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Emily Withnall

When this all began I was filled with fear and desperation. My book manuscript didn’t seem to matter anymore. My oldest teen cried about lost opportunities and plans and normal high school time with friends. I wanted to offer reassurance, to say that at some unknown date things would be better again. But then I thought about wildlife trafficking and infectious diseases and melting permafrost and the ocean swallowing islands and peninsulas. So I said nothing. I just sat with the feelings of fear and grief and looked at my two teens and wondered what I had done. This is the world they are inheriting.

As time went on, we fell into a sluggish rhythm. The kids did half their homework halfheartedly and I had no desire to prod them. I filmed myself teaching poetry lessons and sent them into the void. My fifth grade poetry students, whom I’d never met in person, sent poems back. Some sent blank pages. “I don’t know what to write,” some said. Others wrote, “I’m not good at poetry.” I wanted to tell them about the days I felt these things, too. I wanted to see their faces and learn their names. I wanted to crouch down beside their desks to talk with them and ask them about their lives, and show them that their lives on the page can be poetry.

It took me until May to try yoga. I’ve been yoga-averse until now. It’s always seemed so white and commodified and cultish. I turned on Yoga with Adriene though, and I grumbled about her white pots and straight teeth and serenity. I wanted sweat and dirt, not glossy magazine. I tried it a few more times and begrudgingly gave in. Fine. Yes, I do feel better when I breathe and open my chest and stretch my body that’s been cramped over a computer all day. FINE. My dad always said fine meant fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional, which feels relevant here. Anyway, today is Day 30 of a Yoga with Adriene series and it’s the first time in 38 years that I’ve showed up for myself so many days in a row. Still, I’m miles away from being able to touch my toes. My youngest teen makes fun of me for that.

How am I? The fear is still here but it’s mutated. My kids are becoming sloths. How do I get them to engage with the world when the tangible world is off limits? Online engagement doesn’t fill the gaping holes where friends and community and relationships used to live. It feels like we are soft dolls with our stuffing pulled out. Who am I without the places I belong in and the people to reflect myself back to me? Am I me without context? What about my kids? I keep launching words into the world like some kind of digital message in a bottle, but I’m pretty sure they’re getting stuck in Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Or maybe that’s where they originate. I can’t tell anymore.

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