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How Poet Maggie Smith 'Tried On' Hope To Keep Moving Forward

Photo: Marley Allen-Ash for NPR
Photo: Marley Allen-Ash for NPR

When the poet Maggie Smith set off to create her new book  Keep Moving she had no idea that it would be published in the midst of a pandemic. She says she wrote  Keep Moving during one of her most unsure times — she'd recently divorced and was trying to figure out how to wade through that new grief. But  Keep Moving, which was published last fall, took on new meaning during the pandemic. "We're all sort of wandering in the dark, feeling along the wall for the light switch and needing to draw on those best parts of ourselves, our resilience and courage, in order to get from day one to day two to day three," she recently told Life Kit. She describes the book as a compilation of notes to self, many of which she first shared on Twitter. She said they were her way of "trying on" hope. "Even though it didn't fit well, like it was scratchy and oversized and I hated it, and I couldn't wait to take it off because I just felt bad," she said, "it started to work. The more I told myself it was going to be OK, and the more I put myself into that mindset as a daily practice, I saw a difference." Smith spoke with Life Kit about how she's persisted through this pandemic, and how the nearly year-long stretch of isolation has affected how she sees her work. Among other things, Smith shared three ways she keeps moving. Make time for yourself every day: "One thing that always helps me is making time each day, even if it's a little bit of time, to do something that makes me feel like  me — like my core self — apart from whatever trouble or stress or whatever else is going on in my life. And so for me, that's writing. Sometimes it's running or meditation or yoga. ... I like to describe it as kind of a 'snow globe moment' where you can kind of still the outside world and have a little bit of time just with yourself." Gratitude, but 'not in that kind of sunshine-y, everything's-fine-let's-all-be-thankful-for-everything' kind of way: "Another thing that makes a big difference for me is gratitude, and not in that kind of sunshine-y, 'everything's fine, let's all be thankful for everything,' kind of way. But in a 'still being able to recognize the things in your life that are positive, even if you're struggling and other aspects of your life.' I don't know a way to joy without looking around and naming, maybe out loud or on a piece of paper, things that I'm thankful for. And even if it's my health, my children's health, our house ... just whatever that list looks like for you, having that to keep in mind so we don't fall down the rabbit hole of focusing on the negative and forgetting what we still have going for us."

Stepping back and putting things in perspective: "[Perspective] is the tricky one — trying to look at things in a way that are sort of proportionate to their size. So obviously, some problems are bigger than others. But sometimes I think our emotional response can be outsized if we're stressed. And so trying to put the problem in context and ... look at the size of the problem. And if it's a snarky text message or an email, try to imagine yourself in two months thinking back on that thing and see if you can get a better grip on the size of it, not in the present moment, but by kind of fast forwarding a bit into the year. And I find that helpful."

Kat Chow is a  reporter and writer  whose memoir about grief and family,  Seeing Ghosts,  is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing. The podcast portion of this episode was produced by  Andee Tagle . We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at  LifeKit@npr.org . For more Life Kit,  subscribe to our newsletter .