when good things happen to bad years

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If pressed, I’d call 2020 the best awful year I’ve ever had.

It’s a weird place to be. On the 18th, the night before I turned 22, I took to my daily journal (a practice I’ve been meaning to blog about but haven’t yet gotten-around-to) to list the things I’ve accomplished this year, both in spite of and, at least partially, as a result of COVID-times.

The excitement started before March. Within the first two months of 2020, I began dating my wonderful girlfriend, Molly, finished a nightmarish set of graduate school applications, and received the first of several graduate program acceptances. Most exciting among them was my offer from UC Davis, of which I was first notified by a personal phone call from the program director, one I had at first assumed to be an admissions interview.

Upon my formal (emailed, far-less-exciting) acceptance to the program, I was invited to a mid-March (ha) campus tour/program pitch. One of my best friends, Sarah Paust, had just received her own Anthropology PhD acceptance from UCLA, complete with its own tour offer. She went. I, with much FOMO and creeping COVID-anxiety, didn’t. Cases in Washington. Cases in California. Sarah flew back just in time. We know what happened after that.

I had the dubious* privilege of a safe return home, whose continued existence was as assured as was heat, food, and, most importantly, access to hand sanitizer and toilet paper. It was under these conditions that I focused on my research and writing, completing several short stories, essays, and poems while finishing my monstrously, unnecessarily-long honors thesis. Once I turned the thesis in and finished pointedly ignoring my sham of a “graduation,” I received the first of what would be several 2020 “dream pub” acceptances: one in Electric Literature, one in 3:am Magazine, and, very recently, one in Bitch Magazine. I also completed and edited my hybrid-genre-speculative-novel manuscript, FINALLY, after two and a half years of slogging.

That summer, between protests, moving-preparations, and level of literary consumption that can only (unfortunately) be described as “unprecedented,” I became a reader, and then an editor, for Stone of Madness Press. My “day job” as a research assistant was remote, interesting, and rewarding, providing me with a salary I ended up spending only semi-irresponsibly. I also received a chapbook acceptance from Sword & Kettle Press, for a story I’d been toying with, submitting, and reshelving for several years before finally arriving at the version I have now. Soon after, I received another acceptance from giallo lit –– I still can’t believe I went from someone with no chapbooks to someone with two forthcoming chapbooks in the space of a few months.

The cover of A HOLE WALKED IN, featuring a grey face dripping with flesh and blood. In the head is a small clock without hands.

I never thought I could become someone with individual published works like that, always assuming that chapbooks, and, later, full-length books, were artifacts exclusive to Real Writerdom™, a state I’d forever be short of achieving. I thought similarly of the PhD: to my knowledge, no one in my family before me had ever even started a PhD program. This has been a year of surprising myself, not only with what I am capable of –– thriving in a PhD program that I really love; balancing freelance writing, editing, and curating with both coursework and personal research; moving out of my parents’ house and across the country mid-pandemic –– but that these conditions of stress have facilitated in me more creative and intellectual growth than I would have ever thought possible.

I’ve always known that we, as people, are capable in-the-moment of things we cannot “plan” to be capable of. Our shared survival this year is evidence of that. Yet, for me, this year has gone above and beyond my standard measures of change and possibility. What does it mean that a year so personally auspicious has been so cosmically devastating? That in 2020, a year in which I’ve accomplished more than I have any before, celebration is not only dangerous but dangerously-inappropriate? Writers celebrating their debut novels this year have spoken at length about this quandary. There are no good answers. I will say, though, that I’m more grateful for a continuous onslaught of new reading material than ever before, given that maintaining a semblance of stability throughout this year has necessitated constant distraction.

Now that the year is winding down and the quarter is over, and particularly today, in the wake of my twenty-second birthday, I’m glad to be taking a moment away from my distractions to attend to the year that was. It was impressively good and impressively bad, and here we are at the end of it, dreaming of a better 2021. Normally, I’d write some hopes and resolutions below, and I do have some. But since I’m feeling especially superstitious (and profoundly cynical) about the future of (*gestures vaguely*) all of this, I’m going to keep them to myself.

Anyway, the only prize I’m really gunning for in 2021 is that sweet, sweet Corona vaccine.

*Given that this should be a right, not a privilege.

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