What Happens When You Try to Become a Writer in a Very Weird Year?

One man’s monthly journey from idiot to an idiot who writes.

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

It was about this time last year, I wrote down three goals for 2020. I wrote them on the big wall in our kitchen we painted with blackboard paint the previous summer. The wall has a little cubby hole where we store chalk and erasers. Above the cubby hole it reads:

Goals 2020:

  1. Travel
  2. Make friends
  3. Write

Seemed reasonable at the time, but I’ve since learned if you want to make a year laugh, tell it your resolutions. A blur of months passed, alternating at either lightning or molasses speed, and now I’m sipping coffee and looking at 2021 on my phone’s calendar wondering what just happened.

Time is a strange construct. Our quotidian familiarity with it suggests it’s absolute, a consistently reliable metric, but it is not consistent and it’s more dimension than metric. We’re relatively certain it’s relative. It might be cyclical in a post-Mayan, post-Nietzsche kind of way, assuming there’s post anything in non-linearity. We travel through it at varying speeds and theoretically it can flow backward if it avoids the arrows of outrageous causation. It operates like clockwork as long as we all agree:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

And now 2020 is gone, vanished really. It slunk down the pavement like Keyser Söze, leaving us staring at the wall trying to piece the fragments of the year together. If the Fyre Festival were a year, it would be 2020. The pre-hype suggested promising events, but what we got were a bunch of cancellations followed by people fighting for toilet paper. All this excitement while I did what exactly?

January

Obviously, a lot of very important things happened in 2020. I don’t want to trivialize those events with my half-baked year in review, so I’m going to wax solipsistic here. According to my Instagram, 2020 began with a new-fallen snow on December 31st.

Iasi — snow

I remember wandering around the cold streets of Iasi on January 1st. Maybe I was eager to get a start on that friend-making goal? It’s tricky making friends when you’re a solipsist, trying to interact with the external world while doubting there is such a thing as an external world.

One thing I know was rattling about in my gray matter was my decision to write more. I’ve always written in spurts, with no discipline. My resolution was to write with more purpose and take some chances by submitting to publications. After my walk, I sat in our kitchen with my laptop and ran a search, ‘where can I submit my writing?

Of course, I didn’t know a virus was about to turn thousands of other people into aspiring writers as well. Maybe this is the literary equivalent of a baby boom, but instead of churning out millions of young humans, the world churns out unimaginable numbers of young adult novels?

If that’s the case, here’s hoping COVID gets me next because if not, I’ve got an idea for a time-traveling vampire boy who falls in love with a succubus girl from another dimension. It’s When Harry Met Sally meets Venus in Furs.

February

By February, we’d heard rumblings of a highly contagious flu strain in China, but that seemed miles away because it was. We’d yet to make new friends, but my wife had a seminar in late-February in the charming mountain city of Brasov. We decided to turn her seminar into a quick getaway and bring along Paco, our chihuahua who prefers lounging under cozy blankets to exploring the world. I could tell by the look on his little chihuahua face he was thrilled.

Paco being thrilled.

I posted my first article to Medium in February about learning to surf. I perused the site and concluded this is the kind of stuff people write here — stories with some kind of heartfelt moral at the end. My writing is traditionally amoral, but if the people want a cozy moral then I’d give them a little don’t judge a book by its cover. No, it’s more — old dogs can learn new tricks. Wait, is it chubby guys don’t float? I suck at morals.

I also noted a lot of short comedy pieces on the site, something I rarely read and never considered writing. I looked over profiles of the people who wrote these things and saw they often used phrases such ‘words in’ and then listed off places I’d never heard of. I too wanted works in places I’d never heard of. So, after packing up our car for the trip to Brasov, I wrote my first humor piece in the car while my wife drove. I brainstormed what was funny and came up with vegans and also cannibals. I can see in the margin of my list I wrote ‘sweet corn.’ Although sweet corn is unquestionably funny, my list makes me think I was just hungry.

Despite having 29 days, February sped by. While the planet was officially moving into Oh-Shit-Status, we saw some lovely things in Brasov. Sure, cramming in a road trip before a lockdown is a bit like forgoing a flotation device so you can go to the bar to get your Gin Rickey refilled right before the Titanic hits the iceberg, but who doesn’t like more gin?

Brasov — Me
Brasov Ice Skating — Me again
My wife enlightened in Şinca Veche — Yep, you guessed it, me
Bran Castle and the Creatures of the Night — Me one more time

March

We had a small shindig at our flat, days before Italy went into full lockdown. Looking back, it was a bit of cognitive dissonance as most of my friends are doctors and we all pretended it was fine to shindig since Romania hadn’t issued an official quarantine. We enjoyed some marvelous tequila and I made a friend at our party. Thus, it was totally worth the risk of super-spreading a dangerous virus.

March then took a weird turn. We decided to temporarily move in with my in-laws during the Romanian lockdown. I won’t bore you with the details as I’ve written about it in the articles below.

I will say, the only thing weirder than seeing your father-in-law dancing in a Speedo in front of the TV with a tennis racket is looking out the window and seeing this guy in a hazmat suit disinfecting the sidewalk. Somewhere inside my subconscious, fed by years of zombie apocalypse movies, I knew this moment was coming.

I knew this moment was coming.

That was our reality as our little city of refuge turned into the epicenter of the Romanian outbreak and the military sealed off the borders. More importantly, everybody’s favorite American Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive for the virus. Life was indeed like a box of chocolates and none of us knew what we were going to get until someone coughed and then we all knew we were getting COVID.

April

I can’t tell if April really happened. I’ve looked for evidence and April is indeed listed on the calendar. Did we forget about it? A deep dive into what I was doing online isn’t very reassuring.

Answer: Yes, yes they do.

Right, okay, so this makes sense. I mean, it was a quarantine.

Locked away from the world, I focused on writing about the things I knew, like my left hand. Daniel-Day Lewis won an Oscar for doing a movie about his left foot, so there was precedent for this kind of artistic endeavor come award season.

Piecing it together nine months later, the close quarters, the tortoise touching, the left-handed infatuation, and the eerily quiet landscape of my social media leads me to one conclusion — my wife and I were knocking boots. A lot. What do you do when you can’t go outside and the news is filled with a doomscroll of Cassandras preparing you for the worst? You sex it up like it’s the last days of humanity.

Things may have gotten kinky — masks, rubber gloves, lots of sanitizer. We were probably one latex gimp mask away from launching an Onlyfans site.

This also explains the missing month of April. The fumes from the sanitizer likely wiped out a few brain cells. Good news though! The mystery of Paco’s new sleeping position was finally solved!

“Please make it stop.”

May

As far as I can tell, I re-emerged from the bedroom in May and began writing again. My mind was rife with ideas after honing my Grateful Dead look and writing about mysticism.

Touch of Grey — In the Dark

When mysticism didn’t help, I gave wizardry a shot. I was grasping at wands, to be honest.

Then something happened! Who would have thought I’d find a friend by writing on Medium? I started throwing ideas back and forth with a fellow writer on the site and soon we were having Skype happy hours and exchanging writerly tips. He gave me some great advice.

Why don’t you write about stuff you do that you’re good at?

Why didn’t I think of this?

I was experimenting with lots of types of writing, but I didn’t put any thought into the things I did well in life and the kind of writing that comes most naturally to me.

If there are two things I’ve done well over the years, it’s make delicious food and sabotage my love life. In May, I’d write about both. I took inspiration from a close-to-god fried chicken experience I’d had in Memphis years ago to write a short fiction piece about a man having a close-to-god fried chicken experience in Memphis.

I then wrote a less fictional piece about the time I met Olivia Wilde and was almost fired from my job for trying to meet Olivia Wilde.

My new friend was right. My creative output was more fluid when I worked within my wheelhouse. I kept writing and growing my hair until I had my first humor piece published somewhere that wasn’t Medium, which I immediately re-posted on Medium because I needed a few bucks for a haircut.

June

What month rhymes with ‘freedom?’ If you answered anything other than June, you should go away quietly and think about what you’ve done. Our lockdown was lifted in June. I felt like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, emerging from the shit-laden bowels of prison to smell freedom for the first time in ages. He probably smelled shit as well, and I could relate, but like Andy, I would soon take a shower and be free.

June was a transition month for our little family. We moved back into our apartment and resumed a nearly normal life. Masks were a daily staple and indoor seating at cafes remained closed, but there were hints it just might get better.

I wanted to return to the longer fiction I’d originally set out to write, so I penned a piece about a woman with a hangover. I knew about hangovers and I knew a few women, so it seemed like something I could handle.

My new writing partner, however, didn’t like it at all, which is fine. His feedback inspired me to write another story, which was clearly fiction. Clearly. (ask me how I feel about my ending again, motherf#cker!)

July — August

July and August are lumped together because we went on a vacation. This was also a time when I began submitting my writing to all sorts of different publications — online and print, well known and obscure. This resulted in polite and generic rejection letters, the kind that gently tell you they don’t think you’re good enough but encourage you to try again. My biggest takeaway from this time: one publication’s rejection is another pub’s acceptance. I’d get a bunch of ‘we’re going to pass,’ and then receive one ‘we’re going to publish it.’ This is a lesson I keep re-learning. Mikey may not like it, but Sara does. You don’t need to know who Mikey and Sara are. Just know different people have different preferences, and Mikey is kind of basic and Sara is a brilliant editor with impeccable taste.

Once our holiday began I only wanted to read and relax. This occurred during the brief period Europe thought we had this Coronavirus licked. The bad news — it wasn’t licked. In fact, licking is bad. Real bad. The good news — discounts everywhere. We hit up the Romanian Delta, chartering a boat to wind us through the tributaries feeding the diversity of life found throughout the region. (If you enjoyed that last sentence more than anything else I’ve written, then you’d love the brochure the boat company gave me.)

Wife on a boat — me
Tours of Delta — me

It was a couple of weeks of swimming in the Black Sea, eating lots of fish, and crashing on the sand.

Fried Hamsii on left and Frying wife on right — me

One thing the brochures failed to mention was the herd of ‘wild’ cattle and their penchant for taking an afternoon dip in the sea. Also, one thing life failed to mention was how quickly cows can run on a sandy beach, leaving you scrambling for your phone to snap a photo, else no one will believe you.

See Cow? Sea Cow!

We ended our travels at a vineyard, taking long afternoon strolls through the grapevines with Paco and then taking long twilight tastings of the varietals, also with Paco. The tastings inspired the second chapter in my chihuahua conversations.

Paco, wife, and me — me?

September

Frequently, I really enjoy writing something and allow myself to get excited about sending it out. Then I send it out to a smattering of ‘mehs.’ Conversely, I write something I’m not crazy about and send it out simultaneously to multiple publications and receive multiple acceptances, totally surprising me and forcing me to retract from a publication and earn a verbal spanking in the process. How do you gauge what works?

In September, I managed to get a few pieces into publications I’d been submitting to all year, but often the pieces I most enjoyed writing were of no interest to anyone off-Medium, like these.

If you write a lot, then this is the question you face at some point: Who are you writing for? The question broadens to what’s your objective. Do you want to have others read your work and possibly be paid or do you just want to get ideas on paper? The two aren’t mutually exclusive but there is a slight distinction between knowing your audience and no one in your audience.

Tons of information about this quandary exists online, but if you’re like me and tear open the package without first reading the instructions, then you might find yourself in medias res of a literary career with no career having started. Here’s a nifty read about visualizing your readership:

The funny thing about me and visualization is two-fold. First, when I’m not writing, I work in data modeling. Specifically, I help clients leverage the information they collect through marketing and sales to create personas of their potential customers’ propensity to make a purchase. In other words, I help them create visualizations of their ideal customer and their not-so-ideal customer. The second part of the funny thing is my wife is a life coach who helps people overcome career obstacles by visualizing outcomes. I lived deep in a world of visualizing one’s audience and one’s desired results and had been neglecting to apply any of it to my writing. I was like a cobbler running around barefoot, wondering why my feet are cold, and also wondering whether cobblers still exist outside of useful metaphors.

Additionally, I began new writing practices. Every morning I empty the tank in a Kerouac-ian stream of consciousness for thirty minutes. I have no set topic. I’m merely clearing clutter. After that, I spend twenty minutes brainstorming on what I find interesting, amusing, or funny and I make a list. I reference this list when my imagination feels bone dry, which is frequently. That’s my first hour with coffee as I begin the day.

October

I once had a political blog, back in 2007. When I began writing again this year, I determined I wanted to avoid politics as much as possible. Scrolling through my profile page proves I failed. I finally, begrudgingly tuned into the election in October and began writing about it, but my contributions were drops in an ocean of people talking about elections.

Returning to my September lesson — who was I writing for? Probably not the people seeking out liberal opining. My style doesn’t interest them due to my struggles with taking things seriously. So, what are my kind of people interested in reading?

Ghost sex! Monster romances! Ghost gigolos! Fine, if that’s what they want, then I’ll ghost sex them until they scream.

I enjoy coming up with this kind of nonsense. It amuses me and if it amuses someone else in the process, then that’s funny frosting on an already amused cake.

I did write one thing entirely for myself about Donald Trump’s comments on COVID-19. If you like koalas who talk like Donald Trump in a bad Australian accent, then you’ll like this. If not, then you’re like 99.99% of the people in the world.

November

So, there was this election, and then, I dunno. Things go blank. I think I was so happy to have it over with, sort-of-almost over with, I stepped away from my laptop. I drank some excellent wine, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I chilled.

Earlier in the year, I’d put a book I was writing on the backburner. If you were to take everything I’ve written on this site and throw in a robot revolution, you’d get close to my rough outline.

We also started the Christmas movies early this year. My wife is a very serious woman who focuses on manifesting her best self by exploring and engaging her consciousness. I’m fairly certain she also casts spells when I’m not looking. But when she’s done being serious, she loves a Hallmark movie, especially Christmas ones. We watched more of these kinds of movies than I care to admit, leading me to take a break from my book and do a deep Freudian dive into Vanessa Hudgens’s holiday offerings.

Other than that, we bought some stylish masks and went cavorting about town.

Stylish cavorting

December

I wrote some weird shit in December. Take that for what it’s worth. It was the end of the year, holidays… I let it fly. Both my weird pieces were accepted by publications and both the publications list ‘bizarre’ somewhere on their masthead. I might be getting better at finding my writing a home.

The least weird thing I wrote was this piece on Snarky Jesus and his not-so subtle passive-aggressive thank you.

And then, I did the normal thing — drank mulled wine, went for walks in the city to take in the lights, and feasted with my family. We had a better than expected, but still really awkward, Christmas with the in-laws and then I allowed 2020 to fade away, hoping for a better start to a new year.

Christmas in Iasi

So, I suppose looking back on it, I did some things in 2020. Despite everything, when I stop think about it, it was a nice year. I started actively working on an ambition I’d harbored for decades, we maintained our health through a pandemic, we made a couple of friends, and we squeezed in some travel. I finally took the time to understand what I want to write and who I want to write for, which provided the direction I’d been lacking. Even in a weird, locked down, clusterfuck of a year we made the most of it, which is all you can ever ask.

Wait a second, is this one of those stories with a heartfelt moral at the end?!? By gods, I guess it is.

writer (hack) entrepreneur (unemployable) expat (immigrant) philosopher (unemployable hack) humorist (who says that?)

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