One of the many ways I’ve dealt with the past year’s uncertainty is to focus on what I can control. A lot of people practice this all the time. It’s not revelatory because, let’s face it, there’s a lot outside our control, and to rage against that reality is a great way to drive yourself into the ground. But I think it’s safe to say that some people are better at settling themselves this way than others.
Don’t get me wrong. The “focusing on what I can control” mantra can be twisted into a kind of privilege that allows you to ignore anything that requires effort. Or it can allow you to wash your hands of responsibility. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about things like, oh, say, not festering over how the pandemic has upended our lives and canceled events and such.
First, we must acknowledge that inconveniences are nothing compared to what many have had to bear. The losses have been heartbreaking. And with that understanding, inconveniences are nothing. Nothing.
And yet, change stings. Life has been so different. Since March 2020, I’ve had to cancel five conferences or retreats that I’d planned for more than a year. But you know what? It was doable. We’ve all pivoted.
Earlier this month, I co-hosted a day-long, virtual SCBWI-Wisconsin conference that was originally planned to be in person at a favorite retreat center on 90 acres of beautiful woods and water. Couldn’t happen. But you know what I could control? Deciding early to pivot. Becoming proficient at Zoom. Guiding people on how to join us. Connecting with others, which is what so many people say they missed most over the past year.
I’m grateful to see friends in squares on my screen, as that was once science fiction. And I’m grateful for the vaccines, which have allowed us to see friends and family in person. Long past this pandemic, though, I’ll stick with the notion of focusing on what I can control. It’s a better use of my energies and helps me see what’s important.
I hope you enjoy these photos of the event. Be well.
This week was my last as an intern at New York literary agency Writers House. I have so many wonderful things to say about this experience, but first, the logistics.
The internship is meant to teach a select few, lucky people the ins and outs of the publishing industry. But, more than that, it’s a program with the heart and purpose of increasing the number of BIPOC members within the industry. Publishing is overwhelmingly white, and that homogeny has historically been detrimental to creators from marginalized groups. As demographics shift, the need to diversify the industry has never been greater. Writers House and, specifically, program director Michael Mejias have been fighting the good fight for more than 20 years, working to ensure that those entering the industry better reflect the American people.
I’m told my class of 13 interns had more than two thousand applicants. I’m blown away that I was chosen to take part. What’s equally astounding is how amazing the program is structured and executed. You do not walk away from a Writers House internship without learning the skills needed to successfully enter the publishing industry.
I learned so much about assessing manuscripts, providing editorial feedback, and assisting agents. We interns also got to dive deeply into other aspects of publishing, including sales, marketing, publicity, foreign and subsidiary rights, scouting, contracts, production, and more. Michael has honed this program to be one of the most well organized programs I’ve ever seen.
And while the internship is about education — and stellar it is — it’s also about community. Our supervisors work hard to help us succeed, both during and after our time there, seeing to it that we were challenged and grew. And then there were the other intern themselves. They are some of the brightest, most intellectually curious, and fun people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. They are actively on the job hunt and will take the industry by storm. I know someday their names will be spoken with awe and admiration. And rightly so.
In a year full of difficulties, my internship was an unexpected joy and a highlight of my life. I’m grateful to everyone involved. And I love getting to say I got my start in publishing at Writers House.
The final hours of 2020, an unparalleled year.
Tomes have been written about this year’s brutal heartaches. The pandemic. Social unrest. Politics. I’ve written my thoughts here and elsewhere, a lone voice in oceans of words. But, generally, on New Year’s Eve, I look inward, because my choices are all I can truly control. And in the effort of keeping this post upbeat as we head into a new year, I’m going to focus on the positive.
This year brought me an incredible opportunity and life changing experience. My internship at Writers House has been all I hoped it would be and more, and I’m incredibly grateful to those who played a role in getting me there and making it so very fabulous. I also adore my fellow interns. I expect great things from them. They’re brilliant. Truly inspiring.
The writers and illustrators in my sphere have been wonderful. For those sad about missing events we’ve had to cancel through SCBWI-Wisconsin or the Fantasy Art Workshop’s Illustration Intensive, keep hope. In-person events will return someday. And we’re all more cognizant of healthy behaviors, so that’s a bonus. 🙂
What does 2021 hold in store? We’ve got a long way to go to recover from our multiple crises, but I’m personally hoping the recovery does begin. It would help to loosen and unravel the collective knots in our chests. And then we can, worldwide, turn our attention to improving our lot.
Personally, I’m looking to dig deeper into publishing, lavish time on Fantasy Art Workshop, and maintain my practice of gratitude, which I started just over a year ago, and has greatly balanced my outlook.
Look, if you’re reading this, on a screen, somewhere relatively safe, and you’re decently fed, you’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Let’s remember just how lucky we are as we step into 2021. Now as always, but uniquely today, we’ve got new chances ahead of us.
Today I’m starting an adventure that looked so different earlier this year.
I’m at an isolated retreat at Write On, Door County, a non-profit that offers retreats not just for writers but for leaders of literary arts programs, in my case the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-Wisconsin. It turns out I’m the first one to retreat here in the admin category! How cool is that?
I have a whole quiet house to myself on 40 acres. It’s interesting that people come here for isolation, and I’m coming here during a time of nonstop isolation. I’ve been seriously social distancing since March, so being here doesn’t feel quite like the getaway it might have been. However, I’m grateful for the change of scenery, the true quiet outside the city (no sirens!), and the immense darkness found in northern Wisconsin (no light pollution from neighbors’ garage lights or broadly arching street lamps!). Honestly, stepping outside at night I cannot see my hand in front of my face. It’s beautiful… and a bit unnerving. Yeah, I’m a city girl.
I’ll be really digging in to SCBWI-Wisconsin planning this week. We have one virtual event planned for early 2021, and we’re hoping the fall events can be in person. Optimism, folks. Meantime, enjoy some pix. 🙂
If you’re a person living outside the United States reading this, I wonder how you’re reacting to all that’s happened in American politics this year (and the previous three). Of course, we Americans can go online and dip into your newspapers/newscasts to see reaction. It is, obviously, as varied as all human interaction is. But I know that deep down, some of you know all too well the emotions swirling within us.
The undisputed majority of the American public is waking up to a new workweek this morning after collectively spending the weekend celebrating. Many Americans were literally dancing in the streets. Our expulsion of joy comes after days of fraud claims, months of lockdown, and years of political exhaustion. Did we need a release of tension/anxiety/fear/mourning? You bet your life we did. Didn’t the whole human family?
Importantly, we should all celebrate that one of America’s most enduring glass ceilings is finally broken. It’s hard to believe, honestly, that we will at long last have a woman in the executive branch. Other countries have been emotionally mature enough to handle this for aaaaages. Madam Vice President Kamala Harris’s mere presence in the room where decisions are made will undoubtedly change the narrative — because you can’t have fair representation when more than half the population isn’t even at the table. I feared this situation wouldn’t change in my lifetime. I am overcome with joy that it did.
And there’s work to do before the world gets close to a semblance of normalcy. I do hope this time that we go beyond what’s been normal because “normal” has been pretty terrible for too many people. I hope we overcome the opposition and lethargy that’s allowed systemic racism to flourish. I hope we examine our hearts and souls to see why so many not only allowed hatred to grow but actively watered the weed. And we should study our failed government responses because they should, always, illicit more than a shoulder shrug.
And it’s not all up to a new administration. The world can see we’re divided by more than political ideology. Those from countries whose governments are older than the U.S. republic have some history to draw upon and learn from. I picture some shaking their head at us in recent years. I picture some finally relaxing their tense shoulders. So, yes, I know some know all too well what we’re feeling.
Both history and current discourse prove it.
One of my 2020 new year’s resolutions was to read daily – from an actual book, not just news headlines. Authors should of course read voraciously, but we all know how it goes. Life can interfere with even the best laid plans.
Then came the actual 2020, featuring a badly managed public health crisis, its subsequent economic collapse, long-simmering civil and social unrest, and the beginnings of a thinly veiled fascist coup. All has converged, grinding under heel our collective well-being.
So, yes, I’ve been reading, not just to keep my resolution but to stave off constant unease. Also, like many other creators, I’ve found it terribly difficult to get into the headspace to write cheerful fiction.
Thankfully, reading is part of the writing process. So what have I been enjoying lately?
Roll with It by Jamie Sumner is about middle-schooler Ellie, who isn’t letting her wheelchair interfere with her big dreams to be a professional baker. But when she and her mom move to care for her ailing grandpa, Ellie has to start anew in a new town and school. Ellie is fun, straight-forward, and has you rooting for her from the very first page. I’m looking forward to reading Ms. Sumner’s newest book, Tune It Out, about a girl with a sensory processing disorder who has to find her own voice.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemer is about standing up and speaking out. High school seniors Logan and Cade are horrified when a favorite teacher instructs students to argue in favor of the Final Solution, a euphemism for the Nazi plan of genocide of the Jewish people. This book is written by a dear friend and fellow SCBWI-Wisconsin member. Her works are deeply moving and heartfelt. Highly recommended.
It’s a great time to read. Those of us still respecting safer-at-home orders and employing social distancing are spending more time at home. Colder weather’s on the way. And we can all stand to occasionally see the world from someone else’s viewpoint.
Hope you’re enjoying some good reads, too. Share your recommendations in the comments!
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