Our Daily Breather: Maintaining Sanity During A Pandemic In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Our Daily Breather seeks guidance on the health of the psyche. Vanessa Carlton has been turning to the writings of Liz Phair.
NPR logo Our Daily Breather: Vanessa Carlton On Liz Phair's Memoir

Our Daily Breather: Vanessa Carlton On Liz Phair's Memoir

Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the Artist
Vanessa Carlton
Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the Artist

Twenty seconds of hand washing. 60 to 90 percent alcohol. Five to 12 (14? 21?) days of incubation until the dry cough comes. People worldwide have absorbed these guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic has closed its fist around the world. At least hygiene directives are quantifiable. There is also the question of how to care for the psyche.

It's a deeply personal matter. Some turn to prayer, or to a song, a story, a ritual, a favorite corner of the house. Psychic health is not just about becoming calmer, either. Anger and frustration and fear have to find their channels. Humor has to be preserved. So, somehow, does joy.

Humans need to keep the spirit moving, as did Charles Dickens — who lived through a few epidemics — by taking a daily "breather" in the fresh air. Our Daily Breather seeks recommendations for psychic health from people who go deep into their own hearts and minds: artists and writers. Creative people have been uniquely affected by the onset of the current pandemic. Still they continue to dream, and to create. They can help us understand how. —Ann Powers


While this situation is bringing us all back to a more simplistic way of living, the elephant in the room is the internet. I have to discipline myself when it comes to screen time, and I think most others do too.

I need routine, and so does my kid. I've printed out hour-by-hour daily schedules that I fill in the night before. I'm about to learn how to homeschool very quickly, and thankfully, Scholastic is allowing everyone to access their resources!

I think it's also important to acknowledge that for anyone that struggles with addiction, alcoholism or depression, this time is going to be extra challenging. I think routine is a great anxiety reducer, but then we need art.

I'm loving Liz Phair's book Horror Stories. The concept is unique: Each chapter is a story of shame or regret that she has carried throughout her life. It's an unpacking of her darkest and most human stories, and with each chapter you see how these tales were integral in shaping who she is as a person and artist. I love when people have the courage to put their guts on the table.

You know, it's interesting: This country has been divided up over the past few years — Americans have become pitted against each other and the world — and it's taking a virus to put us all back in the same boat again. I believe nature is waking us all up to our connection with each other and with the earth.


Vanessa Carlton's new album, Love Is An Art, is out March 27. She recently had to postpone her upcoming tour due to COVID-19 concerns.

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