What Gets You Through?

Note: there’s nothing particularly Mormon-y about this post, except that it deals with what one Mormon has done to stay sane during the pandemic.

Back in May, two months or so into the pandemic, I finally did it. Lying in bed at probably one in the morning, I posted on Craigslist:

Need to play in a jazz combo? Me too!

I hadn’t played with other musicians since my freshman year of college (which, I’ll note, was a long time ago). But since stay-at-home started, I’d been practicing my saxophones. More, probably, than I had since my freshman year. And once the pandemic was over (because even in May I though maybe it would end sometime soon), I wanted a chance to play.

On the last day of May I got a response. He had an idea—what if we met in a park near his home? We could play distanced, safely, but critically, we could play.

It took a little bit of time to arrange, but eventually we hit on playing roughly every other Sunday at 4:00. We ended up with a rotating case of players—sometimes it was me on soprano, him on guitar. Sometimes we had drums and bass, sometimes we had trumpets. Once we even had a violin.

We play mostly jazz standards, with occasional other songs worked in. Here’s “How High the Moon”:

Sometimes we’d do other songs. I transcribed Stanley Turrentine’s version of “Can’t Buy Me Love” (basically a 12-bar blues with a weird tag at the end of the head).

At our most recent session, we played “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers,” a song none of us (except the violinist) had ever heard or seen before. But with a name like that, how could you not play it?

At this point, we’re probably done for the season. Chicago’s temperature is dropping, making it harder to play outdoors. (I have high hopes that a week from Sunday will be warm, but I fully expect those hopes to be dashed.) And we’re not playing indoors until there’s a vaccine.

In the meantime, though, playing in the park has given me something to look forward to, something to get me through this pandemic.

So what has gotten you through? (Note that it’s cool if your answer is Netflix; I didn’t play in the park because it was productive: I played because it’s what I love, with the added bonus that it provided a couple hours for my family to be outside.)

If you’re interested, I could generally convince my kids to film two songs a week. I’ve put them all here.


  1. east of the mississippi says:

    I’ve really missed attending and playing at open mics, the Zoom open mics just aren’t cutting it. But on the bright side we have been able to race our stock car since mid June, that definitely got me through.

    You should absolutely add more songs.

  2. Lots of cycling. I’ve mostly been living in a cave, though, even before the pandemic, being a phd student with lots of side projects.

  3. One of my children had to cancel a wedding and, like most people, vacation plans were disrupted over the summer. I also had some athletic events get canceled that I had trained for. Work was insanely and unsustainably busy and stressful. I became clinically depressed and the doctor gave me a small prescription for Zoloft and I began to see a therapist.

    So I say, in all seriousness, that a therapist and anti-depressants took the edge off for me. I also began practicing the piano again for about 30 minutes a night and learned a piece I’ve wanted to for years.

  4. I’m so sorry, Toad. Our neighbors had to cancel their wedding, too, and that sucks.

    But I’m glad a therapist, anti-depressants, and the piano have taken the edge off!

    Ben, I love biking and east of the mississippi, I’ve never raced stock cars, but it’s awesome that that’s going well for you!

  5. My cats, especially helping a newcomer transform from a vicious, biting, snarling hellcat into the sweetest, softest, purring lovebug. Took about four months, but we’re almost there.

    Also, the thing that helps me get through is working on my Who We Lost project, identifying LDS victims of the 1918-20 influenza pandemic, and posting online memorials to them (almost 2,500 so far). It engages my brain without being more demanding than I can cope with right now, and it lets me vent some of my need to grieve current circumstances in a controlled way, largely, I think, because time gives enough distance that it doesn’t swallow me whole.

    But some days I still can’t do much, and I cry a lot. I’ll confess it publicly in case it helps anyone else realize they aren’t alone in that.

  6. Thanks, Ardis. I’ve loved seeing the new cat transformation, and your Who We Lost project is absolutely stunning. It is an amazing, humane, and deeply empathetic work of history and I’m excited every time I see a new one come across Twitter or Facebook.

    And crying is absolutely a legitimate way to get through the pandemic. Like I said, I didn’t frame this as I do this hard thing to make it seem like people need to get through by doing hard things. Mostly because (a) it’s not a hard thing and (b) it is probably my favorite thing.

    So thank you Ardis!

  7. east of the mississippi says:

    That’s an amazing project Ardis, kudos for your work there… and crying is never bad.

    I’m with John Lennon on all of this:

    Whatever gets you thru the night
    It’s all right, it’s all right
    It’s your money or your life
    It’s all right, it’s all right
    Don’t need a sword to cut thru flowers
    Oh no, oh no

    Whatever gets you thru your life
    It’s all right, it’s all right
    Do it wrong or do it right
    It’s all right, it’s all right
    Don’t need a watch to waste your time
    Oh no, oh no

  8. Ardis, I love it that you’ll let your tears flow. I can’t cry very often, so when it happens, I welcome it. It’s a useful spigot. And the Who We Lost series is wonderful work. Like publishable. I’d buy that book.

    I’m not doing anything pretty like nurturing cats or playing my music at the next level. Just trying my best to give everyone extra space, and me too— by moving out of the house where I lived the longest period of my life, and simultaneously transforming myself into…what? Stay tuned.

    Sam Brunson, I recommend some Cole Porter. My current favorite is Begin the Beguine.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    This makes me happy. Thanks, Sam.

  10. Planted a few little seeds my MinSis sent me in the mail–leftover from her planting in the Spring. Enjoyed bringing the harvest in; some will spend the Fall and early Winter in pots on the enclosed porch. Hand delivered my spring stimulus cash to 8 immigrants who needed that cash and got it circulating in the community right away! Delivered flowers to a bunch of friends and neighbors in near-by cemeteries.

    I loved reading along with The Giant Joshua; reading every Who We Lost; looking for some my family lost in 1917-1919; adding photos, letters, and memorabilia to family, extended family, and strangers on FamilySearch; teaching Indexing by zoom or phone.

    And I just discovered the U of U Alumni Go Learn At-Home Speaker Series!

  11. I think for a lot of people MOM is getting them through. But for those of us who are moms and are expected to be “shock absorbers for society (see link to NYT article below)”… well… there’s not a lot getting us through. We’re spreading ourselves thinner and thinner to meet the challenges of the new pandemic normal. But like any good pair of stretchy pants, there comes a point where they wear out. You stretched them too far for too long and they can’t take it anymore. The stretch is gone, and it wasn’t the pants’ fault.

    What’s this going to look like–not the saggy stretchy pants, but moms who have been stretched way too far for way too long–how will this show up in the years ahead? Less PTA and band boosters when social distancing is behind us? More divorce? Sharply declining birth rate? Extensive early childhood education programs? Stipends for childcare and/or the second, third, or fourth shift mamas are currently expected to do at home for free?

    Moms can’t be shock absorbers indefinitely. There’s a finite amount of shock that I can absorb, and believe me when I say I feel like I am reaching capacity. Doom scrolling headlines while going potty. Empty calories. Melatonin. Haphazard punctuation. Desperate prayers. Staying up too late to read a novel. Waking up too early to finish a grant proposal. Watching Netflix on my phone (with the cracked screen) while Disney+ plays Frozen2 on the TV for the 134,435 time…None of it is going to keep this battle station operational for much longer.

    The pandemic is hard for all of us. All of us. It’s good to find meaningful ways of getting through it. But some of us really. truly. don’t have the privilege.

  12. As a mom, I have found myself checking the comments on this almost compulsively since Amy wrote. Desperately hoping that there was going to be a smattering of supportive comments like Ardis got. Is it that there is just nothing to say? I know I can’t think of the right thing to say. My work has been quadrupled by the closing of the schools. Even with my husband now working from home and contributing more domestic labor than ever before my load has increased not decreased. My social life has been eliminated with the closure of the playgrounds, which in my city have been off limits since March. Even when they opened the bars for a while this summer the playgrounds remained off limits. This summer what got me through was walking alone every morning. I was able to do that because my husband was home working, a perk many of my mom friends did not have. But since the return of distance learning I can no longer do that. Children on laptops require much more involved supervision than children on legos.

    The reason I haven’t crumbled in dispair is my part time job. Having something to work on not related to my children has been such a blessing. Sure, I do it from the room where I’m supervising my children’s distance learning, but it gets me out of my mom mind for a couple of hours.

    Amy, I feel you, and I’m happy you haven’t imploded yet. I’m sorry that nothing I say will lift your burden in the way you need.

  13. Going to second (third, thanks Michinita) what Amy says.

    It’s great to have something, anything, getting you through.

    But I think the caregiving work of women in this pandemic and the absurd burdens falling on them are going wildly unnoticed, even by outlets like the NYT. I don’t feel like the shock-absorber, I feel like the crash-dummy: the expendable thing repeatedly smashed into the wall so the real people will be okay.

  14. I’ve wanted to respond to Amy since she posted, but was afraid anything I might say would be the wrong thing — it is so easy to fall into the trap of “Whose suffering is worse?” I mean, when I read an article about a mother who never has a moment’s privacy because of the constant needs of little ones, I wonder which is harder? A child constantly needing your care and calling for you and climbing over you — or weeks with no face-to-face chat with anyone, and months of no physical touch — not a handshake, not the careless touch of a cashier’s hand as she gives you your change, not anything more intimate and supportive? I’d love to rely on my mother, even if it were through phone calls, but she’s been gone now for 21 years. ALL of us are going through something we could not have imagined last year; it’s different for each of us, and just as hard in its own way, with that way being different in minor or major ways from the way of anyone else.

    Yet we are — or most of us are; I know we have lost many — “getting through” somehow. I would like to know, if it doesn’t add to her burdens to have to write it out — how a mother under these extreme pressures is getting through. Do you sing, or somehow stay in touch with friends through phone calls, or vent by screaming twice a day from the fire escape, or — ? However you’re doing it, I’d appreciate hearing how.

    This is hard. It may be harder for you than it is for me, some or most or all of the time. I don’t have a clue how I can support any mother — or anybody else for that matter — beyond reading and responding.

  15. “are going wildly unnoticed”
    We don’t have kids, so no first-hand experience to report; that said, I’ve heard about this repeatedly on “Make Me Smart,” an NPR podcast-offshoot of Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood.

  16. Amy, Michinita, and Leona, I’m sorry this has been so hard for you as moms, and I’m glad you’re (one way or another) making it through.

    I wouldn’t read too much into the lack of comments, fwiw: it’s the weekend, and blogging traffic (even in a pandemic) is a lot lower on a weekend. This is the first time I’ve opened my computer today.

    As for who this is hardest for: I sincerely don’t know. Because honestly, pretty much everybody (or, at least, everybody who’s healthy and who is following the various social distancing guidelines) is going through something hard. Is it harder for moms than for unmarried individuals who have been alone for 7 months? I honestly don’t know. And even if I did know, I’m not sure what difference it would make. The pandemic has been differently hard for everybody, and I sincerely hope that everybody has found something that allows them to put down the doomscrolling and feel like a human being for some amount of time, whether that things is music or stock car racing or playing with cats or researching or part-time (or full-time) work or whatever it is. And if you haven’t found that slice of humanity, I sincerely hope you’re able to and that you’re able to come out of this as unscathed as possible!

    But I absolutely hear you: being a mother is legit hard, and the pandemic has changed the dynamics of work and parenting in some truly gendered ways that fall disproportionately on women and on mothers.

  17. Michinita says:

    It was not my intention to indicate that mothering is the hardest thing to do through a pandemic. I have often thought of my dear friends and sister who live alone. I don’t think I would trade with them. I absolutely 100% do not begrudge you the supportive comments you got, Ardis. They are well deserved for the sacrifices you have been making and the beautiful work you have done on the Who We Lost project.

    We have nearly opposite difficulties I guess. Of course that’s nothing new. My mom has often sadly described how quiet and lonely her house is while I lament how full and loud mine is. The pandemic has magnified the issues we already had.

    The pandemic mother’s dilema of increased work and pressure is inherintly difficult to find ways to manage. Where do we find the minutes to recharge when each minute we try to spend away from the chaos increases the mess and burden upon our return? So our challenge is not to find an activity that replenishes us. It’s to find the time and energy required to do it and the time and energy to repair what fell apart while we were “gone.” That’s probably the same for medical professionals and everyone working for Amazon.

    One thing that has helped me is to watch my kindergartener during his Zoom school. He sits there with his lime green headphones and his tiny chromebook shouting answers and singing along into his muted microphone. It takes very little time and very little energy and pays big dividents. I try to remember to text his teacher on particularly hilarious days, because her challenge is that from her perspective all of her students are silent and unresponsive now. It also seems to help to have a good cry upon waking up some days. I didn’t used to cry first thing in the morning, but it comes naturaly lately.

  18. Michinita, I never thought of the problem of your load increasing every minute you might try to close the door for a minute “away.” It’s an immediately understandable problem, though … and I will try to be conscious of the way my living room stays the way I left it when I try to make an interminable afternoon pass by sleeping through it, as well as appreciate the freedom I have to sleep. I know that sounds — and is — incredibly privileged. I don’t know how else to give a concrete example of being more aware of the hardships of others. Wouldn’t it be a blessing if somehow we could exchange a little of what we have too much of — me, idleness; you, labor — to make things easier on each other?

    I love the story of your kindergartner, and your remembering to share that with his teacher. It would be only one more burden to wish that you could keep a pandemic journal and record this all for the future — for that kindergartner grown up, maybe — but perhaps a sticky note somewhere with a word or two to remind you of stories to tell a year or two from now would add meaning to the good times and the hard ones? And if you can suggest anything that a stranger like me, at a distance but with a keyboard, could do to encourage you, i hope you’ll tell me what that is.

  19. Michinita says:

    Dear Ardis,

    You didn’t need to worry about saying the wrong thing. Someday when hugs are safe again, I hope I can line up my brood to share the wealth with beautiful people like yourself.

    Sending you all the love and afternoons as short as they come,


  20. Geoff-Aus says:

    Michinta, It is being noted here in Australia that women are carrying more than their share of the covid problem.
    Are you aware of Jacinda Ardern almost namesake (Prime minister of New Zealand, and a member who left the church over sexism and homophobia). In the last 3 years since she was elected, she has had a baby, had to keep the country united after a foreign white supremacist, attacked mosques killing 51 people, then had tourists killed in a volcanic eruption, then the pandemic, where the total number of deaths is 25, in a population similr to Utah and Idaho combined. She has just been reelected, with an increased majority.

  21. Geoff-Aus says:

    For myself I was bought up to believe time was to be used profitably. Something was to show for your efforts. My wife is the social person in our family. I have spent my time converting my 2006 Mercedes S class into a plug in hybrid. It was the quietest, smoothest, best riding car I have been in, but was not very economical, it will now be economical, and now have mechanics that have low ks, and 4WD. Some examples its headlights steer round corners, it has air suspension, which rides beautifully, tilts the car into corners, and can raise the car up 85mm when 4WD ing. It now has to have the computers persuaded to co-operate.

  22. Michinita says:

    Jacinda Ardern is my favorite!

  23. loraine rawson says:

    I’ve got through by taking whatever pleasure is available to me, from birdsong to a blue and aviation free sky, to books and films and poetry. Like Ardis and others I have experienced waves of grief and loss for a life that will now be inevitably different – will I ever embrace a friend with abandon, have I become permanently more withdrawn? And then I try to quiet my anxious mind – we cannot stop the spring returning. The bulbs I plant now will blossom.
    I try to stay in contact with friends but it seems we are all becoming more withdrawn, we have less to say in the face of this incomprehensible existential threat. We are overwhelmed, either in fighting it or in contemplating it. All I can do is take my pleasure, in having time to tidy, to create some order in this time of chaos, and to be kind to those who cross my path.
    It is good to share our experience.

  24. rickpowers says:

    “I’m with John Lennon on all of this…”

    Now, if we’re going to quote John Lennon on all this, we need to go back a few years to the late- 1960’s. Obviously, right now we are living in a dystopic world where Post-Truth Trumpdom reigns, where a pandemic that has killed over a million people and shows no signs of letting up is denied as even existing by many people, and the civil rights that activists sought in the 60’s shows systemic racism in our nation deeper than most imagined. My guess is that we are dealing with an Alternative Reality, or that we exist in an Ancestral Simulation that has gotten a virus in the quantum computer program. Either way, it is time to drop out, challenge the reality of all this, and follow psychedelic John:

    Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
    Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes. (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds)

    Let me take you down ‘cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields,
    Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.
    Strawberry fields forever. (Strawberry Fields)

    Remember, give peace a chance. After all, all you need is love.

  25. east of the mississippi says:

    @rickpowers… Hear ye! Hear ye!

  26. I don’t have children, so to Amy and others all I can say is I hear you and appreciate your candor and your insights. Thank you for sharing.

    As for me, I have a hard time getting up in the morning, which is atypical. I spend about eight hours a day at work, which these days means sitting at a computer at my kitchen table. I’m lucky to have a job, and I’m lucky to be able to do it at home (and to have a nice home!), but I miss my colleagues – also my office chair. To save my sanity I go hiking and I write, sometimes in what I’ve heard called a Covid journal, and sometimes on other projects. I did some Covid cooking for a while, but that petered out. The west coast wildfires brought a halt to my hiking for a while when we had “the worst air in the world”; the smoke and ash and general crud in the air were so bad that in just one week they thickly coated and rendered ineffective the filter in my HVAC system. Fortunately, I had extra filters on hand. Also fortunately, the winds changed, the rains came in, and my area has blue skies again. Those were the worst days, though, when I had a go bag ready to grab by the front door – although no clear idea where to go – and could not get fresh air into my lungs. I hadn’t realized what a blessing it is to be able to open a window.

  27. Cate darling, spring is coming…

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