Posted in Non-book CPB Stuff

New Year Fight Club

Monksville Reservoir

Yesterday afternoon my family and I took a drive around Sussex County, NJ, where we live. Lots of scenery—bare trees covering low and high mountains, farms with horses eating hay and drinking from a pond, a half-frozen reservoir where we stopped for a bit to stretch our legs at the edge of the mildly choppy water. And in the middle of nowhere, some construction company or other with a signboard out front that read:

The first rule of 2021
Don’t talk about 2020

Which made me laugh quite a lot. I love Fight Club, and I love random sayings on business signboards. And I even kind of love “2020 was so awful” jokes. Because it was awful in many ways, almost comically so at times. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any shittier, a new low reared its ugly head. Nothing was too rock bottom for 2020. You gotta at least admire its commitment to sucking so bad.

Of course, there has been the pandemic, and that’s no joke; in my house, it’s a constant source of anxiety and fear and sadness. We don’t go out much, and we rarely let anyone into our home, and it’s been that way since March 2020, when my job sent me to work at home for three weeks that has turned into eight months and counting. My nine-year-old son (well, he’ll be ten in a few days) hasn’t seen another child in person in that long either, except from afar on occasion as we take our walks around the neighborhood. We are essentially hermits. In my mind, it beats the alternative.

But to be honest, being at home so much has been pretty good for me. Despite all the misery in the world, I have managed to carve out a little bright spot for myself—which I feel bad saying, because how dare I feel good when so many others are suffering? I still watch CNN and doom scroll Twitter and take in all the stress-inducing news of the world; I’m not oblivious to what’s happening. And I definitely feel the horror and futility of what’s going on outside while I’m holed up in my cozy little house. Still. In 2020, I managed to feel a glimmer of something I hadn’t felt for a long, long time: happiness.

If you know me, you know my mental health is not always stable. There are bad times and times that are better, but in recent years it’s been mostly difficult. My mindset has become so negative; I expect everything to go wrong and worry endlessly about everything going wrong and spiral downward when something does go wrong (though what I anticipate—everything going wrong—never actually happens). And in the last year, somehow, I have managed to escape this vicious cycle. I have felt contentment; I have felt true joy. Mostly in the mundane moments of life: walking around the rooms of my house, which we moved into only a year and a half ago. Watching what we call “sad shows” (our favorites are Hoarders and My 600-lb. Life) on TV every night after dinner with my husband and son. Looking out the kitchen window while making coffee, hoping to see some of our resident deer family meandering through the woods. Maybe it is because of the state of the world these days, but I’ve found myself feeling so grateful for ordinary things. I don’t want to take any of it for granted.

A large part of this happiness, I know, has come from working at home. I am an anxious introvert, so not being in a crowded office with an open floor plan for 45+ hours per week has been a nice change. Some people complain about video calls and chat apps, but I could (and do) happily run my team of six copyeditors completely virtually. And I could do it indefinitely. I also don’t miss the hour-plus commute to the office. Morning traffic on Route 80 is as close to literal Hell as I ever hope to get. I’m saving miles on my car and the cost of gas; I can sleep an hour and a half later in the morning than when I was commuting. I get more time with my family. Even my job gets more out of me—I often spend the time I’d otherwise be driving home on my laptop. It’s really a win all around. And it’s taken a lot of constant, heavy weight off of my shoulders. Is it any wonder I’m feeling metaphorically lighter?

But as Vicky asked me during one of the college-roommate Zoom calls she mentioned in her top 100 list, what am I doing with all this good mood? Well, unfortunately, a whole lot of nothing. I’ve come to appreciate laziness in a way I never have before. Sitting around and doing nothing has always made me feel incredibly anxious—I always had to be doing something, usually working. If I wasn’t producing something in some way, I considered my time wasted. Now, I am quite content to watch TV and nap on the sofa every Saturday afternoon. In a way it’s good—I am really learning how to relax. In a way not, because I am getting nothing done. Nothing creative, anyway. I have sewing and crocheting projects I could be working on, blog posts I could be writing, bookbinding to do, a novel outline to flesh out. I’m doing none of it. And let’s not even talk about all the reading I’m not doing. I listen to an audiobook every once in a while when I’m cooking or loading the dishwasher, but even those I’m having trouble finishing.

At least, that’s how it was in 2020. But I’m ready for this sluggishness to come to an end in the coming year. If I have to be confined to my home, I want to come out of it at the end with something more to show than how many bad reality shows I binge watched. I need to work on that book outline. I have got to finish that blanket I started a year ago. And I definitely need to keep up with my Goodreads Reading Challenge (I won’t even mention how pitifully I did on it last year). In fact I have a long list of resolutions for 2021, some of which pertain to the topics of this blog, some that don’t. But all of them revolve around one thing: I need to do more. So that is going to be my word for the coming year: more. Whereas last year I might spend an hour once or twice a month writing, in 2021 I will make it a regular semi-weekly practice (I’d like to say daily, but I’m also trying to be realistic). Last year, I used the excuse that I worked so much as a reason to do nothing but veg out in my time off. This year, I will continue my commitment to my work and spend my free time pursuing other accomplishments. I will do more. Less time snoozing on the sofa, more time creating in my office/craft room. I know I have more to give to this world than working and sleeping. This is the year I will prove that to myself.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

NaNoWriMo? No, Thanks.

National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo for short—is upon us. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a contest of sorts in which writers are challenged to produce a 50,000 wcrest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76ord book entirely in the month of November, from start to finish. As someone who used to ghostwrite books of that length for a living, I can tell you this is no small feat. It used to take me months to get that much done (though most likely, NaNoWriMo participants will not have stubborn clients to contend with while writing, as I did; that slows down the process considerably). 

So it sounds like fun, right? And what a sense of accomplishment these writers must have at the end of the month, when they have an entire novel completed. Granted, it’s only a first draft, and hopefully—speaking now as a practicing book editor—there will be many rounds of edits before it’s suitable for publication. Still, I can only imagine the thrill of knowing the biggest hurdle, the writing, is in the past, that you’ve finally gotten all those words inside your head out and into some sort of logical order, that you’ve created something pleasing that others might want to read. 

Still, I will not be participating. Why? Because I have a life. Too much life, to be exact, to have time for it. I don’t mean this in the insulting or condescending way it sounds, as if those who do NaNoWriMo have no life and are therefore free to pursue their writing dreams. Because really, who’s got the short stick here? I have two jobs and a six-year-old son to spend time with when I’m not working, and between those two things, that’s pretty much all of my time. Sometimes I’m able to sneak in an hour and a half of writing once a week while waiting for my kid to get out of a class he takes on Saturday mornings (as I’m doing right now), but even that is often trumped by other more necessary errands. To tell the truth, I envy those who can participate in NaNoWriMo, not just because they have the time (or make the time; I’m sure there are some participants who are just as busy as I am who still manage to fit it in) but because they have the inspiration. Because they haven’t lost whatever it is that drives them to write. 

Creativity is like a muscle, I believe, and if you don’t regularly flex and stretch it, it can atrophy. I’ve seen it happen in myself, during periods—like now—when I don’t have as much expendable time and energy to put toward creative pursuits. This doesn’t have to be writing; it can be drawing, painting, knitting, sewing, cooking, gardening, redecorating your home—anything that makes you use your imagination and produces some sort of artifact that can be enjoyed by yourself and/or others. If you are regularly able to be creative, then good for you—I envy you too. I hope you flex that muscle as often and as strongly as you are capable of. And I hope that you don’t take that ability for granted, as I did back during the days when I was prolific. Back in my twenties, say, when I had almost zero responsibilities and much fewer worries clogging up my head. 

Whenever I think about myself as a writer, my mind always goes to that time in my life, to an apartment I had in Jersey City, New Jersey, a third-floor attic that had an extra room I set up as a writing space. I had a desk that wrapped around two walls, a cork MV5BMzc1YmU2ZjEtYWIwMC00ZjM3LWI0NTctMDVlNGQ3YmYwMzE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY999_CR0,0,704,999_AL_board with photos and postcards for inspiration, passages from books I liked typed out and taped up on the walls behind my desk, and a giant subway-advertisement-size poster from the movie Fight Club. I spent so much time huddled in there, smoking American Spirits and listening to my three favorite CDs at the time, Depeche Mode’s Ultra, Duran Duran’s Medazzaland, and David Bowie’s Earthling, on heavy rotation while I wrote and wrote and wrote, never finishing anything more than a flash fiction piece here and there but just enjoying the process, just loving the feeling of translating the images in my brain into words on the screen of my Mac laptop. I would agonize over every syllable until they were all perfect, until they all gave me that hum I felt inside my mind when I knew I was writing something good. Something with meaning; something with heart. Something that spoke to the themes I was always trying to relate in my writing: love and trust, loyalty and betrayal, and getting down to the deeply buried heart of what it means to be human in this world, to the moment where all is laid bare and the truth, in all its beauty and all its difficulty, is confronted and revealed. Though isn’t that, after all, what we are all writing about? Isn’t that what any good writing is able to achieve? 

I still write about these themes today, I think, when I do get the chance to write, albeit in different ways. Instead of fictional characters, I write about myself, about the life I’ve had and the moments that have defined me—the love I have felt, the trust I have lost, the betrayals that have pushed me to become the person I am today, for better and for worse. The older I get, the realer my writing becomes to the point that I rarely work on anything that could be classified as fiction anymore. And it’s harder to find that hum, to look at the words I type and feel like they are magic, to feel the sparks fly from my fingertips as they meet the keyboard. Instead it feels like work, like something I have to work at rather than something that just comes to me. 

I tell myself it’s all a first draft, that if I don’t get it perfect, it’s okay, I can always go back and edit. The important thing is to get it out. Writing as therapy, I guess you would call it. That’s what I have time for these days. And in a lot of ways, that’s good. It’s what works for me at this point in my life. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes sorely miss those days in my Jersey City garret. If I could somehow harness that creative energy again and pair it with my older and questionably wiser work ethic—minus the time constraints–who knows what kind of NaNoWriMo masterpiece I might be able to complete?