When falling behind, why not throw an open mic into the mix?

I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my life for spontaneous events. What free time I have is usually spent trying not to fill it, to just be.

This rarely happens. Why?

Welcome to the Catch-up Zone

Living with chronic illness means I have lots of appointments.

Fatigue, disabling symptoms, and pain cut into my work and gardening schedules so that I sometimes live in a perpetual “catch-up” zone, which feels like I’ll be, always and forever, behind.

(See also Julia Gonçalves’ “Chronic Illness: The Full-Time Job I Never Asked For” in The Mighty.)

How does this happen? When I’m feeling on the better side, I tend to embrace new projects because why not now? Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, so my ambitions strike while that iron is hot.

“House of Cards…Falling” by DraconianRain (Oct 28 2006: CC BY-NC 2.0). https://www.flickr.com/photos/ draconianrain/284435041

But then, after a long stretch of mostly functional tomorrows, a couple weeks of slog can arise from nowhere (pain, fatigue, dysfunction), disrupting the flow of my days. Then that schedule for work and the garden topples like a house of cards in a sudden breeze.

Working on deadline, a career reality I have lived with for decades, can be a bit of a curse. I’m always trying to keep to a schedule because the external world (and the natural world, by way of seasons) demands it.

Yes, I signed up for it, but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. For this reason, and because I’m 57, I’m hoping to retire from this aspect of my writing life in the next year.

Lately, my MS and arthritis have been a real challenge, too, so I’m currently embroiled in one of these so-called “catch-up” zones.

My novel manuscript is behind schedule. My short story collection production is behind schedule. My gardening work is behind schedule… I can barely keep up with my physical therapy and work deadlines.

Pushing back against the big D

Let me tell you, I would be stunningly depressed at my lack of progress were I not so darned stubborn about fighting the chronic illness blues.

Right now, I’m ahead of it, but one bad day unleashing a series of unfortunate and unpreventable events could set things back for me even more. It’s a never-ending battle, as I’m sure most of you know.

These days, because of health concerns, a lot of my energy continues to be used for self-care and pushing back against the dark ooze of depression. It didn’t help that Mercury Retrograde in October was a bitch! More setbacks!

The bottomless garden

Add to this the fact that we’re now in an extended drought this fall.

Usually, I am tearing down summer’s harvests by now because they are spent, cleaning up flower beds, doing the “fall tidy,” and closing up the yard for the end of the season.

But this year, aside from the fact I had the crazy idea of starting a fall garden to winter over (and it’s going well), I also decided to landscape the front corner lot, and that means a lot of watering I usually don’t even need to think about in October.

Plus, there are still so many other things from summer that are still growing and producing, and bees are still pollinating flowers! In spite of last spring’s soggy delays, my plants are going like gangbusters, and I can barely keep up with the harvest. Who am I to shut that down?

(Listen, if you want a GREAT recipe for Instant Pot pizza sauce, sign up for my newsletter, as I will be sharing it there in October… this recipe will make your whole kitchen smell like a wonderful pizzeria!)

My spontaneous pivot from drudgery to joy

Given these realities, I surprised myself last Sunday—or maybe I was just avoiding the call for weeding and cleanup in my backyard on a beautiful day!—by making a little room in my day to join the Cultivating Voices open mic which set a theme I generally gravitate toward: Change.

I popped into my archives and found a few poems that reflected different ideas about the concept of change and was lucky enough to share them in the open mic.

I am thus reminded of the many good reasons for participating in an open mic.

  • The practice of reading and the re-engagement with your own work is only one small—though important—part of it.
  • Hearing others’ words tends to send my brain into a pinball frenzy of pings and sparks, and then I am inspired, even inside the projects I’m already working on, by fresh words and worldviews.
  • Seeing other writers’ faces is a balm during the continued pandemic; so many still can’t go into public places. I know I am still hesitant about doing anything indoors as folks just aren’t masking up anymore (and they really should be).
  • But also, especially in this particular open mic, we are blessed with hearing voices from all around the world, including Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, the US, and more. These are poets whose performances I would otherwise never encounter in a live event simply due to geographic limitations.

Listen now!

I’m grateful to both perform alongside and listen to these poets. And what a lovely reprieve from the darkness of everyday life when you just can’t get a leg up on all its pressing demands.

You can click on the image above to find the recording in the Facebook group. I hope, if you are in the mood to be spontaneous right now, you’ll go there and have a listen. Sandy Yannone is a fantastic ambassador and I’m always pleased by what Cultivating Voices is doing out in the world.

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