As with all great events of the modern age, when it all started, so did the memes. The reminders that Shakespeare used his plague-induced isolation to write King Lear. And that Isaac Newton spent his own quarantine time creating calculus (I still haven’t forgiven him). The implication was clear: you’re isolated, you’re home, you finally have the time to do that great Something you could do if only you had the time and space. And then there was the one that was less subtle and basically said that if you don’t emerge from this with a new skill, side hustle, or knowledge, it’s not because you lacked time, but discipline.
At first I handled this all pretty well. I figured yeah, I’m home more, I’ll be better about keeping up with housework. I can’t go out anywhere, so I’ll get more work done and read more books. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
I hit a breaking point yesterday morning. Smol Human has this thing where he falls asleep, and then wakes up around 1:30 or 2am bawling and won’t go back to sleep unless I go with him. I’m also still working my normal hours, just at home, and Smol Human is home with me. While I’m fortunate to have a position where I can make this work, it’s just not sustainable in the long run. It all hit me hard after nights of broken sleep and early mornings of being climbed over and nudged and asked to get up over and over again. It hit me after days of feeling overwhelmed by how to be mom in addition to my job.
Even when things were normal I’d try to be more understanding and kinder to myself and say that I couldn’t do it all. IF I can’t do it all even under good circumstances, what makes me think I can do it all under these?
Because even in the midst of this crazy fucked up trauma (yes, this is all very traumatic) the mentality of do more and more and more and if you’re not you’re a lazy failure persists. It persists more because things have shifted. Shakespeare wasn’t balancing writing while his autistic preschooler begged him to go outside, even though it’s pouring out. And Isaac Newton? Not inventing calculus in the middle of a Zoom, while his kid is chasing one cat around the house and the other is horking up a hairball on the rug. Shakespeare’s job was writing plays. Newton’s job was studying math and science. They were doing their jobs during the plague.
The world has changed, and we need to be kind to ourselves as we try to navigate it. At the start I thought I’d read a bit more and be a more efficient editor of my manuscript, or that I’d get more crafting done. I’ve done about the same amount of all of those as I would have done if I wasn’t sheltering at home. Because even when I am done work, and I do have the time, my mind is tired. It’s not necessarily a lack of discipline as I’m just tired. It’s been a wild ride so far, and it gets tiring holding on by a thread. Holding so hard it hurts. Holding so hard that when you get distracted from holding, you snap.
So be kind to yourselves. Be understanding. Be realistic. Stay healthy, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
It’s… strange how much things have slowed down, even while they’re moving frantically. It suddenly seems like there’s time for all the things there weren’t time for before.
While today isn’t warm, it’s a gorgeous, sunny day out. I went for a drive with the Smol Human (just a drive–no stops. He likes just riding and taking it all in). So many people were out walking. Families were doing yard work together. When we got home, there wasn’t pressure to get in and start getting things done to get ready for next week because… well, next week isn’t the usual.
We went for a walk up the street. The sky is so blue it’s almost unreal. You’d never know that we’re expecting six inches of snow tomorrow (yay spring in New England!), or that the plague of the 21st century is sweeping through around us. No confirmed or even suspected cases in my county, let alone my city. We stayed out in the sun for a good hour.
I try to remember the last time I felt this, and I can’t. It’s like there’s permission for people to slow down, to think more, to focus on more than just producing. I see the meme about Shakespeare using the plague to write King Lear, and while certainly there will be more time to devote to hobbies and such, why do we have to produce more, in other ways? Nothing wrong with it if you do–sometimes it takes this enforced time to kickstart a project! But there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it if you don’t want to launch into something like this, either.
There’s a shift in thinking, and my hope is that this shift is permanent. That we don’t go back to the way things were “before”. That we’ve seen the value of art and beauty and music, and in time with loved ones and consciously considering those around us. That we like not hustling every minute of the day, and that this Puritanical holdover that we must be busy, must not be idle, must constantly be something other than just being, can slip away.
I’m definitely coming from a place of privilege with this, and I know there are many struggling. So my hope is that we can help our fellow people. We can get over this concept of struggling as a moral failing, and realize that helping people is just that: helping. I saw another meme that mentioned something along the lines of it took a plague to make humanity more, you know, humane.
Let’s remember this. Let’s not wake up at this time next year back where we started from, where you’d never know that a sweeping pandemic rushed in and forced us to start being human again.
When I used to teach Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, I’d include a rousing game of Pandemic (the old version) after we read it. The class would choose a disease type, symptoms, and then sit on the edge of their seats watching for it to take hold in the world. We’d watch the planes stop, watch the ships aimlessly move around due to closed ports, and groan when we didn’t manage to get Madagascar infected.
I didn’t think I’d ever live in Pandemic. I know the disease type; I know the symptoms. And now I watch as it takes hold. I hear news of closing borders (looking at you, US and Canada, and don’t think I forgot how The Handmaid’s Tale started). Orders to shelter in place, to social distance, to close businesses. We just got the remote work order last night.
I’m down to my last two antidepressant pills and it says I need doctor’s authorization to refill it. When we talk about pandemics and plagues and the zombie apocalypse we don’t really consider what it would be like to be off meds. Everyone would be raiding Walgreens for the antibiotics and stuff to treat infections in a zombie-infested world. I’d be digging for the Lexapro.
I’m trying to set up something to work on basics with Smol Human until his Google Classroom is up and running, and to maintain a sense of routine. It’s only day 2 of being off his routine, but I think it’s going to get harder for him (and for us). We’re fortunate to have a village, but he’s still a handful and needs to get out his energy. Today we ran around in circles. He asked me, “Want to run around in circles?” so that’s what we did. We also spent over an hour drawing houses with windows. He kept asking for house numbers that aren’t part of his usuals (ours, his grandparents’, our friends, etc), and I’m wondering if these are the house numbers he sees when the school bus brings him to his special needs program.
I took today as a vacation day, thinking perhaps we’d still be opened, so I’ll start remote work tomorrow. At least my parents will have the Smol Human for a couple days, so that should make it easier for me to come up with a routine and make a space for myself to work at home.
There’s plenty I can do around here; I’m not worried about that! It’s just making myself do it, and balancing Smol Human’s needs. Once I settle into something, I think we’ll be alright. It’s just the beginning. We’re all trying to figure it out.
Since my parents will have him for a couple of nights, husband and I are going to watch Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. He hasn’t seen either. No time like the present to expose him!
So, not very much substance, and a lot of jumbled thoughts again; but when he was researching for Plague Year, Defoe read the letters and accounts of survivors from the 1665 plague that hit London. Those informed him as he saw a potential outbreak looming in the early 1700s. Ideally this won’t last a year. But regardless of how long it lasts, this is history happening, so keeping a record of how we handled it (beyond the memes, of course) is good.
I don’t know that I’ll write this stuff every day, especially as the days begin to blend and the new normal becomes just plain normal. But for now, this is what’s going on. How are you handling things?
Ten years ago, zombie fiction was all the rage. Ten years ago, I read World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, and Day by Day Armageddon with gusto. I taught a whole unit in my English classes on plague stuff: we read excerpts of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, followed up by the contemporary novel, Day by Day Armageddon, then compared them. We played Pandemic on the big screen, and competed between classes. The Walking Dead became a thing. Zombieland poked fun at the genre.
What a time to be alive.
Over the last few years apocalyptic literature has waned, and dystopian literature seems to be more popular. And then we have right now, in which we’re living in a dystopia, while a pandemic approaches.
In some ways it’s surreal. Right now it’s business as usual at my workplace, but we do a lot remote anyway. Of the four schools in the state’s university system, we’re the only non-residential school, and most of our classes are online. Face to face classes are one night a week.
But today we did get word from our recruitment coordinator that our outreach events for the next two weeks are canceled. We’re being asked to be ready to work remote if necessary. And this afternoon (after doing a two-day outreach event), I got a call that the Smol Human’s school district is canceling for the next two weeks.
Again, quite surreal, and takes me back to the books I used to read and teach. While we have a very limited occurrence of COVID-19 in my area, I think these precautions are to keep things from having the opportunity to become more widespread.
Our area doesn’t have the bodies in the streets, deployed military, and everything-is-a-weapon mentality of the apocalyptic literature, or even of Journal of the Plague Year, but even proactive measures throw into glaring relief the issues that… wait for it… plague our society. As it gets worse, we can’t afford to have people going out. And so many people can’t afford not to.
I went to my local grocery store today, and the last time I saw shelves that bare was when they predicted a nor’easter (we New Englanders and our snow). And it’s true, there really isn’t any TP anywhere. I did plan to do a big shop and meal prep this weekend anyway, as the prepped meals in our chest freezer are starting to dwindle, and I wanted to restock, but at the same time I didn’t want to look like I was feeding into the hysteria. Though… is it really hysteria?
I’m not quite sure where I’m going with any of this, but it just felt right to get some thoughts down. I suppose being cautious and proactive will be the best bet with everything.
How are you faring? How are you preparing? Are we too worried, or not worried enough?
Some years just stand out as being big years: transformative years, that mold you and shape you. 2001 was one such year: I went through what was, at the time, a traumatic break-up; I made the choice to live on campus over the summer, and work for a publishing company (it was data entry for EBSCO, so no visions of glamorous publishing internships in Boston, plz). 9/11 was months on the horizon. And in between working and figuring out who I was and what I wanted, I decided to go skydiving.
It was something I’d always wanted to do, and when the opportunity presented itself, I eagerly accepted. I won’t go into the whole day (which I remember so clearly). What’s important here is when I finally got up in the plane. I was doing a tandem jump. They’d assured us that if we got to the drop zone and didn’t want to jump, we didn’t have to. Everyone ahead of me slid up the bench to the doors. We slid up until I was staring into nothing but sky. My pro asked, “Are you ready?”
In that moment I could hold back. I could stay in a perfectly good airplane that would set me safely back on solid ground. I’d never know what clouds tasted like. There would be no refunds. I stared out at the infinite sky above and all around, and the ground, 14,000 feet below. “I’m ready.”
It still ranks as one of the best things I’ve ever done.
This weekend I had another ready moment. While it’s not quite as sweeping as jumping out of an airplane, it’s still a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and the next step of what has been a very transformative couple of years for me. This weekend I pressed ‘send’ on the first group of chapters for Sneakthief’s beta team.
And today I got back a first round of feedback, and I have to say, it’s all WONDERFUL. It doesn’t make me feel daunted, and afraid of going back. I’ve put a lot of work into the writing and rewriting, and feedback is only going to make it better. I’m super excited to delve into the next round of edits based on feedback… and this is just from one person.
That jump in 2001 showed me that I could do it. That risks were worth taking, and I was strong enough to take them. I took a huge leap of faith in 2019, and it turned into more than I could have expected, and it’s empowered me to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and publish a book. And with all the help I’m getting, it’s going to be a good book.
Maybe pressing ‘send’ isn’t jumping out of a plane, but it’s out of my comfort zone, and instead of being nervous or wracked with anxiety that makes me sick, I’m excited, because it can only improve my work. And that’s so worth it.
First off, a confession: I’ve never seen a full episode of Spongebob Squarepants. It came out at that strange time of my life when I had just started college, and we didn’t have cable TV, let alone streaming (it was the dark times, the old times). But I’m familiar enough with it, and feel like I speak memes and gifs as another language. Still, if I don’t know the exact source material, does that make me a real fan of the meme?
Okay, so that was a bit of a stretch to get into this. But I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is to be a Real Writer. A real anything, really. Thinking back to Pinocchio, what did it mean for him to be a real boy? When he could talk, he wasn’t real; when he had no strings, he wasn’t real… what did that weird Blue Fairy do to make him Real? For the Velveteen Rabbit, only true love made it real, and it was Real only after it had been rubbed raw, hugged to pieces, stuffing coming out of burst seams. So it seems like there’s definitely something to say about experience (and not all of it pleasant) feeding into being this idea of Real.
The other night I found a tweet from someone who’d joined an area writers’ group. This was her tweet
Fifteen thousand words a month. Anything less than that means you’re not a real writer. You don’t take it seriously enough. If you can’t crunch out fifteen thousand words each month, you’re not a real writer and are unwelcome among this group of writerly paragons. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in years past, and that’s 50,000 words, but that’s one month, and those haven’t been the healthiest months to be honest. A lot of people plan very carefully to get those fifty thousand down. They clear schedules, make outlines, do sprints, set daily goals. And in non-NaNoWri-Mos, they probably do similar things, but at such a pace that’s more sustainable. The years I successfully completed NaNoWriMo were years when I was teaching, and when you’re teaching, November is full of days off that I totally used to maximize my word vomit. But those were the years I was single with cats. My time was my own to do with what I pleased, and I was pleased to stay up til all hours writing a novel.
I spent a lot of years wondering what it meant to be a real writer. I always enjoyed writing, and it was always a big part of me. When I finished college and came home I discovered the myriad ways the internet could connect me with fandom. I discovered fanfiction. I wrote fanfiction. It was an outlet with zero pressure.
But it also had a fair amount of derision directed at it. Arguments include that it’s derivative (as if Paradise Lost wasn’t?), it’s the mark of a weak writer, it’s lazy, there’s no quality control. It’s a waste of time. Fanfiction will always be a source of disagreement. Sure, there’s poor quality work out there, but there’s also really well-written work. There’s also the point that fanfiction should not be making money off of a pre-existing work, and if you can’t make money writing, are you even a Real Writer?
I really wanted to be a Real Writer, so I decided maybe I would get my MFA. I’d write a book. I’d learn more about the craft. I’d work with other writers. I’d be real.
Much like that strange time gap I experienced with Spongebob, I entered into my MFA when emphasis was still on traditional publishing, complete with querying agents nonstop and signing with houses. We were encouraged to query. Our advisory board was comprised of agents, editors, and publishers, and it was a great experience. But the metric for being a real writer still fell heavily in favor of the traditional route. Self-publishing existed, but there were no gates to ensure quality, so why would anyone go that route? Real writers queried until their fingers bled and read rejections until their eyes were raw and their hearts were stone.
Are you even a real writer if you don’t put that work in? If you can’t write 15,000 words a month, can’t query ad infinitum (wait–do those 15,000 words include the number of words in your queries and accompanying synopses?)… If you have a job that’s not writer? If you have a family? If you have shhh… other hobbies?
I spent a couple of years after finishing grad school just sort of… meh about writing. My thesis novel needed some more work, but I didn’t know what kind of work, wasn’t sure where to find another group of writers to work with, and was really just burned out on that particular story. But I had no other ideas for other stories, and that’s where I think I started feeling like maybe this idea that I could be a writer was a silly dream. And at least my school district considered my MFA and I got bumped up the pay scale. Or as bumped as you can get in that district. I drifted. People asked how my writing was going, and it just wasn’t. Forget 15,000 words a month, I wasn’t getting 1500. Or 15.
In the end, it was Dragon Age that saved me. Okay, that’s dramatic. But Dragon Age has done a lot of good for me, and in this case it was no different. In 2011, after two years of not writing, I finished Dragon Age: Origins and was so taken with the world and the characters and the story that I wrote. I wrote fanfiction. I posted it. I started writing more and posting more. And more than that? I stopped caring if I was a real writer or not. I was just writing, and that was all that mattered.
It was healing, in a way (as I discovered during a 3am chat with Schattenriss the other night when Smol Human decided we needed to get up and sit, screaming, on the living room couch from 3-5am, and we were discussing the Writers’ Group from Hell tweet). With DA fanfiction, for the first time in a very long time I was writing because I loved it. Because I enjoyed what I was doing. I was writing for the sake of writing. I was improving my craft and experimenting with style and voice and creating stories for characters I loved, and I was doing it because I wanted to. Maybe some months I churned out thousands of words, I don’t know; I didn’t really keep track, to be honest. There was freedom to write for the sake of it, and it was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time.
It’s been over ten years since I finished my MFA, and I’m not published (yet). I’ve written copious amounts of Dragon Age fanfiction, and I have no regrets. I have a family, including a wild Smol Human who is a wonder to watch grow (and a handful and a half, but he’s still amazing). I have a job I love. I definitely don’t have the ability to commit to 15,000 words every single month. Some months I’m churning out the words, and others I’m revising and editing. Still others I have other things going on and am lucky if I get significant writing done at all. Am I any less of a real writer?
I don’t think so. Everyone has a different pace and different path toward reaching their goals. For some it may be 15,000 words a month, but to impose that upon everyone who wants to write with you, and worse, to insinuate that if they can’t or don’t want to do that, they’re less of a writer or don’t take writing seriously enough?
Well, that’s when I suppose Spongebob memes are going to have to suffice, because dignified responses just won’t cut it. They’ll also be less than 15,000 words long.
It’s been just over a week since I got word about Sneakthief, but it’s been a good several days nonetheless. I thought that the ultimate decision to reject the MS would kill my confidence, but if anything, I feel even better about my trajectory as a writer! Part of that is the support I’ve found in the writers’ group I belong to, another part of it is the support and encouragement of good friends and family. And another part of it is just… me! I feel like the experience helped me grow and develop, and I feel like what I have is on its way to being good enough to show the world.
The house I submitted to titles their open submission period “Open the Doors”, and overall, that’s what this did for me. Not only do I have an open door there now, for future potential projects outside of the Ungifted Series, but, and this is my super big exciting announcement…
I’ve joined the authors’ collaborative Skolion! Many of the members of Skolion are part of the Facebook group I joined a couple years back. Their founding member, the talented Nerine Dorman, encouraged me to take a step outside of fanfiction, join the FB group, and even submit to the Open the Doors submission call. Her writing is just gorgeous, and so is everything by everyone else that works through Skolion. Joining up gives me the opportunity to beta read, edit, and work with many talented authors and artists.
Other story ideas are starting to work their way into my brain as well! I’m considering overhauling and rewriting my contemporary fantasy that I worked on for my MFA thesis over ten years ago, and I have other ideas based on Romantic era poetry, which is some of my favorite material in all of literature. I’m connecting with Luna, my BFF, to do a little work with How I Nerd.
I’m over 12k words into Scapegoat’s first draft, and ready to start Sneakthief 4.0, which will, I think, be much better in how it connects the other books together. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise that it didn’t get picked up as-is, and start the revising/editing process for mass publishing. That’s an opportunity for which I’m grateful! I’m excited by the prospect of what it can become as a result; sometimes the thought of rewriting is dreadful. It’s like when you finish sewing something and realize it’s wrong, so you have to get the seam ripper out and start in on it, snapping the threads that are in the wrong places, while not damaging the pieces themselves, salvaging what you can. But in this case, it’s more altering what exists; adding trimming where necessary, maybe replacing one part with nicer materials (I like this analogy; maybe next I’ll write about remaking one of my favorite cosplays…)
But yes. Many opportunities are presenting themselves, and I feel excited about it all. I don’t feel anxious (about this anyway!), and I feel validated. I feel like part of something. I don’t feel like doors closed; they opened, and opened to more doors! So here’s to being open to opportunity, both in seeking it out, and accepting it when it presents itself. Here’s to opening the doors.