I’ve been thinking a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs— how you have to meet physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem needs before you reach self-actualization.
It seems impossible to fulfill any of these needs right now, while everything (a nice blanket statement to cover literally everything) is in a constant state of stress. How can we meet esteem needs right now, let alone physiological and safety needs, the very bare minimum of the pyramid?
I find I have a hard time writing when I’m stressed. I find myself wanting to forget about the stress for a moment, to enjoy a simple moment with my cats instead of scrolling through the news. I had to mute some words on social media so every single post doesn’t talk about the same thing. Even now, I find myself not even wanting to talk about the state of the world—to just avoid talking about it all together.
But that’s not helpful either. This feeling we all have, this anticipatory grief (for our old lives, for our family and friends, for whatever else) isn’t going to go away if we avoid what’s happening.
So I found myself thinking of Maslow’s pyramid. And how I can’t write if I don’t feel safe (who does right now?) and how I can’t write if I don’t have access of food or rest (can anyone sleep soundly these days?) What am I to do then, if I can’t reach the very basic stages of the pyramid?
And then I thought about cognitive reappraisal.
Our situations can’t be changed right now (in our immediate future), but maybe we can lessen the emotional attachment to it, if for just a moment. Maybe we can reframe our perceptions. Maybe we can create a space that makes us feel comfortable and warm. A space where we can explore what we’re feeling to help ease us into our writing.
What makes you feel comfortable?
What makes you feel safe and warm?
It’s been rainy and cold here, so I find myself craving tea, cozy blankets and sweaters, and a scented candle. When I’m burrowed in blankets with my bergamot candle lit and classical music (I’ve been obsessed with the Lady Bird soundtrack) playing softly in the background, I challenge myself to think about things that make me happy. Laughter. Baking. Cats. Reading. Writing.
We can create this safe frame to exist in for a moment. This frame is still tinged with sadness—we can’t imagine away the grief we feel, but we can create a safe way to feel it. And it may take a few days to get any writing out of it. And some days may not be productive at all. But it’s important to acknowledge them. And let go of any guilt.
When I’m able to, I take out my notebook and explore the way it feels. I’m usually not able to jump straight into my novel, but I can play with a short story or flash fiction. I can journal. The familiar sound of my pen scribbling across the page is sometimes enough to transport me, and I’m able to move on to whatever I should be working on— my current writing projects or edits for a client. And if I’m not able to take out my notebook at all, that’s okay, too. I can paint or embroider or just sit and enjoy the company of my cats. I can call a friend.
I suspect what we gravitate toward will change and what makes us feel comfortable and safe and warm will change, so we will need to keep checking in with ourselves to stay in tune with our needs.
And most of all, to constantly remind ourselves we have each other. We are not alone right now.
Tiffany Grimes is the Inkpot Blog Manager and founder of Burgeon Design and Editorial. She graduated from Hamline in 2015 and her writing has been published in Feels Blind Literary, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, Herstry, and The Fiction Pool. She lives in Portland, OR with her cats.