In Sickness & In Health

This year has been full of ups and downs. For starters, I got COVID-19, not once but twice and canceled my wedding ceremony an equal number of times.

Before we knew the virus was here, I fell ill for several weeks at the end of February, and ultimately missed the good parts of carnival season and Mardi Gras, which is also canceled next year due to recent Covid spikes that put us in the red. As a New Orleanian, I can’t emphasize enough how crushing that is. That doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of recovery time I’ve suffered through from the virus itself.

Then there was the record-breaking hurricane season that seemed to target my city and state without any particular remorse. At the end of October, Hurricane Zeta hit us head on as a strong Category 2 (1 mph away from a Cat 3, in fact), just days before my legal wedding ceremony. Somehow, we lost power as the eye of the storm passed overhead.

My husband and I went out onto our front porch during the eye of the storm. The sky turned blood red. It was one of the most eerie and beautiful sights I’ve ever witnessed. But my focus quickly shifted from the sky to the children playing in puddles beneath the power lines I’d seen spark during the first half of the storm and to the wandering droves of people who thought it was over. Luckily, a few were swayed to go back indoors as the second half of the storm fast approached.

When our power came back on a little after midnight, we knew that we were one of the lucky few. Over 2 million lost power from Zeta, and locally, many areas didn’t regain power for up to 10 days. Still, we spent that night bathed in candlelight, listening to the moan of wind against the surrounding houses. Before the power went out, I’d been able to curb my anxiety by watching the movie Crawl. That might sound counterintuitive, but I was able to convince my brain that the sounds of the storm baring down on us were just really good surround sound.

We ended up marrying in my aunt’s backyard on Halloween a few days later without power. The few close friends and family that attended had also been without power for days, which is why I offered up our place as a charging station and for the storage of refrigerated medications like insulin. The whole thing felt surreal. But it could’ve been much much worse.

I also found out that my poetry collection Louisiana Alchemy is getting published next fall by a literary press I’ve been drooling over since I discovered them back in graduate school.

I’ve always been pretty motivated to continue writing creatively in my free time despite working a full-time position as a scientific/technical editor (I’m also writing a novel right now), but I think months upon months of quarantining were the catalyst that led me to start sending out submissions again. That and the fact that most of my classmates had either published or recently released books. I didn’t expect anything to come of my efforts though and mentally filed the submissions away after hitting the “send” button. A few months later, my heart surged when I received the acceptance email. I’m still in shock to be honest.

I also began reading religiously again, and the more books I read, the more I convinced myself that I was capable of producing similar work. Thus began my rekindled love(/hate) affair with the art of writing fiction.

I admit, I’m out of practice when it comes to this genre, frustratingly so. Even as a teenager, writing stories and cohesive chapters came naturally, which is why I went into college as a creative writer with a focus on fiction and very much considered myself to be a fiction writer at the time. As part of the degree requirements, I took screenwriting and poetry workshops as well. I remember being absolutely terrified and out of my element in my first poetry workshop.

Ultimately, I fell in love with poetry though, even going on to do an MFA in the subject. As a result, I stopped writing fiction entirely for years. Naively, I thought it would be like riding a bike — I was wrong. So so wrong. Now I often find myself frustrated, wondering how 16-year-old me was capable of organizing a novel without even blinking.

When you live in a poet/editor mindset for years of your life, your focus is on whittling down language from the moment you put words down on the page, and the work often relays personal experience. Fiction is the opposite. I can’t seem to get the audience out of my head or stop comparing the early stages of the work to the books I’m currently reading. I don’t know how to just let it be ugly for now.

It’s weird to feel simultaneously happy and accomplished over one area of your writing while also feeling completely defeated in another. But my writing, just like this year, has been full of ups and downs. From contracting Covid twice in one year to the relentless hurricanes to the election to married life and a new book, things have shifted wildly for me. Despite the incredibly bad, there’s still incredible good that pervades through it all.

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