Layers of Guilt


Pre-COVID happy space
CW: Mental Health - ish

Every week for at least a month, I have sat down at my desktop computer to write. The blinking cursor surrounded by white space taunts me, “You have no words.”

But I do. Just not the right ones.

For a while now, I have felt guilty that the pandemic has not affected me much. I’m exceedingly lucky to have a job from which I work from home. I even have a separate room that allows me to switch on and switch off from work. I’m healthy and everyone I know is healthy. I live in a state and a country with far fewer cases than those of my friends and family in other countries. And all of this. Every single bit of it. Gives me such overwhelming guilt.

It has been that guilt that has stilled my hands, and so the blinking cursor’s rhythmic taunts continue.

After an impromptu chat with some of my best writer friends, I decided I need to ignore that guilt. Every story is different, and why shouldn’t I talk about some of my experience with this cursed year?

I have wanted to talk about how much harder it is to write in 2020, the year of COVID-19. At first, I thought my writer’s block was because I am feeling the inequality in the world all that much greater (it’s so bad!) . And then I thought it was because I’m addicted to video games again (over 665 hour on Animal Crossing). And then I thought it was because I’ve turned lazy and incapable of doing anything productive.

The truth is: While all of those things, and the layers of guilt that come with them, certainly have something to do with it, the primary reason is because of the loss of my writing space.

I mentioned before that I have a separate room from which I work 40 hours a week. That room, once upon a time, was my creation space. The place where I built worlds and spent hours fighting inner demons. But in March, all of that changed when I went from one-day-a-week working from home to five days a week.

When I first started working from home full-time, I started at 5:30am and finished around 6pm. I felt I owed it to my company to get the most out of my day as possible, since they were trusting me to do this abnormal working arrangement. I would forget to eat lunch or take breaks; I’d sometimes even forget I hadn’t gone to the bathroom in hours (yikes). (I should note that at no time did the business ever require this of me; it was completely self-imposed.)

In May, the company started sending out mental health communications. It seemed I was not alone in doing too much. At an online seminar, a psychologist told us tricks to stop this vicious cycle. They were simple:

  1. Set your start time and do not turn your computer on until it’s time.
  2. Set a lunch hour in your calendar. That way no one will schedule a meeting when you’re “switched off.”
  3. Set your end time. Turn off the computer and close the door to the room, if you have a separate office space.

While these tips didn’t help most people in the company, since finding a spare room is near impossible in most households, they helped me. I spoke with my manager and set my boundaries. 7am start time, 12pm lunch break, 4pm finish time. It was a great setup, which I have largely maintained since.

Only, I didn’t realize at the time that it had reprogrammed my brain to think my creative space is now a work space, and I continued to sabotage my desk by putting post-it notes around my monitors to remind me of color codes for Power BI and formulas I wrote “just in case,” spiral notebooks filled with minutes and ad hoc notes, and a calendar with meeting times and reminders (because I’m old and like to duplicate what’s already in my Outlook calendar).

Still, as I mourn the loss of my creative place, I’m also riddled with the guilt of having an office and work and health (sorta – I’m fat, ya’ll) and the privilege that comes with all of that. But I’m also incapable of knowing how I can help change my world, let alone this world.

Layers of guilt is healthy, right? Sure. Yep. Totally.

Grief – a series

0. Death
My Choctaw grandpa died
one cold January morn,
surrounded by his son,
his family,
and his wife.

1. Isolation
In a nursing home,
She had left him,
had overcome her grief –
moved on –
Long before we did.

2. Anger
Less than a year,
she remarried at the VFW;
he reminded her of Grandpa,
she said.
We did not share her belief.

3. Bargaining
She married a Mexican;
He moved into her house,
cooked us tamales to earn our trust.
We relented,
but only for her sake.

4. Depression
It would not last;
The inheritance dwindled
She married a conman,
Dad said;
But no words got through.

5. Acceptance
She was convinced she needed him.
That we were just jealous,
So, we left her with him,
disowned her,
and never saw her again.

Let’s be super honest here. It’s obvious, I’m not a poet. This poem, a series, is part of the June poetry slam over at YeahWrite. The month is over, but still, I encourage any and all criticism. (Hint: I know it’s not good) (Discussion points: is it clear that we were racist? That we were in the wrong here? That it’s written from the perspective of an unreliable narrator?)

Accelerated Reader Prize Day

I walked along the large, wide cafeteria table and scanned the assortment of electronics, games, and age-appropriate toys. Above me, there was a banner flapping in the biting December wind. In bright, bold letters, it announced, “Accelerated Reader Prize Day.”

My heart leapt when I saw the off-brand CD Walkman near the end of the table. I snatched it from the pile and made my way to the facilitator.

“And what’s your name?” she asked in an affected voice. I tried not to ignore the condescension.

I’m thirteen, lady.

“Melony,” I answered. She lifted her eyebrow. “Foster. Sorry.”

She scanned her clipboard of names and points. I wanted to tell her I was in the top five of the school, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Oh, here you are!” she said glancing up from the page. “Do you like reading?”

“Yes, ma’am. Very much,” I answered.

“You have so many points. You must read alotta books.”

“I do,” I said with a slight hint of pride.

It was almost a month since the school librarian told me about the chance to win double points in the Accelerated Reader Program. The school had tested poorly in literature, and they were looking for ways to incentivize the students. My end-of-the-school-year goal, a thousand plus point prize, was within reach. I only needed to read several small books or five big books to reach my target.

“What type of books do you read?” she asked.

“A bit of everything,” I answered. I didn’t want to admit that to earn enough points for this prize, I forced myself to read Babysitter’s Club, Fear Street, and Nancy Drew. A book and a half a day and four on the weekends. But it was all worth it for a prize my family could never afford.

Earlier that school year, I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading 4th grade reading level books. House of Seven Gables, Heart of Darkness, The Screwtape Letters, Lord of the Flies, All the King’s Men – these had been my standard reading fare before the announcement.

“Well done!” she said, glancing at my spoils. “You deserve this.”

She deducted the points for the Walkman. I thanked her and pressed the package against my chest as I made my way out of the cafeteria. I couldn’t wait to show my friends and started thinking about which CD would go in it first.

I wondered if this is how rich people felt all the time.


“How’d it go?” he asked me.

Before I was down the street, I had called my husband, stopping to strip off my blazer with my briefcase tucked between my legs. The Friday afternoon sun bore down on me, slowly melting the makeup on my face.

“Really well!” I told him, excited. “…Of course, that probably means I didn’t get the job.”

He let out a mirthless laugh.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” I said. “It’s so perfect for me. Honestly, it hasn’t even been two weeks since my retrenchment.”

He paused. Only three days before he had been the symbol of strength, telling me to leave the money worries behind and focus on me.

“So tell me all about it,” he finally said.

Monday morning at 8am, I received the call. “How’d you think you went?” the recruiter asked.

I knew from the question I had won the position.

I was right.