How is it possible that, three months into the year, the year feels over?
The summer looms. The summer—during which I will be travelling almost constantly, and when I’m not travelling I’ll be performing in some way, readings and panels, or preparing for more travel. The summer—when This Is How You Lose the Time War will be out, and opinions will start flooding us in earnest, in a way that has never been the case with short fiction. People are already talking about it, and I observe in myself a strange startlement whenever someone professes to love it, to admire it—because, of course, I love it and admire it, but it has existed for so long in a form that I have loved and admired without being able to share, and now it will be shared, and I hadn’t realized how much this would affect me, people experiencing it apart from my reading pieces of it to them, people thinking about it, people telling me their thoughts about it.
The depth and breadth of my vulnerability to positive reactions—my inability to anticipate or prepare for them—leaves me somewhat concerned about the inevitable negative ones. But then again, maybe the reason I’m having such a strange time with praise is that I’m bracing constantly against people not loving it, flexing my core against a punch and then not knowing what to do with a hug.
So, the summer. It looms! The spring is the time during which I need to finish a new draft of my dissertation, truly and finally, but I have instead spent most of this month working on a pilot. Which is wonderful, wonderful work, exciting and challenging, a kind of fanfic Max and I are writing of our novella, reading between its lines and bending it into new shapes to be as much itself as possible in a new medium—and this is all I want to do until it’s done. I find myself impatient with everything else, with teaching, with disserting, with the internet, with the world, with people asking me how I am, even, because what I want is to be working on this thing that I love and which I thought I’d never work on again.
How I am is tired, exhausted and frustrated. I would like to work fewer jobs than the present 5: NPR, NYT, grad student, teacher, writer. I would like to be able to focus on one thing without feeling like I’m failing four others.
Today I wandered through the National Art Gallery with my sister and nephew, just being with them. It’s a relatively warm early spring day—snow still everywhere, but the wind’s teeth blunted, the grit-studded sidewalks wet and bared—and inside that giant, beautiful space it felt like summer. Colours, everywhere—a garden—a wishing pool. We wandered through the gift shop afterwards, and I felt like I was just slurping those colours up, every bright yellow and orange and turquoise, every soft, living green. I found myself drawn to art materials: to colourful pencils, to a book teaching watercolour technique “in a 100 experiments,” to colouring books.
As a child I was never much one for art, even though it was available to me constantly. I had no precision with scissors or crayons. Art was my sister’s realm, as writing was mine. But now writing is my job, and I look at art and want to play. I want, with my hands, to put more colour in the world. I want to learn to organize emptiness into the shape of my will with a pencil or pen. I remember a general sort of atmospheric snide snobbery around the idea of “adult colouring books,” and felt an almost violent desire for them, for their intricacies and patterns, for the vision of myself creating morning rituals of colour, of ease, of play, instead of gritting my teeth against the coming day. To make beautiful things for their own sake, instead of for the judgement or consumption of others.
I bought a book of postcards from Johanna Basford’s Enchanted Forest colouring book: postcards that you fill with your own colour, tear out, and mail. I may use them for Oracle postcards, I may not – I may just fill them and write to whomever they made me think of. I have visions, too, of carrying this little book with me as I travel, colouring on planes and trains and buses, posting that transience to friends. “I give you, here,” I would write, “the peace I felt while playing with purple, dwelling in blue, yearning into yellow. My body was between places, suspended in journey, but I felt whole and happy the while, and I wish this for you wherever you are, wherever this finds you.”
Fourteen years ago—on March 3, 2005!—I sold my first piece of writing for money: a short poem, “Loki,” to Star*Line, the chapbook zine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, for the princely sum of $2 USD and a copy of the issue. I have a tiny journal, a small horizontal rectangle of good paper bound in gorgeous sage-marbled card stock that my friend Margo had brought me back from the John Soane Museum in London, and, inspired by one of the magicians in The Prestige, I used it to track my earnings from writing. $2 for a poem; $20 for a story; $50 for a story; $150 for a poem… I watched my writing go from buying me a tea to buying me a lunch to buying me a dinner to buying me a month’s groceries, and then I stopped tracking it there because I started tracking it in spreadsheets for taxes.
It still astonishes me, sometimes, to think about that. I wonder, if I’d known then that it would take years before my writing started enabling me to live (always the marker by which I personally measured the moment where I became A Professional Writer) whether I’d have been discouraged or not. But I don’t think so. Whatever else was going on, I was always doing the thing I loved.
The things I love: my family. Travel. Writing. Reading. Talking. Walking on earth, between trees, by water. Singing, playing music, watching birds, learning languages. Swimming, building strength, feeling a disciplined dangerousness in my movements, an ability to protect those I love. Sometimes when I’m touching my nephew’s head I feel immensely and completely the truth of how I’d put my body between him and harm, let myself be destroyed for his protection, and I can’t breathe.
How important it is, not to lose sight of these things, these true things that aren’t metrics, that aren’t optimization and efficiency and production. How important it is to play, to be, to breathe easy, to feel grace, to feel the generosity that wells up out of peace and joy and ease. How like a Mary Oliver poem, how like a long patient drink of water, a breath drawn and released with its edges unruffled, to live one’s life with the words “wild” and “precious” as birthrights.
The summer looms like a birthday does, a milestone that is also a country to travel into and across. The anxiety comes of a desire to be ready for it, to feel worth of it, to be worthy of it. Emily of New Moon’s gasped refrain—oh! Let me be worthy of it.
The year is not yet a quarter done. And as Persephone says in Hadestown—I’m just getting started.