Learning to Pivot in 2020

Anyone who would consider this year to be roughly the same as usual must be living in a cave somewhere deep in the wilderness. Because for just about every person on earth, it’s been different from any other year in (almost) living memory. And it’s only August. Woof.

I might venture to say that for me, a self-employed artist and writer, 2020 has been possibly even more different than for the average person weathering these strange times. January gave the year a dour beginning, as it ended with the death of my canine best friend of more than a decade. Then in mid-March I gave birth to my first child, on the same day our city went into quarantine. The next week, my last remaining grandparent died and my widowed mother eloped. And in August I will publish my debut novel. All against a backdrop of global (and local) medical chaos.

For once, I don’t feel I’m being dramatic when I say it’s been a lot. And since I have a history of General Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Depression, I fully expected to be cracking under the strain by now. But somehow… I’m not. And I think that might have at least a little bit to do with the practice of adjusting expectations.

I’m a member of a private 2020 Debut Group for Young Adult and Middle Grade writers on Facebook, and in the safety of commiserative camaraderie, many people have been able to bemoan the various and sundry losses they’ve experienced with their books during the pandemic. These have ranged from big things like canceled events and delayed release dates, to smaller things like digital advance reader copies in lieu of the usual physical ones, and erratic support from publishers and editors who are now having to work from home. No one disagrees that these have been legitimate let-downs, even if they are small when compared to the world’s wider suffering. But one person recently offered some advice to a fellow writer whose disappointment was really getting her down. She said: “You have to learn to pivot.”

I thought this was a wonderful point. In some ways, it’s like saying you have to suck it up. You have to do things you don’t want to do. You have to adjust your expectations. But it’s also an active suggestion, not passive. It implies doing something to make the situation a bit better.

In the case of a book release, it means turning your focus to online events, and improving your skills and savvy on those platforms. In the case of normal life, I think it means accepting that this is just the way things are going to be for a while, and asking yourself, in the context of being stuck at home, what you can actively do to make things a bit better.

Sometimes that can be a physical action, like rearranging the house to your needs. Early on, my husband realized that working from an open, communal space like the dining room was just not very conducive to productivity. So we moved all the bookshelves out of the spare room and made a home office for him there, relocating the library to the breezeway that had held his desk. Similarly, I’ve moved some notebooks and books into the nursery, so I can brainstorm plot ideas while I breastfeed. Other physical pivots I’ve seen have been people throwing new effort into gardening, baking, reading, exercise, or home remodeling. 

Other times, though, I think pivoting can be a mental or emotional action. Part of that is adjusting your expectations to accept the present for what it is, rather than hating it for what it isn’t. Nothing breeds discontent like wishing for something that can’t be. But I think another part of the mental pivot is accepting yourself and your efforts for whatever they are in the current less-than-ideal circumstances. 

This has been an especially hard one for me. Knowing how instrumental my creative endeavors are to my sanity, I planned to keep working at least part time after I had our son. I thought to enlist help from friends and family, and eventually enroll our child in programs outside the house that would give me some extra time to work. I did not expect that a global pandemic would render most of those things impossible, and effectively make me a full-time mom for the first year of my kiddo’s life. This has been a tough on a range of levels: Obviously I miss the sheer joy of working, but part of my discontent in these circumstances is rooted in my expectations of myself. I should be able to carry on! My spare moments should all be used for writing and painting, with brilliant results! I should be as successful at juggling all the things as the many parents whose perfectly balanced careers and families are beautifully portrayed on Instagram! I should do better!

I very rarely give myself grace to just do what I can do in the moments I have, and be satisfied with whatever that is.

For me, the current struggle to pivot is largely about accepting my efforts and accomplishments for what they are, rather than judging them for what they aren’t. Some days, that means being satisfied to have had a good day of bonding with my son, and encouraging him in the little things he’s learning. Other days, that’s celebrating the story ideas I jotted down while he was napping, or the book promotion graphics I made for social media. Still others, that might be accepting the fact that holding a grumpy baby while he cries, changing diapers, and wiping spit-up off every surface in our house is all I can do — and that’s still enough.

In less than a month, my book — a Young Adult fantasy novel called Ignite the Sun — will go on sale everywhere, after almost ten years of writing, rewriting, editing, and striving to get it to where it is. I fully expect that the pandemic will make its release and my efforts to promote and celebrate it less than they could have been otherwise. But my hope and my goal is that, no matter how substandard these things might feel in comparison to the imaginary 2020 Parallel World that has no COVID-19, I will lay aside my expectations and embrace reality for what it is, to find joy in the beautiful moments that are present in this reality. Because they do exist; we just need to open our eyes and look for them. Even if we have to pivot in order to catch a glimpse.

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