Of stories and self-care

This week I received a survey from the State Library and my state’s school library association, with a long list of questions about how the pandemic has affected library services and my work. After inquiring about ebooks, budgets, programming, teaching, safety, staffing, learning management systems, instructional technology, and more, there was this question tucked in near the end:

What is working for you for self-care?

The first thing that came to mind: binge-watching Schitt’s Creek.

I first tried watching it a few years ago, and I hated it. Didn’t even finish the first episode. I tried it again last spring because everyone was talking about it, and I kinda hated it again. I just didn’t like those people, the Roses. They felt like caricatures more than characters, and were of people I’d never choose to spend time with.

“You have to get past the first season,” people said. “It gets better in season two.”

So, last fall I went back for a third time, telling myself I would get through season 2 before giving up.

Now I’m in season 4 and doling out the episodes so they’ll last longer. Somewhere in season 3 it occurred to me that the Roses’ story is a perfect one for this time, when so many of us felt our lives turn upside down almost overnight. (I think March 13 will, like September 11, be a date I never forget.) Can’t we all relate, at least a little, to a family who lost almost everything they took for granted? And can’t we all take some comfort and pleasure in watching the process of them acclimate and put down roots in a place they never would have seen themselves in, much less chosen? It’s already clear to me (if not them) that they are far happier than they ever were in their old life. I hope that by the end of the story, it becomes clear to them, too.

I’d say the same is true for me, as well, living in Pandemic Land. This week, I was in a long Zoom meeting with a colleague/friend I’ve hardly “seen” this year but who was in the school I worked for last year. We had a lot of conversations before March 13 about how to manage the challenges of our jobs and lives. “How are things going?” she texted me afterward. “You look much less stressed somehow.”

I answered: “Sometimes reaching a point of awful you really can’t do anything about gives you a permission to let go that is freeing.”

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

I’m glad I went back for a third try with this story, and I’m glad I watched it from the beginning. As is always true, you need the dark to more fully appreciate the light. I’m beginning to love these characters it was easy to hate before I got to know them. I love them more for seeing how they’ve grown. I love the reminder that stories and time have to intersect in the right way; 2017 wasn’t the right time for this story for me. I love, too, a corollary reminder about story: That you just need to tell the story you need to tell, wherever and however you can tell it. The Levys were developing and shopping this story well before the time Roses’ fall might be seen as metaphorical for so many things that have fallen in recent years, and they had a hard time selling it. Once they started telling it, it took a good while to catch on. They just kept telling the story, though, trusting (I imagine) that it was reaching who it needed to.

So, in addition to listing “holding boundaries” and “reciting the Serenity Prayer” as self-care that’s working for me, I also listed “binge-watching Schitt’s Creek.” Spending time with this story is good for me. I hate to think of it ending, but I suspect that by the time it does, I won’t need it in the same way. It’s already imprinting upon and shaping my own. It’s clear that they will never go back to what they once were, and over the past few weeks, as vaccines and political pressure on schools are harbingers of another set of new changes coming my way, I’ve realized that I won’t, either.

12 thoughts on “Of stories and self-care

  1. Dianne says:

    My family also binge watched Schitt’s Creek early during the pandemic. Watching it only a few episodes at a time (to extend the series) and before going to bed at night. Ending the evening on a high note. With joy and laughter.

    • Rita says:

      Yes to joy and laughter as a balm. I’m enjoying watching it in the middle of my work day (while eating lunch). Joy and laughter help repair whatever the morning might have given me and set me up for the afternoon.

  2. KANDY BRUESCH says:

    I have 3 more episodes to go and I have been holding on to them. I hate to see it end. I will attempt to say good bye tonight with a big bowl of popcorn. I too found it hard to start (her fashions kept me going) but once I got into it could not stop. Myra is my hero. No matter how awful things seem just keep going and make the best of it you can and of course look fashionable.

  3. TD says:

    I’m so glad to hear that you are making the decisions to flow through time on a slower pace letting go of those “I should” voices, Rita. I learned years ago that the facts are impossible for me to do all those “I should…!” that came from other people’s agendas, goals and values.

    I move through my days and nights at a turtles pace doing and resting as I know is best for my wellbeing. So, good that you are feeling less stress and have found a few things for your self-care!

    • Rita says:

      Well, I’d love to think it was a decision, but the more I live and think about things, the less I think we get to decide. I tried for years to decide to be/feel differently. Never could do it. I’m grateful for whatever is making it possible, though.

  4. Kate says:

    Oh, I’m so glad you’ve found the Roses. I know the first season can be rough, but I’m a firm believer that without that season it wouldn’t be nearly as good of a show – their transformation makes it for me. (You mention “unfortunately” being like Stevie in the comments, but she’s definitely one of my favorites.)

    I’m so glad you are feeling less stressed and that you’ve found ways to self-care. I couldn’t agree more that there is a certain freedom in things being so awful that there isn’t much you can do. It’s amazing/terrifying what we adapt to.

    Hope you have a good week. With walks, conversations, and an episode or two. Xoxo.

  5. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I felt the same way about Schitt’s Creek. It took us almost two years to finish it for the same reasons you had. We were crying at the end. I am so glad we gave it another try; I am so glad you did as well.

  6. Ally Bean says:

    “That you just need to tell the story you need to tell, wherever and however you can tell it.”

    That’s great advice and a good way of explaining the appeal of Schitt’s Creek. I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but it grew on me until I had to know what was going to happen next.

    A thought that also applies to this stay at home all the time during the pandemic life that I am, we are, leading. I’m much less stressed now, too. But I’m also ready to do something again that suggests freedom, not restrictions.
    Ally Bean recently posted…In Which I Explain How I Created My Own Unique 2021 Reading ChallengeMy Profile

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