh, this is new. Danger!” However, this reaction can mislead us. When the potential for a positive outcome outweighs the potential for loss—as it may with the loosening restrictions—we push ourselves to overcome our resistance to change. We restart. Balance on one foot for a few seconds, clean the dining room, invite friends over, go to an outdoor concert, return to work with gusto, put pen to paper. And whenever we falter, as we will, or if things change and we need to take precautions again, we’ll close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, and restart.
Rachel Kobin is the Founder and Director of the Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop. She has facilitated creative writing workshops and provided editing and coaching services since 2011. Read her most recently published poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction in the anthology, Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Madness and Chaos Within.