Updated: Jan 2
I owe a giant newsletter to my subscribers, but I thought I’d post here first, as I enjoy yearly roundup posts for their reflective value.
The year began with surgery for my son with casts on both legs and six weeks of recovery on crutches. That now seems eons ago and yet I’ve not forgotten the angels who sent him gifts for his recovery or the one in particular who flew all the way from California to help out.
In March, I went to the first conference I’d been to in ages, AWP in Philly. I shared a room with one of my brilliant students, who came down from Akwesasne (also known as the Mohawk reservation in New York) with her mother. I very much enjoyed hearing the Mohawk language spoken and laughed when my student’s mother, a matriarch of the Bear Clan, claimed me for her own after she saw my wolf necklace and I told her about my writing group. “You are Bear Clan, not Wolf,” she said emphatically. I loved bringing that woman treats every day wherever I found them. I read at that conference with other faculty from Southern New Hampshire University and was proud of and inspired by the immense creativity and resilience we all shared. And it was fun to finally meet my dean, Paul Witcover, who is an amazing writer as well as supervisor.
At the end of May, I headed to WisCon, which I’d not attended in many years. I visited family I’d not seen since my mother’s funeral. All of my writing group came in from the West Coast. I hardly knew how to feel being with them again after so long apart; everything felt so fragile and tenuous, as if we’d carved a new reality from the worn pandemic fabric. I was afraid it would all vanish in an instant. WisCon didn’t feel as vibrant as it once had; I still can’t put my finger on why, except perhaps the low attendance and so many missing or gone that I always associated with that particular con. Perhaps the most revelatory experience was visiting the House on the Rock—something I had never done despite years of visiting my maternal family. I can’t begin to explain what that was like, but it seeped into my dreams and hopefully will emerge in stories one day.
And in July, I went to Scotland for the Once and Future Fantasies Conference at the University of Glasgow. It was a magical trip, one I’ll never forget. During a layover in London, I re-connected with my brilliant friend Liz de Jager and met Nazia Khatun for a delicious meal. In Glasgow, I stayed with my dear friend Tiger, who has been my friend since the Hong Kong days, and has now retired back to Glasgow. I stayed with her in an arts community outside of Glasgow, where I met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life, among them the former keyboardist for ABBA. By sheer providence our dear friend Gail, also from those Hong Kong days, was in town visiting her mum, so we all managed to have dinner together. While at the conference, I stayed with dear friends Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Terri Windling, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and the brilliant and hilarious Kathleen Jennings. I met so many amazing writers and scholars--Sean Elliott, Dmitra Fimi, Julie Phillips, Rob Maslen, Amal El-Mohtar...I simply can’t name all of them. I absolutely loved the confluence of scholarship and creativity at the conference; it fed me at a deep level that had been starving for such interaction. I gave a workshop there on using maps to help jumpstart worldbuilding and was inspired by all the creativity of the participants. I really hope they write stories of the worlds they built there.
I spent most of the year not writing. The conference made me want to get back to it, but when I got home, all was chaos again. (I honestly can’t remember why now). I thought when the kids went back to school, I would find writing again. But it seemed that no matter how I tried or what method I used to get organized, teaching, taking care of the household, and applying and interviewing for dayjobs took all the energy I had. On top of that, in August I decided to participate in a Mandarin Intensive Workshop, which was an attempt to help non-native adult speakers learn Mandarin. I was grateful for the opportunity and deeply inspired to fulfill one of my long-held dreams of becoming fluent, but it ultimately became too much. I didn’t have even an hour to work on it daily, or so it seemed.
And then, Big Things started happening. Los Alamos National Laboratory reached out to my husband about a possible job offer. A flurry of communications ensued. By November, we knew we were moving to New Mexico. We broke the news to our kids over dinner at FaerieCon*, which was, upon reflection, perhaps a less-than-optimal plan. But eventually they accepted it and were fine with it. I have deep gratitude to all their friends and friends’ parents for ensuring continued connection and making sure they got lots of time together before we left.
Breaking the news to friends and family was also hard. I still haven’t had a chance to fully embrace all that the move will mean. Perhaps the worst part about it was all the grief caused by it, which is a thing I never want to cause anyone. I had been sure after our last return to the New River Valley that we would never leave it again and that our next move would be small—to the farm of our dreams. I broke my heart a little trying to figure out how to make that dream happen. (That is probably where all my “extra” time went—researching grants, trying to start my own herbal bath business, market gardening, and mushroom growing business). In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. We were struggling a lot in Virginia; the husband’s job there had come to a dead end. New Mexico offered a chance at a fresh start and hopefully a much brighter future. We decided to take the leap. It’s terrifying, honestly, but it felt like it was the best option.
And so here we are—at an AirBnB outside of Santa Fe. We don’t have a house of our own yet; that may take some time. But for the first time in ages, it feels like we’re relaxing and not worrying about a multitude of things we can’t control. (Ok, maybe the husband is, but I’m not. I’m going with the flow as much as possible). We no longer have all the responsibilities we’d piled on ourselves and we’ve let a lot of things go. It’s a hard lesson to realize you’re growing older and can only do so much in a day without tearing yourself to shreds. That it’s OK not to do and be everything. That simplest is best.
We got ourselves mired in so many things back home. I don’t plan to do that here. I’m letting go of who I was so that I can become what I’m meant to be.
And that means getting back to writing. Accepting writing as it is and not how I want it to be. It’s been a tough haul since the publication of my last book. So many rejections. So many false starts and wrong turns. And lots of fear that played out as procrastination, fear that I just couldn’t acknowledge for what it was. I thought it would be easy to self-publish if traditional publishing wouldn’t accept my latest offerings, but what I didn’t count on was that even after I’d learned and listened and lurked on indie boards, there was still the fear that no one would buy what I was selling. That I would get the same responses and rejections I’d been getting. Only it would hurt more because it would come from readers. And so, I just let it slide quietly away. I stopped trying to put myself out there. I was supposed to have published the first book of my new indie series in August, but I couldn’t seem to finish the re-write, nor could I bring myself to push the button on any other finished projects. I felt like such a terrible liar at the cons I attended, with nothing to offer and nothing on the horizon, knowing it was my own fault. Even now, as I type this, I worry that what I’ve said here is irrelevant, maudlin, and should probably be deleted. I’m going to resist the urge to delete, though, because perhaps my truth will be meaningful to someone else just as stuck as I have been.
The Year of the Tiger was a difficult year, a learning year, that certainly is ending with a roar. May the Year of the Rabbit bring continued good change, but also a more stability to us all.
*FaerieCon was smaller than I’ve seen it and in a new venue, but it was lovely to be back. I still think of all the cons, it’s my very favorite.