“You wouldn’t give up the bottle,” my dad said. “We tried everything. You’d scream bloody murder if any of us tried to take it from you. And then, one night…”
His eyes twinkled mischievously. I loved this about my dad’s well-worn stories—the shifts. No one did it better than him. Serious to whimsical, right on cue.
“We were all sitting in the kitchen, your mom, Kelly, and me,” he continued. “You came in wearing your pajamas, with your bottle, walked over to the garbage, and threw it in. And that was that, babe, you never drank from a bottle again.”
This story always made me laugh but, decades later, it has also shown me a pattern of behaviour that has followed me through my life: no matter how attached I am to something, when my brain says I’m done…I’m done.
Why did toddler me decide that was the night I was finished with drinking from a bottle? Who knows but the switch in my brain flipped from “yes” to “no”, as it has done on everything from dance lessons to boyfriends, over the years, with seemingly no reason or schedule.
The problem I’m facing now is what happens when the switch flips on something you love deeply, something that defines and sustains you, something that has created a community for you, something that once promised to make a small living for you?
What happens when your brain says no—after almost two decades of hard work and hustle—to writing?
January 2020 couldn’t have been more perfect. Winter travel plans kept changing due to events beyond our control and our usually fast-paced sojourn to the back country of Baja California, Mexico, became a languid stroll with plenty of time to catch up with old friends, make new friends, and re-explore old haunts on the Bahia de Concepcion and points beyond.
When one of your spouse’s nicknames is “Fast Freddy”, and for good reason, you get used to a certain pace. But there we were, sleeping in late every day and then going out for breakfast every day because it was so cheap; lazily skimming along the bahia in our little tin boat just to take photos or play with dolphins or fish; hanging out and chatting with friends for hours because why not; having the kind of meaningful husband and wife conversations that time never seems to allow anymore; cuddling up in our trailer with our cats and watching movies. It was, in a word, heaven.
Best of all, though, Fred had plenty to occupy him at every stop, which meant I had plenty of quiet time to write and read. I was in a state of creative feast. I had a solo novel manuscript on the go (ironically about a pandemic); I was working with my Warpworld partner, Josh, on a new “hopepunk” type manuscript that we were both excited about; and I was writing short stories when I needed a change of pace. My brain was electrified. It was all I could do to capture a handful of the never-ending stream of ideas that ran through my brain. And, unexpectedly, things got even better.
In mid-January, while we camped at our beloved Estero Coyote, a job opportunity that seemed custom made for me appeared in my inbox. This would be a one-year contract, with great pay, to report the news on tiny Quadra Island through an award-winning, online national news platform. When I was shortlisted for the job, we decided to cut our trip a month short and head home so that I could prepare…just in case.
Through all this, Fred had been monitoring the news, and was growing increasingly concerned about stories of a virus that was rapidly spreading in China.
I was too happy to be worried.
On the road, I found out that I did not get the job but I wasn’t too disappointed. After all, I had my other writing projects and Fred and I had talked seriously about buying a home of our own in the next three to five years. We were optimistic and energized.
Here’s where we utter the obligatory: What could possibly go wrong?
We all know what the pandemic did to the world. In my little corner, things were perhaps as safe as they could be. We had abundant space to distance from each other, our government listened to scientists and medical professionals and acted accordingly, most people followed the rules and did whatever they could to protect themselves and each other. And, yet, every morning I watched the daily global death count shoot up and up and was overcome with feelings of helplessness.
My sudden disinterest in working on any of my manuscripts or short stories, I chalked up to this radical upending of the global status quo. Once things returned to normal, I would get right back to it.
As my depression and anxiety slowly took hold of me beneath the surface, I threw myself into volunteerism and community outreach. I turned my writing skills to a more practical use—keeping my fellow islanders updated on the situation in our community and organizing help for those who needed it. I even found a new job with a non-profit organization, which further fulfilled my growing need to serve my community.
The time Josh and I would usually spend writing, we now spent talking or messaging about life and politics and the damned virus. Neither of us felt the urge to hit the keyboard, though we assured each other we would after this was all over. Things would get better!
Except they didn’t. In early 2021, Fred and I got the news that our secure living situation was…not. My already fragile mental health imploded. Fred took on the Herculean task of caring for me and scrambling to organize our finances and find a place for us to buy (there were no rentals), in the middle of a pandemic, when the paltry handful of houses available for sale were laughably overpriced.
By this point, it was all I could do to make it through a day. Writing of any kind was a hazy daydream. I was lost in loss.
My miracle worker husband came through with flying colours. Soon we had a home of our own. We moved in and I told myself that once I was mentally fit again, I would get back to my works of fiction in progress. In the meantime, I wrote some of these Chronicles as therapy.
Bit by bit, things improved. In September 2021 I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to attend my first in-person science fiction and fantasy/writing event in three years. I was going to reconnect with my squad, I was going to immerse myself in all things creative, I was going to come home inspired and get back to work!
I came home from Dragoncon with gratitude for my friends, great memories, a moderate case of Covid, and not much else. The creative well remained dry. I despaired.
What was wrong with me? Ideas flitted and teased but every time I grabbed one my brain’s response was, “Why bother?”
It would come back. Wouldn’t it? Sure, I was out of practice but if I just forced myself to sit in the chair the old fire would return. It had to. Of everything I had lost since my sister and dad died so suddenly back in 2015, writing was the one thing I could always depend on. It couldn’t be gone. It couldn’t. Who would I even be without my writing?
About a month later, I found myself in Las Vegas for a convention related to Fred’s business. Coincidentally, the popular “20 Books to 50K” convention was also on at the same time, and a writing friend of mine was going to be there, just down the street, selling her books on the last day of the event. I popped in to say hi and, while I was there, I checked out the rows and rows of mostly indie authors selling their wares. Once more, I waited for inspiration.
What I found was exhaustion.
As much as the act of writing had eluded me these past three years, the idea of selling and marketing and promoting my writing hit me like a boot to the guts. All I could think was, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore! I’m done!”
The switch had flipped.
Truthfully, it had probably flipped in 2020 but I refused to believe it. Now, my body’s visceral reaction made denial impossible. I didn’t want to sell my fiction and if I didn’t want to sell it then why write it? Hadn’t that always been what drove me, the thought of people reading my stories? Without readers, what is the point of stories? Would my dad’s endearing story about the day toddler Kristene had given up the baby bottle have meant anything without an audience?
Which leads me to the biggest and scariest question of all: Now what?
Transitions are a bitch.
Leaving my first husband in 1995 wasn’t just about the end of a marriage, it was about me facing adulthood at long last. I spent three tumultuous years shedding the skin of a selfish, self-centered, self-destructive, naïve, irresponsible young brat. I have written of that time in my life that I was “broke and broken”. I’ve endured other transitions but, until now, that was the big one.
Here I am again except this time I’m shedding a skin I love, with no idea what the new me’s final form will be.
I have become the work in progress.
My writing community may just become my “community”, I guess. There are a lot of unknowns. What I do know is that I won’t force myself to write and I sure as hell won’t force myself to sell my writing. Whatever creative path I follow must be one that makes me happy. I have some ideas but I’m waiting to see which ones stick around for the long haul before I commit.
Even this Chronicle was an effort, though one I wanted to make. If for no other reason than to force myself to face the truth. And what is the truth?
I don’t want to write fiction. Not now. Maybe never again? (Ouch). I absolutely do not want to hustle and promote and sell my fiction. I’m both completely fine and utterly gutted by these truths.
If that’s what I don’t want, what do I want?
I want to remain in the creative community, even if I’m not sure what my role will now be in that space.
I want to support my author friends. I will always respect the hustle.
I want to try new art forms. This is equal parts exciting and terrifying.
I want to be a good person. I want to bring good things into the world. I want to listen more and talk less.
I want to build a new community in my new home. The thought of this is kind of exhausting—starting over is something I’m used to but is not nearly as easy or fun as it used to be.
I want to be healthier.
I want to forgive myself.
I want to keep learning and challenging myself.
I want to be okay with not always being okay.
I want to live honestly, even if that’s painful at times.
The switch has flipped. My brain has made an executive decision and I am tired of fighting my brain. What comes next is a mystery but one I’m finally willing to share and embrace.