Structure and Focus your Way Through This

Mariah Rankine-Landers
4 min readSep 23, 2020

When your creative drive fails you, build a structure. The last few weeks have been too much on top of too much. We grieved the passing of beloved Representative John Lewis, our otherworldly superhero Chadwick Boseman, and now the Notorious RBG. The enduring terrorism by white supremacists, abusive policing, an abusive president, the dismantling of the USPS, the ban on teaching critical race theory, oh, and the pandemic. I nearly forgot.

The personal and collective losses are mounting.

So this is where my body says “nope” can’t process anymore. Everyone’s snapping point is different. I am actually not sure that I’ve fully reached my snapping point but I’ve reached it enough to know that I’m listless when it comes to engaging in my creative work. I can’t get myself to be creative. I can’t even pick up a crayon to color.

And then I think about all the young people, children, teachers, school admins, aunties, uncles, caregivers and parents trying to keep things moving, getting through each day, wow. It’s a lot. Now I know this isn’t a moment to despair at all, (thank you Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for our much needed reminder on the night that RBG died), but this is a moment to recognize that thinking and doing is HARD with all this grief we are collectively sitting in. And I’m wondering if we can just give ourselves permission to PAUSE.

Last week I poured the wrong liquid in my french press to make coffee. I took out my contacts and forgot to add the solution to the container. They were shriveled up and dried in the morning. I find empty bowls in the freezer and numbingly watch The Great British Baking Show on repeat because it’s the only thing that doesn’t give me anxiety (with their cute pleasantries and ongoing support for each other as they bake tempting little pastries).

When I reach this point a few things can happen. I can curl up in bed and cry, I can clean the house which never seems to get clean, or I can create structure to my day and remind myself of how to be.

Structure and focus are strategies that are my go to during times like this. They are also the strategies that I use when teaching because I understand that our minds and bodies are seeking safety (our brains like to be in safe mode), and when we don’t, there are things we can do to supportively nurture our way through a hard time.

Here are some ways to provide structure and focus. Though do trade out the romance novel for a picture book if you’re reading to your young children.

  1. Make a list! List making is so good. When it’s particularly overwhelming add details to your list such as: Make Coffee with the HOT water. Try Bullet Journaling if you really want to expand your list making. Or just make a numbered list of what needs to get done in the day. Trust. Some of us are getting through this one day at a time!
  2. Do something to help someone else. In times of distress, it always helps when I can focus my attention on someone that might need something. Does someone need a handwritten letter? A piece of art you made for them? I sent my sister some candy today because I know how she loves M&M’s. Now is not the time to stress about cellulite. This is engage and persist time!
  3. Read something light and easy. We don’t have to consume every little bit of the news cycle. It’s depleting us (per the point of authoritarianism). Read a romance novel or read the comics or something super trashy. Let me call up Roxanne Gay here “Be a Bad Feminist” and go enjoy some trashy novels. Try Jasmine Guillory books (I highly defend her works as not trashy though). Rountinize your reading time so your body can find comfort in the consistency.
Jasmine Guillory (I hope I get to meet her sometime)

4. Talk to Flowers: A few days ago I went to go see the last of the Dahlia’s blooming in the park. As soon as I saw them, I started talking to all the people who’ve died this year. Flowers got Powers. If you haven’t talked to some flowers lately, go say what’s up. There’s a reason why we give flowers to people who are grieving.

5. Make a Plan! Check your voters registration. Double check. I’ve checked mine three times already. VOTE EARLY. Mail in your ballot! Make sure your friends have a plan. Call people. Donate! Send postcards! Learn more with Way to Win.

Hold fast to a vision of delight, love, joy, abundance and expectation. What ever sort of daydream lightens the burdens you’re feeling now, replay it over and over. Your creative drive will return sooner than you know. But if you need to pause, just PAUSE. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.



Mariah Rankine-Landers

Mariah Rankine-Landers, Ed.M co-leads Studio Pathways for transformative school and organizational change that centers the cultural and contemporary arts.