I doubt there’ll be many people lamenting the passing of 2020 but, despite the awfulness of the Covid-19 pandemic, I do want to reflect on the many good things that happened to me in the year, as well as the many things I learnt as a consequence of such an intense and challenging year.
Writing-wise, I was very proud of the fact that I had 8 short stories, as well as 4 poems, published. I was paid for half of those 12 publications, which was hugely welcome. Also, there’s nothing quite like being paid for one’s writing to make a writer feel as though they are finally, eventually, on the right track after years of wandering around a near-desolate moor…
I also managed to get a first draft of my novel finished. I’m now on (what will hopefully be) the final edit and I’m aching to get the editing finished so that I can then submit the book. Most importantly, my favourite eagle-eyed critic/beta reader (my husband) likes it, so I’m chuffed to bits about that!
Another wonderful thing that happened was that I had a few editors contact me with writing commissions. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have someone approach you and ask you to be involved in their project. The only downside to that scenario is that it does provide the inner critic with a chance to have a good worry about whether or not you’re actually capable of delivering the (writing) goods… So, I have decided to put the inner critic on mute.
Lastly, the final month of December saw me signing off on the proof of my debut poetry pamphlet, Russian Doll. It was a scary (but thrilling) moment to hit ‘send’ on the email to my editor, Dawn, at Indigo Dreams Publishing, but I’m very much looking forward to my collection being out in the world.
There’s no doubt that, family-wise, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, government restrictions, and lack of daily structure that school would usually bring, created stress for us all (the stress manifesting itself in various ways – for my son and I, it brought OCD problems). I also really missed seeing my mum who lives about 3 hours’ drive away from us. Yet, looking past the anxiety, and the ache of missing loved ones, it made me very aware of just how grateful I am for our (mostly) harmonious family unit. I think we all said ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ more than we usually would. And all mawkishness aside, that’s a very heart-warming and wholly positive thing to have happened.
Exercise (in whatever form), being out amidst trees and plants, reading, and creating art (linoprinting has been my thing this year), as well as catching up with good friends via Zoom (you know who you are!), have been my physical and mental health saviours. I know that some of my friends have found reading or writing a challenge, so I feel very grateful to have been able to rely on these things to ground me in what has been an extraordinarily ‘up in the air’ year. (I’m aiming to put together a favourite books post soon.) Recently, when I’ve been trying to counter OCD-like thoughts, I’ve been holding on to this incredibly useful mantra, by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
[mindfulness is] …paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally […] as if your life depended on it.
As I’ve written before, in stressful times “I feel as though I am only ever one thought away from the abyss. And that is truly frightening.” And so this idea of focussing on the present, really considering everything around me – the mug that I’m holding, the shape of my fingers, the taste of coffee in my mouth – as if my life depended on it, as if the abyss was truly only one thought, or step away, has been really helpful to me. I suppose that’s why I find writing so appealing – it allows me to fill my mind with stories, giving me a brief period of time to set aside the worries of my overly busy and whirring brain.
Spiritually, I have missed my semi-regular church visits, but communing with God can happen in any numbers of ways, and our local wood has made for a wonderful, makeshift cathedral in which to consider and reflect on the glory of the natural world that has been gifted to us all.
I know that many of us are looking to 2021 to be a good year, a year in which the pandemic finally comes to an end and life returns to normal once. Of course I’m hoping for that… but it’s also a lot to pin on a year which is, after all, just another period of time in which our blue-green planet cycles the sun. Me, I’m simply planning to keep on keeping on as best I can.
Wishing you all love, good health and a big dose of fortitude.