Suddenly, in the midst of a pandemic, I become the kind of person who wakes up at five in the morning. It’s less of a choice and more of a bid to not go insane. Or a choice to dissuade the insanity, at least.
I’m working full time at an elementary school in a program that’s meant to teach kids Social Emotional skills, but really seems to be more of a place to store misfit children who disrupt the mainstream classes with needs that none of the adults in the room seem to know how to meet. I love my students almost immediately. I have nightmares that they’re standing in a house on a barren plot of land and there’s a tornado approaching. I have dreams that I see them in the street long after I leave the job, and when I see them, they’re still kids and nothing bad has happened to them (other than the things that already did happen, that is). This is all to say that when I got home from work, in the midst of the pandemic, from the kids that none of could figure out how to care for, I sat in the parkade below my apartment building in silence for fifteen or twenty minutes and waited for the panic in my chest to subside.
I was in school so that I could get a different job, and I was trying to write every day, but mostly I felt like I woke up and fell right into my workday, and then came home and pulled my dog around the block and tried to feed myself something that had grown out of the ground instead of something that never expired, and then I lay on my couch and stared at the ceiling and wondered when something would give.
I started waking up at five because I realized it was the only time in the day that I could carve out to make things. Historically, I’m not a morning person, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was living to work and working just to pay bills and the days were getting shorter and shorter, time passing idly.
At five in the morning in Vancouver during the fall and winter months, things are dark and silent and the world belongs just to me, briefly. I spend an hour or two writing or drawing or knitting or listening to music. I sit on the floor and drag my dog’s stuffed squirrel along the floor and in circles around my legs and my dog goes wild, happy in our morning hours when the world belongs just to us, briefly. Sometimes I pray, even though I didn’t grow up religious and I don’t know who I’m praying to, or how to pray, or whether prayer works, or anything else, but still, sometimes I pray.
And slowly, slowly, a shift occurs. The frustrated knot in my chest unfurls, if only a little. I look forward to going to bed earlier to wake up earlier. I start to think in prose again, first lines appear on the sidewalk outside the school when I walk to the lake with the kids. More than anything, I keep going.
I think it’s mostly the writing, the drawing, the moments of creativity that spring out of the silence of a sleeping world that make the days grow longer, more than a change of seasons or the value of my novice prayers. I really do. There’s this: a reason, a purpose to my days, hours existing outside of work, outside of all the strangeness of day-to-day discomforts and confusions and boredom and time spent lying on my couch wondering when something will give.
I write this to try to remind myself to continue, and to offer it to whoever might need it. You don’t have to know how to do something well to do it, just like you don’t have to know who you’re praying to or why. You could scribble a self-portrait in the back of an old text book and it might make you feel better, or it might take your mind off things for a moment. You could unearth the balls of yarn from that have been sitting your cupboard and at least sit them on your kitchen table so you can look at them in the morning while you drink your coffee, and marvel at all the textures and possibilities of our little world. You could write a memory on the back of a library due date slip, something you’d forgotten until you were walking home, loaded down with bags of groceries, and the sky was just the shade of pink it was all those years ago. Just a little bit each day, a moment of time to remember our ability to create, to lose ourselves in something, if only briefly.