今日推薦英文原文：《The Best Thing You Can Do Is Keep Going》
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今日推薦英文原文：《The Best Thing You Can Do Is Keep Going》作者：Eileen Pollack
The Best Thing You Can Do Is Keep Going
Don』t worry about being productive right now. Just be aware.Dear Draft,
For the life of me, I can』t figure out how to be creative now that I』m suddenly working full-time from home while caring for my kids and supervising their schoolwork. How can I think clearly amid so many distractions? I don』t feel in control of my immediate surroundings, let alone the horrors of the larger world barraging me on the news.
Too Harried to Think of a Pseudonym
I might not be qualified to answer this particular question. I live alone. I am used to working from my apartment, and my freelance editing jobs have all dried up.
But, like most people my age, I can look back on periods of my life that I don』t know how I managed to survive. In my forties, after I got divorced, I found myself teaching full time, trying to publish another book before I came up for tenure, and running a creative writing program while raising my son, keeping our house and yard in a reasonable state of repair, and caring for a neurotic greyhound. These tasks were made more difficult by a host of undiagnosed medical problems, one of which caused me to bleed internally so profusely I almost died, the other a spinal cord injury that led me to become slowly paralyzed.
At the same time, my father was dying of cancer, and my mother was suffering from heart disease and Parkinson』s, so my siblings and I needed to fly down to Florida every few weeks to care for them.
How did I get through those crises? I kept waking up in the morning and doing what I needed to do that day, as well as I could, given the constraints. I found pleasure where I could. I lay down on my office floor when I needed to recover. I didn』t give up.
I don』t mean to minimize what you are going through, Harried. Tens of thousands of people are dying. You and your partner are being asked to take on a Herculean task, hunkering down in a tiny apartment while working on your laptops and trying to homeschool your kids. But a day can hold only so much craziness. Once you』ve reached that limit, whatever lies beyond doesn』t matter. You will make it through this terrible time. Then, like me, you will look back and marvel at how you did it.
The first rule is: Let everything go that』s not essential. I was raised by compulsively neat and orderly parents, so even when I am overwhelmed, my apartment remains neat and orderly. But I clean that apartment — by which I mean dusting, vacuuming, mopping the counters and floors — only once every six weeks (if that). When I was cooking for my son, we got by on Annie』s mac and cheese (「bunny pasta,」 we used to call it), frozen peas, and bagels. My son wouldn』t eat anything else anyway. And yet, he grew up to be six foot two, healthy, smart, successful, and kind.
My students seem to have been programmed to obsess about their grades and job prospects, which, given the economy in which they grew up, is understandable. But I am also amazed by how much time and care they are willing to devote to curating their wardrobe and appearance, planning elaborate proposals, engagement parties, bachelor parties, weddings, gender-reveal parties, baby showers, birthday parties for their children, significant others, and friends, worrying about what their children eat and wear and play with, how well those children do in school and what activities they pursue after hours. If I had devoted half as much attention to any of those details, I would never have been able to fulfill my obligations to my job, let alone continue writing.
You probably don』t need to worry as much as you might be worrying about being the perfect homeschooler. The children suffering the most from this pandemic are the ones who were lagging behind before it started — the kids with special needs that weren』t being met, the kids whose parents couldn』t afford the laptop and Wi-Fi that would enable them to sign in to their classes now. Most middle-class teenagers will continue learning on their own or make up for lost time later. And younger kids? As someone who has earned degrees in both the sciences and humanities, I can assure you that as long as you help your child learn to read and write and achieve a basic facility for math, nothing else really matters.
So, Harried, do the best you can. Accomplish what absolutely must be accomplished in a given day. But don』t worry about the rest. If you can』t concentrate on your novel because you』re worrying about catching the virus, losing your job, or losing your grandparents, don』t make your existence harder by berating yourself for not finding time to be creative.
If a war hit, if a nuclear disaster showered your city with radiation, if a famine or flood caused you to pack up and flee, would you worry about your productivity? Most of us grew up in a statistically unlikely bubble in which we suffered very few threats to our way of life. Even Boomers like me managed to survive the polio epidemic of the 1950s, and, except for the riots, protests, and assassinations of the 1960s and the aftershocks of 9/11, avoided any real catastrophes that tested our resilience.
We wondered if we were soft. Secretly, we longed for a challenge that might test our character. What if, like our parents, we had needed to survive the Great Depression, the Holocaust, or WWII? I think younger generations feel this longing even more acutely. How else to explain all the movies, novels, and video games about ordinary human beings scrabbling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world? Or all those extreme sports that require courage and discipline if the athlete is to avoid serious injury or even death? Well, this is the chance for all of us to prove our ability to endure hardship in real life, without complaining (too much), without putting our own needs first, and perhaps even by helping others.
The lie we all grew up on is that we』re able to achieve everything we want to achieve, to be happy, fulfilled, and creative all the time — and if we don』t manage to be successful, at everything, the fault is ours. Pandemic or not, most people live precarious existences, working jobs that bore them, stifle their potential, strain their backs, cause them to contract diseases, yet leave them far too little money to pay their bills or enough time to worry about their children』s welfare. The one lesson I have learned by reading my students』 essays for so many decades is that even relatively fortunate young people often lose a parent or a sibling, suffer terrible abuse, or come down with a debilitating physical or mental illness.
The lie is that most people have it easy, a lie our government reinforces because to acknowledge otherwise would be to admit the need for social welfare programs that corporations refuse to pay taxes to support. From an early age, we are groomed to perform the high-wire act of leading a perfect life without a safety net to catch us. But most of us do fall. Multiple times. Sometimes, we get pushed by circumstances beyond our control. Other times, we trip over our own feet. Or we despair and leap off the edge. If anything, this pandemic should teach us that falling is usually not our fault, and even if it is, our failures need not be lethal.
No matter how little time you find for writing now, Harried, you are growing as a writer. Being creative doesn』t mean making stuff up; it means being sensitive and alive to what is going on around you, acutely aware of what you and your neighbors are experiencing. If you can, keep track of the minutiae of your daily life in quarantine, the emotions you are surprised to notice, the effects the pandemic is having on your spouse and kids. Imagine if you were a fighter in the French Resistance or a soldier in Vietnam. You wouldn』t have time to write. But you would want to keep track of all you witnessed. Then, after the battles ended and you were safe, you could turn those notes into a novel or a poem.
That said, maybe your circumstances aren』t quite as dire as you are painting them. Maybe you are afraid to make claims for your creative work because writing a story or a poem right now seems frivolous. If that』s the case, don』t feel selfish asking your partner to mind the kids for an hour so you can lock yourself in the bedroom and write. Maybe all you can focus on is jotting a description of the sounds you and your neighbors emit from your windows every night to express gratitude to the first responders, or the dialogue that transpired between your kids at lunch.
You might be shocked at what you can dash off in an hour. When I was in college, one of my classmates complained he could write only if he were alone and had the entire day to concentrate. 「I used to think that, too,」 our professor said. 「But then I found myself as a war correspondent in the Pacific theater, and I found I could write even when sitting on the floor of a freezing-cold cargo plane, wearing gloves, with a manual typewriter on my lap. You would be amazed what you can accomplish when you have no choice.」
If that』s not possible, Harried, be generous to yourself. Use all you are learning about life right now to become a better writer later. I am ridiculously competitive, disciplined, and ambitious. But I know when my sanity or the well-being of the people I love are more important than my own achievements. At times like these, I remember the woman whose grave I once discovered in New Hampshire. The engraving on her tombstone read: SHE DONE ALL SHE COULD. That woman is my hero. She did all any of us can be asked to do, especially in the middle of a pandemic.