April 22, 2020 § 9 Comments
By Nina B. Lichtenstein
If you, like me, are an easily distracted writer who tries, tries, tries to keep her butt in chair, but who inevitably fills her days—day after day after day–with never-ending, “more pressing and important” things to do, then we might have discovered a kind of writer’s nirvana in the days of the pandemic lockdown.
I’m not suggesting the pandemic is a good thing, but it’s clear that our behavioral changes are affecting us in many different ways, not all negative.
Nirvana: a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
Let me deconstruct this concept as it relates to the ADD/ADHD-type writer that is me, and perhaps you?
A transcendent state: Yes, this lockdown and social distancing experience has put me in an elated state (not as in joyful, but as in high). The regularity with which I now find myself in front of my manuscript is unequalled in my life as a writer. I delight at being this connected to my evolving work, having removed most if not all non-essential activities from my life.
No suffering: The usual (and frequent!) dilemma (followed by guilt) I typically experience when I want to participate in a social activity, that I know will take a good chunk of time while I know I should or could be writing instead, is gone. Poof, like that: no more FOMO suffering.
No desire: Once I got over the initial, brief disappointment of cancellations (and my desire to go see my son in NYC, my desire to spend spring in Tel Aviv as was planned, and my desire to tell a story at a fun storytelling event in Boston where I was slated to be on stage…etc.), none of those otherwise important events mattered in the same way. There will likely be other opportunities, later, when I’m not in lockdown. Desire and pining gone.
No sense of self: I have never felt less “ego” than in this time of globally shared and urgent predicament. It is as if the idea of “me and mine” has dissolved. Now, it’s just “us,” because we’re all in this together.
Subject (a.k.a. writer) released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth: Meaning and purpose has shifted, and suddenly, there is space to focus on what really matters. I am convinced this release will herald some extraordinary writing in the months ahead from writers all over the world.
Nirvana represents the final goal Buddhism: Isn’t the final goal of being a writer to be a person who actually writes. I’m guessing the lockdown will see the birth of some fine auteurs, not just another baby-boom. Because we have been released
With this novel-like-clockwork habit of undistracted writing, I must have developed a new kind of muscle memory. I come back to it again and again because there aren’t many other options, and it feels good, like a “normal” I’ve never known. There is something comforting about the predictability and simplicity of this stripped-down routine.
Butt in chair, Anne Lamott famously says, but it was never that easy for me. My report cards from elementary and middle school read, without fail, “Nina disrupts in class” and “Nina leaves her chair without permission.” Who knew that at the age of fifty-four and living through a pandemic, I’d finally be able to experience the kind of calm and focus that greatly benefits the writing habit. This extraordinary feeling is grounding me, centering me.
May the looming threat of Covid-19 soon be diminished and our lives return to normal, and by then, I hope the muscle-memory of my newly discovered writer’s nirvana will be sufficiently imprinted in the fibers of my body, so that the practice–for it is a practice, isn’t it?—can be sustained from here onward.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to editing my MFA thesis.
Nina B. Lichtenstein is a native of Oslo, Norway, and holds a PhD in French literature. She has lived, taught, and raised three sons in CT, but recently migrated north to Maine. Some of Nina’s writing lives on her blog https://vikingjewess.com, and other essays have been published in The Washington Post, Lilith Magazine, Literary Mama, Hippocampus (forthcoming), and here on the Brevity Blog, among other places. Her first book Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa was published in 2017. She humbly just began her 4th and final semester at USM’s Stonecoast MFA in creative writing program.