dispatch in the midst/math

A black garbage bin and two green recycling bins, each marked by the word "Pence."

This post began in my brain at the beginning of the week. I held it there, and now it’s Sunday –– the start of a new week. It’s Sunday, the midst/math is over (though I still love the term –– see, it’s a pun, because we were in the midst of what seemed like an eternal election and doing vote-arithmetic the whole time), and I finally feel together-enough to post.

Like everyone else, I watched the slow creep toward and through this election period with fascination and dread. All things considered, election week itself went less terribly than the rest of 2020 seemed to foretell. Now that I’m living in California (still a strange thing to say, and something I hesitated several times before typing) I was able to get a ballot automatically mailed to me, along with several Turnpike Buyer-looking voter guides far more difficult to understand than the results of a Google search, within plenty of time to return before election day.* I mailed it out with my Halloween cards, replete with wonderful stickers (the cards, that is, not the ballot). I’m relieved to be able to carry on the card-sending tradition, even though I’m no longer at Mount Holyoke, and even though mailed letters, like mail-in ballots, now carry an entirely new valence.

Elections do, too. I spent last week in an odd mental place (as did everyone, but it seems my genre of odd was somewhat different from others’). While everyone else was freaking out on Tuesday, I was…freaking out, yes, but over my work, work I didn’t even have to be doing: a classic Cavar displacement of anxiety from uncontrollable things onto controllable ones! (See, who needs a therapist?) I scrolled Twitter, Googled “election results” a bunch of times, and even felt a slow creep of anxiety that may well have been more of a 2016 flashback. But the panic I witnessed in others simply refused to come. I think my body was sick of it all. Like, okay, you can have your normal (though arguably unwarranted) school-angst. You can even have some writer-angst. But you’re just too weary to do the trump-angst thing, too, and instead, you’re going to watch this process like it’s somewhere between a nightmare, a video game, and a car crash.

The fear took somewhat greater root as Wednesday turned to Thursday, though I made the wise decision to continue putting most of my energy into my work and repeating the mantra “Red Mirage,” one pundits and laypeople alike seemed to forget during those first days. By Friday, I had gone from a sense anxious-numbness-overwork to a place of limited hope, and then impatience, and finally deep sympathy and respect for the poor Pennsylvanian vote-counters.

Saturday arrived with a lightness. I woke to the Washington Post‘s announcement, the result I’d known was coming. I walked to the living room and was unsurprised to see at least twice the usual number of pedestrians and cyclists in the street and to hear stray cheers from the park. They continued through the day. I found myself suddenly more lucid and more productive in my writing, more social and generous in my interactions, and realized that this wasn’t the addition of some new muscle but the release of a tension I hadn’t known was there. Four years of it. My entire adult life, I realized, I had been working, studying, protesting, surviving, all while being constantly kneecapped by this administration. While I don’t consider Biden’s win a “victory,” per se, I see it as a path to survival. We can move from crisis-control to prevention and transformative change. I mean all of this literally, too: the “single issue” that got my leftist ass out to vote was the bare reality of the pandemic, and the knowledge that, under a Biden administration, fewer people will die of COVID than under trump. If checking a box has even the smallest potential of saving innocent lives, I’m probably going to do it –– even as I roundly and openly detest this absolute farce of a democracy we call a “country.”

Anyways.

Apart from this, how am I doing? Not bad! After some initial weeks recalibrating my schedule to accommodate more weekly readings than I was used to –– and several moments of stressed speed-reading after underestimating my reading load –– I write now from a Sunday night in which there’s plenty of time to blog. (If people are interested, I can do a separate post on managing time, or at least, my personal advice in that area. I devote some time each day to personal writing, to my still-shiny-new editorial position at Stone of Madness, to personal reading, to Duolingo (the owl and I have just marked our 500-day anniversary, registry details incoming), and also doing my coursework/attending to classes and commitments. That said, time management is a personal thing, and it’s hard to graft advice from others directly onto your life. Either way, let me know.) I’m definitely feeling…not quite more confident, but less-not-confident, than I did at first, mostly because I’ve decided to wholeheartedly embrace** making public mistakes, potentially misreading texts, and doing miscellaneous other things that threaten to make a fool of me. I’m trying to embrace studenthood and all it entails without hesitation, even though studenthood implies a certain constitutive level of ignorance that I struggle to accept from myself.

Especially during moments of stress and self-doubt, I’ve been really enjoying my work as an editor for Stone of Madness, even (and sometimes most of all!) during moments of menial work, clearing our inbox, updating our document of pieces to read and comment on, and even soliciting submissions on Twitter. Between September and the end of October, I was also a reader at Split/Lip Press, looking at nonfiction/hybrid-genre manuscript submissions, another incredibly fun way to take a breather from academic readings! Most exciting of all is the opportunity to send acceptances and make wholehearted, enthusiastic comments on works I’ve fallen in love with. Knowing how much these “small” and “everyday” complements mean to me makes gifting them that much more enjoyable. Not to mention, the pleasure of reading new or new-to-me voices whose story, eloquence, and passion confound all known forms of praise. There is no good story –– no story of any kind at all! –– without both teller and witness. In that way, every reader is an active participant in the making of a story, in the production of a sublime work of writing. To take on the job of a reader and editor is to make that truth acute.

Luckily, I’ve also been surrounded by many other amazing writers and artists, both in my own capacity as a writer and as a consumer of media. My chapbook, A Hole Walked In, is forthcoming from Sword and Kettle Press, as part of a suite of feminist speculative chaps that I can’t believe includes my work! After seeing their incredible thesis project and the rest of their oeuvre, and knowing them for years as a friend and artist, I recruited Levi Booker to design the cover of my chap. Just wait until you see it.

Just today, I also hopped over to what I now know is a biweekly Sunday craft fair in Downtown Davis’s central park. I had been seeing signs advertising it all week and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a wonderful time and definitely spent more money than I should have. I got a keychain, some stickers, a small print, and an adorable little Cinnamoroll storage pot (I will work on getting a link to this person’s online shop, if they have one!) that I’m planning on filling with something either sparkly, (artificially, it has a lid) botanical, or both. The whole place reminded me of the Northampton Print and Book Fair, whose necessarily-tight indoor confines are difficult to imagine now. Luckily, it’s still warm enough in CA to have this sort of thing outside. When not going to the park for quiet walks, the farmer’s market, or this latest threat to my financial security, I’m being a safely-masked Writer™ on Saturday afternoons with Elsie, a new friend, fellow grad student, and now-treasured crit-buddy. The park truly has been a lifeline for my creativity and my general well-being for the last 2+ months!

As the weather (somewhat) cools around here and I inhale the contents of my Yankee Candle scratch-n-sniff Holiday catalog, I do feel a tinge of homesickness. New Englandsickness. The trees won’t ever turn here, we’ll never get snow (rain is a rare luxury, not a regular and often-torrential occurrence) and the holiday season –– that is, the christmas season, around which I still hold an embarrassing load of sentimentality for a newly-, uh, christened Jew) (even as I lowercase the c to stick it to the [Jesus? Santa? Should I lowercase those, too?] man.) I’m sure I’ll do a lot more navel-gazing on that as Mariah Carey trills the sweet sound of christian hegemony into each of our car radios. For now, I know I’m at that punchy point in any blog post where it’s probably best to stop writing and schedule this post before I say something too spicy.


*”Election Day” is traditionally capitalized. I’m going to keep it lowercase until it is, indeed, treated like an actual holiday, with paid time off work for all employees. If we’re going to play at genuine democracy, we need to actually try.

**I don’t need to tell you that this is a lie.

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