Discover more from The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad
Prompt 204. Sweeping Out the Cobwebs
& a prompt from Rachel Schwartzmann on slowing down
It’s been a month since I last wrote to you, and somehow this break felt both long and languid and, at the same time, over in a flash. I expected to come back from it feeling fully revived, brimming with new plans—and in fact, we do have a new community offering to announce, more on that tomorrow!
During my time away, I’ve received so many kind messages from you, asking how I am. Overall, life has been good and sweet, and I’m doing okay. I successfully got through a round of chemo, and about a month ago, my doctor started weaning me off steroids, which I was taking as treatment for graft-versus-host disease, a complication of transplant. They wanted to see if it had abated, and the good thing is that I haven’t had any flare ups so far. The hard thing is that, without the steroids’ artificial charge, I’m actually feeling my baseline for what it is. Let’s just say I went from being in a high speed chase to the engine falling out at the same time as the wheels. Which is to say: things have come to a bit of a halt.
When I’m really tired, my days can feel shapeless, like I’m floating along. I also tend to feel self-judgment and guilt at needing so much rest. But in the last few days, I’ve started shifting toward what feels like a very nascent form of acceptance. I’ve started identifying a few things a day that I want to do, and I tackle them in the morning. Then I spend a lot of time lounging with River. (Being in bed during the daylight hours is so much more bearable when your pup is there beside you, happily dozing away.)
I’m also learning about asking for help when I need it. Last week I returned to my little Delaware Valley farmhouse for the first time in several months. When I arrived, I was delighted to find the garden was in bloom, but the house was filled with cobwebs, both literal and figurative. Anytime I’m struggling, I have a habit of fixating on my environment, wanting to bring some order, to exert some control. But it was just River and me, and though she’s proven to be an amazing service dog, she’s still learning her way around a broom. Given how low my energy was, I wasn’t up for a belated spring cleaning.
Soon after, I called my friend Kristen and told her how I was feeling. She said she loves nothing more than organizing projects—she’s definitely on the Home Edit bandwagon—and she offered to come help get things together. I accepted, and she drove out from the city. By the end of the weekend, and after many breaks and regular naps, every cobweb had been swept, every room restored to order.
The whole exercise made me think of the French novelist Marguerite Duras, who before she would start a new a book was rumored to clean her whole house, then shower, put on a dress and some lipstick, and only then pick up the pen. I myself am at a threshold moment, having just started a new phase of treatment, still learning what my limitations are, still working to understand the ongoingness of all of it. To be in limbo is often uncomfortable, but I also know that these transitions are rich with learning. I’m trying to invite the quiet in, to observe what I’m feeling and thinking, to be open to adapting to whatever this moment has to teach me.
With that in mind, today I’d like to share a prompt from our archive—from the brilliant writer and podcast host Rachel Schwartzmann. It’s called “Be Slow,” and when we first ran it nearly two years ago, people wrote in to say it was the equivalent of a $300 therapy session. Hope it’s that for you.
Some Items of Note—
On Sunday, August 28, from 1-2pm, we’ll be meeting at the Hatch, our virtual creative hour for paid subscribers. You can learn more here!
We’ll be sending out a Dear Susu in the next few weeks. Have a question for Suleika? Send it to email@example.com with the subject line “Dear Susu.”
Tomorrow we’ll be launching an exciting a new community offering that we’re absolutely thrilled about. It’s going to be fun and generative and will help build even more connections within our community. It’s going to be free—you just need our app to take part. To join, get the app below!
Prompt 204. Be Slow by Rachel Schwartzmann
As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk surrounded by three machines: phone, laptop, and desktop computer. They flash with a deluge of reminders, each notification a gateway to multiple lists filled with the day’s tasks. Everything is syncing up and fueling the inevitable question that many of us face when looking at our to-do’s: Where should I begin?
For a long time, this question was enough to send my mind into overdrive. But in my line of work, I get to ask a lot of questions. Recently what’s seemed the most urgent is the question of our collective relationship with pace and its influence on how we live, work, and create in our digital age. It’s a tough one to tackle even in a landscape that provides easy and immediate answers—many of which can be found within the four corners of a screen.
But as we all slowed down during the pandemic, I wasn’t as satisfied with the answers we’ve been given. And instead of searching for more online, I spent time looking at what’s right in front of me: Above my machine-laden desk hangs an oil painting stretched on canvas. To the right, perched and at the ready, is the corkboard I use to create monthly mood-boards. Below that, a stack of papers and a vintage globe sits atop a filing cabinet. There are noticeable divots, creases, and cracks in all of these things. The globe, in particular, is faded and covered in a thin layer of dust. As I reach over and give it a twirl, I think about all of the people in the world—spinning, asking questions, searching for answers.
Unlike the click of a button, these objects don’t provide immediate answers, but they refocus the blurred lines between physical and digital, real and obscured. They create opportunities to look more closely, to listen more carefully, to consider more honestly: What do I want to make? Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be?
Our work will always be there; it will be ongoing. But during this rare opportunity we have to truly slow down, I silence my alarms, put my phone away, and ask myself: Where should I begin?
Your prompt for the week:
Set your timer for five minutes and do nothing. Stare at the desk or the wall or the dust motes in a slice of sunlight. Then write about the thoughts, the questions, and the answers that came up in that moment of slowness, of stillness.
For more paid subscriber benefits see—
On Creative Cross-Training, a reflection on the benefits of varying your creative practice from our last gathering of the Hatch
Making Art from Hard Things, a video replay of our Studio Visit with the acclaimed author Esmé Weijun Wang
Love in the Time of Cancer (Part 2), a Dear Susu column on how we keep going in the face of uncertainty