I’ve learned to give myself grace over these past two-plus years; as someone who has always found relaxing to be stressful, it was a hard lesson. I needed to learn how to let things go, how to swim with the tide and let it carry me, without feeling guilty for it. Not everything had to be a struggle, even if life with a three-year-old can otherwise indicate.
Now, I think, it’s time to give myself some goddamn accountability.
This is said with no self-directed anger, no guilt, and no shame. There is no judgment to pass. I have given and given and accepted and accepted the grace from myself and others for what I have done and not done, and for what I have lived through. The past few years have been a lot; the past year, the past month.
The days have been so, so long. I wake up, my child wakes up. We go to our respective daily responsibilities with different levels of engagement, with their different structures and purpose. We come home at the end of the night, tired; we eat, stare at the TV and each other, read a couple books and head to bed. There’s a lot of scrolling involved, a lot of half-hearted conversation. I have learned to be at peace with both wanting to do more, and knowing that these last blustery nights of winter are not going to be the time.
We’re supposed to get a big snowfall in a couple days; there’s been precious little this winter thus far, just enough for two quick snowy adventures. We haven’t even busted out the snow pants yet. Now here in mid-March it sounds like the lion finally has sank his claws into the low hills and curves of coastline, dragging the dregs of winters along. I won’t be running this week, though I’m cleared to, and I’m feeling physically better than I have since last May.
I made it out for a couple solid walks this week, walking out my door at work and letting it slam behind me, keeping my pace quick as I crossed neighborhoods and made my way to the beach. The sea was restless and high, prowling along the shore. She’s waiting for something.
I felt the pull of the tide, shifting and tense, echo in my veins long after I left the sands behind and made my way back to the office. I try to channel the energy into work, seat-dancing with the jitters, getting psyched up for a major project kickoff the next day.
Until my director called and told me I was off the project; it had been recategorized to another (albeit more appropriate) department. The hours I’d put in on it this specific project for the past four months were for nothing.
Anger spilled from my eyes in hot tears, tightening my throat on the repetitions of, “this is bullshit.” I felt overlooked and invalidated; thankfully, I’m close enough to my supervisor to ask if this is because of something I’ve done, and she was able to quell those worries before they even had time to blossom.
The following four days were tough. Something about this felt pivotal; I remembered the sea’s edge, the cold foam that rolled up along the shore as waves broke further out in the harbor. Suddenly the surf seemed far away, as if I walked along a cliff edged with small stones that bounced their way over the edge. Change felt imminent. I talked with friends about it, paced and swore. I wished I was able to not throw myself into things like this. Why did I sink so much of myself, so many of my spoons, into the hours that I traded for pay? Because I care about my job, and I’m passionate about my field and the potential in it. OK, well, if I didn’t care about the job so much, would it be easier on me? Would I be less tired, feel less discouraged and down if I could find a job that didn’t challenge my heart and soul so much?
If I were going to be so absorbed by something that it had the power to drive me to tears of any kind… did it need to be a job?
Yes, of course, I thought. I need to work. Working provides health insurance, stability, and a paycheck, which provides food and shelter and more stability. Those are basic needs that a job meets. Satisfaction comes after, then passion. Cool, cool.
But what if…
I grabbed a notebook and the first thick pen I could find.
What would it look like if I took this writing thing seriously?
Not quit my job seriously, or like all the success stories of pretty white girls who “just went for it.” I’m 36 year old solo mom with student loan payments about to restart. The farthest I’m going to “go for it” is picking up the jar of medium-heat salsa at Wegmans for an untested recipe. I’m not moving to Bali for six months to write my book, or turn a fitness instructor career into a successful entrepreneurship. For those that did, good for them – that’s just not me, not where I am, and really, not what I want.
I want my stories read. I want people to read them, talk about them, enjoy them. I want my words to mean something to someone, whether it’s an inspiration or a moment of recognition, or a laugh in a dark moment. I want to connect with people. I want to tell stories I see myself in, see my friends in. I want to be part of the movement of more queer representation in fiction. I don’t need to be the next TJ Klune (though holy shit, if you haven’t read him yet, GO), but the mark I want to leave on this world is in that line.
I’m currently sitting on 6 half-finished blog posts (yes, I’m still very behind) and two novels – one in its 9thround of edits, and I’ve been querying agents for, and one that is a rough draft of the second book in a series of seven. How long am I going to leave them sitting on my computer? How long am I going to wait?
The first novel – a standalone fiction piece, about 250 pages – wasn’t planned. Oops. It had started as a short story, and just kept going. It still needs some polishing, some work; looking back and editing it, I can see how far I’ve come in my writing since “finishing” it, so the tweaks continue. Still, I’ve sent out eighteen queries to agents for representation. I’ve had 8 outright rejections, consider 2 more to be rejections (waiting for a response for over a year), and have 8 open and sitting in agents’ inboxes.
I wrestled with the idea of going the self-publishing route for an absolutely asinine reason – I felt like maybe I hadn’t paid my dues as a creative person enough. The memes are out there: “Stephen King was turned down 80 times. Keep going.” Agatha Christie had a bunch, John Grisham, Jack London, NK Jemison.
I was absolutely shocked when I received my first rejection – a form email the day after I had sent it. I wasn’t shocked by the rejection, but by my reaction – I had done it. I had sent it out into the world. The letter felt like a rite of passage, and did not discourage me in the least. Some of the rejections I’ve received have been helpful, giving advice on what to clean up for my letter, or story or synopsis. A few have been just templated, [INSERT NAME HERE] that leave me nothing to improve.
I have also had three actual people read, finish, and provide excellent feedback on that novel’s first iteration. Some of the points, I acted on; others I stood by, all for one reason or another. The consensus I came away with was, “this is pretty good, and could be even better.”
After voicing my artistic angst at not “paying my dues,” to someone who loves me enough to not scoff (until later), I was able to let that notion go. I need a publisher to get my book printed and distributed, not to validate my talent. I wanted an agent to make the connections and worry about the marketing, not to pat me on the head and tell me that we will try again.
If I don’t hear back with a positive response from an agent by my 37th birthday, I’m moving ahead with self-publishing. Based on that timeline, by the end of 2023, I will be a published author.
I had to pause after writing that. Sit back, take a healthy gulp of coffee.
How’s that for some goddamn accountability.