Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Stressed about trying to be Shakespeare? Channel your inner Homer Simpson

Feeling pressure to take on a huge project or do something meaningful during the pandemic? Don't fret, writes contributor Christine Hennebury. Find your bliss somewhere else, like on the couch.

No one expects you to write a play, let alone King Lear. Find your bliss on the couch

William Shakespeare is believed to have written King Lear while theatres were closed because of a plague outbreak. Homer Simpson likes to eat pork rinds at home. (Public domain/Disney)

My social media feeds are full of lists and advice and plans for how to "make the most" of this slowed-down time, this isolation that we are all experiencing. One of the most pervasive memes that keeps popping up is a reminder that Shakespeare apparently wrote King Lear during a time of quarantine.

If that meme inspires you, get your quill and parchment and get writing.  

But, if that meme makes you feel bad at this stressful time, then I suggest that you adapt a phrase we used when I was a kid: "Whoop de doo for Shakespeare."

Not to diminish the Bard's accomplishments but I'll bet he didn't have to deal with the same things you are dealing with. Child care was probably not a concern, he probably didn't have to do a lot of house maintenance, and he was, after all, doing his job.

Maybe it was hard for him to concentrate, maybe he felt challenged and distressed by his circumstances, but he didn't have to worry about all of the things you have on your plate. 

I don't want you to feel any pressure to take on a huge project or a life overhaul during this stressful time.

In fact, by staying home, you are already accomplishing something — you are helping to stop the spread of a virus.

So, if aiming for Shakespearean accomplishments feels awful, then I suggest you model your days after another cultural icon — Homer Simpson.

I'm thinking specifically of The Simpsons' 1991 episode One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish, where, after consuming possibly poisonous fish, Homer believes he's going to die.

He spends what he believes to be his last day on earth doing a series of things that are important to him. The next morning, he has escaped death so he resolves to make the most of each day from now on. 

In the next scene, he is sitting on the couch watching TV and eating pork rinds. 

In a classic Simpsons episode, Homer vows to live each day to the fullest — only to be seen happily munching on pork rinds while the credits roll. (Disney)

Perhaps we are supposed to laugh at how quickly he went back to normal.

However, the scene has always felt very profound to me. 

Perhaps having a snack and watching TV is part of him making the most of each day. It's not the only thing in his life but it is a satisfying part of his routine. 

The key is that he gets to decide what making the most of each day looks like for him.

Living your best life

So, in this stressful time, why not channel your inner Homer?

You don't need to become an oaf or only do the things that Homer would do but you can take charge of deciding what "making the most" of the situation and "living your best life" looks like for you.

William Shakespeare first staged King Lear months after a terrifying plague, leading to the theory he wrote it while in quarantine. This is a scene from a 2002 production starring Christopher Plummer at Ontario's Stratford Festival. (V. Tony Hauser/Stratford Festival )

After all, you don't have to accomplish anything in particular during this time of social distancing. 

In fact, by staying home, you are already accomplishing something — you are helping to stop the spread of a virus. Anything you do beyond that is for your own mental, physical or financial health. 

Go ahead and establish the level of structure that you need in order to feel some stability, whatever that means for you, but you don't need to go above and beyond. You don't need to become a whole new person and develop all of those habits you have always dreamed you would acquire. 

It's really OK to just keep being yourself.  

There is no such thing as the perfect way to deal with this uncertain situation.

You don't have to "take advantage of this break and get stuff done."

This is a change but it is not necessarily a break. You aren't on vacation, you are being responsible in a crisis. You are carrying health worries, financial worries, worries about your friends, your parents, your kids and yourself. Please don't assume that you will have the capacity to take on a huge new project.

So, if aiming for Shakespearean accomplishments feels awful, writes contributor Christine Hennebury, then she suggests you model your days after another cultural icon — Homer Simpson. (Christine Hennebury)

At most, this might be a good time to take on some small, helpful habits: Doing something creative, getting a little exercise. Things that help you feel more in control and more like yourself. 

Instead of taking on a personal makeover, take the Homer Simpson route: Figure out what you like and what you need and do those things as often as you can. Up to, and including, watching TV and having snacks.

There is no such thing as the perfect way to deal with this uncertain situation, and no one else gets to decide how you should spend your time. 

5 guidelines to help you feel more settled

  • Identify the things that you must do on a regular basis, for mental/physical health, for fun, for rest, or for income.
  • Figure out whether you need more or less structure in order to do them.
  • Create that structure or flexibility in the best way you can.
  • Match your expectations to your reality; it can be challenging to get anything done right now.
  • Be kind to yourself about the whole process.

Go on and live your own version of your best at-home life.

Make the most of the things that you enjoy. 

I think Homer would approve.

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Christine Hennebury is a writer and creative coach in St. John's.