Be Here Now. The title of Baba Ram Dass’s 1971 book became the catch phrase for millions of westerners seeking enlightenment through eastern spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation. But being in the present moment, letting go of the past and future, has always been challenging to me—until now, in the age of COVID-19.
Over the years, I’ve tried meditation, but it’s not for me. My mind races in circles, but I value my creativity too much to damp it down by focusing on imaginary clouds or the rhythm of my breathing. All too often, my thoughts wander to the future, and especially to the dreams of artistic and literary fame and fortune that, at age 78, I still haven’t abandoned.
During the first month of quarantine, I participated in a “Poemunize” online workshop with Marj Hahne, a poet and editor based in Colorado. Every morning for 28 days straight, we explored new poetic prompts and forms. I wrote sonnets and sestinas, then shared them online with my fellow participants. This crash course taught me more than I’ve ever known about poetry. Best of all, it was art for art’s sake, unsullied by thoughts of publication or public recognition. Many in the group were more experienced poets than me, and some submitted their work to online journals and were immediately accepted. But I approached the challenges with a beginner’s mind, realizing I have a long way to go before going public with a half-way decent sestina.
Before the pandemic, I was an active participant in the Capital District’s poetry scene. I loved reading at open mics, especially those held in bars, like the monthly Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s. I loved the applause, the laughter, the compliments from other poets, but most of all the warm sense of community and friendship.
I mourn the loss of those open mics, almost as much as I mourn the loss of live concerts at the region’s wonderful venues. I often ushered at The Egg, heard shows by Dweezil Zappa, Graham Nash, Melissa Etheridge and dozens more. They’ve rescheduled some shows for the fall, but at 78, I’m officially at high risk. I won’t feel comfortable ushering, speaking face to face, exchanging breaths with fellow music lovers, until there’s a viable vaccine, so live music is off limits until 2021 at the earliest.
Fortunately I still have my garden, and that’s where I find it easiest to Be Here Now. I can happily stand or stroll slowly around, contemplating the way the morning light brings out the many shades of purple in my petunias, or checking out how much the hostas have grown, seemingly overnight. But I take things more slowly and carefully these days. In the fall of 2018, I practically died from a subdural hematoma sustained when I fell in my garden and struck my head on a slab of bluestone.
I’ve been working on a memoir in prose and poetry called Subdural, but it’s been stuck in limbo since I began self-quarantining on Friday the thirteenth of March. I’d begun working on a proposal to send out to agents and editors. As with other new projects, I was—and still am—convinced that this book will be the one that finally makes me rich and famous. But somehow it doesn’t seem to matter as much right now. I have no idea what’s happening in the publishing industry these days. I picture all those abandoned offices in Manhattan skyscrapers, with all those professionals I’d like to query hunkered down at home, too distracted and frightened to give a fair reading to new work, especially work that explores the ramifications of a near-death experience.
I’ve always been an introvert at heart. Even so, I’m surprisingly serene, even happy, hunkered down at home with my husband, my dog and my cat. I may get back to my painting, may teach myself Photoshop, but there’s no rush. I have my garden, and within a few hundred feet, my street dead ends at Snyders Lake, where I can launch my kayak. When the water warms up a few more degrees, I can plunge right into the lake and swim as long and as far as I like, no social distancing required.
As the Johnny Nash song says, I can see clearly now, and being solidly anchored in present time suits me just fine.