riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Pandemic Projects

So much of how we deal with these crazy times depends on our circumstances: where we live, whether we’re employed or not, essential or working from home, and what our family structure is, whether we’re partnered, single, with or without kids.

I happen to be single, without children. I own a house and live alone in a small upstate NY town. When the pandemic hit in full force back in March, I was sent home to work, but there wasn’t much to do, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Lockdown rules said we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for anything other than groceries, medicine, essential work and walking a pet. In those early days, the virus was raging through New York State, especially NYC, where my sister and other family members live. I was so sick with worry most of the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. In fact, I felt paralyzed.

Then my dog ran off more than once after critters (once, I actually had to circle the block in my car to find her). And this set me on a path to fence my property, which was the first Pandemic Project.

The fear of losing my dog, and the desire to protect her, was a powerful motivator. Luckily, Lowe’s was an essential business. The store became my go-to spot other than the supermarket. I set out to build an inexpensive fence in the back and front yard, mostly by myself, with a friend helping me when I needed an extra hand.

At the same time as the fence project, I started getting my garden together, buying plants, pots, soil, mulch, building beds, planting, mulching, and, of course, making countless  trips to Lowe’s. When I was working on the fence or the garden, I didn’t think about anything else. After a few hours of physical labor, I would be too tired to worry, at least for a little while. I was in my yard every single day, rain or shine, working working working. Both projects took me, on and off, about two months to fully complete.   

In the evenings, I zoomed with friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, with family members. I watched movies. I wrote. And I started reading again.

Reading was a Big Deal because I hadn’t had the mental concentration to read a book since my brother died two years ago. The book that changed that, which I picked up two months into lockdown, was Alex Haley’s 800-page novel ROOTS. I could not put it down (more on this seminal book in a later post). After that I read the dystopian novel STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, about life after a pandemic. Also couldn’t put it down.

Looming over these other projects was my screenplay, which I’ve been working on for a long time and decided to finish this year. Since, lockdown forced me to be home all the time, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

It was rough in the beginning. Being so terribly worried about family and friends all over the country and world was not conducive to writing. But I tackled it like all the other projects, a little bit at a time. There were days when I would tell myself, “all you have to do is write for one hour.” I would set my timer, silence my phone, turn off the WiFi, and begin. Inevitably, at the end of the hour, I would want to write for another hour, and another…. Then, when I could see the progress and the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it motivated me even more.

I finished the first official draft in May and sent it to my representation in Los Angeles. I completed a second draft in July (based on their feedback), and now I’m waiting for notes that will, no doubt, lead to the next draft. Each draft gets me closer to my goal.

I guess the thing that’s helped me deal with the pandemic the most is staying busy, and staying CREATIVE.

My advice to others struggling to stay productive during these times is to:

  • Have goals, no matter how small, and work towards them
  • Tone down expectations; realize that everything takes longer than usual these days
  • Avoid negative people and toxic energy like the plague
  • Avoid anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right, period
  • Go out of your way to be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others)
  • Get outside as much as  possible, while avoiding others
  • Change the scenery if you can; go somewhere new, even if just for a few hours
  • Talk to someone, a therapist or confidant, or write down what you’re feeling
  • Read, read, read, read, READ
  • Exercise in whatever way you can, stay hydrated and eat healthy
  • Stay in touch with the people you care about
  • Limit how much you listen to and read the news; take social media breaks

What has helped you? I’d love to hear about your Pandemic Projects.

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My First “Do It Yourself” Project

I distinctly remember the first time Kaz fixed something for me in my apartment when we were dating. I practically swooned. I’d always been pretty useless at fixing things. I knew how to hammer a nail, replace a lightbulb and use a screwdriver. But anything else was beyond my capability and, frankly, my interest level. My attitude was: “That’s what men are for.” Luckily, Kaz was good at stuff like that. And I was good at cooking, so we kind of balanced each other out.

Now, as a widow/woman living alone, I’m back to square one. If I need something fixed, I have to either find someone to fix it for me, or learn how to fix it myself. Hence, this story…

It all started with a dirty, weathered, falling-apart wood shelf that was leaning outside the cafe where I work PT. I don’t know what drew me to this rickety thing, except that I really needed a bookshelf, and the cafe owner said I could have this one for free. (It was such an eye sore, I was doing her a favor by getting it off her property.)

Convinced I could do something with the shelf, I brought it home and propped it up in my downstairs hallway, where it remained for the next few months. Every person that walked through my door and saw the shelf suggested I throw it out. One friend even emailed me links to shelves on sale at Target. Another suggested IKEA. No, I told the doubters. I’m going to fix it.

Except I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t even own a power drill. And time was running out. The shelf unit had to be fixed outside, and therefore before it got too cold.

In early October, I secretly started asking around for a handyman. I thought living in a rural area, finding a handyman would be easy. Not so. Besides, it felt like a cop-out. Why pay someone to do something that I really should be able to do myself?

So I turned to my brother-in-law, who renovates buildings in New York City and has a full-blown workshop in his house. He agreed to let me borrow one of his power drills… and then surprised me with a power drill tool kit for my birthday, complete with drill bits, screws and a level.

my little friend

Say hello to my little friend.

A female sculptor friend of mine taught me how to use the drill. And I was all set to go.

On a chilly November morning, I dragged the shelf unit outside, rinsed it off with a hose, and lined up my tools.

tools

Needless to say, the dog was skeptical.

ruby skeptical

The shelf was so unstable, I couldn’t even take a photo of it standing up. In order to fix it, I would have to take it apart and put it back together. I also wanted to paint it.

janky1janky2The first step was to replace all the pieces of rotted wood and remove all the rusted nails. This required using the hand saw to cut new pieces of wood, and my new drill to attach them to the slats.

The dog was still very skeptical.

skeptical from afar

Once I managed to do all of this (without sawing a finger off), I was ready to paint.

ready to paintpainted slats

After painting, I had to re-attach all those boards, once again using the drill. It took me a couple of weeks because I drill slowly, I had other things to do (like work), and it rained off and on for a week. But eventually, I managed to get all the boards attached.

six boards 15 boards up

Then it rained for another week.

Yesterday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in a while. I woke up vowing to finish this damn shelf project. All I had to do was re-attach the other side of the shelf and touch it up with more paint. The first part proved more challenging than I anticipated. For some reason, my drill bit kept getting stuck in the wood. After a few times of that happening, and a whole lot of cursing, I put the drill aside, picked up the hammer and just nailed the thing back together.

almost there but still slanting

Once it was upright (and I’m not sure you can see in this picture), it was STILL SLANTING to the right a little, and I could move the shelf back and forth with my hand. No bueno. I quickly painted four of the extra boards I had, then drilled them into place to stabilize the whole unit (and provide a back rest for my books).

Then I re-painted . Et voila!

4 more boards

finito

Even the dog was impressed.

ruby watching in bed

A neighbor helped me bring it upstairs… and now I have a bookshelf!

Hallway before

hallway before

new hallway2

hallway now

It’s not perfect, but it’s stable and looks great in the apartment. More importantly, I built it myself and couldn’t be more proud. 🙂

Have you built something? Show me pictures of your DIY project!