Plague Diaries #8

My place of work closed one month ago today, and even though we report to a library empty of patrons, we still do work to reach the public. My coworker and I did a live virtual book discussion today on Facebook, for instance. We’ve been heavy into making online content and pushing our digital resources so people won’t miss us quite so much. I know a lot of our regulars do. One doesn’t work at a library for fifteen years without getting to know quite a few faces.

I wonder about the homeless population. There are a few regulars at my branch that have been coming in every day for years to read the papers or use the computers. Now they can’t come to the library. They can’t go to the beach. All the parks are closed. What happened to them all? Where are they going all day?

We’ve also been handing out paper unemployment applications. Since the State of Florida’s “Reemployment” Office is being overwhelmed, they have resorted to having people fill those forms out on paper and mail them in. I suppose it makes a desperate person feel like they’re doing something, but I really don’t know how it’s supposed to help. Those applications aren’t going to be processed any time soon. Disney just furloughed tens of thousands of employees. Do you really think the system was made to handle that?

For those of us blessed enough to have jobs, I wonder if others are feeling pressure like me to prove my worth over and over again. The “I”m producing, please don’t lay me off,” spiel. But please, also, treat me like a human being. Take my health and safety into consideration as talk of reopening is starting to happen. Please don’t let me be cannon fodder because people need to check out movies.

I’ve mentioned before my only family is my father and my husband. As of now, I feel relatively safe at work. I mostly stay in my office. But when the library reopens, (it is only a matter of time, I know this) I am terrified of working with the public. I can begin to imagine how the folks who work at the grocery stores feel. I don’t want to feel like a bomb ready to explode at home and rain virus down on the two people who matter most to me.

I know reopening is going to happen. But I’m afraid the powers that be in Florida are going to move just as quickly to reopen as they were in being reluctant to close. The governor needs to look at the numbers. We added 1222 new cases just yesterday. A 32-year-old woman died in my county yesterday. We haven’t hit our peak. He needs to have people around him that are not just focused money but also on the value of human life. I fear this is not the case.

I get it. Money is important. Without it we starve, we don’t have shelter, our businesses falter and die. But the economy will bounce back, it always does. Even from the Great Depression.  It might take a long time, but it will happen.

But one thing you don’t bounce back from is dead. Every number in that death toll is a person who won’t be going forward on this earth. And every number is leaving innumerable others behind to mourn their senseless and lonely deaths.

I won’t apologize for being morose. I’m not happy with the way my country has responded to this epic disaster. I have a friend in France that I talk to often and she is appalled at what she hears in the news and the things I tell her. It makes me not ashamed, per se, but sad to be an American in these times. I love my country. I want it to be the shining beacon it once was to the world. There has never been another country so uniquely founded on ethics and careful logic as this one. To see it torn apart breaks my fucking heart.

Still, even at the bottom of Pandora’s box was hope. We have to cling to that like nothing else. Because right now, that is all we have. Hope for a vaccine. Hope for recovery. Hope for a future.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

 

Plague Diaries #7

The new normal that I mentioned in my last post continues. I’m working, but I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m forcing my way through it, but at night I am exhausted and only want to lie in bed. But I go for walks because I know it’s good for me. I make myself eat well. I take my medications.

My anxiety has been getting out of hand. I’ve grappled with pretty harsh anxiety since I was a child, just built into my disposition, coming from my repressive Scandinavian genes, I suppose.

My husband doesn’t have anxiety, bless him. And I know a lot of you don’t either, and thank the stars you don’t. But if you know someone who does and you struggle to understand why they do weird things like eat their cuticles to shreds or have a penchant for hiding in bed, let me try to explain.

I know it is different for everyone. Some have severe panic attacks, some lose their shit and scream and cry, some of us can’t breathe. I fall into the latter category. When things get really bad I feel like I have a basketball shoved inside my ribs and my lungs are trying to expand and contract around it. Not easy.

But one thing, I think, that is universal for those with severe anxiety, is that it isn’t rational. It’s living too much in our heads and not being grounded in what is happening in the moment. We worry about the future, the past, the present and it all gets tangled in a whirling blur of color mixed with terrifying darkness that is impossible to slow down and separate into what’s real and what’s perceived.

The last time I had anxiety this bad was in the months after my mother died. No difficulty explaining why. And there is no secret to why it’s revving up now either. This pandemic is changing our world at a screaming pace. And the thing that makes me most anxious is I don’t know how it’s changing us, or where exactly (or even generally) we will end up.

I know this isn’t a post of stiff upper lip. (We can’t all be Queen of England.) I am a brave person–I go on living in spite of my anxiety. Some days are more difficult than others to put together the semblance of a well-lived life, but I never give up. But if I chew my thumb or have to lie down in the dark for a while, it’s okay. And it’s okay if someone you know does the same thing–as long as they don’t unpack and set up house with that feeling.

I hope you’re okay. I’m hanging in there. I’m doing my best, and I’m trying to be kind to myself and to others. We’re all going through a hard time and kindness is the best medicine for the ills that surround us.

Take care of yourself.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #6

There is a new normal.

I say this as I am writing from the couch. We have just had “virtual cocktails” with friends of ours and my husband is now making dinner. (The husband making dinner isn’t the new normal, and for that I’m very lucky. He cleans up too.)

As of right now, Florida has 11,545 cases of Covid-19, with 221 cases in my county. The next county over, Miami-Dade, has 3,890. I know we are not the hardest hit in the nation. New York is suffering something what we can’t imagine right now. But I’m afraid Death, while not knocking on our door just yet, is definitely sharpening his scythe.

It’s coming.

My week was pretty quiet. I worked 8-5 every day, but I was blessed that I was able to stay in my office for the majority. I am damn grateful to be employed with health insurance right now.

Today Kosta and I visited our favorite French restaurant for takeout quiche and we went to the grocery store. Then we came home and took a four-mile walk. It was great to get out of doors and get some exercise. Then I did Dad’s grocery shopping and came home and de-loused. (Which means I took a long, steamy shower with lots of soap and shampoo.)

Virtual drinks with Fabiana and Fernando was fun. It was almost like being at our favorite hangout, Riptide Brewing Company. Not quite, because there was no beer for me, but it was fun to talk to them for an hour. And two vodka gimlets have left me feeling pleasantly buzzed.

In fact, I’ve been talking to lots of people online lately. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. I feel the need to connect with my friends that I can’t see right now. And it calms me down and energizes me when I do, so that’s a good thing. And I can do it all from the comfort of my couch in my jammies, so maybe I am as much of an introvert as I thought.

Life has shrunk, most definitely. Even with the Skype and the Zoom and the FaceTime I still feel like my world has diminished. There are fewer faces, fewer conversations, more solitude. I wonder how my extroverted friends are coping. Surely this can’t be easy for them.

But every day I am grateful that I wake up, and every night I am thankful for another day of health. I don’t know what the future holds and I am conscious that I am living each day more completely because of the uncertainty of what is to come.

And through it all, I have the two men who matter to me the most: my husband and my father. I’m lucky to have such fine examples of human beings with whom I spend the majority of my time. I love you both.

And that isn’t just the vodka talking, either.

Plague Diaries #5

I think like many of you, my brain has been obsessively focused on the pandemic. It’s taking up a lot of mental real estate with me these days. Mostly I’m worried about what’s going to happen and the alarming news about the projections of how many people in this country are going to die in the next month or so.

But this morning during breakfast I was musing on another aspect of this extraordinary event in our lives and how the world has lived through this before and will no doubt live through it again. The Bubonic Plague lay waste to the world’s population and was instrumental in plunging us into the Dark Ages. But a more recent plague, namely the Spanish Flu pandemic of just over one hundred years ago, is something that is a little more accessible to our modern brains.

grandmaThis is my grandmother: Eileen Mary Bachmeyer Nelson. She was born February 11, 1915 in Minneapolis, MN. She lived through the Spanish Flu. She once told me one of her first memories was the end of World War I. She remembered her mother crying and seeing people shouting and celebrating in the streets. She was the only member of her immediate family with a job for a time during the Great Depression. She had an independent streak a mile long and lived to be nearly 95 years old.

Why am I telling you this? Not just because I was honored to be her granddaughter and that I still miss her like crazy, even though she’s been gone for ten years now. But I was considering today how the span of her life overlapping with the span of mine (and who knows how long that will be?) isn’t even a blip in the span of history, but what things have happened in our Venn Diagram of shared and un-shared time on earth.

She saw the Spanish Flu, though I doubt she remembered it. She lived through two world wars. We both lived through the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iraq War, and 9/11. And now, what will I add to our story before my light goes out in this world? I thought 9/11 was going to be the most significant world event that I would ever experience. I was very mistaken on that. As much as our world changed in 2001, I have a feeling the effects of the Covid-19 are going to be so much more far reaching than any of us can imagine now.

Life is never going to be the same again. We will be unequivocally, irrevocably changed. We are going to have to adjust to a new normal, whatever that may be. But this plague won’t finish us as a species. We are infinitely adaptable.

I’m glad my grandmother was spared living through this. Not that she wasn’t resilient enough, but one pandemic is enough for a lifetime.

Besides, she would have HATED the president.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #4

A week has passed since my first installment of the Plague Diaries. Much has changed, but in another way we seem suspended here in Florida. True, the numbers are jumping every day. As of right now there are 4,246 cases of Covid-19 reported in the state of Florida, with 95 of them in my county.

But I know that number is grossly underrepresented. Testing in Florida has been abysmally lacking. The drive-through testing center we had in Naples had to shut down because there were no more testing kits available. I find that extremely disturbing.  We have no idea what’s really going on out there and that, I think, frightens me above all else.

I am returning to work tomorrow. I have been told I can self-isolate in my office and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I have plenty of projects I can work on and am honestly looking forward to the distraction. This past week, while I didn’t do much, was filled with anxiety combined with an inability to concentrate.

I did have a great video conference with a very dear friend just an hour or so ago. She’s a writing partner of mine and we are going to work on our current projects, share, and chat weekly about them. I feel like this is something I can do that will help me bridge the gap back to calm.

There seem to be two groups of people in this country. The first group is taking the pandemic seriously. They stay home as much as possible, they keep six feet away from everyone they meet, and they practice strict hygiene. I fall into this category. When I go back to work I will immediately bathe and put my clothes in the washing machine upon returning home. That may seem extreme and ridiculous to some, but if it keeps me from getting sick, I’m all for it. You don’t bounce back from dead.

The other group are the people who don’t or won’t take this seriously. They stand right next to you at the grocery store, they sneak onto the beach even when they are closed. (This last week Naples City Police turned away over 400 people trying to go to the closed beach for sunset. In about 2 hours. They are now threatening $500 fines for lawbreakers.)

Losers at the poolHere is a picture of the pool at my condo. It’s right out my back door. And you can partially see in the picture the crowd that gathered out there yesterday to hang out, drink, and talk.

There were about eight of them altogether. Not sitting 6 feet apart. Not paying any heed to the PANDEMIC that is gripping the world. I want to find a copy of The Masque of the Red Death and nail it to the pool gate. Although I wonder if anyone would get the reference.

I’m tired of this. Not just the people who won’t behave but of the anxiety and the worry and the fear that all come along with it. But what can I do? I just have to actively look for ways to retain calm in my life. Right now, those include:

  1. Watching Looney Tunes on YouTube (Holy cow, a lot of those do not hold up! So racist!)
  2. Reading beloved novels from my childhood. (I’m looking at you, Maud Hart Lovelace.)
  3. Face Timing with friends and family. It’s amazing what getting to see someone’s face will do for you.
  4. Taking naps.

The last one isn’t probably very healthy–it’s an old coping mechanism that I’ve employed since I was a teenager to escape reality. But I’m being nice to myself right now. A nap isn’t going to kill me.

I hope all of you out there are doing all right. Drop me a line if you need to talk. Do what the CDC is asking of you. Don’t take risks right now. After this passes there will be plenty of time for living again. Like I said, you don’t bounce back from dead.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #3

Yesterday I talked about all the things I worried about. And I talked myself right into a lovely little panic attack. So today I am taking new measures to stop the anxiety from ratcheting up exponentially.

  1. I am going to stop checking the state numbers obsessively. The Florida Department of Health reports the increase in positive cases twice daily. Up until now I was online at 11 am and 6 pm to see how much we had increased. It was making me crazy.
  2. I am going to limit my exposure to the news and Facebook to once a day, and then only spend a very short amount of time reviewing.
  3. I am going to find activities that are comforting to me. For example, reading old favorite books that are like home to me. I’m going to rewatch the Great British Baking Show from the beginning. Even though I’m a low-carb, no sugar girl, it is still satisfying to see friendly people making cakes and biscuits and bread.
  4. I’m going to find reasons to laugh. Watching the British comedy shows like Would I Lie to You and QI always take me out of my head for a while.
  5. I’m going to stop judging other people for their inability to take self-distancing seriously. I’m taking care of me and mine and that’s all I can do.
  6. And if I still feel like I have a kaleidoscope of rabid butterflies in my stomach, I have anxiety medication (used sparingly) that can help me settle down.

My husband and I had a conversation yesterday about being brave. We do need to go forward with the attitude that everything is going to work out. And if it doesn’t we have to face the worst without falling apart. I’m not equating courage with stupidity–I’m still practicing self-isolation. But we need to put on a brave face and not let our fear overwhelm us. This is a war. And I am not going to go quietly to death.

Take care of yourselves. Check in with each other. Practice kindness.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Love, Anna

Plague Diaries #2

This is our fifth day of self-isolation. Although I went to the grocery store yesterday, so it didn’t feel like a quarantine. The store was pretty well stocked and we got what we needed for the week. Today we plan to stay at home and go for a walk, but that’s all.

I am scared. There are lots of things to be scared about: getting sick is the top one on the list, but there are many other things pressing on my mind right now.

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are reported for the state of Florida every day at 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. For the past two days we have been adding 200+ cases every 24 hours. My county has 39 cases. That may not seem like much but testing has been scant. They started getting more aggressive last week when the private labs and hospital started testing too. But if test results take 5-7 days to come in, then we haven’t seen the real spike in the number of cases yet. Maybe in a few more days we’ll see more numbers reflective of how we really are.

What is going to happen to the economy?

It’s in a free fall right now and I don’t see anything stopping it. The stimulus package that the senate is fighting over might help, but I don’t have a lot of confidence they will reach an agreement. Bipartisan fighting is tearing us apart when we need our elected officials to band together now more than ever. I don’t see the senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing “God Bless America” like they did after 9/11.

I’m not going to comment on who is right and who is wrong in this scenario because that is exactly my point. If Democrats and Republicans can’t come to an agreement now, when the world is collapsing, then we might be doomed.

What is going to happen to everyone who is suddenly out of work? 

I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about friends who have lost their jobs. I realize the importance of shutting things down and agree this is the only way forward to lessen the number of deaths. There is a human life attached to every one of those numbers you see posted every day.

But what about the people who worked in restaurants? That is a livelihood that is already tenuous–a tiny wage with the majority of money made in tips. And when the job is gone, so is the health insurance. (At least that’s so in the USA.) What happens if they get sick and need to be hospitalized? How are they going to pay for that?

Why are some people still not taking this seriously?

My husband and I have been going for daily walks. We practice social distancing, where if someone is headed towards us on the sidewalk, we step out into the street to keep a safe distance from others.

We wash our hands. If we are forced to go out (like to the grocery store) we shower when we come home. And some people, I am sure, will say we’re being extreme. Are we? Or are we making sure we stay well?

On our walk we pass by the Lakewood Public Golf Course. The parking lot is still packed every day. Most of the license plates are out of state. So apparently the snowbirds that are with us every winter still feel that playing their 18 holes is more important than stopping the spread of disease.

Of course, it is a sport with very little contact. You’re out of doors, staying away from each other, and generally getting exercise. But who is sanitizing the golf carts? Who is practicing social distancing in the club house? I see clumps of people standing around and talking as we walk by. And it makes me angry.

But!

I also am reminding myself daily of the things I am grateful for. There is a lot. My husband, my father, and I are all healthy as of this writing. I have a job which I am damn grateful for. I have health insurance. We own our condominium outright and have no mortgage payment. We have plenty of food and enough toilet paper for a month. No one I know has the disease as of yet, although one family member was tested yesterday.

Above all, I am grateful for every day I have that I remain healthy. I can go for long walks. I can watch movies with my husband. I can keep in touch with friends and family that I love dearly.

Watch out for each other. Check in. Spread some laughter in this dark time. And stay away from each other as much as you possibly can.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #1

This is the weirdest, scariest thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.  Life has become surreal and I am pretty sure we’re going to keep on down this Dali-esque path for some time.

First off, I am fine. My husband is fine, my Dad is fine.  We are taking precautions, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and trying not to go crazy being cooped up. But as one person on Facebook said, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

I am not working right now. The library where I work has closed its doors to the public, although staff are still expected to report in every day. I asked if I could work from home and was told no. Since I am lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation to spend, I am doing just that. I’d rather have a healthy family more than I’d like my vacation time.

It was and wasn’t a hard decision to make. It was easy in that I care what happens to my very small family.  My father is 73 and my husband is 63. Since everything went sideways I am keeping them out of public as much as I can. And me going to work every day and potentially being exposed was too much of a risk. I’m not going to put their lives in jeopardy for my job.

But it was hard because I feel like I need to be doing something to help. I feel bad that my coworkers are still putting together online story times and other forms of digital entertainment for our patrons. I would like to help but at the moment it isn’t possible. Perhaps I can work from home soon. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy.

Yesterday the governor of Florida closed all restaurant dining rooms, letting places offer takeout only. And I read an article this morning about how so many places have been forced to lay off the majority of their staff. I am terrified for the waitstaff at my local places. How are they going to survive? What happens if they get sick and they have no health insurance?

Our favorite restaurant, Cafe Gourmand, is still serving up takeout from 9-12 every day.  We went down there this morning and got our usual quiche to go. I will do everything I can to support our local businesses through this frightening time until I no longer can go out of the house. As I write this, New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada are all on lock down. I think within a week the rest of the nation will be as well.

Florida, as a state, has been dragging its heels. It wasn’t until Thursday that our city and county closed our beaches. South Beach in Miami closed last weekend and our county sheriff said that all the spring breakers were driving the 100 miles to Naples to party here. It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day Kosta and I went for a drive (just to get out of the house). On 5th Ave, where all the fancy restaurants are, we found people everywhere. Every table was filled, every parking spot taken, every sidewalk packed with people.

These are not people who live here year round, I suspect. These are people who are continuing their vacations in direct defiance of the warnings issued by the CDC.

Yesterday was my first day of “vacation” and I did very little. I went for a nice long walk with my husband and braved the markets to do my Dad’s grocery shopping. I had to go to 4 stores, but I got everything on his list. In the afternoon I took a nap and we got takeout from the Yard House for dinner, which we ate with my Dad. We then watched TV for a while. Pretty basic.

I did almost have an incident in Publix, however. It was packed and I was trying to maneuver my shopping cart around someone who had stopped in the produce section when this man in a face mask comes barreling through and nearly knocked me over. I locked eyes with him for a moment and gave him a challenging look. I think I must have intimated what I was thinking, which was, “No, no, you go first, asshole.” I could see the rage flare in his eyes and I am pretty sure he almost turned around to start yelling at me, but fortunately he chose to keep going.

I have to remind myself daily to take a deep breath. I am doing everything I can to protect my family.  I am checking in on extended family and friends. I am still exercising and eating healthy. I am still getting paid and have health insurance and damn grateful for it.

Things are going to get weirder. I hope you all are keeping your heads up.

See you on the other side,

Anna

I’m Listening…

I have a strange relationship with music. At least, I think I do. It’s possible you’re all like me but I’ve never really discussed this in depth with anyone except for my husband and he has a strange relationship with music so I can’t compare.

Music is amazing, isn’t it? Melodies and harmonies, all tangled with poetry to make something that speaks to us on an elemental level. It spans the breadth of human emotion from our fist-pumping highs of pure elation, to the kind of despair where you sit in the closet eating your hair, weeping softly.

That’s pretty normal, right? What’s so weird about me then?

For instance, I can’t stand live shows. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Live shows can be awesome, but the stir up an odd and uncomfortable feeling in me. When I really love a band or an album and listen to it obsessively it synthesizes into my very personality. It’s like I have an inside track to the songwriter’s intimate inner world. And then when I see the band perform live I am struck by how so many other people are intruding on that intimacy. Like I’m standing there naked and exposed. And the reality that it’s all in my head comes crashing down on me and I’m devastated.

I told Kosta about this and he paused and then said, “Yeah, that’s weird.”

Last September I went to Universal Studios in Orlando. They have a roller coaster there called the Rip Ride Rockit. It’s not for the faint of heart. The highest drop is 167 feet and it is more than straight down. But the brilliant part is you can pick your own heart-stopping song to be piped into your headrest and have a uniquely terrifying experience. It’s awesome.

I’ve only ridden it once. I listened to “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Cruë. Don’t judge me. I grew up in the 80’s and developed a taste for hair bands in my teens. (I never claimed it was good taste.) The combination of the roller coaster and the song was epic. The thudding of the drums beating in staccato time with my heart, the anticipation of the crunch of the guitars kicking in and finally that drop timed perfectly with Vince Neil’s first wail all worked together to give me a breathless almost two minutes of clean exhilaration that I have not experienced since.

That doesn’t sound so weird, does it? It’s not, since everyone who dares can experience it and have it suited to their own musical taste. Kind of genius, really.

But I have an on-again, off-again relationship with music. When I was in my teens and twenties, music was a huge part of my everyday life for one reason: the car. I would listen to the radio (when there was a station available that I like), I would listen to tapes and later CDs. When I was a senior in high school I listened to Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions I&II over and over, almost exclusively. And at top volume. But then teenagers have that affinity for loud music because of their own adolescent howl that is tucked behind their breastbones.

The car sustained me through my twenties and thirties as well, although when I moved to Florida I was suddenly bereft of any radio station that suited my tastes. And I admit that was when music fell away from me. I listened to old stuff but did not seek any new, and worse yet, I listened to NPR like an old fuddy-duddy.

And after I got married and we shared a car the CDs left me too. My lifestyle changed to one that was a desiccated wasteland where no music was ever played. And I let it happen without thinking about it much. Did I miss it? Not at the time, but I can tell you it has made in impact on my life because of that loss.

Until I went to the gym and realized that working out to a beat was way better than huffing along to the rhythm of my thoughts. (Trust me, the brain train jumps the track all the time and never in time.) I pulled up my iTunes and made a playlist of 90’s hard rock to take to my workouts. It did the trick for a long time until suddenly I was thoroughly sick of The Offspring and Blink-182.

Since I now have access to things like Apple Music and Amazon Prime I have whole catalogs at my disposal and I’m afraid I’m a little overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin or who to listen to. I’m not afraid of new music, but so much of what’s popular today really hasn’t changed from the pop I listened to when I was twelve. It’s a lot of bad poetry set to mediocre melodies that all sound too similar.

As Pink Floyd sang: “Hey you, out there on the road, always doing that you’re told, can you help me?

I feel it’s time. I want to bring music back to life in my soul. It’s been thirsty for a long time and I need your help. Since mixtapes are no longer a thing (and I am sad this is the case. I adored the hand written track lists that made them so unique), build me a playlist of three songs that have meant something to you in the last year. It can be any genre, it doesn’t have to be something you think I would like.  In fact, I’m more than ready to be open to new experiences.

Thanks in advance. I also wouldn’t object to carefully curated playlists complete with liner notes and cover art. (Oh, the tragedy of that disappearance!) But I understand that’s a labor of love and some of you might not love me… yet.

Hit me with your best shot. I’m listening.

Looking Forward

It’s the end of the decade and the beginning of the twenties. I wonder if these will roar as loudly as the previous twenties did. And if not, what will they do? Are we about to enter the Exploding Twenties? The Whimpering Twenties? We’ve just been through the Dumpster Fire Teens, at least where politics is concerned.

Ahem. No politics, Anna.

This is a time of year, that nebulous, hazy time between Christmas and New Year’s, when people take stock of things. What have I accomplished in the past year? In the past decade? In my life? What do I want to do next?

I am of two minds about this practice. While I always think it is a good idea to write down your goals–it makes them permanent–I’m not always sure doing it this time of year is the best. We go into January with giant expectations of ourselves. For instance, I could say that I want to lose fifty pounds, learn Greek and Norwegian, start and Etsy business, Marie Kondo my house, and land myself a literary agent.

But I am sure I would only end up in a tepid teacup of bitter disappointment. The expectations we place on ourselves probably aren’t unattainable. I mean, I could do all those things above, but would it make me happy?

Probably not. Sure, I would have a huge sense of accomplishment, but I think I’m starting from the wrong angle. Instead of thinking about correcting my deficiencies (for example, my shameful monolingual-ism or my cluttered bedroom), maybe I should think of things that I know would make me happy and start there, working backwards to it.

Maybe we need to focus less on what we should be doing, and concentrate on the things that make us happy. Unless you’re a serial killer, of course.

On March 31, 2010, at approximately 4:45 pm I was hit with the bolt of inspiration that led me to write my first novel. I’d always thought of myself as a “writer” before then, even though I had only written a few short stories and some terrible poetry in college. But that day I was researching Greek mythology and I came up with the idea of writing a modern day take on the muses.

I confess, I might have been doing this at the end of my work day (Shame! Shame!) But at 5 pm I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go with the story and I roughed it out with my husband as we went for a walk after work. I was frolicking in circles around him, I was so excited.

I wrote the first draft in twelve weeks. I remember bursting into tears right after writing “the end” at the bottom of the page. Even though I wasn’t published, I had the chops to finish a novel! I really was a writer.

Since then I have worked very hard at my writing. I did my homework about the publishing industry and sent out queries to literary agents. I slaved over that first query letter. Every word was lovingly selected and combined into what I thought was a sculpted thing of beauty. I got a few nibbles, agents asking to see more than the initial pages I had sent out. But no one took the worm and pulled.

I did not give up. I thought the first novel might work better as a young adult story so I rewrote it completely. I queried again. Several agents asked to see the whole thing, but ultimately, I once again did not find someone to represent me.

I did not give up. I wrote a new book. This one was a young adult historical thriller set in Tudor England that is very dear to me. My wonderful husband, who is also my first-line editor, worked with me every night after work to hone that manuscript until it sparkled like a gem. (Let’s go with rubies, I really love rubies.)

I sent it out to agents starting in February of 2015. I got lots of positive responses, but still no takers. But then, after about 140 rejections, at the end of July, a brand-new agent from a huge agency in New York wrote to me to say he was head-over-heels in love with my book. I remember opening that email. It was on a Friday afternoon that I was off work.

I shrieked. My husband came running in from the other room. All I could do was put a hand over my mouth and point at the screen. I moved so he could sit and read. By the time he was done I was on the floor, on my hands and knees, and pounding the rug. (This is not a euphemism.) I was screaming and crying and filled with joy.

I had found an agent! Within a couple weeks I signed a contract and we started getting the manuscript in shape to send it to editors.

EDITORS. People who publish books. I had made the next rung on the ladder!

We queried editors until Christmas. Many were extremely favorable about the book but ultimately it came down to one thing: young adult historical is extremely hard to get past a sales team. I had many interested, but no takers.

And if you think that it stings less when an editor says no, you’re so wrong. It hurts like a motherfucker.

Finally, my agent had to break it to me that we had to shelve this book because there was no one left to send it to. I was devastated. I loved that book with everything I had.

I did not give up. I did my homework. I went out and grabbed up YA historical new releases and gobbled them down. It seemed that all the YA historical fiction that was being published (and still is) has some sort of fantasy element to it.

I wrote my third novel, another YA historical thriller with a fantasy element. I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. My agent said he was very excited to take it out to the editors. We sent it out. And once again we did not succeed in snaring an editor’s attention. The reason? There were too many YA fantasies out there right now and mine would just get lost in the mix.

I pounded my head on my desk. I wept. I felt like shit for quite a while.

In fact, about this time my mother’s health began to fail in earnest and 2018 was filled with me watching her die and then grieving for her. I did not write. I didn’t even read. I couldn’t. But there was that spark in me, that one that loved the process of crafting stories that wouldn’t be quenched.

But my contract with my agent expired and he did not offer to renew. I was heartbroken that I hadn’t had success when it had been at the tips of my fingers.

I did not give up.

In 2019 I started to come out of the well. I started by writing some flash fiction. I wrote a few short stories. I wrote a non-fiction piece about anxiety. And lo, when I sent some of these out, they were published! I had a flash piece called “Teeth” in Everyday Fiction. My essay on anxiety ended up in Vamp Cat Magazine. And two more flash pieces ended up printed in The Mangrove Review.

I went to The Mangrove Review launch party. I gave a reading. I LOVED it. I’m not just a writer, it turns out I’m an excellent public speaker too. I read with inflection. I crack jokes. Dammit, I’m witty.

I went back to a novel I had been thinking about since I was an undergrad taking art history. There is a famous Renaissance painter named Fra Filippo Lippi who was a monk. He used a young nun as a model for the Virgin Mary and ended up falling in love with her kidnapping her, and spiriting her away from the convent. You can’t make that shit up.

Or can you? I took that seed of an idea and started working on my fourth novel: a paranormal thriller set in Italy in the 1400s and present day. This one is for the adult market. I have it on good authority that the adult historical fiction market is hot.

While I’ve been working on this novel I’ve built an acquaintance with a literary agent. He has been very kind and given me good advice.  I sent him my second novel at the end of October and he responded with delight. He is a great agent: he started as an editor and now has a cadre of talent all over the spectrum. He’s seen all sides of the industry and really knows his stuff.

I know there’s no guarantee he’s going to take me. It isn’t his job to take me on because he likes me. He has to love my writing. But I have the talent and the drive. If he doesn’t take me I’ll keep going until I find someone that will.

I will not give up.

So to go back to the beginning, what am I expecting of myself in 2020 and beyond? I’m going to say “fuck you” to the resolutions and keep doing what makes me happy. That is writing. And even if I never get anything published, I will have had a satisfactory career as a writer. Because I love it.