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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Annal of a Pandemic: Success is about What We Can Control

The other day, I saw an article by memoirist and writing teacher Marion Roach Smith about writing list memoirs, if writing a full one seems overwhelming. And times, they do seem a bit overwhelming, so I am taking MRS’s advice, which is to lower the bar and offer a few snippets of things happening in my life.

1/ In attempting to teach online, I have learned to lower the bar. Lower the bar, by the way, is a good catchphrase for the era of the virus. Especially if you’re a teacher, as I am, thrust into online teaching, as I have been. There’s much talk of trying to manage to connect with students as best we all can. Scaling back. Simplifying. As my mentor teacher says, take it a week at a time. Also my friend Diane offered that suggestion. And really, readers, I don’t need to be told twice. Lowering the bar is a specialty. So, my goal for my first online class is to take attendance and see if everyone makes it online, if they can hear me and we can hear each other, and ask them how things are going. That’s about it for today.

2/ I made the decision to skip most of the news and it’s going well. So here’s another tip, Readers: ignore things you don’t want to read. There is a lot out there that’s not strictly necessary, especially on social media, and guess what? I don’t have to read it. Neither do you. What a relief! When I ignore the scary graphs and the misinformation and the contradictory advice about masks, I am left with being at home, with a blank page, with my daughters, with a house full of books and old movies, and the ability to breathe, move my body through space, and eat baked goods. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living, if you're breathing, more is right with you than wrong.

3/The college senior found an unopened box of matzoh in the cupboard. Just in time for this year’s Passover, she is finishing last Passover’s matzoh by turning it into chocolate caramel matzoh.

4/The other day, in the spirit of lowering the bar, I skipped my morning workout and spent a lot of time in my bathrobe. Then I decided this won’t do, as I feel that lowering the bar below getting dressed is too low. One must keep up appearances.

5/Reading a five volume family saga set in Great Britain before, during, and right after World War Two turns out to be just the thing for enduring privation. I mean, they didn’t have things like gourmet cheese, or disinfecting wipes. They had those dreadful rations for years after the war, and everyone went about in old suits and darned socks. They barely had heat, for heaven’s sake. Coal rations. So, they practiced ingenuity in confronting scarcity. Also, just reading about learning to eat tinned beans on toast and saving clothing coupons to be able to buy a new outfit, makes me feel plucky. We’ll get through, as the Brits did. And maybe we’ll end up with a better, more equitable healthcare and social safety net, too. What’s the book? The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

6/ In re: number 4/ above—I don’t know about your house, but mine is full of bakers. They’re baking desserts at a terrific pace. It’s nice and all, but I have a terrible sweet tooth, so I’m lobbing suggestions for minty desserts, because I don’t like minty desserts. As I write this, I am trying to help bring butter quickly from freezer temperature to room temperature by holding it in my armpits.

Too much information?

Desperate times and all that jazz…

7/I in no way intend to  make light of the current pandemic, by the way. It’s just that it feels important right now to focus on what I can control. This is Stephen Covey’s first habit of highly effective people. Remember that old chestnut? Seems like the perfect time to revisit the concept of the circle of influence versus the circle of concern.

To refresh your memory, here’s what the diagram represents. The yellow circle is your Circle of Influence. This is the stuff over which you have some control. The blue outer circle is your Circle of Concern. This is the stuff that you’re thinking about, worrying about, fretting over, perseverating about, but really can’t control. So, to bring it down to the current situation, I can control whether I eat one of the Rosie’s Bakery Noah Bedoahs currently getting whipped up in the kitchen, but I cannot control whether they get baked. Apparently. I mean, sure, theoretically, I am the parent, and I could put my foot down. However, both bakers are of age, 18 and 21, and the broader question of how much control I can exert over them comes down on the side of having to hide the flour if I really don’t want them to bake. If you see what I mean. 

So, what can I do? I can eat or not eat a cookie. I can wash my hands before I do that. I can limit my trips to the grocery store. I can stay home. I can enjoy my children being with me. There is so much out of my control, all I can do is try to accept my limits and work within them.

The good news, according to Stephen Covey, is that as you focus on your Circle of Influence, it actually begins to expand towards the edges of the Circle of Concern. In short, if you focus on what you can control, the area that you can affect expands.

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