In some ways, 2020 and 2021 were straightforward years. 2020 was a long scream of a year, one in which we all were trying to survive against a tiny unseen foe. We got vaccines in 2021, and while that eased some of the worry, it didn’t make the worry go away. We were still a group of humans, trying to figure out how to move forward.
But, by 2022, we were all moving in different directions, just like we had in 2019 and almost every other year of our lifetimes. Those long screams of a year—we hadn’t really experienced them, although my parents (your grandparents, probably), had. World War II was truly a world war, something that impacted the entire globe.
Everyone had their individual stories, but they also had the same crisis looming over them. We just left one of those.
And before someone (again) informs me that the pandemic isn’t over, let me say this. The pandemic phase is over, at least in the West. China is going through absolute hell right now. I know that hundreds of people in the U.S. are dying each week, all of them loved and cherished by someone.
But the era of lockdowns and moving in lockstep is over. Covid will be part of our lives forever, and it’s time we figure out how to live with it. A group of us just dealt with it these past few months. Vegas friends got Covid (at different times, and yes, they were fully vaccinated—but this new variant is a wily thing). Our most recent in-person workshop at the beginning of January had six people cancel in the ten days before, all due to Covid.
We ask that everyone who comes to the in-person workshops have their full complement of vaccines. At that workshop, which had two immunocompromised individuals, we also masked up.
Masking up…it’s feeling normal now. I still remember watching a Chinese student at UNLV make her way through the cafeteria in late January of 2020. She was wearing a mask and I wondered why she was so paranoid. Jeez, was I stupid…and was I about to learn how things can change in an instant.
2022 was not about instant change. It was, in some ways, about gradual recovery. It was filled with lurches and starts and stops. I got sick twice. The first was a severe flare-up of my chronic illness. I got the sense that it was laughing at me: Forgot about me? Well, here I am! Most of June, lost.
Then I contracted a virulent cold at 20Books or around 20Books or the week of 20Books. Another two weeks down.
The first illness was extremely discouraging. It felt like I had failed somehow, and in some ways, I had. I had tried a new supplement on the advice of my doc, knowing deep down, that I can’t take such things, even if it seems like the inactive ingredients are fine.
They’re never fine. And so I was sick for weeks, and blaming myself for all of it. (You should see my online running log. It fell off a cliff. Literally.)
The cold, strangely enough, was annoying, but reassuring. Yes, I probably had not taken enough precautions, but at the same time…I got con crud. Which I’d had from previous conventions over many years. Con crud, not Covid.
It was a reminder of past years, a way to remind me that, yes indeed, the world went on.
And it was going on, with severe problems in our household and among friends. School was stupidly hard, and the writing pretty much fell off the same cliff that the running had.
I needed to revamp.
I had triaged a lot during the pandemic. In 2021, I even set a very low word quota for my fiction, something I hadn’t done for decades. While it got me to the computer every day, it proved to me (again) that I’m not good with those kinds of rules. I did the minimum. And that was it. Because I had easily achieved my goal.
I dumped that goal in 2022, but didn’t replace it. And still struggled with my writing. Focus was a real problem. Crisis after crisis had trained me to look outward, expecting the next disaster.
I can’t write when I look outward. Or rather, I can’t write a lot. So my output declined dramatically. Which was odd, because I thought I had solved the problems that I had earlier.
One problem? I hated my office in our first Vegas condo. I never used that office. I wrote on the couch, which meant that I got interrupted all the time, and never did concentrate very well. That worked for some projects, but those big projects that require my full attention?
They didn’t happen.
Then we moved in 2021 to a place that has a more-or-less private office. It’s made of glass and windows on all but one wall, so I have to pull shades and close (a rather ineffective) door to get full privacy. To get full privacy without sound requires headphones.
But I can do that, and the desire to work on the tough projects returned. But not the ability. Something was still off.
Then Dean, bless him, took his life into his own hands and ventured a comment on my writing process. I don’t let anyone into my process ever, at least not without permission and a lot of NDAs. Even then, it’s usually a disaster.
But he mentioned—oh, so casually—that I’m a morning writer, and I haven’t been writing in the morning for years.
Well, yes, of course, yes, I haven’t because I live here and it gets stupidly hot and I need to run for my health which means that non-morning person me would get up at 5 a.m. in the height of the summer to run before the sun came up, just to get my miles in, and I needed to do that and…
That was a pandemic shift. When the gyms were closed. The gym that I used all summer in 2018 and 2019. The gym, which was a default if I couldn’t get outside in the daylight in the fall/winter. The gym…
…was open. And I was fully vaccinated. And the air movement in the gyms we go to has always been stellar, and not many people run on the running track; for some dumb reason, they prefer the treadmill, and, and, and…oh, yeah.
Pandemic habits. Things I had started during lockdown to survive aren’t necessary now. I had gone back to the gym in 2021 after my vaccines, using masks, but I hadn’t changed my mindset at all.
I found that in a variety of places. The gym was just one.
Another? My news consumption. I was obsessively watching each development, both in the pandemic news and in the political news here in the U.S. We had (still have, in some ways) an existential crisis, and monitoring it worked for me…then.
In late 2021, I had finally gotten rid of my Covid news feed through Twitter, including a guy who also got stuck in his pandemic habits. He saw nightmares in each piece of data. He’d been accurate in 2020, not so much in 2021, and for all I know, he’s still screaming into the wind.
I am not criticizing him. He was watching everything from death rates to treatments, seeing each number as a human being. His mental health took a beating. I suspect all of ours did, in ways we are only just starting to discover.
Getting rid of the pandemic panic helped. In 2022, after the mid-term elections here in the States, I stopped obsessively watching political news. I would delete notifications. I left Twitter—not because of my mental health, but because of Elon Musk, the jerk—and found that I really don’t want to replace it.
It’s a luxury for me not to follow the current crisis. My training comes from an abusive family, so knowing what the stressors are means that I can (kinda sorta) see what’s ahead. Including tragedy, meltdowns, nightmares.
Add to that all the journalism training, and I can be real good at reading tea leaves in some kind of crisis.
But when I choose to step away from the crisis (and there always are a million of them), I do so because I personally no longer feel threatened. Or I don’t feel an immediate threat to my friends and family. I can take my time responding to problems. I can throw money at them. I can decide if I want to do more than that.
The key, though, is that I can take the time to contemplate it all.
That’s a true luxury.
So: Full disclosure. I hate running every morning. Running every morning is better than not running at all. But getting up, going out into whatever weather is there, and then coming back for breakfast, feeling behind even before I started (and sometimes feeling too hot or too cold or too tired) was just not fun.
It was necessary.
I made the switch away from morning runs in 2022. And promptly got that cold. Which meant I wasn’t running at all in November, which I then blamed on the switch, not the cold.
Then I looked at my steps and realized that I had screwed up one of my streaks. When I got sick in June, I stopped doing 100K steps per week, which I had done for 3 years up to that point. Non-stop. Three years.
I built back up in the summer, then November—and I could barely manage my 12K per day streak. During the worst of the cold, I would stagger a thousand steps (in a place where I wouldn’t contaminate anyone), and then go lie down. That was fun.
So I thought about returning to the 100K (which you can’t do if you’re only doing 12K per day), and decided not to. I was tired. And part of me just didn’t care anymore. Not about that stuff.
What I did find, as I looked at my numbers, was that my daily word count had reached the highest level it had reached maybe since we moved to Las Vegas. (That part I haven’t checked.) And I was getting a bit vicious about my morning hours. No one dared disturb me, not even cats.
I even decided (not consciously) that I wouldn’t take a morning class in the spring semester. I whittled my classes down to one, because…well, that’s too complicated to discuss, but let’s simply say that I’m not capable of writing, running a business, dealing with health issues, enjoying visiting friends and Las Vegas itself, and going to school in a standard part-time way.
I’m not giving up school—I’m learning too much and getting to see how the younger generations (which is pretty much everyone but me) are living these days. But I can do that with one (stupidly hard) class per semester.
The words, though. Let me be clear. For me, writing is about new words, not rewriting or fixing or even assembling (which is necessary considering how much I write out of order). New words do not include nonfiction (like this blog) or anything I write on my website or emails or promotion or anything like that. New words is new words of fiction, which my lovely fingers just mistyped as “new worlds of fiction,” which is more or less accurate.
Allowing myself the morning time—again, finally—also means the idea machine is up and running. Ideas get sparked by random suggestions, which hadn’t happened at all in the pandemic. I have little sticky notes everywhere. Again. Yay!
One other major changed happened in the last part of 2022, and it is pandemic/life related. We have lost a lot of friends and family in the past three years, more than I’m willing to admit. So many, in fact, that there are times that I forget that someone I care about is dead. (Yes, I know that’s a feature of grief, but it’s also a feature of not seeing people as much as I would like, so I can half-pretend that they were still on the planet.)
If I focus on the loss, I will collapse into a trembling mass of helplessness. Because the losses are severe.
Some of that is my age. And the relative lack of health of people who got involved in professional science fiction in my formative years. The platitudes—no one gets out of this world alive—really don’t help.
What helps is a memory: My grandmother, talking to me and my cousin Vicki. Vic and I were young adults at that point, standing in the dining room of my grandmother’s home.
For some reason lost to memory, Grandma had told us that inside, she still felt sixteen, which was shocking enough to me, considering that at the time, she was in her nineties.
But the part of the conversation that’s been surfacing these past few years is this: She also told us that of her friends, she was the only one left. The only one. Vic said something like, “But you have us, Grandma,” and my grandmother paused.
She did not say that it was different or it wasn’t enough or that we didn’t matter, things that could have been an easy blurt.
I think she was trying to teach us something, because what she said went something like this:
The people that know what I know are gone. The ones that had the same experiences, that remember the same things. They’re gone.
I don’t remember what we said after that. What could you say, from the perspective of twenty-something? And I don’t know if she expounded on that even more.
But now, at sixty-two, I’m having the same experience. I realized—more than once in 2022—that I’m the only survivor of this event or that occurance. I’m the only one who knows what happened, or who lived through it, or who can discuss it.
And that experience has grown over the years.
Add to it the things I discussed in this year in review, particularly the posts about traditional publishing. What I knew of traditional publishing is gone. The hopes and dreams forged in those years, impossible. In particular, read the post on bestsellers. Having a book hit a bestseller list and having that mean something was an easy default goal, even into my fifties.
It isn’t now.
In addition to restoring old habits, I needed reasons to continue pushing forward on the business side.
The old goals and habits weren’t there. They had disappeared in the past twelve years or had become utterly meaningless. I didn’t want to be that old lady, the one who said, Well, in my day, bestsellers were in the millions, not the hundred thousands, and everybody read those books or at least knew of them.
“In my day” is a deadly phrase, guaranteed to destroy any forward movement.
But I needed new goals, a new reason to push forward.
Sadly, strangely, the loss of my friends, two in particular in 2022, gave me the framework. Both had great careers. Neither will be remembered much. Their estates are in ruin, mostly because they had no estate planning when they died.
I’d been writing a series on estate planning before we moved to Vegas, and quit because of a variety of things. I’ve discussed estate planning a lot with you, because of copyright.
But there are estates that thrive and estates that fail, and sometimes the difference between them is so miniscule that no one notices.
What that difference is, mostly, is a long view. Life plus 70, here in the States.
That means my copyrights will still be enforceable seventy years after I die. And, like the rest of you, I have no idea when that seventy-year clock will begin.
It’s not an automatic. Someone has to tend to the copyrights like they’re a garden. And that garden has to exist before the writer dies. As in not just a plot of land with seeds scattered on some hard dirt. But a thriving, growing, beautiful garden that needs to have some kind of order. (So that it doesn’t look like a thicket.)
That’s not something that I can will into being (pun intended). Sure, I can leave my copyrights to someone, but can they maintain them? Can they make the system work without it overtaking their life?
Setting up the estate so that it thrives after I’m gone is a new and difficult goal. It will take time and planning and a lot of vision. It will also need some tending that I once balked at.
I need to leave a plan for all of my series, so that in that seventy-year period whoever has taken over the estate has a road map for continuing the popular stories. I don’t want someone to guess at what I meant. I need to have some kind of outline.
Yeah. There we go. Lots of work that needs to be organized, which really isn’t my strongest suit.
Anyway. 2022 is the year I started looking forward again, instead of hunkering down in my home trying to avoid swirling crises. In the latter part of the year anyway.
Does that mean I know exactly what I’m doing in 2023? Not yet. I’m still doing planning by the seat of my pants…kinda. I will focus down on what’s next once I finish two projects that have been hanging over me.
Using the pandemic methods, those two projects plus short fiction, would have taken the entire year. Now I’m thinking maybe the first quarter. Yep, I’ve increased my word count that much.
And I have to admit, I still look at the temperature every morning. I miss seeing some of the locals that I saw on those morning runs, folks whose jobs send them home by 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
But I don’t miss them enough to get up before the sun rises. I don’t miss them enough to struggle through a 20-mile-per-hour wind. I don’t miss them enough to willingly run in 90+ degrees, even if it is dark.
I’ll do it again if I have to. But let’s hope none of us will have to go through that pandemic lockdown weirdness again in our lifetimes.
I knew that crawling out of the pandemic (phase) was going to be hard and slow. I just hadn’t realized how many habits I had developed to get through—and how necessary it is to change many of them.
One thing I did learn from 2020: I have no idea what 2023 will bring, and I’m not arrogantly going to declare that I do.
But I do have a plan to move forward.
And that’s more than enough.
Speaking of in-person workshops (scroll up, you’ll see what I mean), we have until Friday to get more signups for the Romantic Suspense workshop here in Vegas in May. If we don’t, we’ll only have the study along. So, give it some thought…
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“Business Musings: Year in Review 2022: The Final Post (A Process Blog),” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image of my grandmother Rusch and my niece at the top of the blog copyright © Donovan L. Hofsommer.