In the eye of a hurricane, all is quiet. — Hamilton
It’s quiet in the house. My wife and daughter are asleep upstairs, with one of the dogs. The other dog’s at my feet in the TV room, alternately sleeping and looking at me wondering when we’re going upstairs.
The to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. There are papers and projects to grade, lessons to plan, research to do, lunches to pack, laundry to put away, this blog to (finally) update.
There’s so much to do. But here I am. Mindlessly alternating between Facebook and Twitter and Netflix.
Things still get done on time. Responsibilities are met. Grades get posted, lessons are planned, lunches get made. But there’s something missing. Energy, excitement, and enthusiasm have given way to a cliche-feeling ennui.
This is what depression can look like - not a person curled up in bed all day but someone going to work, coming home, keeping up but not doing much more, nothing getting past the black dog at the door.
This is what anxiety can look like - not a person biting their nails or holding their head in their hands but someone staring at the blinking cursor, convinced he’s got nothing to add to the conversation, nothing that hasn’t been said before.
It’s day after day of blank pages and shoulds rattling round my head -- You should be writing! You should be building your brand! You should be monetizing this! You should be filling your portfolio — and too many short-tempered outbursts at a little girl who deserves more.
Little by little, I write my way out.
That night in November, when the world seemed to collapse and so many of us seemed to break, I started typing. It helped make sense of that night.
That black journal sitting by my bed, after years of hibernation, becomes daily therapy. After years of being a sort of performance art for my future self, it becomes an honest home for my joys and sorrows, of all that I know and everything I hope for.
That paper I wrote in grad school a few years about institutional theory and network theory in media gets found, a professor’s comments get re-read, and suddenly there is energy and excitement about research. There’s a hint of thrill, of the promise and discovery. Something reawakens.
The sound of my fingers hitting the keyboard, the pen scrawling across a sheet of paper, becomes the sound I find comfort in and draw energy from. When I'm having a bad day, it's usually one where I haven't made that sound enough.
Slowly, bird by bird, things start making sense again.
Two pictures sit on my desk just beyond my laptop.
One is a postcard. “Brian - Thank you kindly for your sweet and thoughtful note. Your support of “Hamilton” means the world. You have a beautiful family! Please send them my warmest regards. Siempre, Lin-Manuel Miranda.”
The other is a photo from outside the Landmark Theater in Syracuse. It’s my daughter playing violin for an audience that includes another little girl (who’s holding a guitar) and Tania Elizabeth, the fiddle player for The Avett Brothers. My daughter is playing “Twinkle Twinkle” as well as her 5-year-old hands can, and Tania is smiling at her, giving her undivided attention.
I find inspiration in these photos. They're evidence of the power of kindness. They are reminders that small acts of kindness, a few minutes of time and attention, can change the world. They're a daily reminder that no small act of kindness is ever wasted. That's a lesson that feels really important to remember these days.
And ultimately, writing is an act of devoting time and paying attention. It’s an act of seeing clearly what needs to be seen and saying clearly what needs to be said. It’s about devoting your time and attention to what matters to you. It’s about the power of where we devote our time and undivided attention.
They passed a plate around/Total strangers/Moved to kindness by my story
Ultimately, writing is an act of kindness.
No act of kindness is ever wasted.
And starting there, we write our way out.