It’s what we had feared all along.

Despite the masks, the relentless sanitizing, and social distancing, we received news that a member of our household had been exposed to the virus.

Before breakfast the next morning, we masked up, piled into the car, and headed to the enormous testing facility at the fairgrounds. Hundreds of spooky, lime green traffic cones separated long, empty lanes of traffic. It’s like they’d color-coordinated with the green splat emoji we had all been using as shorthand for coronavirus. If it hadn’t been a rainy Sunday in Miami, the lanes would have been full, according the national guardsman we met at a check point. Miami drivers can’t do rain—traffic comes to a standstill.

The sweet scent of banana bread filtered through my mask from the thermal bag on the passenger seat. I’d packed it up in case we’d had a long wait. We wound our way through the Covid themed race track as I fiddled with the container using my free hand.

“You guys want to eat?”

No one was hungry.

We pulled into the metal shelter and a PPE-draped nurse tossed a few clear bags labeled “BIOHAZARD” into the car window. She delivered some clipped instructions and stepped back. I turned around in the driver’s seat to show everyone how to cough hard into theirs masks, then swab the insides of cheeks, and along the gums and tongue. When the last kid finished, his collection kit nearly went flying. It seemed weird that a child should be in charge of his own sample, but I wasn’t there to question protocol. I handed back the kits and asked when we’d received results.

“You should hear back within twenty-four hours,” she said and waved me on, beckoning the car behind us with her mummied-up limbs. I pulled the car forward to snap a photo of the gigantic semi trucks marked Miami Dade Fire Rescue. This was history in the making after all.

“Mom, you better take off, here come the cops,” said my older son. A police cruiser loomed in my rear view mirror so I stepped on the gas. Was it illegal to take photos at a government testing facility? I didn’t wait around to find out.

When we arrived home, I did the only thing I could do: wait nervously. Sitting at my kitchen table, I self-medicated with a half wedge of brie and onion matzah. I felt lightheaded and panicked that it might be a symptom. I released the thought and reflected on the last eight months.

At the beginning of quarantine in mid-March, I was aggressively fine with all of it. I reasoned that the kids could use some downtime from the grind. I’d felt relief when suddenly I got back all those hours I regularly spent in my car. No more schlepping children and stuff hither and yon. Volunteer obligations vanished and suddenly I had time to write my book. We all needed a break.

As March became April, then May, there was much talk about family bonding opportunities. I unloaded board games from the hall closet, forming neat stacks on the dining room table. The kids didn’t feel up to it, but I left them out, figuring we’d play eventually. I put together lists of festive meals like pizzeria night, taco bar and nacho making to varying levels of enthusiasm. Closets were cleaned and items donated to programs for communities in need. I chose a family charity project and the kids selected college-themed supplies for the new dorms at a public boarding school. Every chance I got, I repeated how fortunate we were. But the kids needed to mourn their lives a little and weren’t totally sold on my covid-tastic-ness. But in those early months, I was doing battle with corona and winning.

I was raised to thrive in chaos—my training started early. An unexpected divorce, the surprise departure of a parent, a move across country that none of us kids saw coming. And that was just the beginning. Every few months, our house of cards blew down in one way or the other. By the time I left home and controlled my own life, I was conditioned to worry reflexively. I attended law school with a full 75% of my brain devoted to spinning nightmare scenarios while the remainder worked two jobs and did schoolwork. Before every exam, I cried, long and hard, then got to work. It was exhausting.

So I started therapy. I credit those twenty years with a mostly healthy relationship and the ability to care for my family. But even after those endless hours on that burgundy leather sofa, I still woke up, grinding my teeth. Until, finally, I learned to direct my thoughts to what I could control instead of fretting about a future I couldn’t. I learned that energy is matter and I need to be conscious of what I focus on because that is what I create.

I was doing great with corona for months, building mental fitness and practicing gratitude. Until the unrelenting cancellations began to take a toll on my kids. Rights of passage missed that wouldn’t be back. The dance party to end elementary school, a Disney trip at the completion of middle school, a European adventure with Grandma the last summer before entering college. Yes, we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Nonetheless. There was no fine then. I could take any amount of pain, just don’t hurt my babies.

Because of the turbulent years I spent as a kid, I vowed to do it differently. When they were born, I made every decision as though their lives depended on it. Overpriced, organic produce, stainless steel lunch containers to avoid phthalates, silver copper ionization for the pool instead of chlorine. I have chilled out a little, but the thing that remains is that I take my job of protecting them seriously.

The next morning the test results came in. One child had tested positive.

I have broken down a handful of times on the coronacoaster, and that day was one of them. It was one child’s birthday, the other was sick in bed and the third was miserable for having to miss a tiny Halloween party—the one and only festive ocassion in eight months.

Friends offered to bring food. I am not comfortable accepting help. Guilt consumes me when people go out of their way. Call it a trigger from childhood when I felt like a burden. But I accepted it on that day. Two bags of groceries from a dear, sweet friend. Homemade chicken soup from the warm kitchen of another. I get by with a little help from my friends. And, of course, our pediatrician who told me not to worry, it would be a mild case. My kid said everything hurt, but the lungs are clear.

Now that I’ve had my cathartic cry, I know there is only one way to deal with all of this. Get back up, take a deep breath and do what I need to do. I will “stand guard at the gate of my mind,” focus on the things I can control and be grateful for all I have.

I say this to myself and to all of you. It’s going to be okay.


Writing Prompt: When the pandemic knocks you down, how do you get yourself back on track?


Want more JOY in your life? Yes, please.

If you are one of those folks who never lost that childlike curiosity and willingness to take risks—this piece is not for you. It’s for those of us who consider spontaneous fun just a bit too irresponsible. I became that person at age ten.

My fifth grade teacher had just transferred from the high school. He assigned a comically heavy load of homework. Each afternoon, I fanned the books and papers out at the foot of my bed and began to fret, wondering how I would get it all done. One afternoon, I spotted my bright blue roller skates sitting in the corner. They hadn’t been touched since I opened the box at Hanukkah and took them out for a spin. Without a thought, I grabbed them and marched out to the front porch. Up and down Quiet Lane I raced until the sky streaked orange, yellow, and pink. I slowed my pace and rolled up the driveway, lungs burning in the high desert air. As I pulled off each skate, I promised myself, I’d do this everyday.

I never did it again.

The next afternoon, a voice in my head scolded me: you are not a frivolous person who puts fun before work. No skating.

Cut to forty years later—I asked for a pair of roller skates for my birthday, just this month. Up until recently, I was still the type who wouldn’t waste time on such a silly hobby, nor would I risk injury that might bench me from yoga or running. What caused the change, you ask?

In short, it was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’m here to tell you, it’s not just for artists, it’s for anyone who straight up wants more joy in their life. My sister Dinah recommended it when I called her a while back, upset after receiving some hurtful feedback on a piece of writing from someone who’s work I respected. Dinah had some pointed advice.

“She’s your wet blanket. You can’t show her your work,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She talked about those people who, when you have something exciting going on, will plant doubt in your mind, claiming it’s “for your own good,” their comments serving only to stomp on your enthusiasm. A “wet blanket” is the polar opposite of a “creative champion,” someone who can be counted on to offer encouragement and constructive criticism– a generous and self aware friend or colleague. I ordered the book immediately.

“The Artist’s Way shows you how to keep your own counsel. It helps you tune in to yourself and figure out which people you need to keep around. If you follow the program, you will let go of what’s holding you back and gain a crazy kind of momentum.”

I just completed week twelve and have been officially reacquainted with fun. And my creativity is gangbusters.

The exercises are based on the concept that we should do the work to maximize our creative power because, “there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money,” according to Cameron. In other words, want to live your best life? Get yourself a copy of The Artist’s Way. And don’t be put off by all the spiritual talk, if that’s what throws you. She’s a twelve-stepper, just so you know.

So how do you go from being an overly cautious pre-worrier who is super intimidated to share her creative work and stresses out about everything? I’ll tell you because that was me. Each chapter of The Artist’s Way includes exercises that are mostly just play that you will love doing. For example, one night after dinner, I sat on the couch and cut out photos from magazines of beautiful places I want to go and things I want to achieve. I pasted them into a collage like I had for friends back in high school. It now hangs in the bathroom where I see it every day. And some of it’s already happening. I was invited to a magical yoga retreat–when the world had been canceled for months–spent a day on a boat having deep, satisfying conversations with new and old friends, I’ve been swimming in the ocean, and now we’re talking about staying in the mountains while the kids attend school remotely.

And before you think to yourself, that sounds like a goofy vision board—no gracias. Expressing your desires in a tangible way programs your brain to seek those things out. It’s simple science—like deciding to buy a Mini Cooper and suddenly they are swarming around you in the streets. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Gilbert, Martin Scorsese, and Anne Lamott who are all over the book jacket. My pal Liz has done the program three times. After the first, she decided to 1) travel to Italy and learn Italian, 2) go to an ashram in India, and 3) return to Indonesia to study with an old medicine man. This decision resulted in, you guessed it, Eat, Pray, Love.

I suggested the book to a dear friend who is searching for her next thing. She said, “I really don’t want to blow up my life, so I better not.” No one is forcing you to change anything. This is all information that is stored up inside you already. Self-knowledge is the greatest power you can harness.

This book deploys techniques to evade your inner censor. You know, the one that shuts down opportunities before you even explore them. The Artist’s Way has you speed write a Wish List.* You go so fast that the answers come straight from your subconscious. Your mean little critic can’t catch up to say, that wish is stupid. Cameron explains, “because wishes are just wishes, they are allowed to be frivolous (and frequently should be taken very seriously).” How great is this? And just so you don’t get the impression that it’s an exercise in daydreaming on your apple pie in the sky, here’s the deeper work: it explores the limitations placed on us by receiving wrongheaded messages from parents and society. It interrogates our fears and investigates why we may have lost faith that life will work out in our favor if we go after what we really want.

And don’t even get me started on the signature exercise of The Artist’s Way: the morning pages. Writing for three pages in a dedicated journal, longhand—without planning or stopping to think—turbo boosts your intuition and has you answering all of your own questions.

Here is the end result. I say YES to spontaneous fun. I am sharing my creative work not just once a week, but every day— little mini stories on Instagram (@elizabethheise1) and a longer piece like this once a week. I didn’t even have Instagram until now. After reading The Artist’s Way, I will go to the beach on the weekend, instead of being the foot soldier of my To Do list. I jump in the surf in a bikini. I used to dress in a sun protective swimming costume that would have worked great on the Jersey Shore in the 1930’s—modern day Miami Beach, not so much. I am more carefree than I have ever been in my life. I am not trying to be any certain way. I just am.

So order the book already. It’s going to be okay.


*Writing Prompt: As quick as you can, finish the following phrase. Repeat FIFTEEN TIMES:

I wish _____________.

Finish with this last one:

I most especially wish _____________.


It was the moment I had been waiting for…

Elizabeth Heise

My back pocket buzzed in the international foods aisle. I try not to check my phone in the store to avoid contaminating it with my covidy fingers that have been all over the communal groceries. But I expected word from The Spun Yarn—an evaluation by early readers of my first book— so with every push notification, I jumped.

I had heard other writers hadn’t been able to get much work done during lock down. All manner of crazy was happening in my very full house but none of it involved physical illness or going hungry, so instead of perfecting a sourdough, I used the time to write. (I am from San Francisco so, regardless, I wouldn’t have dared.) My manuscript, Scrappy, was completed during the unending summer and had been in the hands of the betas for nearly a month. I yanked the phone out to scan the full report in my inbox, skipped over full blocks of text and mined for compliments, key words of praise I dug out like bits of brownie in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

“The author has a captivating voice and story…excellent at her craft…”

“A pleasure to read on a sentence level…a few turns of phrases I especially enjoyed.”

“Gripping…kept me wanting more…incredibly true to life…so realistically wrought…”

“Vivid details and realistic dialogue…she dove completely in…heartbreaking and eye-opening.”

Right there in front of the rows of hot sauce, I cried. They liked it.

Now that I’d enjoyed my pats on the head, I was ready to hear what they really thought. “I was a bit disappointed that the author didn’t explain more of her feelings… Did she feel betrayed, furious, or alone? We are left to infer all these emotions, which is less effective in showing how defining this moment was for her.”

Oh, dear.

“The emotional impact is diminished by cutting out of the scene too soon or not giving any feeling that the event had any real effect on the author’s life. Moments like these deserve time for our narrator to express how she felt and how it pervaded her thoughts.”

I hyperventilated a little, causing the heavy cloth “VOTE” mask to seal around my nose and mouth, restricting my breath all the more. I now regretted what had seemed like a good choice when I swiped it off the dash from the scattered collection of political statements baking in the Miami sun.

My eyes landed on the wrap-up from the head honcho at The Spun Yarn.

“At times, readers felt scenes ended abruptly and wanted to spend a little longer processing these moments from Elizabeth’s point of view. It’s a very good thing that readers want more details because it means they care about your characters and enjoy your writing. So, keeping that core theme in mind, what details can you add to allow readers to connect more with the story?”

I had run away just when they were ready to feel something.

The socially distanced checkout line wound around the prepared foods section. I pulled my full cart behind a young couple and took a moment to absorb the critique. The readers felt cheated. It didn’t feel that way when I wrote it. Some of the scenes made me cry every time I re-read them.

But. I had survived the hard times I had described by picking myself up and pushing on. If I had sat around contemplating the “emotional impact” of what had happened, I’d have been done for. And then I remembered what Mary Karr said about the genre of memoir. That people are drawn to it because they want to “occupy another person’s heart.” My readers had wanted to occupy mine and I had denied them. I had protected myself, like I had learned to so long ago.

I loaded the groceries and slid into the driver’s seat for my sanitizing ritual: sprayed hands and goggles, removed mask, disinfected hands again, wiped down phone. I thought I had let my readers into my heart, but apparently I didn’t quite know what that looked like on the page. I couldn’t just tell my story of perseverance and skip off down the road to book number two that I couldn’t wait to write.

Driving home, the readers’ feedback looped through my mind. I was the emotionally unavailable boyfriend that had frustrated me so much as an undergrad. (Sorry, Greg, if you are reading.) The lesson landed, hopefully for the last time. If you want deep connections with other humans, there is no way to avoid your own vulnerability. You must let people in. No skipping over the hard parts. I can’t believe I wrote a whole book about how I had persisted through adversity and I still have to deal how I felt about it. &*%$. I have more work to do.

So. Go be the real you. It’s going to be okay. It seems scary, but it’s the only way.


Writing Prompt: What details you leave out?