Reading is my anxiety barometer and for the past two years, I haven’t been able to finish a single book, having been a voracious reader my entire life. I attribute my condition to a 29 year marriage that has unraveled, a job that requires “a lot of big pivoting” and children who are launching in other states, far away from me. All against the backdrop of Covid. I long for the days when reading equaled relaxation but unless I am sleeping, my nerves are on high alert.
If I miss a phone call from my kids or my 81 yo mom, my standard auto-text is, ”I saw you called. Is everything ok?” bracing for the worst.
To which the kids reply, “Yeah fine, mom. Just calling to say hi.” or my mom says something like, ”I’m ok but did you forget you have a mother?”
I let out a sigh of relief and want to text back, “I am so glad you aren’t dead, sick or injured,” but instead send the ‘blowing kiss’ emoji with, “I’m in a meeting. Will call later.”
I have come to accept this anxiety as my new normal for now, so I try not to beat myself up about not reading and a range of other things. Instead, I focus on ways to make my apartment look less like a pitstop between work & sleep and more like a home, because I want to give my kids a space when they come to visit their newly single mom. So I frame and hang my artist daughter’s paintings, buy colorful area rugs and a daybed with a really comfortable mattress, for guests. I put down roots by purchasing a 15,000 btu air conditioner that provides a full refuge from the heat. I hire Taskrabbit for all tasks that require a drill or a step ladder. I think that Pinterest would define my place as “Boho-Chic on a Shoestring” and I can feel my body getting looser, frayed nerves a little less so.
But still no books.
It’s not a linear process, my new normal. It still makes me cry when I see families picnicking in the nearby park because I am missing all the family time that seemed so idyllic, so long ago. I realize that I still grieve the loss of my marriage, my children and my former life. Then I get a text from the man I’ve been dating, “Just thinking about you and wanted to say hi 😉 “ and my heart skips a beat. I smile and feel happy. People see me smiling and smile back.
“You are so sweet,” I text back, with a selfie against the water.
But still no books.
Maybe I am not trying hard enough? I did read somewhere, in the byte size chunks I am able to absorb from Facebook or Instagram, to begin with just 20 minutes a day. When I remember this, I feel validated because clearly this is not a problem unique to me. I also feel hopeful because 20 minutes is only 20 minutes and I can do that.
I hop onto Goodreads to decide between two books already on my nightstand, the heavier choice, “The Midnight Library” ’by Matt Haig or the beach read, “People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry, when I am distracted by a headline that pops up on my phone, “The Pandemic Enters Uncertain New Phase.”
“For Godsakes, I will never be able to do this,”I think to myself, clicking on the latest news about the Delta variant.
Then I remember the suggestion of my writing friend Ginny, “I always read erotica whenever I get stuck like you are. It gets me back on track.” Ginny’s practical, if not slightly edgy suggestions have never let me down before, I rationalize.
Before I go too far down the Covid black hole, I switch genres on Goodreads and decide to give Ginny’s advice a try. Just because my new normal is not linear doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting!