Interviewed by John Haggerty

Read Kristin Griffin’s nonfiction piece, Things I’ve Seen Walking Penny

John: I love the level of detail that you give us in this story. It’s as if your senses have been heightened by deprivation. Is this how the lockdown feels to you?

Kristin: In some ways, yes. My world is so much smaller now. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new to notice. And that’s been one of my little personal challenges when taking my dog for a walk these days. What’s new? What’s different? What signs are there of the passage of time? I’m out collecting images. Many of those made it into the essay.

Do you think, in that sense, that the lockdown has made us paradoxically more engaged with our lives?

You know, it depends. Some days I’m pretty zoned out…but I have felt a much stronger connection to my neighborhood since the pandemic began. Maybe it’s because my neighbors are the only people I consistently see in person. I grew up in an apartment building and there was this unspoken elevator protocol: quick smile, look away, keep to yourself. That was what being neighborly meant. And I’ve hung on to that. But here, and especially now, I want a little more from an interaction. It’s a way to check in, to feel located somewhere specific, to feel seen. It helps that I have great neighbors and live in a community that’s aligned with me politically for the most part. I’m immensely grateful for that.

How is the project of focusing on what you control going?

Ongoing! Honestly I think it’s something I’ll struggle with for a long, long time. I want to control everything. I want to fix it all. But I can’t and I won’t and that moment with my husband in the essay really stunned me. Something clicked. It gave me permission to let things go and there’s something really freeing about that. But the truth is it’s a spectrum—especially in the middle of a global pandemic—and sometimes I’m easy-breezy and others I’m a wreck. I’m just trying to work on noticing where I am and gently guiding myself back to focusing on what I can control if that’s what I need. And sometimes I just guide myself to the freezer and remove a pint of ice cream if that’s what I need…

What do we control? And should we try to do more or less of it (controlling things, that is)?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe that wherever you put your energy, it expands. Whatever you focus on tends to grow. And so I try to control that. It’s not that I want to be vacantly happy all the time—that’s definitely not the goal—but I want to be awake to my life. I want to be present. I try to make conscious space in my day for the things that tend to bring me in to the present moment. Walking my dog does that, baking a cake, writing, mixing old fashioneds for my husband and me and the time we spend chatting while we drink them. Even if I can only find ten minutes for one of those things, that’s better than zero minutes, you know?