During the last few weeks, I spent 20+ hours reading and ranking national student Fulbright applications in Creative Writing so I could meet with two other jurists and wrangle amicably over the best ones to send up the decision chain. It was interesting work but EXHAUSTING and very hard to accomplish at such a busy moment in the academic year. The planned five-hour Zoom meeting, however, turned out to take half that long, largely because our moderator was awesome. She used a term I hadn’t heard since early in the pandemic: “biobreaks,” as in pauses from our cyborg virtual/ human activity for hitting the bathroom, stretching, hydrating.
YES, I thought, that’s what I need. More biobreaks! Calm my body down with good sleep and unscheduled time. Maybe even gain the mental clarity to write again. It’s probably been two months since I’ve done more than jot down ideas. I don’t worry about dry spells like I used to–I know excitement about writing always comes back–but it’s bad for every part of me when I don’t periodically enter its flow experience. I’ve been working flat out on putting out various fires, from grading (done!) to last minute proofing (the new issue of Shenandoah, full of brilliant poems, is hot off the presses!). Past those accomplishments and the Fulbright effort, my life, thank goodness, is finally cooling down.
Right now I’m at a big sf annual convention, WorldCon, this year in DC and called DisCon III. I know that doesn’t sound relaxing, especially since I’m giving two readings (fiction and poetry) and speaking on two panels (“Teaching and Analyzing Genre Fiction” and “From Grimm to Disney and Back: The Changing Fae”). But since I don’t know anyone here, I’m otherwise taking it easy, bringing takeout back to my room in a cheaper satellite hotel to get my head together, trying to take advantage of the programming but not fry my poor brain. Obviously I’m also catching up with little tasks like blogging, but I have to say, this kind of writing feels like play, not work, at least most of the time.
I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent poets about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.
Oh, and I should gloss the other difficulties alluded to in my last post. The crisis was completely nonliterary, but this blog is supposed to be where art meets life, right? My husband had Covid. We knew he’d been exposed so he waited 5 days to take a PCR test, which was negative, so after consulting everyone involved, we went ahead with Thanksgiving. He ended up passing it to my daughter who lives in Philadelphia (probably–the source and timeline are a little uncertain–but that’s what I think happened). Fortunately, they had symptoms equivalent to bad colds and recovered reasonably quickly. Chris’ parents and I, who’d received our booster shots earlier due to higher risk factors, escaped infection entirely, but I went back to isolating and teaching by Zoom for a while to wait until I knew for sure. We had to divide the house into separate zones while he, an exceptionally energetic person who’s much more social than I am, sadly waited out quarantine. My main source of sadness was getting the zone with the chores. (I’m joking, pretty much.) It was anxiety-producing, although it all turned out fine. Get your boosters, friends, and if you can’t, please take very good care.