Climbing out of the abyss

one word at a time.

Happy New Year!

Goodbye to the first fifth of the century. What a fascinating fraction of a hundred years to be alive. Let’s face it, middle-aged Boomer/X-gen folks like myself have never known this level of chaos and misfortune. For half a century we’ve been immune from the draft and safe from much (certainly not all) virulent plague. We’ve enjoyed unprecedented innovation (and were largely young enough to adopt it). Many of us began our lives with the hope and promise of equality, accessible wealth, and the ease of global travel. Then, we hit a black diamond slope and, slowly, then quickly, careened toward reality.

(Switching metaphors alert) Like a festering infection hidden beneath skin until it’s too late, systemic racism, greed, disregard for the earth, genocide, fear, and unbridled religiosity burst forth this last year, spreading gangrene on our false assumptions.

Bleak.

And now, on the cusp of 2021, we begin to dig ourselves out.

In the previous century, artists produced their most profound work during times of great upheaval. We need only look at works like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, and visual art such as Picasso’s Guernica and The Weeping Woman, to see how the continuum of humanity can flourish inside of an expression born of repression and horror. Right now, right this very minute, artists are composing, recording, writing, building, inventing, painting works inspired by the pain of the last several years. Years from now, those works will be historical representations of a place and time, holding the sweet, bitter, profound moments we are now living.

If you have signed up to receive my mailchimp newsletter, you are likely a writer or a writer-adjacent follower of my ramblings. You got zero newsletters from me in 2020. For so many of us, the uncertainty of our futures, our health, our incomes hung in the balance while we huddled in our spaces, doom-scrolling and zooming the reality tv show that featured ourselves. We quarantined and masked and folded into fetal postures. Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us suffered (and continue to suffer) from COVID, from isolation, from new mental health challenges.

Fear inertia. That’s what I’m talking about. Legit fear causing us to stop moving.

For me, 2020 ended up being a mixed bag. Early on I lost a good friend, Lori Acquaotta, to this disease. I had to disband the physical workshops I led just when the synergy of the writers at the table was taking off. We canceled or drastically modified trips to see loved ones—a big deal since two of our non-local children had new babies. Small family gatherings beyond our immediate bubble took place outside, with mask and distance protocols in place. I have not seen my parents, who are in their eighties (and thankfully in good health). I’ve put off dental, medical, eye appointments fearing extra vectors and contacts. New regimens include rotating a dozen or so masks, tending to a host of disinfectant-caused skin rashes, timing grocery runs for off-times, treating walks in the park like a perpetual game of freeze tag fueled by the fear of being tagged “it.” My one concession—resumed haircuts/style appointments in late summer, mid-fall, behind a double dose of those aforementioned masks. Vanity be thy name.

On the silver lining side though, due to closed daycare and my daughter and her wife working from home, I was able to help out with childcare, watching my baby grandson, Luca, on the reg.

My inbox gradually filled with new clients and their exciting work—my editing/coaching business actually flourished the second half of the year thanks to technology and the pre-existing remote arm of my services. My husband, a teacher, worked from home for the first time, allowing more time to nurture the most prolific garden we’ve ever grown.

In this new year, my speculative domestic thriller, FAULTLAND, is set to publish on March, 30th. I started the novel some five years ago, and it has morphed several times, through three distinct narrative overhauls and a half dozen titles, each year layering on more aspects of our evolving world, and arriving, in final print draft form, to include reference to 2020’s horror show. That said, even though the theme is one of schism and dysfunction, I wrote my main characters into the light. Without giving spoilers, I promise that the novel ends in hope.

After a year of rumination and existential introspection, I have arrived at an idea. A paradigm that might jerk me from the pandemic fear inertia and propel me toward purpose. Back in our physical workshop days, we would gather near the New Year and set our writing intentions for the next year. Secret: Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club after declaring such an intention back in the mid-nineties. The photo below was taken twelve years ago, and I’ll bet you’ll recognize some of the writers around the table of my old house. Some best-selling work was seeded that year—another year, coincidentally, that saw a political sea change and paved the way for affordable health care and inched us out of a recession.

Getting back to my “idea,” part of the impetus to move my newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack is in service to rekindling conversations around the writing life. In a kick-off public post, I invite you artists and writers and creators of all things to set your intentions for the year in the comments below. Be as specific as you can. We will revisit these intentions each quarter, with another public newsletter. Check on the progress, the evolution, the frustrations as we creep through 2021.

On the paid subscriber end of things, I plan to post twice monthly on an obscure (and sort of nerdy) craft concern (think free indirect discourse; stance choices in memoir; irony pros and cons; minimalism and its pluses and pitfalls; imitative fallacy, etc.), along with monthly coupons/specials for discounts on various editing/coaching services. Paid subscriber rates are $5/month or $50/year.

On then, to the next chapter. We are witnesses, we artists. It is our calling. What are you going to accomplish in 2021?