“We write stories in such different ways,” a fellow writer friend remarks. “I prefer one-off stories about characters before moving onto different worlds, and you like to return to characters and give them additional stories.”
“And both are completely valid,” I reply.
And it’s true. I love to interweave stories, to hide Easter eggs in one novel to show everything is happening in the same universe, that it’s all connected. All these characters as they stumble across their lives are doing so under the same sky.
My friend had been reading a draft of my short story collection: a collection I had just received the rejection letter for, from a publishing company that had been considering it since November, right as the pandemic started to find its footing.
A collection where characters introduce and reintroduce themselves throughout it. A side character from a finished, but unpublished manuscript, makes an appearance as the protagonist in her own tragic story. One of the most prominent characters in the collection is a main player in a novel I’ve been slowly putting together for the last year or so.
(But that connection feels like cheating: all her short stories were ways for me to learn about her, to put her in the various concepts that I had for her and see how she’d respond. The perilous recognition that I don’t make the characters so much as they reveal themselves to me. The story is not mine so much as I’m the vessel it comes through.)
A collection I’ve decided to publish myself during the quarantine. One of the projects I have dove into to keep my head on straight, to not look at the state of my career, the state of the world, and completely despair.
It feels good, to be reintroduced to these characters again. To remember their worlds — their one, singular world — and feel that richness, like hearing a grandmother remark on her full life.
“The pandemic is not without its small blessings,” I remark to another friend. And that’s true, too. I wouldn’t have voluntarily made such a trade, but I can still find value in what was exchanged to me.
There are things that are born out of pure, hysterical necessity, but that doesn’t mean those things are not born beautiful. I’ve been reintroduced to so many thing I let gather dust. I’ve literally wiped the dust off of my old slackline — a summer staple back in 2016, but since then ignored — and now practice on warm, windless days. I’ve returned to house projects — working on the basement, yard work, clearing out areas that weeds and thorny vines had invaded. I’ve returned to the woods behind my house. I cleaned up my old beach comber bike — a bike that also was a staple back in the summer of 2016, before being ignored — and began circling my neighborhood.
I’ve even been reintroduced to my PlayStation 2 and my Dance Dance Revolution games — and learned I had a completely unopened, unused game for it.
And I’ve been reintroduced to the world of writing. The world of fiction, and crafting stories and polishing the words and putting them out there on my own because god damn the gatekeepers who have been mostly ignoring me for the last decade, even though I keep vying for their attention. Writing outside of personal journals and public blogs — writing I had kept telling myself I’d return to, in between classes, hunkered down at a Barnes & Noble, a local café, like the bohemian stereotype I can be sometimes.
I’m trying my hand at gardening again, at growing vegetables and fruit. I’ve even put in an order for egg-laying hens — a staple of this house that has been missing for the last two years. I’m returning to the positive parts of a past life.
I’ve also been reintroduced to the darker corners. Reintroduced to old demons, to old emotional responses, old coping strategies that I’ve spent the last 5 years distancing myself from. Grittier aspects of my CPSTD knocked on my door the second it learned I’d be staying there for a while. Old demons, old insecurities, made use of this upheaval, became the looters who smash windows and grab flat screen TVs after a hurricane.
I’ve been reintroduced to problems I thought I had moved past, but learned quickly that moving past and processing fully are two separate entities. Reintroduced to every time I didn’t speak up for myself, every imbalanced or toxic situation, every injustice that was never set right so much as shrugged at and said, “Well, that’s how the world is sometimes.”
But I’ll take it. Show me the areas I’ve been avoiding like an unpleasant person at a party. Force me to be reintroduced and make me stare them down. Denial does nothing more than make them permanent houseguests, the kind that secretly raid your fridge and take money from your piggy bank. In this forced stillness and silence, I can sit down across from them, one forearm on the table as I lean forward, and go, “You’re not as powerful as you think you are.”
In some ways, I’ve been reintroduced to my own interweaving stories, as the situation in this world continues. The returning characters and themes, plot devices and poetry. The lovely and the draining. The beautiful and the repugnant. And in this time of upheaval, I can sort through and edit, reread and decide what will be embellished and what will be deleted. Appreciate each character for what they’ve added to the story, decide to the best of my ability what the next chapters will look like, but knowing I’m simply a vessel for the greater story to unfold through.