Pieces of Me
I broke a little in 2020.
Many of us did. For me, being broken looked like not being able to write for months and months (like, March until July). I also couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything, and I’ve pretty much been in the middle of reading something since I was five years old.
I spent my time wandering around my house aimlessly, or frantically trying to get and stay on top of my classes, or overseeing the kids’ remote school set ups… Plus wine and chocolate and sourdough and some crying.
It was not pretty.
Honestly, it was scary. I hadn’t ever experienced that type of total dissolution of not only society and life as I knew it, but the elements that I use to define myself. Reading and writing comprise a big part of who I am as an adult, and who I’ve always been as a person.
I’ve always been a reader. Like, forever. Since as far back as I can remember.
I’ve been a writer for my entire adult life.
But for the bulk of 2020, I could not do those two things. It was as though someone had taken a melon baller to my insides. Who was I? Would I be able to enjoy a book again? Or tell a story? Did it even matter? For a while, I was deeply worried that the stories wouldn’t come back—that I’d feel like a husk of a person forever.
Gradually, I started reading again. I picked up a Ruth Ware mystery, and its UK setting and Agatha Christie-esque vibe drew me in and took me away from my pandemic life. I’ve since read every one of her six novels, using them as comfortable crutches through this odd time.
Writing came next, then getting organized around school stuff. Life leveled out and I adjusted to this state that we are currently in (I can’t call it the “new normal,” because there is nothing normal about this).
But I’m definitely not the same creative person I was before the pandemic hit.
Creativity evolves over time. Typically, the evolution is gradual: Experience contributes, time spent working in a specific medium contributes, goals and priorities shift. What happened to me in 2020 was less of a gradual evolution and more of a tectonic slip.
Working on a novel-- the mainstay of my writing career--was impossible. I couldn’t concentrate or delve into story. It felt as though the book I was revising turned into a slippery eel that slid out of my grasp every time I tried to think about it, let alone open the doc and work. I had no choice but to set that project aside.
I cast around for a bit, trying to figure out what worked. I journaled a lot (still am). Ultimately, I went back to where I started: short stories. Flash fiction. Those nuggets of prose felt doable. I could hold on to the arc of the story, I knew the characters enough to write about them, and I could accomplish something in a writing session or two. It was like working out after a long absence (which, um, is still on my to do list). In October, I used prompts for illustrators (Inktober) to draft a series of flash fiction pieces. I intended to do one a day, but ended up with a few over the course of the month. That felt like a victory.
Then I dug up and dusted off an unfinished chapter book for second and third graders. It took a lot more work and time than it would have, pre-pandemic, but I was able to finish and revise it by the end of the year.
I’ve continued to explore short projects: essays, picture books, blog posts, flash fiction and stories. That’s what feels good right now. It’s what I can handle. The brevity is also forcing me to think about craft differently, but I like that. It’s as though I’m picking up shards of what I thought I knew about writing, holding them up for examination, and putting them in a basket.
Oddly, in some ways I feel more productive, because I’m sitting down and finishing a piece in one or two sittings.
And maybe that’s the crux of it: at a time when so much is broken, having something small, that feels whole, is what I need.