Tag Archives: kids

Monday Musings: Taking Stock This Thanksgiving Week

A year ago at this time, I wrote a post about Thanksgiving — random thoughts on the holiday, essentially. I just reread it, and laughed once more at some of the memories I recounted. Part of the post touched on the oddness of last year’s celebration, the fact that we were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that made family gatherings difficult if not impossible. And I lamented this, because, as I said then, Thanksgiving is just about my favorite holiday.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2021, and we find ourselves still grappling with the pandemic. Last year, while writing my post, I didn’t see that happening. Yes, I knew already that Covid would be with us for a long, long time — an illness to be managed rather than one we were likely to wipe out anytime soon. But I thought our management would have progressed further by now. I am not yet in a space where I want to dive into political discussions, but I will simply offer this: If you’re not yet vaccinated, please consider getting the vaccine before year’s end. And if you’re unvaccinated and you refuse to wear a mask, please consider that your recklessness is endangering everyone around you.

Despite the difficulties posed by another pandemic-inflicted Thanksgiving, and despite having endured a year more difficult than any my family and I have experienced before, I find myself embracing the spirit of this most spiritual holiday. I don’t mean spiritual in the sense of “religious,” at least not really. For some, I suppose, thankfulness does lend itself to religious expression. But as someone who considers himself agnostic in matters of faith, I still am drawn to what I perceive as a powerful spiritual component of Thanksgiving. This is a time when all of us in this country — a nation that is both flawed and deeply blessed — are called upon to pause in our work, in our private lives, in our political and cultural rancor, and reflect on all for which we ought to be grateful. We do this as the calendar year draws to a close, as the natural year — the cycle of seasons, of life’s emergence, flourish, and retreat — winds down as well. This is an opportunity to take stock, to appreciate what we have and, perhaps, to think about things we hope to be thankful for in another year.

And so . . .

I am grateful, as always, for my wonderful family. As always, I say. And yet after this year of crisis, of illness, of anxiety and sadness and deepest fear, I am more grateful than ever to be married to my love and closest friend, and to have two daughters whom I adore, who dazzle me with their humor and brilliance and beauty. I am grateful for my siblings, those I have still and the one I have lost, my relationships with whom have been so formative throughout my life. I am grateful for my parents, gone now for more than two decades, but who loved me and supported me in life, and who raised me to believe I could be anything I chose to become. I am grateful for my extended family, relatives I love even though we see one another far too infrequently.

I am grateful beyond words to have truly amazing friends, people who enrich my life with their wit, their intellect, their compassion and generosity. And I am so fortunate to have in my life fans of my work who are kind, vocal in their enthusiasm for my fiction, but also respectful of appropriate boundaries.

I am grateful for my career, which has been through ups and downs, which has perhaps not yet reached every height I hoped it would, but which continues to engage me and challenge me and reward me each day. I am grateful for all the talented professionals with whom I have had the honor and pleasure of working.

I am grateful for the pastimes I pursue daily — my music, my photography, my passion for nature, especially birds.

I am grateful for the comfort of our home, for the food we eat, for the privileges we enjoy, and I am mindful always, but particularly this time of year, of those who are not as fortunate as we are, who live without the certainty of shelter, who eat without the surety of a next meal, who encounter illness or injury without the peace of mind of knowing how they will access and pay for treatment.

And I am grateful for this past year, despite its difficulties. From it, I have learned to appreciate more deeply what I have. I have learned to cope with emotional crises that might have ruined me a year or two ago. And I have grown stronger, so that the next crisis — and of course there will be a next one; such is life — will be just a little easier to endure.

I wish you all a joyous Thanksgiving and hope that you have a long list of people and things for which you are grateful.

— DBC

Professional Wednesday: Work as Balm

Continuing this week’s theme of maintaining mental health through difficult times . . .

Back in March, when our daughter’s cancer was diagnosed, my first impulse was to put everything on pause. I contacted my editor and agent to let them know I was not going to be working for a while. I announced on my various social media platforms that I would be pulling back from them as well. I don’t know what I thought I would be busy with. I don’t know what I thought I would do to fill my days. But in that instant, I couldn’t imagine doing . . . anything.

I can’t say for certain if this was a good decision or a bad one. I did what I needed to do in that moment. I made time for myself to deal with something utterly devastating and unprecedented in my life, for the very reason I stated above. I didn’t know what I could do and what I couldn’t. And, being self-employed, I have the luxury of being able to clear my schedule when I need to.

I’ll pause here to say this is why paid family leave should be universal across the country. People deal with crises of this sort every day. The privileged few — people like me — shouldn’t be the only ones who can take the time to care for themselves and their loved ones in this way.

Of course, Nancy had work, and though her colleagues and boss would have understood had she taken time off, the truth is the nature of her position at the university, and the fact that the school was in the middle of implementing the Covid response she helped formulate, made this impossible. And so, perhaps not so surprisingly, after taking only a few days to be shellshocked and emotionally paralyzed, I got back to work as well.

RADIANTS, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Belle Books)I was in the middle of writing a book — Invasives, the sequel to Radiants — and I dove back in. It’s a book about family, as so many of my novels are, and about discovering powers within. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why I would find that particular story line comforting.

At the time, I wasn’t very far along in the book — maybe one-third of the way in. But with my reality frightening and sad, I threw myself into the story. Work became the place I went to escape my dread, my grief, my rage at the injustice of my kid’s illness. The emotions came with me, of course, but I was able to channel them into my characters, to turn them into narrative. That is the magic of creation, the alchemy that allows us to convert anguish into art. Each day, I couldn’t wait to get back to my book; I can’t remember a time when work has meant more to me. My haven, my outlet, my balm.

I finished the book in less than two months, which is pretty quick for me, and I knew immediately that I had written something special. I love all my books. Someone asked me just the other day what my favorite book is among those I’ve written, and I answered as I always do: the newest one. But in this case, it was especially true. Invasives is laden with emotional power and it is, to my mind, one of the best plotted books I’ve written. Often when I write, I have to fight off distractions. Not this time. With Invasives, writing was the distraction.

I was sad to finish the book — which was definitely new for me. Usually I celebrate finishing a novel. This time, I wondered how I would cope without the book to write. My child was still sick, still dealing with treatments and such. And I was still scared, still sad.

"The Adams Gambit," by D. B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)And so around that time, unsure of what to write next, I acted on an idea I’d had for several years. I hung out my virtual shingle as a freelance editor. Work came in quickly, and before I knew it I was editing a series for one friend, and talking to others about future editing projects. I also released the Thieftaker novellas. And prepared for the October release of Radiants. And started gearing up for the Kickstarter for Noir, the anthology I’m co-editing for Zombies Need Brains. And wrote a story for another anthology.

In other words, I worked the way I normally would. Yes, some days were harder than others. Some days I got nothing done at all. And part of working through this ordeal has been giving myself permission to have days where I do nothing more than spin my wheels. But more often than not, work has continued to offer me solace.

I’ve watched in awe as Nancy, who has even more on her plate than I do (elder care issues involving her parents and a job that is emotionally and mentally exhausting), has found the strength and discipline to be a loving, supportive mom, an attentive daughter, a skilled and focused professional, as well as a loving partner. She, too, has found refuge in her job.

Looking back, I feel a little foolish for having retreated from my professional life the way I did those first days after learning of my daughter’s diagnosis. From this vantage point, it appears rash, unnecessary. I feared that in some way my job would keep me from giving my full attention to my daughter’s health. I was right. The mistake I made was in thinking that would be a bad thing. Believe me, I spent a ton of time thinking about her, worrying about her, searching for ways I might ease her burden. But I couldn’t do that for every hour of every day, not without doing real damage to my own emotional and physical health.

Work saved me.

Now, I know each of us deals in unique ways with anxiety, fear, grief, and other emotions, and so I offer this post not as a prescription for others, but simply as a description of my experience. I hope that some of you find it helpful.

Monday Musings: My Decision to Start Therapy — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLightShortly after I graduated from college, back in Medieval times, I corresponded with a dear college friend, one who continues to this day to be a close friend. At the time, she was dealing with some emotional issues and had started therapy. “Counseling is the best thing in the world,” she wrote to me. “If everyone was in counseling with a good counselor there would be world peace.”

I wrote down the quote at the time, and have returned to it many times in the intervening years, sometimes with amusement (it’s just a great statement) and at other times with the sense that I ought to take to heart the lesson of her words.

Only this year, with the cancer diagnosis given to my older child, did I finally act on her wise advice and start therapy.

When I was young, being in therapy carried a stigma. Mental health and mental illness were even less well understood than they are now. Seeking a counselor was an admission of “weakness,” of being unable to hack it on one’s own. I grew up in New York, a bastion of liberal thought and cutting edge cultural trends, and was raised in an educated, privileged family. And still, I grew up with this bias ingrained in me. People like me didn’t need therapy, because we were “strong” and “normal” and “healthy,” whatever the hell those words meant.

It took me a long, long time to overcome that element of my upbringing. Which is really too bad, because I now know that I have suffered from anxiety and panic disorder my entire life. I denied this reality for years. I was “high strung.” “Type A.” I was “a worrier.” Given time, I could probably come up with a dozen other euphemisms that I used, or that others used on my behalf, to help me deny the obvious. Because “high strung” was okay. Suffering from anxiety suggested something deeper, more serious, more systemic. It implied that I wasn’t “well.”

Guess what. I wasn’t well.

Back in 2017 and 2018, after my brother died, I went through a really dark period. I was grieving, grappling with all sorts of difficult, nearly crippling emotional issues. At the time, it was the most troubling period of my emotional life. Still I made excuses, explaining away my decision not to seek therapy. Our younger daughter was just starting college and we couldn’t afford the added expense. It was natural for me to be having a hard time — I was in mourning. I could handle the problems on my own.

It was a terrible decision, and I shudder to think of what might have happened had I not fallen back on the next best thing to seeking the help of a counselor. I wrote about my brother. Not just a journal entry (although I should add here that regular journaling has also become a key part of my mental health regimen). I had conversations with people from his life and delved deeply into family history and the papers he’d left behind. The piece I wrote about him is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Few have read it, and for now that’s fine with me. The process itself was the point. It saved me from myself — my stubbornness, my denial, the lingering effects of my upbringing.

With my daughter’s cancer diagnosis earlier this year, which came on the heels of a period of deep anxiety during the fall of 2020, I realized the obvious: I needed help. More, I was  for help. I couldn’t do this on my own anymore, nor did I see the need to.

Starting therapy was revelatory. I was fortunate, in that I found on my first try a counselor who understands me, who knows when to challenge my assumptions and when to let me ramble and find for myself a helpful emotional path. Early on, as we talked about an episode in my life that had been particularly formative and painful, she said something that spoke powerfully to my experience, not only with her, but also with the piece I’d written about my brother.

“When you talk about something painful like this,” she said — and I believe she could also have said, when you write about this sort of thing — “you assert control over it. You’re no longer subject to it. Rather, it answers to you.”

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

This was why writing about my brother and his death proved so therapeutic. This was why my sessions with my therapist have been so positive and helpful. This was why my beloved old friend could see universal therapy leading to world peace. When we acknowledge the things that afflict us, when we accept them and speak to them and come to understand them, they cease to be our enemy. They don’t vanish, at least not immediately. But by embracing them, by asserting control over them and making them ours, rather than us being theirs, we rob them of their power.

This, at least, has been my experience. And all those arguments against therapy, which I used to delay what I never should have put off? I reject them now. The stigma? Fortunately, society has progressed beyond this, and I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The money? Many health insurance policies cover mental health, making it as affordable as most common prescription drugs. The time commitment? I take time every day to exercise, because I know that doing so is good for me. Why would I begrudge an hour each week to do something equally healthful?

And so I stand before you (albeit virtually) as an unabashed booster of therapy. I waited until I was in the midst of a family crisis, and I wish I hadn’t. If I’d had the wherewithal as a much younger man to seek professional help, I might have recognized my anxiety for what it was in my twenties or thirties rather than in my fifties. I could have saved myself so much torment, so much sadness and angst. I choose not to consider this for too long. Water under the bridge as the cliché goes.

But I will say this: If you’re suffering, if you feel that you need help, but have been reluctant, for whatever reason, to seek it out, please take the plunge. I believe you’ll be glad you did. You may find peace, healing, and tools for coping that have eluded you up until now. And, as my friend suggests, you might even move us one step closer to world peace.

Update: What’s Been Going On In My Life

In August, after a long retreat from social media and a series of appearance cancellations, I shared with all in a post on his blog that our older daughter, Alex, has cancer. You can read that post here.

Now, several months later, I wanted to offer an update to that original post, and to share some positive news.

Alex is still undergoing treatments, but her doctors have transitioned her from chemotherapy, which in her case was VERY effective, to what they call a maintenance regimen. Essentially this means that the cancer has been knocked back by the chemo. In many places where she had malignancies, it’s impossible to tell she ever had cancer. In other spots, the cancer remains but is greatly diminished.

The maintenance regimen is intended to keep the cancer in its present, reduced state. It prevents new or renewed cancerous growth without inflicting the kind of side-effects Alex suffered through while on the chemotherapy. Put another way, her doctors are now treating her cancer as a chronic condition, one that can be managed without an invasive and devastating surgery, and without further use of drugs that sap her of energy, make her feel rotten, and cause her hair to fall out.

The sobering news is that, at least for now, they do not know if her cancer is fully curable. It may be that they cannot say “her cancer is gone and it’s not coming back.” This remains to be seen. The reassuring and offsetting news is that they can keep her on the maintenance regimen indefinitely, for the rest of her natural life if they need to. Because Alex responded so well to the first chemotherapy “cocktail” they tried, her doctors have plenty of other treatments they can use on the off-chance that the cancer reasserts itself. And research on exact DNA mutation that caused Alex’s cancer may, before long, yield even more effective, and possibly curative, treatments.

And so it seems she is on a good trajectory, if not yet cured.

I have to admit that adjusting to this outcome has taken me some time. I have lost my mother, my father, and my oldest brother to cancer. I am a gold-circle member of the “Fuck Cancer” club. More, I am shaped by a 20th century view of cancer as a binary phenomenon. One has cancer or one doesn’t; one beats cancer or one dies from it. That has long been my understanding.

But 21st century oncology is not always like that. For some patients with some forms of the disease — including Alex and hers — cancer is something that can be lived with, controlled, kept in check.

From the start, I have wanted nothing more than to be able to announce to the world that Alex is cancer-free. For now, that is more than I can say. But short of that, this is as good an outcome as I could have hoped for or imagined. We will worry each time Alex has a new set of scans to assess the state of her disease, but that was going to be true under any scenario. What matters is that she feels fine, the symptoms associated with her cancer have gone away, she is otherwise healthy and happy, she is working, seeing friends, having fun, living her life, looking forward to the return of her gorgeous hair, which has been an identity marker for her all her life. And the rest of us — Nancy, our wonderful younger daughter, Erin, and I — are breathing easier and recovering ourselves from the emotional ordeal of the past eight months.

I want to thank all of you for your support and friendship during this period. Every expression of concern, every word of sympathy and encouragement, every act of kindness has meant more to me than I can convey.

I look forward to returning to a more normal routine. I intend to be more of a presence online. I plan to attend more conventions in the coming year. Having re-started the newsletter, I will continue to publish it monthly, with the usual giveaways and previews of upcoming releases. (You can sign up for it here!)

Again my thanks to all of you. It’s good to be back.

What’s Been Going On In My Life

As some of you may remember, back in March I pulled away for a time from all social media. And, as you may have noticed, even now my social media presence remains limited. I haven’t been blogging regularly. I haven’t been sending out my newsletter. I have been far less “chatty” than usual. And there is a reason for all of this.

In March, our older daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

The months since have been the longest and most difficult of my life, and our ordeal is far from over. She is undergoing treatment and has responded well so far. Her spirits are good — remarkably so. She is, as I already knew, one of the bravest, wisest, strongest, most positive people I’ve ever encountered. Even in this most difficult time, I am so very proud of her. And I know that her attitude has been and will continue to be a most potent weapon in her battle. That said, though, the cancer had progressed significantly before it was discovered and she still has a long road ahead of her. We are hopeful in the long-term — we believe we have every reason to be — but again, this is hard.

We are grappling with fear, uncertainty, the sadness that comes with knowing our child — yes, our adult child, but nevertheless — is suffering and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. We are grieving for all we’ve lost as a family. Not because we doubt that she’ll recover. But because, even after she is cancer-free, we will, all of us, live for the rest of our lives fearing a return of the illness. We as a family — not just Alex, not just Nancy and me, but also Erin, our beloved younger daughter — have lost our innocence in a way. We’ll never be the same.

There was a time, early on, when I was exchanging texts with my brother about one development or another, and I wrote something about “Alex’s oncologist.” And I had to pause to say to myself and to him, “Fuck, my daughter has an oncologist.” The past several months have been filled with moments like these. Times when I catch myself saying things no parent ever wants to say and thinking of things I never in my darkest dreams thought I would have to consider.

At times, work has been a balm, and I have been able to lose myself in my writing or the freelance editing I’ve been doing recently. At times, I can’t do anything at all. I have started therapy, which has been wonderful for me. I have continued to exercise and eat well. I have managed not to drink myself into oblivion even once, though I will admit to being tempted on more than one occasion. I sleep moderately well, but often wake up feeling utterly devastated and sick to my stomach. Nancy and I still manage to have fun when we can. We also take turns comforting each other. One day one of us will be okay and the other will be a wreck. The next day we’ve reversed roles.

Mostly, though, we move through life and work and quiet time feeling like we’re wearing those leaded bibs they use at the dentist’s office when you’re getting x-rays. Everything is weighed down. Everything is harder, more wearying. Our tempers are a bit more frayed. Even our best days are only so-so, and our worst days are bleak and seemingly endless.

Before now, I hadn’t wanted to make this sort of public pronouncement. I’m not entirely sure why. Alex has been very open about being sick and has made it clear to the rest of us that she doesn’t consider her illness a secret to be guarded. Maybe I feared “announcing” it would make it feel more real. Though honestly, I don’t know how it could be any more real. Maybe I just wanted to put off the exchanges of messages and comments that will inevitably follow a post like this one. Maybe I wanted to avoid the tears I’ve shed while writing this.

Whatever the reason, I felt that with everything else I’ve pulled back from this year, my cancellation of my appearance at DragonCon warranted an explanation. The fact is, even with all the precautions the convention has taken — and the con committee has been terrific in this regard — I fear exposing myself to the Delta Variant of Covid-19 in advance of a visit with our immunocompromised daughter. I am sorry to miss the convention. I am sorry to disappoint those of you who looked forward to seeing me there. I hope and plan to attend in 2022, when this latest surge in the pandemic is a distant memory, and our daughter is on the mend.

Many of you, I am sure, will want to help in some way. The fact is, there is not much anyone can do right now. I welcome and am grateful for your expressions of support and friendship. I would, however, ask two things of you: 1) Please respect our privacy. I have shared what’s going on with our family. I have no intention of filling in additional details. And 2) Please do not share your cancer stories with me. I know they are kindly meant, and I thank you for your good intentions. I also know they will do nothing to help me, and will in fact increase my anxiety.

Otherwise, I ask only that you spare a positive thought for my daughter, my family, and me.

Thank you so much for reading this. Take care of yourselves. Be kind to one another. Hug the people you love.

Monday Musings: Easing Back In

Dear Friends,

About five weeks ago, I announced on various platforms that I would be withdrawing from social media for a while, and would also be delaying the releases of some upcoming projects. My announcement prompted expressions of sympathy and friendship from so many of you and I am deeply grateful for the love and support I have received since then.

I am, at this point, beginning once more to dip my toes in the social media waters. The family health crisis that prompted my pull-back from various platforms continues and will be on-going for months to come. I ask for your patience, your understanding, and your respect of our privacy as we cope with the issues at hand. Nancy, our daughters, and I are fortunate in so many ways. We love each other, we communicate well, we support one another. We also have at our disposal resources — stable finances, excellent health coverage and health care, mental health support — that too many people in this country — in this world — don’t enjoy. And we have marvelous friends and loving extended family who are bolstering us and helping us in every manner possible. We will get through this.

In the meantime, as I have seen to my own emotional well-being, I have learned a great deal, confirming things I thought I knew about myself, and discovering other things that have surprised and even shocked me. I am 58 years old, and I am still growing and deepening my understanding of my own mind and emotional history.

One discovery that probably surprised me more than it should have is this: A quarter of a century plus into my literary career, the simple act of sitting down each day to write is still both a boon and a salve for my tender emotions. Day after day, I have immersed myself in my current world and narrative and character arcs. And not only has working been good for me, it has been gratifying. I can’t always tell while writing a book if the finished product is going to be any good. Often, I’ll finish my first draft and then start to read through the novel, expecting to be horrified, only to find instead that what I’ve got is decent. And it’s possible that with this book, since I think maybe it’s pretty good, I’ll read it through and find that it totally sucks.

But I don’t think so. I am enjoying it far too much. I am 80,000+ words in at this point, shooting for a finished product of 90-95K. I expect to complete draft number one by the end of this week.

As to my pending releases, I hope to release the first of the Thieftaker novellas, “The Witch’s Storm,” within the next six weeks or so. Two more novellas, “The Cloud Prison,” and “The Adams Gambit” will follow. I hope that RADIANTS, my new supernatural thriller, will be out sometime late this summer or early this fall. And I know that DERELICT, the anthology from Zombies Need Brains that I have co-edited with Joshua Palmatier, will be released late this spring or early in the summer.

In short, while my family and I are weathering a difficult stretch, life — professional and personal — must go on. I am not yet ready to resume my three-blog-posts-a-week social media regimen, nor do I expect to be as active on Facebook and Twitter as usual. And my plans in terms of convention appearances remain uncertain.

But I will be more visible in the weeks and months to come than I have been since mid-March. Again, I am grateful for your support, your patience, and, most of all, your continued friendship.

Be well, be kind to one another, and find joy in the love and companionship of the people who mean the most to you.

David

Monday Musings: What Memories of My Mom Have To Do With COVID

My mother’s birthday is this coming Friday, February 5. I’ve written about her before in this space. I’ve marked past birthdays with Facebook posts and the like. But somehow this year, with her birthday approaching, I find myself thinking of her even more than usual.

She would be turning 99 this year, but we lost her long ago — back in the mid-nineties, when my older daughter was just an infant, and my younger daughter was, to resort to cliché, not even a glimmer in our eyes. I won’t bore you with the sorts of general memories I’ve shared in the past — her love of travel and books, her slightly goofy sense of humor, and her passion for progressive causes and social justice.

My thoughts have gone in a somewhat different direction. I wonder what she would be thinking about the pandemic, and the state of our world. I know she would have been devastated by the earliest days of COVID, almost a year gone now, when her beloved New York City was virtually closed, its hospitals strained beyond capacity, its cultural treasures shuttered. I know she would have had nothing but contempt for those who refused to wear masks and failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the disease.

But I wonder what she would think now. The world is entering a new phase with the pandemic, and I’m not sure what to make of it myself. On the one hand, this is a time of tempered hope. The numbers are terrible, but not quite as bad as they were a few weeks ago. We have vaccines from several drug companies. The protocols vary, but the promise they offer — of limited but effective immunity — allows the optimists among us to envision a time when fear of COVID might fade a bit. Since the pandemic began, health officials have warned against comparing this strain of the Coronavirus to the flu. But if the vaccines work, if immunity can be introduced to broad swaths of the population, COVID might become something we can think as we do influenza: as an illness to be feared, but managed.

On the other hand, our hopes in this regard have to reckon with several troubling truths. First, COVID isn’t going anywhere. Regardless of where it came from, it will probably be around pretty much forever. And the comparison to the flu carries a darker implication. It will continue to mutate, just as the flu does. Already new strains have reached our shores from London, from Brazil, from South Africa. No doubt more are coming. Even now, these new mutations are exposing weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the vaccines. Just as flu shots are somewhat hit-or-miss in their effectiveness, future COVID immunizations are likely to be as well. And COVID is far deadlier than the flu; vaccination failures will have tragic consequences.

What does all of this have to do with my mother? A good question, one I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

Part of it might be this: She used to talk to me about the feared diseases of her childhood. As I say, she was born nearly a century ago, in 1922. When she was a child, penicillin didn’t exist. She was in her thirties, the mother of two small children, when the polio vaccine was developed. I remember once, when I was a kid, a friend of mine got Scarlet Fever, and Mom’s first reaction was to tell me how serious it could be. She almost had to remind herself that by then treatments had become fairly routine. I later learned that she had known children who died of it.

The truth was, my childhood, and that of my siblings, had been made far less perilous by the medical advances of the mid-Twentieth Century. Looking back, I believe that era will be looked upon as a historical aberration. Yes, medical advances continue. But we live in a world that is far more interconnected than it was in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. The safety conferred by those advances must now race with accelerated exposures and mutations.

I don’t mean to make this a doom and gloom post. I do think that, by and large, the COVID vaccines will work. Our world will find its way, haltingly, to a new normal that returns to us some of the societal freedoms we’re all missing, while also remaining conscious of the novel threats we face. I’m sad to say that I believe my mother would be less optimistic. She would find all of this frightening, and I wouldn’t blame her. These are scary times. We are fortunate to now have in place an Administration that takes the danger seriously, that relies on science and health experts, and that has no political stake in denial.

That, though, only gets us so far. We need to remain vigilant. We need to watch out not only for ourselves, but also for one another. And that means masking, distancing, getting vaccinated when we are eligible.

Stay safe, friends. Take care of those you love. Take care of those you don’t even know. That’s how we overcome even the most pessimistic of scenarios.

Creative Friday: “Willin'” by Little Feat

This week, for Creative Friday, I offer a song.

Many, many years ago, my oldest brother turned me on to Little Feat, and they quickly became my favorite band. While in college, playing with my dear friends Alan Goldberg and Amy Halliday as part of a group we called Free Samples, we included “Willin’,” by Little Feat, in our repertoire.

I kept playing the song after college, of course, and eventually, when Nancy and I had kids and I started playing guitar for them, “Willin’” became one of my younger daughter’s favorites. There are pauses in the song, and for some reason she found them hilarious. The more I dragged them out, the more she laughed. To this day, in her twenties, she still can’t listen to me play the song without giggling.

In short, this song has been a part of my musical life for the better part of forty years. I recorded this version, including a second guitar track for the instrumental break, a couple of years ago, with my daughter in mind.

I hope you enjoy it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Why Do We Create?

I just reread my first post of the year, when I first discussed my weekly blogging plans, and my goals for the months to come. I closed the post with “Happy 2020. May it be your best year yet.”

How did that work out…?

This is likely my last post of the year, and my final Writing-Tip Wednesday post before I shift Wednesdays to a slightly broader format. It’s also a slightly longer post than usual; I hope you’ll stick with it. I have posted about a vast array of topics over the past fifty-one weeks, and all of them have dealt with creativity in one way or another. At times, the creative elements of my posts have been explicit and obvious; at other times, when discussing the business and the state of the market, the connections have been less clear. But always it comes back to the act of creating, the process of harnessing the imagination in order to produce… something.

Creativity is integral to who I am, to the life I lead. I consider myself fortunate beyond words in this regard. And I’m not just talking about writing. If you follow my blog or my social media, then you know that I am also an avid photographer and a longtime musician, and I’m passionate about all of my creative endeavors. But I do each of these things for different reasons, and I think this speaks to something all writers ought to consider.

Why do we create?

I like to tell people that I wrote my first book when I was six. It wasn’t much of a book — a few sheets of paper on which I had scrawled a story and scribbled illustrations, sandwiched between a couple of pieces of colored construction paper and bound with yellow yarn. But it was, to my mind, as much a book as all the titles on my shelves. All through my childhood, there was nothing I enjoyed more in school than creative writing. Any opportunity we were given to sit quietly and write was, for me, like the most glorious sort of recess.

In junior high, my classmates and I were assigned to keep a creative journal. For an entire semester, we were to write every night — or as close to it as we could manage — and we were free to write whatever we wanted. I still have mine. I did write every night. I wrote short stories and poems and my reflections on the world as I saw it. I LOVED keeping that journal.

All through high school and college, I wrote. I saw the world through a writer’s eyes. Always, my first thought upon seeing a sunset, or enjoying a meal, or even dealing with emotional problems, was “How would I write this?”

My love of storytelling, of the creative alchemy we perform when converting emotion and sensation into words, still drives me, challenges me, fills me with joy and satisfaction (when it’s not frustrating me and making me want to chuck my computer through a window).

But, of course, my writing is also my job, and I have to think about it as such. That’s fine. I am so lucky to be able earn money doing what I love; I can hardly complain. At this point, though, I write to publish. Anything I work on for any amount of time, I expect to sell. If I don’t, then that piece of writing has…failed in some respect. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. It also sounds mercenary, and that, I fear, is unavoidable. I can be passionate about my work, and also want to make money off of it. I make no apologies for that.

I feel quite differently about my photography. I am, I believe, a very good photographer. I have spent years studying photography, teaching myself techniques, making myself see my surroundings with an artist’s eye. I was drawn to photography early in life, in part, I have to admit, out of jealousy. My older brother, Jim, is a renowned and immensely talented painter. He was a bit of prodigy — his talent emerged in his early teens and as passionate as I am about writing, that’s how he continues to be about visual art. I wanted to creative images, too, but I have never been able to draw. Oh, I tried. But I’m terrible. There’s no other way to put it.

When I was thirteen, I asked for a camera, thinking that perhaps photography would offer me a path to visual artistic expression. My early efforts didn’t amount to much, and eventually I stopped trying. About fifteen years ago, though, I decided to try again. I dedicated myself to learning how to shoot, how to see, how to frame. The results have been deeply satisfying. I have sold a few photos and I’ve had work in local galleries. But while I have been pleased by these moments of public attention, I mostly capture images for myself. Nancy and I recently enlarged and framed several of my best images and they are now gracing the walls of our home. I have also produced a coffee-table photo book that I shared with just a few friends and family members. And my computer’s screen saver is a slide show of my best images.

I get as much joy out of seeing my own images in my house, in that book, on my computer, as I have from any sale of a photo. To be honest, I took nearly as much pride in hanging those images as I have in selling a new novel. I do it for me, and that’s enough.

And I feel still another sort of love and pride for my music. I have been playing guitar for more than forty years. I have always been able to sing, and for a while, in elementary school and junior high, I was content to express that talent in school musicals. But at some point I figured out that playing guitar might attract the notice of girls. (As it turns out, guitars weren’t enough. I also needed charm, height, and good looks, none of which I possessed. But hey, I learned to play guitar.)

I still love to play — for myself, for Nancy, occasionally for and with friends. Playing for my girls when they were young was truly a joy. I’ve never been very good at writing songs. I tried. I wrote a very few decent tunes in college, but I had a couple of friends who wrote amazing music, and my inability to craft songs as good as theirs, and as good as I thought mine should be as well, frustrated me. At some point, I stopped trying. Today, most of my playing is fairly derivative. I hear a song I like and I teach myself to play it. It’s fun. I get to recreate songs I admire, either for a small audience or for me. The truth is, though, I’m not adding much to the world’s music. I’m just another guy learning to play another James Taylor tune.

And so I ask again, why do we create?

I create stories for my livelihood. I create photos that are utterly original, but only for my friends, family, and me. I create music in order to pay homage to something I love, and to entertain myself.

I have tried throughout this year to gear my writing tips to writers of every ability level and every aspiration. Some of you won’t be satisfied with your writing until you’ve published a story, or a novel, or a series, or a bunch of series. I get that.

Some of you write because you want to craft the best story you can, and if you publish it, great. If you don’t, if the only people who read it are your friends and family, that’s okay, too. The process itself is the point. Your goal is to create the best piece you can.

And some of you take great joy in writing fan fiction, in writing homages to characters and storylines that you admire and want to be part of in some way. That’s great, too.

There is no single right answer to “Why do we create?” No matter where you fall on the continuum of creativity I’m describing here, you can learn to be a better writer, you can take satisfaction in the act of creation, and you can engage in that alchemy I mentioned earlier.

Because there is something truly magical in creativity — in the simple act of harnessing the imagination — something that has nothing at all to do with money or reviews.

I wish you joy and inspiration in all your endeavors.

And, of course, keep writing.

Monday Musings: 2020 is the New 1968

Putting on my historian’s cap…

There are certain years in modern history that stand out as significant all on their own. They are so fraught, so filled with resonance and import, that they become both microcosms and embodiments of the periods in which they occur. They typify entire eras.

Arguably, the most prominent example of this is 1968, the capstone of a tumultuous decade. It began with the Tet Offensive at the end of January — a coordinated and devastating attack on key military and civilian positions carried out by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The offensive gave the lie to all the false assurances of “progress” the U.S. military had been offering about the American war effort in Vietnam. In March, the sitting President, Lyndon Johnson, was nearly defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Senator Eugene McCarthy. Weeks later, on the 31st of March, Johnson withdrew from the race, throwing the election into turmoil. On April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, sparking riots in many cities. Only two months after that, Bobby Kennedy, by then the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, was shot and killed as well. Summer saw the chaos of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, with riots in the streets and near brawls within the convention center. In November, former Vice President Richard Nixon narrowly defeated the sitting Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, for the Presidency.

2020 will be remembered and written about the way 1968 is. The pandemic, which introduced the world to “masking” and “social distancing,” and exposed anew the anti-science, anti-“elite” biases of a significant portion of the American public, turned the world upside down. The casualty count — total cases, hospital capacity, deaths from the disease — has become a grim daily reminder of our nation’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the problem, and our national leaders’ incompetence and lack of compassion.

The resulting economic collapse sent shockwaves across the entire globe. Here in the U.S., unemployment spiked, businesses closed, the stock market tanked, rallied, fell again, and now is rallying again, even as the pandemic’s third wave ravages rural communities in nearly every state.

The murders of Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd sparked protests throughout the country, and beyond our borders. These protests, in turn, further exposed the problem of police brutality in countless cities. Confrontations between White vigilantes and police on the one hand, and protesters, Black and White, on the other, turned ugly, violent, and deadly.

At the same time, the nation went through a political campaign like no other, with the pandemic curtailing in-person campaigning and complicating the voting process. We saw the historic nomination and subsequent election of Kamala Harris as our next Vice President. And we watched Donald Trump engage in an unprecedented assault on our democratic norms, that were ultimately unsuccessful, but damaging nevertheless.

Then there were the oddities — shortages of rice and beans, toilet paper and cleaning supplies, bread flour and other staples; restaurants and bars closed for a time (and now closing again); sporting events and entire major league seasons altered, reconfigured, “bubbled;” movies and theater and concerts forsaken.

And, of course, we saw more than our share of tragic and untimely deaths, losing Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis, Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter, Chadwick Boseman and Naya Rivera and countless others.

Every time we thought 2020 couldn’t get crazier or darker, it did. Stress and anxiety afflicted nearly all of us in one form or another. Isolation became its own epidemic.

It goes without saying that future historians will write books about this year. Our grandchildren will ask us questions about the pandemic.

Here are a few things I’ll remember.

Early in April, our older daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, and who was living alone in the bleakest days of New York’s early struggle with COVID, texted me about what it was like living in the city at that point. All she heard, she said, were sirens. “It’s eerie because the streets are otherwise dead. Sirens are the only sound.” Except in the mornings, she added, when all the churches rang their bells. Haunting.

Our younger daughter contracted COVID in September, and I will never forget my fear, my feeling of helplessness, my awareness of the miles between us and the impracticality, even danger, of going to see her and care for her.

The news that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died hit me like a gut punch, and prompted a very real concern that Trump’s replacement, whoever it might turn out to be, would help him steal the election.

I went to bed on election night, thinking that Trump had probably won. The counting of absentee ballots in key states hadn’t yet started, and though I had read enough about the “red mirage” and the “blue shift” to know what to expect, the numbers looked daunting. Waking up Wednesday morning to renewed hope was one of the highlights of the year.

For me, personally, this was a year of physical problems that reminded me of my advancing age. For the first half of 2020 I dealt with debilitating pain in my shoulder that made even the simplest tasks agonizing. The pain is much reduced now, but it’s not yet gone entirely. It was also a year of emotional struggles, though I’m hardly alone in that regard. Anxiety, panic attacks, stress, professional worries: I had enough of these for five years, much less one.

But amid all the sadness and worry, there have also been bright spots. Nancy and I have enjoyed our time together and have truly never been closer. I have made nature walks a feature of my daily routine, allowing myself to birdwatch each morning, and use my camera more often than ever. I have played a lot of guitar (when my shoulder allowed it) and have learned a bunch of new songs. Even with Major League Baseball’s regular season disrupted, and despite the odd spectacle of stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts, the postseason was terrific and rekindled my passion for the game.

Finally, I know this will sound hackneyed, like the worst sort of cliché, but it’s the truth: I feel that I will enter 2021 with a new appreciation for things that I took for granted most of my life. Time with friends and family, the simple pleasure of sitting in a restaurant with my wife and daughters, the opportunity to think once more about travel. We have a long distance to go, as a nation, as a global community. But I believe 2021 will start us on a path to a new normal, something different from what we knew before the pandemic, but something also more comfortable than what we’ve been through these past nine months.

That, in any case, is my hope.

Wishing you a wonderful week.