Saturday, February 26, 2022

Under Pressure

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: So. 


War in Europe.


I have a hard time just tearing my attention away from the news, and I’m sure you do as well. This terrifying situation has flashback potential for all ages: sovereign nations lining up to fight a la WWII for the Greatest Generation, the threat of nukes for the Cold War Boomers, and the messy remains of the Soviet Union exploding into conflict like Gen Z saw in the Balkans. Oh, and the threat of cyberattacks; I guess that covers the millennials.


But still - the dogs need to be walked. Dinner needs to be made, kids need to be picked up, and most importantly, work needs to be done. Which brings me to what I want to talk about - how to keep on being creative when the world around you is scary and stressful? 


Let me be the first to say I’m able to keep a hold on my emotions in part because the Sailor finished his enlistment at the end of December, an event that now has him gnashing his teeth in frustration (because he’s a young man) but which is a GREAT relief to all the women who love him. However, even without skin in the game, so to speak, it’s hard to write during frightening times. Creating - whether in words, or paint, or movement - is an act that requires focus and a commitment to deep work. Creating requires the artist to be both vulnerable and open to their own emotions, while being closed off, at least temporarily, to outside pressures and feelings. It requires, bluntly, a sort of selfishness, which is hard enough in ordinary circumstances when you’ve got a husband who wants to talk or a kid who needs advice. When the circumstances are OHMYGODTHEWORLDISFALLINGAPART, it can seem extra selfish to climb into a temporary ivory tower to escape everything.


So Reds, how do you do it? How do you keep writing, keep creating in times of trouble and strife?


RHYS BOWEN: There is only one thing more frightening than the threat of WWIII and that is the word DEADLINE.  With two and a half deadlines looming each year I know I have had to buckle down and work no matter what.  But trying to stay fresh and creative when the head is pounding and there are knots in the stomach is not easy. I found the first months of Covid particularly hard, because it was a stress that touched me personally: would I touch the wrong surface? Wear the wrong mask? 

 

Writing at that moment was a saving grace because I was writing THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK and I could spend my days in Venice, at least in my head. I’d pour over my photos, my maps, and find myself smiling: oh, that was where we had that glass of Prosecco and a man sang opera as he walked past. Oh, that was the best frito misto… reliving happy times is a great stress-buster, I’ve found.


But right now I am writing a rather stressful book: bad things happening to characters, one of them about to be dropped as a spy into wartime France, so I’m definitely feeling the pressure: not wanting to watch the news etc.  Two things that help me are swimming in lovely outdoor pool, walking through our very pretty neighborhood. Also talking daily to my daughter Clare about ideas for our next book and laughing a lot with her. We always laugh, which is great. 

 

Clare is right–we can do nothing about Ukraine, so it’s a waste of energy to worry about it. We can pray for the people and a peaceful outcome and then let it go.


Although learning to let go is hard, isn’t it? 


JENN McKINLAY: I’m a compartmentalizer. Is that a word? The red squiggle didn’t show up, so I’ll assume it is. So much has happened over the past few years on the global, national, and personal fronts that there are days where it feels like I need to pencil in “breathe”. Fortunately, having grown up in a rather turbulent home, I am very good at slamming the lid and turning the key on turmoil so that I can function. 

 

My trick is to set time limits. Need to cry? I set the clock on my phone for fifteen minutes and wallow in a weepfest. Compelled to look at the news? Same thing. Set the clock for ten minutes, read the news and get back to work. If I didn’t set limits, I would get sucked into the quicksand of despair and never crawl out. 


LUCY BURDETTE: Jenn, that’s very wise and a perfectly good idea that I will borrow. I remember those first weeks of the pandemic so well–we were in such a panic and such disbelief. After writing nothing for a month, I had a stern talk with myself. I could either let this event ruin my life as I knew it, or I could get to work. Which I did. (Though I sure wish I’d written something like Kim Fay’s LOVE AND SAFFRON.)


Between the war news and the politics and the particularly horrid decisions that are happening in Florida, it would be quite possible to lose my mind. I’m trying to treat all that the same way–do what I can to let leaders know what i think, and otherwise, stick to my lane.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: At the first of the pandemic, I was a mess. I could not write, and kept thinking–I have to watch the NEWS! I have to buy aluminum foil! (or whatever.) But I remember, very clearly, thinking: I chose to be a writer, a writer of suspenseful entertaining immersive stories, and if we don’t need those now, when do we need them? And I have a very clear memory of thinking ”It’s always safe inside a book.” And “It’s always safe inside my manuscript.”  And that has been my mantra ever since. It’s a respite and a comfort. To be in a completely different world facing someone else’s problems.


Jenn, I do a similar thing. But with worrying. If something is stressful that’s coming in two months, for instance, I’ll  tell myself, okay, it’s not gonna matter what I think now, I can’t do anything about it, so I’ll worry about that on, say, April 12. And set a worry date. And then, every time I start to worry, I remind myself, nope, not til April 12. It really works, and by April 12, everything is different anyway. 


And I turn off CNN. I say to Jonathan--no more death news. One hour, then change the channel or do something else. There’s no need to fill our heads with it every second. We can be interested, and engaged, and aware, and we can truly care, but we don’t need to be constantly pummeled with repetition and speculation.


HALLIE EPHRON: I can barely write on a good-news day. If I try to follow the news I am overwhelmed by how powerless we all are to make even the slightest difference. Haven’t felt anything quite like this since the 60’s. I’m just grateful that the US is not the aggressor, and that it’s not my job to figure out what happens next. It’s so much easier when you’re plotting fiction.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was so horribly distracted the first year, and more, of the pandemic, that I just could not write. Which is how I’ve ended up in my way-past-deadline panic. I finally got to the point where I can’t wait to be in my story, and I can’t let anything take away my focus. So I can read the headlines, but that’s about it. It makes me feel selfish, but me not finishing my book doesn’t do anything for the international mess. And finishing it might actually give other people a welcome escape when THEY are feeling overwhelmed.


But it doesn’t help that Rick is following the news 24/7…


 

JULIA: I really like Jenn's approach - set the timer, feel the emotion (or doomscroll through Twitter, and then when the alarm dings, back to work. How about you, dear readers? How do you manage, and stay creative, when the world feels like it might crack under pressure? 

73 comments:

  1. This is a tough one . . . glad to know the Sailor is not in the mix, Julia . . . our family has active Army and Navy folks [currently home, so there is that to be thankful for], but the worry always sits at the edge of your thoughts. I don’t want to be head-in-the-sand ignorant, but I cannot constantly immerse myself in all the horrific news, so check in and then move away from it and pray harder . . . .

    I think Jenn has it right . . . worry, then put it aside. And Hank’s “it’s always safe inside a book” is so true [I spend a lot of time escaping into a book]. I keep on keeping on with the things I normally do . . . none of it will make a bit of difference for the world situation, but I cannot do anything about that, anyway. So I say a prayer for the folks in the midst of it all, set it aside, and do what I need to do. If there’s nothing demanding my attention, there’s always a book to read [thank you, ladies, for that wonderful gift]. It’s hard; it’s a conscious effort to set the turmoil aside and do something else, but just turning on some music instead of the nightly news is a powerful way to cope . . . .

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    1. Agreed, Joan. I'm limiting my news time - I'll listen to Morning Edition, and a bit of All Things Considered while making dinner, and the rest of the day it's Maine Public Classical. (I do find myself wondering if they're going to stop playing Russian composers for a while...)

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  2. Unlike some, I kept right on writing when the pandemic hit. It was a huge respite, diving into my story, whether a contemporary cozy or a historical mystery. I did feel a touch of guilt, because I could stay home and safe. It wasn't my job to take care of sick people or ring up groceries.

    Right now the news is scary, and I have actually been watching it on television at noon and eight, which I never do (sorry, Hank). I normally read Heather Cox Richardson every morning and read two paper newspapers. But TV is good for visuals, and what's going on is horrifying and outrageous. I'm also following Quakers of Ukraine on Facebook, spirit-based peacemakers in the middle of a war.

    None of that stops me from my morning of writing, though. I'm feeling my way thought the middle of a first draft, and I keep going because I love what I do. It's that simple.

    So relieved about the Sailor, Julia!

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    1. Thanks, Edith. And I love the fact there are Quakers in Ukraine, showing a little Light in the darkness.

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  3. I follow Jenn and Hank's approaches: time-limited and date-specific worrying. It works. And I donate money; the Canadian government has pledged to match private donations to the Red Cross up to 10 million dollars. Money helps and it's a concrete action I can take.

    May this world of ours know peace in our lifetime.

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    1. That's a terrific way to combine private and public money to make a big difference, Amanda!

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    2. Amanda, I didn’t know this about the Red Cross. I went to make my contribution. Thank you.

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    3. I'm with you Amanda. My charity is World Central Kitchen with Chef Andres. They're already cooking on the borders of Poland and Romania for the refugees. It helps me sleep, thinking someone got fed.

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  4. While the angry little madman with his fist raised to the sky is likely to dominate the news for months to come, I find that other than when I catch the news first thing in the morning or an article in the course of my Net-surfing, I don't always pay attention to what I can do nothing about and isn't quite literally on my doorstep.

    Like Julia said, stuff still needs to get done. I've got to go to work, I've got to pay bills and though it isn't the same kind of creative as every writer here, I've got reviews to write. These things don't get paused because the maniac they should've wiped out years ago decides its time for him to wave his member around.

    So basically, I just get down to the business of Jay and move forward. Not much else to do but get on with it.

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    1. Jay, I suspect that's the attitude that kept the US and Great Britain going during WWII. Get down to the business of --- and move forward.

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  5. When I was working at Environment Canada, it was FIRM DEADLINES that kept me track and working no matter what (personal) stress was distracting me from work. When my mom died suddenly in February 2003, I pushed through and finished the 3 projects and a dozen technical reports that were due on MARCH 31 (end of fiscal year). That date was non-negotiable. If I did not submit the reports to the funding agency, we would not get our final funding payment.

    Now that I retired, BIG milestones keep me going. I started reading Netgalley ARCs in 2016. You get Netgalley badges when you complete 50, 100, 200 and 500 book reviews.

    I have already shared plenty of times that my reading mojo was zapped during the past 18 months due to long-COVID brain fog and post-cataract surgery blurry vision. But I wanted that last 500 book review badge. I set a DEADLINE of my birthday (Feb 23) this year to complete that milestone.

    I DID IT! I posted my 500th book review on February 21, and got my prized badge on my Netgalley profile the next time I logged on.

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    1. That took some serious focus, too, Grace. Huzzah!

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    2. KAREN: Thanks! Yes, focusing long enough to read a book has been a challenge during the past 2 years. Pre-COVID, I could read a book in 3-4 hours. And my lowest point, it has taken me 2-3 weeks to read 1 book!

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    3. Grace, that's an achievement. I know how hard it can be to read when you're feeling exhausted and unwell, and of course, it's not just reading, is it? That's 500 reviews written! If you ever want to put a picture on your Blogger profile, I think it should be that 500 Reviews badge.

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    4. JULIA: Thanks! Yes, I am proud of that achievement especially since my focus was thrown off by the 24-day Freedom Convoy occupation taking place a short distance from my apartment.

      But now I'm in a POST-500 reviews badge letdown! I do have a commitment to read/review another 60 Netgalley (and other) ARCs this spring/summer. After that? I plan on cutting back on requesting new ARCs, and start tackling my ginormous TBR mountain that has grown and grown over the past 5 years.

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    5. Congratulations, Grace! That's a huge achievement!!

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  6. This morning I opened Rogue Asset, the latest W.E.B. Griffin book written by Andrews and Wilson. On page 7, the fictional President says, "The previous administration undid a lot of progress...sowing seeds of distrust and fostering a self-preservation mentality. I fear we may be paying the price now." That character is not talking about Putin, or the Ukraine. But to me, this invasion was born during the time the US took its eye off the ball. Although this isn't our war to fight, it is nevertheless our war. Anyone who believes the US can just disengage from world affairs, or cozy up to oligarchs, should be shunned, although personally, a public flogging would fit nicely.

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    1. JUDY: U agree with you about the growing distrust of authority (government). Those seeds have been festering for a while, and not only in the US. Pandemic fatigue may have been the trigger for a growing pushback about COVID vaccinations, masks, vaccine passports in many countries. That self-preservation mentallty is also evident in the alarming behaviour of people in person and on social media that shows a total disregard of societal norms.

      We need to do better! Otherwise, our planet is not going to be a pleasant place to live.

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    2. Judy, a little off topic: how are you enjoying the book? I was introduced to Andrews and Wilson when we did a few virtual events together to launch their new Shepherds series, and I really liked their writing. I know they were incredibly honored to be asked to take up the mantle of W.E.D. Griffin.

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    3. I just began the book. As with the other book of their's that I read, it begins with action. If you like a real action adventure, it seems really good.

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  7. Julia, that David Bowie song is so perfect--thank you!

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  8. Thank you for the morning Bowie, Julia! Category: Things you didn't know you need.

    Our amazing book club met here the other night, after reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It sparked quite the discussion, and in this group of humblingly intelligent friends we discussed the "Dunbar number" mentioned in the book: humans are programmed to be able to truly care about no more than 150 people at any one time. The number is based on the size of traditional tribes in our primitive history.

    I've been thinking about this since, how hard it is to keep so many empathy balls in the air, so to speak. If we focus on one group, we have to let another, possibly equally important, group fade into the background. It's almost impossible to keep the same level of concern for everything. Which potentially leads to a lot of guilt about not doing so. You can see it on social media, too: the memes about Black lives, abortion/abortion rights, pro or con police, and overworked medical personnel have all been supplanted now with support for Ukraine. Blue and yellow profile photos abound.

    It's overwhelming, isn't it? It's no wonder so many people are angry, with the every-second bombardment of news and hair-on-fire reports of live events, including those molehills made into mountains to inflame for whatever reason. That's not to say I or we don't care. Our collective mental health is at serious risk, though.

    Judy, you are so right. Some actions by ordinary citizens--like voting or not voting--can have long repercussions.

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    1. Karen, I think that number - I didn't know it had a name - is spot on. We have fancier clothing and cell phones, but we're still the same people were were on the African plains and the Eurasian steppes 100,000 years ago.

      I suspect the true definition of saints are those rare people who can transcend their tribes and care for the wide world.

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  9. Julia, I'm so happy the Sailor isn't headed for the Baltic or the Black Sea! My husband's grandparents came to the States in 1906 from Western Ukraine. We're preoccupied with the situation, though no relatives are left in that area.

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    1. Margaret, I didn't realize until this crisis just how many people from Ukraine live in North America. According to Wikipedia, the US and Canada have the largest number of Ukrainians outside the actual country - almost two and a half million.

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  10. My friend, Camelia, is Romanian. She is keeping me advised on what is going on next door to her country. In the years after WW2, her grandmother, an Ukrainian, packed a bag, grabbed her daughter, and escaped to Romania. In turn Camelia and her family escaped Romania to come to the US. I think I have no concept of this, the necessity to flee my country for another. No, there is nothing we can do personally, but NPR has a list of how to help. I've made a donation. Here's the link if anyone has a few bucks to spare.

    https://www.npr.org/2022/02/25/1082992947/ukraine-support-help

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    1. Thank you, Finta. There is a list of vetted places to donate at this link, too. https://snyder.substack.com/p/a-few-ways-to-help-ukrainians

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    2. In Canada, the Trudeau government will match Canadians' donations to the Red Cross in aid of Ukraine, up to a maximum of $10 million. This match to the Canadian Red Cross Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal is effective from February 24-March 18.

      Here is the link to the Red Cross:
      https://donate.redcross.ca/page/100227/donate/1?locale=en-CA

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    3. These are great resources, everyone - thank you.

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  11. Do you know why the song is perfect? Because it is not new. Which means we have been through tough times before, and people have written songs about them, and we persist. It is so wonderful and reassuring to be with you all.

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  12. Glad that the Sailor finished his enlistment, Julia.
    This post is getting at the right time as anxiety was growing on me this week with this war after the two last Covid years.
    Usually, if something makes me anxious, I act to solve the problem. There’s nothing I can do about this problem.
    I like Jenn and Hank ways of coping and will try their methods. I will also continue to get lost in books

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    1. Books continue to be one of the great comforts of the world, Danielle.

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  13. Pray in the dark of night, when I'm lying there awake and wondering, if *this*, what next? Pray harder in the light. Try to scrape together enough shreds of resilience to get through each day and do more than just what needs doing. There's a little boy, ready to explore the world, and reading everything he can, young men trying to make sense of their place in the world and still needing reassurance.

    Thanks for the links--good to have reliable information on helping this way. And, yes, Julia, happy for you that the Sailor is out of harm's way.

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    1. Yes, Flora, it felt selfish, but I was vastly relieved. He's looking for a job in one of the many shipyards clustered around Norfolk, and as we said in our family Zoom call a few days ago, at least he knows the defense industry will be going full bore...

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  14. Lots of good ideas here, Jungle Reds! Thank you for sharing.

    How am I dealing with the pandemic? Staying home and reading lots of good books. Doing what I can to stay healthy.

    Though we are feeling bad about what is happening in Ukraine, we do what we can. I signed petitions protesting the invasion and writing to our lawmakers in Congress and Senate. I think that we need to be prepared (collect food, clothes and necessities) for refugees from Ukraine. Remember what happened in Syria a few years ago? Refugees went to Europe and the USA / Canada.

    Jungle Reds, thank you for writing books so that we can read them!

    Diana

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    1. Thank you, Diana! Seeing how many people escape from troubles in a book is good motivation to keep on writing.

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  15. Like Hank, I limit my news viewing. I watch in the morning and evening, when I get home from work, but not the late news. My dreams are bad enough, I don't need to have the late news images in my head just before bed.

    Books help and so does "how to" TV shows, even if I've seen them before. Very happy Sailor is safe. It's interesting, and sad, that NPR had stopped playing music by Russian composers.

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    1. hadn't thought of how-to videos and TV shows, but that's an excellent idea, Deana! They do hook my attention in a very focused way.

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  16. Thanks to all of you - Reds and readers - for sharing how to get through tough times. And Julia, good news about your very own sailor.I used to have ways to get through, but I am losing my resiliency. Part of me feels like tough times never end. I became an adult in the Viet Nam era. I was in the hospital having a baby when Ronald Reagan was elected. I was in NY on 9/11. And I'm a New Yorker- I knew about Trump way back. And while the recent pandemic years did not hit me as hard as many, it came on top of a time that was painful in both my family and also in my writing career. And today? I know people who fled Ukraine as soon as they could, years ago...because they were persecuted there and then. I think I am very tired. It was a help today to be able to share your thoughts on staying on your own tracks and getting through.

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    1. I should have added that I love Jenn's timer idea, and I always limit my new viewing. When my mother-in-law said, after 9/11, "I see it on tv again and again and get upset," I said,"Turn off the tv!" But now I need to turn off FB too. Probably we all do, right? Just the home town morning newspaper. ( happens to be NY Times)

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    2. Hugs, Triss. I think we're all tired.

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    3. Another remote but heart-felt hug, Triss. It's been a grinding two to three years for everyone.

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  17. Oh, Julia, is something in the air? My blog today on Writer's Who Kill is about how I am coping meditation and techniques I learned long ago in college. So glad that sailor is out of harm's way and safe.

    Jenn, I am ripping the timer page from your book. If you need it, just call, I'll share :). Hank, your worry date is going to be right beside it. What fabulous tools. Hallie, I agree with you about the 1960s. There was one big difference though, we believed that individuals could make a difference. These days, with massive information overload, it's hard to see how that's possible. Everything is moving at the speed of twitter.

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    1. There must be a three day backlog of alarming news before we all have to respond with something, Kait!

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  18. Thanks for the Bowie, Julia. And it is a comfort to know that everyone is feeling the same way.

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    1. There's a good Bowie song for every occasion, Debs.

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  19. I'm sitting here agreeing with everything all of you have said. I love the timer idea. I've been limiting my exposure but the timer will definitely help me stop the downward spiral that happens when I get sucked in.

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    1. I know, right? Ive been promising myself not to look and I just spent two hours flipping between Twitter, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. I NEED that timer!

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  20. I guess I'm like Rhys. I have work still, and other stuff going on. So, yes, I am following the news, but I don't have the luxury in wallowing in it. I didn't in 2020 during Covid either. And that's probably a very good thing for me.

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    1. Mark, my mother always said keeping busy was the best thing when you're feeling troubled. She was right.

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  21. I am going to plant sunflowers. Gardening is balm to the soul and sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine. They are a phytoremediation plant and help to remove toxins from the soil. Sure, it's a symbolic gesture but a few more sunflowers and a bit more toxin remediation can't be bad.

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    1. CD, I was thinking the exact same thing. Well, I didn't know about the toxins, but I love sunflowers. I have a few perfect places around my barn.

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  22. As Roseanne Roseannadanna famously said, "If it's not one thing, it's another." I feel like I've lived through so many wars and international crises I'm almost numb. But not quite. I really feel for the people in the Ukraine. As I felt for the people who participated in the Arab Spring. And so many others. Julia, I'm happy for you the Sailor is a civilian now. My son is in the Army Reserve but not much has been happening with that. I'd be super surprised if he found himself in Europe. And so would he.

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    1. My son Adrian commented that Ukraine is not a member of NATO so we can't go traipsing in there. So it would have to be a UN sponsored action like Desert Storm was.

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    2. I'd be extremely surprised if we have boots on the ground in Ukraine, Pat. We've spent 75 years avoiding having Americans and Russians go face to face, I can't see that stopping now. However, I suspect a lot of Army guys will be getting orders cut for NATO supporting bases in Eastern Europe.

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  23. I have cut way back on the news I watch. I now only watch the national evening half-hour news and the half-hour of our local news. It truly is a matter of saving my sanity and be able to get anything else done, or wanting to get anything else done. Reading and writing reviews is such a wonderful diversion from all the worries about our world. But, like others, I have had periods where my reading was really off due to stress and inability to focus. This year has started out well with my reading, or better than last year's start. And, I've finally at this point in my life convinced myself that it's okay to have joy when there is trouble and suffering elsewhere. I don't forget or by any means dismiss the suffering, but I feel like I actually owe it to those in turmoil to appreciate the opportunity for joy in front of me.

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    1. Kathy, I feel in some ways the past 2+ years have been a training ground in resilience for all of us. And I'm a big believer in finding joy when you can, no matter the circumstances!

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  24. I don't watch a lot of news. It's just too much when I can't do anything about it. I do know 2 people with friends and family in the Ukraine so I follow the story but not wallow in it.

    The Soviet Union was in existence for years including the Ukraine and many other countries. Funny how they all left when the Soviet Union government failed. If the Russians had treated the people in those countries right, maybe some would have stayed. Russia won't keep Ukraine this time either or the Olympic medals they cheated to get. It will all get sorted eventually. Just sorry for all the people hurt so Putin can be a big bully!

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  25. Anne at Blake IslandFebruary 27, 2022 at 8:51 AM

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing. So helpful to know about your writer struggles and solutions.

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  26. I'm very late to the discussion as we are on Day 2 of our trip back to PA from lovely Key West where I enjoyed meeting Roberta/Lucy in person! I'm a worrier and always have been. The Trump years and then the beginning of COVID nearly did me in. I have learned over the past two years to limit my news intake severely. The mantra I continually return to is from Julian of Norwich: All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.

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