Yesterday morning I donned a black KN95 mask and headed into Office Max on a mission—to purchase a large 2022 wall calendar, my first one since our 2020 version went fallow in March of that year with the arrival of the virus.
For years, I’d kept a big calendar tacked on the yellow wall by our back door, to provide a quick visual reference for retreats and future teaching gigs I’d scheduled. Many of these events were booked a year or two in advance: the grief retreat I taught every October, the writer’s trip to Italy I was set to lead in June 2020, my next workshop at Esalen, our son’s wedding in August of that same year. The wall calendar was where I went to get the big picture. I could see what my long-term commitments were before planning anything new: the next visit to see our daughter, a weekend away, a new teaching gig.
Since the advent of cell phones, I’ve inputted daily events onto my phone, even though I hate the digital version of my calendar—it’s only good for seeing a single day’s events at a time. I hate having to scroll endlessly to find something I’m pretty sure I said I’d do in February—at least I think it was February? Or was it March? Where the hell is that date I made? When am I going to the dentist?
In the early days of March 2020, my first direct experience of the pandemic was having to cancel all the retreats I’d scheduled for the rest of the year, beginning with that longed-for trip to Tuscany. Canceling that one was tough—back then, no one knew where this virus was headed, and the word “pandemic” wasn’t yet in our vernacular. Did I really need to cancel? No one knew, but as trip leader, I had to make the call. After a few anguished weeks, the refund checks for my 2020 retreats were in the mail, and I’d lost the bulk of my income. Several times a day, I passed our big flat wall calendar, its white squares existentially blank, mocking my hubris for thinking I could count on the future. This was in the early days of the pandemic, when Karyn and I were still quarantining our mail, carefully lifting it out of the mailbox with long kitchen tongs, the kind used to rescue corn on the cob from a steaming pot, then carrying it to our son’s former bedroom, so it could air out and detox before we dared to open it. What did we know? We were scared and ignorant.
A few months later, after EVERYTHING was canceled, I took the calendar down, and that yellow wall has looked barren ever since. I’ve reflected on its absence often—long-term plans? Well, they are rather futile, don’t you agree?
The truth is I’ve grown to savor the relative emptiness of my calendar. My weekly classes, now on Zoom, speckled its pages, and little else. I’ve loved living in a world where I don’t have to consult my calendar for a small distant window in the future in order to visit a friend: “Well, how about two weeks from now on Thursday between 1:00 and 4:00? I could see you then.”
Aside from my weekly writing classes and a weekly game of mahjong, my time has been well . . . open.
That all changed when I launched The Burning Light of Two Stars this past fall. Book launches are busy. You want them to be busy. My publicist created a schedule for me that included all the media she’d booked for me and all the events I’d booked for myself. It was a Word doc I kept permanently open on my computer. I consulted it every day. Was this a day when I had to have clean hair, wear make-up, and put on a nice top for a video interview? Or was it audio only, the kind I record in my darkened office closet, a bare lightbulb in their ceiling, where I can have an unwashed face and wear a bulky sweater- and jeans?
My publicist’s calendar ruled my life for months, but now my book launch is over.
Last week, in this strange time after giving birth, I consulted an old friend, Clara Rosemarda, a psychic. Clara is my kind of psychic because there’s nothing woo-woo about her. She shoots straight from the hip, using ordinary everyday language. And she’s good—really good. I hadn’t consulted with her in twenty years, but this seemed like a good moment to do so—after bringing a ten-year project through to fruition.
Clara told me that this is meant to be a fallow time for me. That I shouldn’t try to “make things happen,” that I should let opportunities come to me and use discernment to decide which ones I want to say yes to. She said, “Laura, you always want to get to the next plan. That keeps you safe in your head. Your right action now is to refill on the inside. Just be in the day. Enjoy friends. Care for your body. Let yourself glide for a while. You miss the good stuff when you already have your itinerary planned. You need to learn to tolerate this time between. Think of it this way: you just took a long journey and got dropped off at a train station and you have no idea when the next train will come. Trust that it will come.”
As Clara pointed out, this is not my nature. This is not the habit of my mind, but I am trying to embrace it. I’ve been walking more, hiking more, swimming more, cooking more, catching up with friends I haven’t seen in at least a year because of THE BOOK.
And new opportunities are coming my way. Some are seeds I planted back in the fall. Some are unsolicited invitations in response to my new book. So, I am now in planning mode again, considering exactly the kind of opportunities and events that need to go on a big wall calendar—a one-day workshop here, a date to speak with a fellow author there, a potential workshop in northern Massachusetts in the spring. And these events are no longer just online; some are in person. Whether they’ll actually happen is a giant viral crapshoot.
But they still needed to be written down, so that I don’t double-book myself. So I can allow myself to have space in-between.
It was time to replace my calendar.
Today, I peeled off the cellophane wrapping and began entering existing commitments onto its pages. And I’m going to meditate long and hard about just how many of those little empty boxes I want to fill in, just how many future commitments I want to make.
I considered writing only in pencil to reflect the impermanence of the moment, but then I’d struggle to read it. So, I’m sticking with ink, even though I know it may all be crossed out later.
Part of me appreciates this uncertainty. It more accurately reflects the true nature of our lives. What we’re all experiencing now is the reality of how life is all the time. We just don’t like to admit it. We prefer pretending that we somehow have control over the future. As a long-term cancer survivor, I know that’s not true. I’ve known it ever since my doctor first palpated that lump in my breast fifteen years ago. Everything can change in a moment—that’s always been true. And now, Covid has made impermanence, loss, and uncertainty undeniable realities for everyone. So, although I’ll fill out squares on my new calendar, I’ll hold those plans lightly. And I’ll keep looking for joy in my daily life because that’s all we ever really have.
The Burning Light of Two Stars is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook wherever books are sold. There are links here to buy signed copies, bulk copies, and to support independent bookstores with your purchase. You can also read the first five chapters for free.
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