What & Who to Unfollow

Book cover of Cutie Cutie Ghost Show Season 3

Anyways, finished my book a few days ago. A few months behind schedule, but given everything, who cares, whatever. “Finished” is the wrong word anyway, it’s a draft; but it’s out in the world and my readers can read it (or not!) and I can move on to the next book, which I think will be the third in this series. I’m still figuring it out (1974-present).

Lot of hand-wringing online lately about creativity and productivity in the year 2020. Memes encouraging people to not feel bad if they haven’t worked on or finished any creative projects this year, since just surviving this year is a huge accomplishment (which I agree with). Authors pondering the meaning/lessness of their work in a year when so much is so at stake. Like Hey sorry about the apocalypse, here’s this book I wrote, please review it on Amazon, which incidentally is a terrible company, and also Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon. The sudden seeming insignificance of a single book in a world on fire.

But life isn’t black and white, even though our experience on the internet often makes it feel so. You can be an author who moves deep within themself to build interesting worlds, while also remaining caring and engaged in the world around you. And you can be a very creative person who sometimes doesn’t create things.

Anyways the work of being an author is different from the work of being a writer, or even just a creative person generally, and it involves skills that I straight up do not have, and do not have the capacity to cultivate. For my entire adult life as a writer I have second-guessed and self-doubted my choices, wrestling with this idea that success as a writer means publishing & physical books & book tours, things I have never had very much interest in. But a lot of people (who I know! and like! and are great writers!) think: I have to be a published author in order to be a successful writer. And in the past year I’ve seen this manifest in different ways – authors whose social media was so exclusively focused on their identity/branding/self-promotion as a writer that they failed to ever publicly or meaningfully acknowledge the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the terrifying media/political shift towards totalitarian capitalist dictatorship. I unfollowed a lot of those people this year! I wish them well as writers and social media isn’t real life but that’s not where I’m at. And I’ve seen published authors (who I know! and like! and are great writers!) deeply interrogating their life choices, like: What is the point of my career in a landscape like this? Which I think is a great question!

For me it goes back to the essential difference between “writing”/”creating” and “being an author”. Writing is important, full stop. Everyone can do it and everyone should do it. It is crucial to the health and wellness of the human race that people put their stories out into the universe and share them with each other. But when I think about my dream anarchist/socialist society, where there are no billionaires and everyone has to contribute in meaningful ways to the success and betterment of their communities, are there full-time authors? Probably not! There are just people who make things, and their creativity is just one of the myriad ways they define themselves.

There are a lot of ways to be in the world. I hope the writers I love will continue to share their stories (unless they don’t feel like it! Which is also fine and not something they should feel one second of shame about!) and continue to be engaged in the world – not just via hashtags and social media, but in a genuine, meaningful, deeply interrogative way. You can definitely do both.

Metaphors, we love them

As I was wrapping up my current WIP I was thinking about how I find myself dragging my feet towards the end of every book. An email from Deans on this topic, 10 years ago this month:

Getting to an ending is a hard thing for me. When I write something it is like driving around a complicated suburban subdivision in the dark knowing I have to get to one of the houses but only having very dim lights. Then sometimes as I go along the lights get brighter but sometimes they don’t. And sometimes I pull into the wrong driveway. Actually a lot I do that. But the good thing is that endings are hardly ever anyone’s favorite parts, and the best thing you can do is do the best by your characters, right?

10 years ago I was struggling to wrap up work on my first novel. I’ve written 4 or 5 more in the years since. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot throughout the process, but I’m open to the idea that I have learned absolutely nothing. Or that maybe each book teaches its own lessons, and they never have anything to do outside the world of that book.

Endings are hardly ever my favorite part anyway, I hum to myself as I slowly drive around, looking in the neighbor’s windows. In this case I actually do know which house I need to get to, it’s more this desire, turning into the driveway, to stomp down on the gas and crash straight through the garage and on to whatever’s on the other side.

Not to be melodramatic! Just: as you move towards an ending your choices narrow, and it’s difficult to figure out when to let the trip end and appreciate it for whatever it was, and when, actually, you still have somewhere interesting to go, if you don’t mind driving a lot a lot farther.

Or, but: sometimes the really good shit is arriving home and just sitting inside the car and not going inside the house. What about that. Does that count as finishing a book and do they teach that in MFA programs.

This blog post added 15 minutes to the time it took to finish my book.

Day 255

Suddenly you look up from your screen and it’s pitch black outside. 5pm. Already the weeks are so long and the days so similar, with less daylight this sense that life must be happening somewhere even though I’m missing it because I’m staying home has been replaced by this fear that life is no longer happening, anywhere. That the darkness has cut you off from… life, hope, whatever.

I decide (and make a big deal about telling friends about this decision) that we have to agree the darkness is happening, not just be re-angered by it every day. So: I block it off on my calendar. A walk outside every day between 4:15 and 4:45. Being outside to participate in the approaching darkness is better than just feeling oppressed by it having happened, I say. There’s something to it. The streets aroound Central Square are still pandemic quiet at that hour but I walk around, feel the dimming light, try to notice things, take pictures, breathe. Turn off my music and podcasts and listen to the silence inside my brain, maybe, a little, for once. I often end up at Graffiti Alley, a little splash of raw neon art every day, like a cup of coffee splashed into my eyes. Does it help? It doesn’t not help, how about that.

What else.

I make appointments with friends. Who has time to talk this weekend, like on the phone, like on the actual phone. No more video calls, please god. On video calls I can’t even hear, I’m just thinking about how I look, what the light is doing, look at the skin on my neck, how am I suddenly so old. On the phone I can just close my eyes and be present with you, hear you, listen, really see you. I’m with you. For once, I’m with you.

I write. I think about how I have 4 chapters left, 3 chapters left in my book and then I can move on to the next one. Always thinking ahead, never here. More time spent wondering when I’ll finish than actually finishing.

I logged out of twitter a few weeks ago and immediately stopped thinking about it.

I watch a lot of TV and movies and think about what I like and what I don’t like. What works and what doesn’t work. Meghan and I send texts back and forth, rewriting Ocean’s 12, pitching ideas for a gender-swapped reboot of the Bourne universe.

I’m sleeping a lot but I’m always a little tired and a little too awake.

I find myself taking a lot of screenshots of things people I follow on IG post to their stories. Something about the fleetingness. What if I want to see that picture again and I can’t, what if it’s gone forever in 24 hours. My phone fills with images I can’t quite place.

I have a bell on my phone that rings at random intervals throughout the day to pull me back to the present. I breathe for 10 seconds, then go back to whatever I was doing. I sit there and things happen or time passes or whatever. Low level infuriation, about everything.

We Hope This Finds You As Well As Can Be Expected

Some online friends recently ran a 40+ person zine trade that they called We Hope This Finds You As Well As Can Be Expected. Look at these beauties:

My zine was called Quarantine During a Pandemic is a Perfectly Normal Time for Your Heart to Freak Out. It’s about wearing a heart monitor, a thing I did for a few weeks a few weeks ago.

If you want to read my zine you can download and print out this PDF file here and then fold it and cut it like our friend Austin Kleon describes in this video here. Easy! The end.

Still, Look:

Woke up from a dream last night about a murder and thought: holy shit this is a perfectly wound plot. Went over the details in my mind to ensure I’d remember the basics when I woke up, which I did not. The memory of the memory is all you get sometimes. The feeling that somewhere in your brain there’s a more capable version of you, but it’s harder and harder to access.

Take as read the background radiation of the planet on fire. Black people being beaten and murdered and abducted by the police, every single day. Abolish them immediately, irrevocably. The pandemic, the voluntary shelter in place. The newfound fear of other people – their proximity, the atoms they exhale.

Last fall when I started therapy one of the big things I wanted to work on was: how do I stop living in constant fear about the planet dying. 50-75 years, give it. Forget science maybe eventually figuring out the carbon in the atmosphere thing, you can’t change the temperature of the ocean. Once the biodiversity of the coral reefs is gone, the rest of the ocean follows, and that’s (really!) pretty much it for life on this planet. Our part of it, anyway.

My therapist wanted to check in about that recently. Well, I said. It’s been a while since I had any panic attacks about the world ending in 50 years, since the timeline’s moved up. Since it’s now, instead of someday. Look at how much daily stress and panic I can absorb. Look at me, getting through the days.

Kind of.

Writing about writing is boring and I live I fear of needlessly occupying people’s attention with things that don’t matter so I’ll skip ahead. Before [gestures wildly] I had a really good routine: up early, bike downtown, coffee shop for 45 minutes before work. Day after day it added up in to a bunch of books about Kim Kardashian. Still, it got done. The last few months, I couldn’t find my way back to that other space, with nowhere to go. I always had this idea that writing required focus & attention. A form of prayer, some kind of secret language between me and the universe that required devotion, space, solitude. A stepping out of one’s everyday life, into something sacred. And then I thought: what if it doesn’t?

I write with the TV on now. Background noise? No: I’m on S10 of Bones and can share thoroughly-considered opinions on any aspect of the series. But I keep my laptop on my lap and Scrivener open and tuck sentences away here and there – when the scene is boring or involves that one guy I don’t like. It starts to feel more and more natural. Day after day it starts to add up into whatever it’ll add up to. Look at me, getting through it.