Chronicles of a Grant Writer in the Time of Social Distancing — Week 13

June 8

Last summer two of my coworkers gave me an orchid as a thank-you gift for helping with a project at work. I don’t have a great history of keeping plants alive, but the flowers were so beautiful that I really wanted to try. After a few weeks, the initial blossoms fell off, and for months, little seemed to happen. The plant sprouted some new leaves, but it seemed unlikely that it would ever grow new flowers. Still, it was alive so I kept watering it (or giving it ice cubes, as directed).

Then, in late winter, the plant grew a new stem, and suddenly there were flowers again. On March 16, when I stopped in my office briefly as social distancing went into place, I decided to bring home the plant. Even if the office were only closed for two weeks, I feared the plant would die. By this point I regarded the plant as something of a little miracle, and I didn’t want to abandon it.

Since I live close to work, I had walked in that day, so I hoisted the pot under my arm and headed home. About a half a block from my office, I looked down and realized that the flowers were gone. The stem had broken off. I back-tracked and found the flowers and brought them home to put in water. I was saddened, but decided not to despair. Over these last three months, I’ve continued to water the orchid, hopeful that it would bloom again.

Last week, my efforts were rewarded. A new stem emerged, growing from the mid-point of the original stem, and now there are blossoms again. It feels like a symbolic rebirth, and a hopeful sign. As an added bit of symbolism, as the new stem grew, forming a new branch of the original stem, the unused part of the old branch began to wither and turn brown. Its time had passed, and the plant needed to divert energy to its new life.

I don’t have to lay on heavy layers of metaphor to show the correlations to the times we live in. When COVID-19 spread, it laid waste to so many things we found beautiful. After a period of loss, social unrest, and uncertainty, new ideas are emerging, full of energy, ready to replace the withered ideas of the past. The plant is healthier and stronger than ever, as it has learned to adapt and thrive, despite its struggles. So will we.

June 9

The experience of social distancing has been an opportunity to think about many things, and has given me pause to be grateful for my health, my family, my home, my friends, and my community. I am particularly thankful that I have been able to use this blog to record my daily reflections (if only for four days out of every week). At the onset of social distancing, one of my coworkers suggested that I chronicle my experience, and I am so glad she did. I certainly did not anticipate that I would continue for so long, and because this period of disruption is far from over, I intend to continue. This daily exercise has been an emotional release and an opportunity to further develop my writing voice. Looking back on what I have written over the last three months makes me feel emotional, fortunate, and proud.

I am proud of how my family has dealt with this crisis, and also with my persistence in documenting what we have been through. In my late 20s and early 30s, while working for a weekly community newspaper, I wrote a monthly first-person column. In it, I shared general observations about life, Judaism, and my personal experiences. I received lots of positive feedback from friends and readers.

However, when I first set out to write the column, my editor wondered out loud if I would really have enough fresh ideas to fill a regular column. This comment both shook my confidence and also awoke within me a determination to succeed in the face of doubt.

It was not the first time I had been questioned about my ability to generate new ideas. One of my graduate school professors noted that I was not great at finding news stories, but that I did a thorough job of reporting and writing when stories were assigned to me. I never really set out to be the person who breaks big stories. Rather, I envisioned myself as a feature writer who develops in-depth stories to augment the big headlines. While I have learned to embrace my strengths, and accept my weaknesses, it still stings to be told that one is short on fresh ideas.

Similarly, I feared this series of blog posts would be interminably dull, with lots of repetition from day to day. While there has naturally been some repetition, I look back and am pleasantly surprised by the variety of content within my posts, and even, on occasion, the style and tone of the posts.

I feel validated that I have original thoughts to share, and that friends and family are receptive to what I have to say. Overall, my audience for these posts is small, but I am gratified that several people have told me they have appreciated what I have to say. Finding the words to express myself daily, and receiving appreciation from readers has helped me feel more confident in my ability to be original, entertaining, and thought-provoking. 

It has been beneficial to me to turn inward during this time, and I hope to continue building my confidence about the value of my own ideas and writing voice.

June 10

I knew it was a bad decision to stay up late last night, and I paid for it today. I woke up later than I should have, and spent the whole day feeling like I was rushing to catch up. Spending several hours with my daughter to get a scheduled MRI (to gauge the healing on her injured leg) only added to the insanity.

It was the third to last day of school, and while the last few days of school are always a breathless push to the finish line, this year has been the mother of all crazy school years, and at this point I am crawling to the end, burned out like never before. And I’m not even one of the students.

My son has a kind of Spidey sense for when I am frustrated and angry, which has the unpleasant effect of activating his own temper. Let’s just say that lack of sleep is not compatible with good moods for either of us, so this morning was especially challenging.

So why did I stay up last night? Because yesterday was busy, and when I finally got everyone to bed, I was tired and needed time to unwind and catch up on stuff. Before I knew it, it was ridiculously late.

This evening, to head off another cycle of this destructive pattern, my husband helped me get the kids bathed early, which facilitated earlier bedtimes. My “me” time started an hour and a half earlier than last night, so the potential is great for me to get to bed at a reasonable hour. So on that note, I will sign off for this evening.

June 11

I am finally sitting down to write my “June 11” entry on June 14. I rounded out the final week of school with equal parts exhaustion and relief. I am enormously proud of my kids, grateful for their teachers, and feeling released of the responsibility of helping to meet grade level expectations. Whatever they fell behind on this school year, my kids will certainly make up for in the fall (assuming that school resumes in some in-person format). I have an assortment of ideas about how to keep them intellectually stimulated over the summer, but know that many of those plans will fall through. And that’s OK.

We made it through the craziest school year ever. We did it. We squabbled and procrastinated, stressed out, zoned out, buckled down, and sloughed off, and now it’s over. Finito. Some of it was amazing, some of it was awful, and most of it was anxiety inducing, but we survived. The next phase of working from home with under-stimulated kids will certainly have its own challenges, but I have never needed summer “vacation” more than this year.

School, I’ll see you in September (I know it’s really August, but there’s that great song…). In the meantime, I’ll be eating ice cream and reacquainting myself with a little bit of laziness. 


Comments are closed.

Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

Follow Susan Jablow