How do you sum up a year spent in limbo?
We did a lot of waiting. At first we locked everything down and waited in our homes for two weeks to “flatten the curve,” give our beleaguered TikTok nurses a break. That didn’t work, so we waited longer. Don’t go outside. Kids can’t use the playground, let alone attend school. And yet the curve didn’t swell enough for us to flatten. Some of us poked our heads out. With masks on, of course. If you’re not wearing a mask you could literally murder someone. Your value as a human being is measured in how enthusiastically and frequently you cover your countenance. We fucking love science.
You’ve heard it all before.
In mid-December I withdrew the entire Appalling Stories series from circulation for a host of reasons, none of which involve any drama. In 2021 I’ll reissue certain stories in a Best Of omnibus. There’s some work there I’m proud of. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s disturbing.
I don’t own a small business that the lockdowns have closed, so any complaints I have involve my relative luxury not being luxurious enough. If you’re concerned about the state of the culture, you’re full, warm, and sheltered. Too many of us have slipped down a notch or two on Maslow’s hierarchy because of our reaction to the pandemic. I can’t help but think about them, and it’s shameful to bitch about the rest of it.
And yet, and yet, and yet. When your biggest fears are allayed, the smaller ones grow to take their place. So damn you, Hollywood, and damn the election shenanigans, and who’s going to hold the Chinese accountable for their appalling treatment of the Uighurs if we don’t? Save it. Save. It.
I didn’t write while my son was doing virtual learning from March through June. Kept him on task. Read, read, read. Reading is fundamental, you know, and if the writer’s kid hates reading it’s kind of a gigantic fail for me, so keep reading. During “recess” we drove to closed playgrounds and threw the frisbee around. School ended and he got all A’s. For staring at a screen. When he went to summer camp I got back to writing. Then school started: brick-and-mortar school. With masks on. Oh well. A week into the new school year I found that I’d written myself so deeply into a corner in the new series that I couldn’t find a way out. I spent weeks wrestling with it. One and a quarter books in, I had to conclude that the series was fundamentally hosed: none of the pieces fit together. So I put it in a drawer, this thing with superheroes and nanotechnology and ancient aliens, and moved on to something else. Space opera. Finally, progress: notes, character outlines, a story outline. Words on a page.
I didn’t watch a lick of TV for months, but got back into it: Korean dramas. My favorite this year was Misaeng. So good I made the wife watch it. She binged it like heroin. Korean dramas lack American cynicism and American preachiness, and they unabashedly manipulate you. Who cares? The storytelling satisfies. You can deconstruct it easily, and you find that the basics, done right, always work. They don’t subvert expectations: they give you what you want. Other series weren’t so good, like Rugal. Hated it, but the sunk cost fallacy gripped me in its fist. I was able to punch out of Bad Guys for similar reasons: dumb, unwatchable. Chief of Staff, both seasons, was very good. Same with The Good Detective. Strangers from Hell wasn’t bad.
Went on some classic reading tears to fill up my brain with good words. Reread Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and then ate up all of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, both short and long form. O’Connor wasn’t a great novelist, but as a short story writer she could not be beat. Unforgettable stuff. John O’Hara is another great one, though I stuck to his novels rather than his innumerable short stories. Then to John Steinbeck, because why not? Now I’m back to John Updike, whom I haven’t read since my early 20’s. John, John, John. Go figure.
Read/study more, write less: my new cri de coeur. So I don’t update this blog terribly often. If I give away my words for free all the time, why should you buy them?
That was my 2020. There are many people for whom this was a great year, and you know who they are.
2021 will be better if we make it that way. Take care, and God bless.