You’ve now been home for six months.
Zoom sucks, weekends are endless, and you’re only happy when you’re going to bed.
You finished your novel, and this pandemic is your only backdrop as you wait for the slow wheel of publishing to decide if your manuscript—your very living soul as a Word document—will become a real book or die an unceremonious death like the last one.
You never chose this dream of being a writer. If you could have chosen what to want this badly, perhaps you would have picked something that doesn’t require you to push your whole heart off a ledge every few years and watch in extra slow motion to see if it’s going to shatter.
A psychic in California once told you this anxiety is a holdover from a past life, when you were a famous yet controversial author who couldn’t afford to eat if your books weren’t well-received.
Is that why you find it impossible to write anything new these days? Or is it because hundreds of thousands of people are dying and we’re all prisoners in our own homes?
Working from home has made you hate your computer and your desk, so you buy a notebook and a lounge chair and vow to write a new novel by hand while watching the squirrels.
Instead, you spend your first week in that chair checking to see if they’ve found the body of the Glee star who drowned in a lake.
You first watched Glee on the plane ride home from your traumatic summer in India, and it has remained a go-to source of joy ever since.
When the first star died, you swallowed it and kept watching. When the second star died, you swallowed it again. How many deaths of how many stars does it take to transform a guilty pleasure into unwatchable darkness? When they find her body a week later, you know the answer is three. You close your notebook and get up from the chair. You never sit in it again.
For weeks you do nothing but scroll in awe at all the people who have hobbies that are not writing. At the home-improvers, the DIYers, the sourdough-bakers. You watch your husband happily play chess against himself for the hundredth night in a row. You lean against the doorway and softly ask, “What’s it like to have a hobby that doesn’t break your heart?”
More days blur together and you turn 34. You’ve never cared much about age, were never one to flinch at 30, but something feels different this year and a voice in your head whispers, “You are 34, and you have accomplished nothing.”
You pay off your student loans just to feel something, but instead the moment seems arbitrary—a number on your screen that was once very large is now a zero. You screen shot the milestone anyway, in case you one day regain your ability to feel things.
You finally manage to get out of town one weekend, and while you’re gone an in-land hurricane decimates your state. You get home and your power stays out for three days.
You cancel your clients. You read a book you hate by candlelight. You throw away everything in your refrigerator.
You can’t do the power outage and the pandemic, you just can’t, sorry, so you say fuck it to the pandemic and eat inside a Longhorn Steakhouse. You end up crying into the bread basket, over everything and nothing, while the waitress does a double-take. Your husband sighs and says, “I was just hoping we could have a nice time.”
You’re tired of crying so much. It’s drying out your contact lenses. You call your doctor and get prescribed a pill to make you happier, but all it does is make it impossible to sleep.
On day five, when you’re so sleep deprived you can no longer sit up straight, it occurs to you that you can just stop taking this pill; the very thought of it makes you happier than you’ve been in months.
When you sleep again, you dream that you’re surrounded by everyone you’ve ever known. The pandemic is over, and also, it never even existed for anyone but you. Everybody else was here all along, waiting for you to return.
You are also waiting for yourself to return, you think when you wake up.
You open the notebook you bought back when you thought you were going to write a novel by hand while watching the squirrels. You realize that somehow, between updates on the Glee star, you did manage to fill it with a story.
Some of it’s funny. Some of it’s useless. Some of it highlights just how depressed you really were. But it’s enough of a lifeline that it carries you back to your desk, and you start to type.
You’re writing again now. Two hours a night, if you can. Even though you hate your computer. Even though the world around you is falling apart. Even though you know that a few years from now, you will have to take whatever it is you have written and push it off a very tall ledge.
You do it anyway, because you have to.