By: Alexandra Kostoulas |
I noticed a few other people copied my dispatches since I published and promoted the last one. They are mostly bloggers and they labeled their posts “dispatches from quarantine 001. If it’s a coincidence, then what serendipity, but if it’s copying, then I’m annoyed. I know I had the idea first because when I set up the domain and the blog it was in March and their posts were after April 13.
The thing is, it almost made me stop writing this blog.
That’s the thing I can’t get over.
It. Almost. Made. Me. Stop.
Also the other day somebody devalued me and the work that I do. The details of what they said are not important.
Don’t take it personally, I told myself.
But, because I am human, I did.
And I let it silence me for a while.
For a week or so.
The last time it happened, I let it silence me for a year. Once, for a decade.
The thing about this coronavirus quarantine is…it is making me–like a lot of people–reflect on my life. For me this self-reflection is manifesting in my career. Probably because I am emerging from my second maternity leave, and wondering if I even have a career anymore.
I am looking back at the past decade and all my set-backs. All the times when I didn’t send my work out because I didn’t think it was “ready” or “good enough” yet. All the opportunities I let pass me by. All the deaths I experienced.
All the little ways I let it kill my own art.
That was the worst part.
I held myself back because I was grieving.
In the first half of the last decade, I lost my grandmother, my father, my first pregnancy. I had a life-changing injury that took 18 months of physical therapy to come back from. I almost died of sepsis in a Bangkok hospital. I almost lost my mom to breast cancer, but she beat it and is now back cantankerous (and as loving) as ever. Not it that order. When we think of trauma, it is never in order.
I could not write about any of this stuff or finish the work I was doing on it because I hadn’t fully digested it. I was still traumatized.
And the Coronavirus, with its long slow tail–got me thinking about all the little setbacks that happened to me, and how I let them silence me and I worried about how many more will come now with the coming recession that is starting to take hold.
During the last recession, I got passed over for tenure track jobs. I did not get ahead like I thought I would. Things were not rosy for me. I ate a lot of crow.
In all these ways I hid inward. I did not speak.
I let the fear wash over me. I let the setbacks and the deaths swallow me up.
But in the last five years, good things started to happen to me. I had two healthy babies. I kept writing and working on my novel. I finished a poetry collection. I founded and cultivated the SF Creative Writing Institute. I mentored and worked with amazing people who I helped find and develop their voice. My living situation got more secure.
But, I didn’t send my work out as often as I would have liked.
Instead, I minded my own business. I shuffled along whistling, trying to be unobtrusive.
I guess, without knowing it, I bided my time.
I have two students of Creative Writing who are young women from diverse backgrounds.
In my heart when I want to feel better about myself, I called them my protégées. I mean, they are their own, and they are amazing, but in some way, when they were still fledgeling on the border of stepping out into their own writing careers, they were my protégées. Humor me. Life is nasty, brutish and short. Give me a protégée now and again.
Anyway, these protégées were a little more savvy than I was at their age but they were young and eager like I was.
Two and a half years ago, when my first baby was born, they each came to me for help. One with grad school applications, and one with scholarship apps for the grad school I wrote her a letter of recommendation for and helped her apply for. They both got full ride scholarships to their schools of choice. I warned them that being a woman and being ethnic and being a writer are not the easy way. They said they knew. I warned them not to give up their day jobs which were well paid and hard to get because there could be another recession. They said they knew.
I talked to one of the protégées recently and she is living in an apartment in New York. Outside her window is the pandemic. She is alone. She is teaching online internationally. She is doing amazing things. She hears sirens 24/7.
They never stop.
She confided in me that she is only looking at the news and watching documentaries during the corona times.
I said, you know what, me too. I’m only looking at the news and youtube.
Neither of us were writing yet.
As for me, I spent the first moth of quarantine frantically moving our classes online and trying to save the Creative Writing Institute from going under, the month before that making sure we had enough food and supplies at home, the month before that, adjusting to a life with two small children, the month before that recovering from birth.
Before they left the Bay Area, I explained to them my journey with publishing.
That I hadn’t published as much as I thought I would by now because life threw me a lot of curve balls and most of them were death and illness and economy related. I’m not complaining. I have also been very lucky. It’s just the way it is. They listened with compassion.
Anyway. Here I am now, typing at the dining table while the babies sleep as if my life depended on it.
The thought has just occurred to me:
One thing I know how to do is how to keep going in a crisis. If I have any wisdom to impart to anyone else, it’s this.
My mind keeps flashing back to the previous recession when I had just graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing, and post 9/11, when I had just finished college at UCSB and there were no jobs. I talked my way into my first ESL teaching job with no experience out of desperation.
If I have one thing to share about my writing, it’s that I regret that I didn’t keep showing it despite the nay-sayers and the trauma. I should have kept putting it out there and I should have never stopped.
I should have been deaf to other people’s and my own criticism.
And now, Corona Virus times or not, I am going to write and send out work as much as I can when I can.
So here I am. I’m back. I’m going to keep writing and showing work. Keep finding new ways to make it happen. Even if I’m slow.
When I’m writing, when I’m designing courses for the Creative Writing Institute, when I’m playing with my kids, I am not thinking about the dread that is out there. I am not letting the dread fill me up inside.
Writing in here is keeping me accountable.
If you’re out there reading this and you want to write too, please send me stuff. I’ll publish it on here. I hope it will keep us all going.