My friend Stephanie Pruitt Gaines moves through the world with big love and big creative energy. She’s a poet who puts poems in vending machines; she’s an “artrepreuneur”; she advises the Nashville Public Library. She and her husband Al are world famous for “Poems & Pancakes”! Okay, maybe locally famous. They are known and loved for it. Stephanie is known and loved all over Nashville.

Like the rest of us, she’s trying to figure things out in the Time of Corona (with Al and Sugar close by)…

How are you even making sense of the time we live in, Stephanie? Each day has blessings and each day can also be hard…

Hard blessings. Yes. I can relate, Jennifer. The last couple of months have been joy and laughter-filled as well as full of devastation. I’m not trying to make sense of it all right now. I’m trying to act thoughtfully and give myself and others much, much grace. I hope I’ll be able to process it later with greater perspective.

What does your daily life look like?

I’ve worked from home for years, so my day-to-day hasn’t changed much, but everything is slower, with less self-imposed pressure. I decided to add a few new things in the mix. I tried puzzles, but wooo sahhhh… those thousand tiny pieces. I’m tackling small house projects, as well as taking some online classes for fun – screenwriting, gardening, negotiations, etc. Oh, and there’s quite a bit more tv bingeing and backyard lollygagging than normal. The other day I noticed berries on a Mulberry tree that hadn’t produced fruit in previous years.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel today? How did you feel yesterday? How will you feel tomorrow?

Today has been rough. It’s a 2 or 3. Yesterday was a 9. Your question just reminded me that I can more consciously shape tomorrow. I’m thinking of ways I can bring it back to 9. I’m typically a good brainstormer, but my only idea right now is orgasms. Not a bad start I guess.

You are one of the most beautifully creative people I know. What is your creative outlet in the Time of Corona?

Thank you, sweet friend! I’m adjusting creatively, sometimes struggling, other times fully embracing and curiously enjoying. Cooking has been my most consistent creative space. I’m also cleaning out closets and finding old poem drafts and miscellany for mixed media, failed poem assemblages (a friend’s 6-year-old calls them my weird art boxes and heads). Over the last handful of years, I moved from traditional poetry and publishing to poetry as public and social practice art. But the last few months, instead of poems I’ve been writing and recording meditations. I’m a mix of science, woo-woo, and country fried pragmatism. I wasn’t finding meditations that fed those sensibilities so I’m figuring out how to make them for myself.

What worries you the most?

I’m anxiety prone and years ago was having severe panic attacks. It can be an aspect of creativity. Visualizing and intensely feeling possibilities can be generative or debilitating. In worry moments, now I try to objectively observe and describe. Present tense. If I start worse case scenario-ing, I remind myself that it’s a swiss cheese picture that my decisions/actions/inactions can help fill in for the better. I’m a recovering worrier, but Corona and the socio-political climate are testing years of progress. In my home bubble, I’m chilling. Things are good. But the world feels wacky.

I’m observing the gulf-sized cracks that so many people are falling through. Nationwide and in Nashville we were in a Tale of Two Cities reality before COVID19. It’s intensified. Food and housing insecurity, and a cascade of hard choices are weighing on people. That has my gears turning. Also systemic racism, plastic in the oceans, murder hornets, RBG’s health, the way I look on Zoom calls, and systemic racism.

What brings you the most comfort or pleasure?

I subscribe to the Mr. Rogers school of thought: look for the helpers! I’m seeing helpers all around. That always brings comfort. Also, my husband, Al and I listen to music in the kitchen. We cook together and talk and laugh generously.

My furkid Sugar brings me joy. She’s a 9-year-old boxer snuggle buddy who gets the zoomies and rips through the house with her toys.

Sugar at rest

A weighted blanket + hot tea = comfort. And art. Always art. Rearranging work on my walls and bookshelves brings me pleasure.

I think I saw you feature a vegan Mac & cheese on Facebook the other day… What’s been your greatest success in the kitchen? (And/or greatest failure?)

Yes! I’m food motivated. Finding delicious ways to revise my health story has been a right-sized challenge for now. I’m transitioning to veganism. Carrot “bacon”, vegan “fish” patties, and the mac and “cheese” have been successful. Translating my coveted pancake recipe has been challenging. Curdled oatmilk simply does not pass for buttermilk to this Southern woman. I’m determined however to host Poems & Pancakes again someday and I’m picky about my flapjacks, so I’ll figure it out.

Carrot Bacon

How often do you get out? When will you feel comfortable eating out?

I’ve hardly left my house other than walks and limited visits with family across the street. I went to the grocery store for the first time in months earlier today. It’s going to be a while until I eat out, but I’ve enjoyed some of our local favorites via delivery.

How is your family? How are your friends?

We’re very well. I’m thinking of and watching my daughter closely. Hope is one of the most valuable currencies we have in our early 20s. With so many unknowns it would be easy for her to feel apathy. On the contrary, she’s making plans and finding creative ways to stay connected. I’m praying it stays that way.

What are you reading/watching/listening to? I am so interested in your recommendations!!

Oh gosh! I’m probably going to disappoint you here. It’s hard for me to reckon with as a book lover, but my attention span says not right now to most books. Do Netflix and Hulu descriptions count as reading? I do read theSkimm most days.

As far as tv, “Little Fires Everywhere” has been one of my recent favorites.

Then to balance the weight of a show like that, I’ll watch documentaries about delightful, oddball subjects. “Chicken People” was a good one.

I am listening to a lot of music. I have playlists for every mood. Lalah Hathaway always mellows and inspires me.

Online video content has been high on my list. I watch videos from Tabitha Brown. I’ve also loved the online parties like DJ Nice on Instagram or #verzuz battles. The Jill Scott/Erykah Badu event was epic.

What have you learned about yourself in the Time of Corona?

I’ve learned that fear and hope are equally powerful motivators for me but hope feels a lot better and makes me easier to live with. I’ve also learned that natural deodorants just aren’t for me right now. Maybe my body chemistry will change after months without meat and I’ll try again.

What has surprised you in the Time of Corona?

People not understanding the difference between oppression and inconvenience. (p.s. please wear a mask!)

How do you think Nashville is handling this crisis?

Ultimately Nashville is resilient. I love my hometown and know we’ll pull through. The Mayor’s office and City Council are feeling pressure from every angle. I hope science, data, and compassion continue to guide decisions. I’ve appreciated the communication coming from Nashville leadership. Locally I’ve been most concerned about the disconnect between the state and city.

And finally, let’s wrap up with some Speed Dating questions…

Favorite beverage in the Time of Corona? Water and what Jesus turned it into

Most proud of ~ 1. my Al and his work at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and 2. activists who pressured a flawed system to take a small step towards justice in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Most disappointed in ~ learning that low-splash/splashless bleach does NOT disinfect.

Most annoyed by ~ my wonky circadian rhythms

Most encouraged by ~ plants

What’s your best life advice for this remarkable period of time? No advice from my little corner these days. I’ve sought professional health advice and talked with financial advisors recently, but outside of that sort of specialized consultation this feels like a good time to go inward and listen to our deeper selves. Or maybe we just drink and have impromptu dance parties. Yep, I’ll hold off on spooning out advice. 🙂

I’ll take your advice whenever you offer it, Stephanie! I can’t wait to meet you for lunch one day before too long… or maybe we can get together in Marlee Mitchell’s wine cellar.

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