Chronicles of a Grant Writer in the Time of Social Distancing — Week 21

August 3

At some point in 2019, recognizing that I was feeling stressed out, I said to myself that I needed to take more time to relax and listen to music. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a great job of following through on that intention, and life has only become more stressful since then.

Through my dance classes, I have recently been introduced to the ballet piano music of Nathan Fifield.

Fifield has piano versions of popular songs from Disney soundtracks and Top 40 music, as well as adaptations of many other movie soundtracks. In dance class, it is amusing to be doing traditional barre exercises to popular songs that have been softened or dramatized with piano flourishes, and mentally be fitting the lyrics the songs. On the other hand, Fifield’s music has reminded me that years ago, going back to high school and college, I would often relax by listening to the soundtracks of some of my favorite films. Sabrina was a particular favorite that I had nearly forgotten until my ballet teacher played it for a barre exercise. I had also forgotten the loveliness of the theme from the quirky 2001 French film “Amelie,” which I hope to rewatch sometime soon.

So, in recent weeks, I have begun taking moments here and there to listen to some of these calming piano pieces, to reduce my stress and reawaken hopeful thoughts.

Today, while struggling to focus on work, I opened a browser tab to YouTube, and found the soundtrack to the BBC miniseries, North and South, based on a book by Elizabeth Gaskell, one of my favorite 19th century writers. In general, I try to avoid listening to music while I write, because I find it distracting, but with my head full of swirling thoughts today, the placid background music was just what I needed. 

In this time of struggle and difficulty, these lyrical tunes are carrying me away from my crowded thoughts and reminding me of pleasant dreams.

August 4

For only the second time since I began working from home, today I stopped by my office for a few minutes. I needed to print a long and important document and didn’t want to use my own paper and ink at home. (I live in walking distance of work, so it was worthwhile to stop in.) There were very few people there, and I thought it would feel eerie to be there, but instead it felt peaceful and quiet, in contrast to the three ring circus that is my home. After being in a constant state of multi-tasking for months, as I sat at my desk for a few minutes, I felt calm and relaxed. Of course, on a normal work day, the office would be bustling with activity, some of which makes it harder for me to focus on work, but today there were no hallway conversations or meetings in the office next door to create distractions.

I looked around my office — that place dedicated to doing my job — and it was nice to see all of the tools I need right there where I left them, sort of a time capsule of “the way we used to work.” There was even a bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. I used some while I was there and left the rest for when I eventually return. I’m sure I’ll need it then.

Later in the day, working at home, a brief storm caused the electricity to go out for a few hours. It was frustrating to not be able to work, but nice to be at home where I could do a bit of tidying up, and relax on the couch afterwards. There are, it turns out, still some perks to working from home.

August 5

I am not a fan of the shorthand of calling people “woke” if they seem to be enlightened by all the recent issues to which we are expected to be sensitive. First of all, it is grammatically sloppy. Shouldn’t it be “awake” if we are talking about people suddenly coming to a progressive awareness? Second, and I am not the first person to point this out, it creates yet another way of classifying people, giving them a sense of superiority, allowing themselves to be blinded to their own imperfect attitudes, and creating more strife with others.

Someone wisely pointed out that it’s not really feasible to suddenly be “woke.” Do you really wake up one day to have an appreciation for everyone else’s pains? From that day forth you have no unconscious bias of your own? Now you have the authority to berate everyone who is not quite as “woke” as you? I don’t think so.

It makes more sense for all of us to be in a state of “awakening,” in which we are open to understanding the lived experience, as the expression goes, of those around us, and seeing where we might harbor unkind thoughts about others that we now want to challenge.

I know I have found that many of my attitudes have shifted over time as a result of my experiences and the people I have met, and worked with, from other cultures, nations, races, and religions. While there are good and bad people in every culture, lifestyle, and religion, most of us are good people, just trying to live our lives. You don’t have to call yourself “woke” to recognize other people’s humanity.


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Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

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