What It’s Like Achieving Your Dreams in the Middle of a Pandemic

I’m writing this blog post in the wee hours of the AM because, for the 27th night in a row, I cannot sleep. There are so many terrifying things on my mind. I can’t remember what it’s like to have a regular heart rate, or to lay down and sleep the second my head hits the pillow. I used to be able to fall asleep pretty much on command, but since this whole coronavirus crisis started I’ve developed the worst insomnia.

So I’m writing out my feelings here in the hopes that it will alleviate some of the stress. Apologies ahead of time for all this word vomit. You’re under no obligation to read it of course, but I wanted to document this experience in my own way and for my own sake. Usually I would write it all down in my private, creative journal, but I have a lot to put down in words and my carpal tunnel is acting up anyway; typing it is just faster, less painful, and more easily edited. And by sharing it here, I guess I hope that it helps any writers going through the same shit.

Right. So…

Tonight I should be sound asleep with a big grin on my face. If sleep were going to elude me, it should be because I’m excited and giddy.

In just fourteen days my first-ever published work will be officially released. My short story, “Like It’s a Mad Thing,” was accepted into the debut issue of a new dark/horror literary magazine called 34 Orchard. And today (well technically yesterday I guess, since it’s well after midnight now) the magazine’s lovely editor, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, sent all of us contributors the PDF of the completed issue as a little treat for all our hard work. Before anyone else, we got to preview the final product.

And that’s great! I am happy, truly.

I have dreamed of this day for over two decades. I decided when I was 6 years old that I wanted to be a writer; I’m 27 now. I’ve waited a damn long time to see my work in print, and though it’s “only” a short story and not a full-length novel, it’s still a huge frickin’ milestone in my writing career, worthy of celebration. Right?

Yet it feels… not how I imagined.

Sure, I did everything a writer is supposed to do the first time they hold their published short story in their hands (digital hands, in this case): the second I opened the PDF I scrolled to the table of contents to see where my story was placed; I read the intro from the editor and reminded myself that my writing is included in the work she praises; I scanned the contributor bios at the back and saw my own face smiling up at me from the list; I thought, “This is really, finally happening, and it’s so cool to be a part of this.”

But every single happy thought has been overshadowed by much louder, scarier thoughts.

What does any of this matter? Nothing will ever be normal again. What if I get laid off of my dayjob? What if my boyfriend gets laid off and we can’t pay our bills anymore? What if someone I love gets sick and dies? What if I get sick and die? I am dreading this grocery store trip. When will I be able to meet my new nephew? When will I see my family and friends again? What will happen to the election? Will we have an election ever again, or was 2016 the downfall of this country? What if we have to endure more time under this dictatorship? We can’t afford that. I’ll never be able to afford a child or a house of my own or even just a goddamned therapist, and Lord knows I’ll need one of those after all this. Communities will never recover, especially those of marginalized groups. The wealth gap will only widen even more and the middle class will vanish. When will this end? What will happen when it’s all over?

All I ask for is to be able to sit down and read 34 Orchard cover to cover, to admire my fellow writers’ works. I just want to have this one nice thing amidst all this chaos and terror.

But I can’t focus.

I’ve finished reading only 2 books in the 4 weeks since I’ve been assigned work from home, when I usually read 2-3 full books per week. Books aren’t taking my mind off of all this trauma. Video games aren’t helping either–not even Animal Crossing, the “most relaxing game ever.” Nor are venting sessions with friends and family and coworkers over the phone or over video chat. Nor is all this quality time with my boyfriend and our precious cat, Butterscotch. Cross-stitch isn’t helping, coloring isn’t helping, yoga and walking and biking aren’t helping, getting fresh air isn’t helping, staying off of social media isn’t helping, napping isn’t helping because of course every time I fall asleep I have nightmares…

And most tragically of all, the one thing that has always helped me weather the worst storms–writing–isn’t helping me cope either. Not even this huge, happy moment in my life, when I finally get to see my dream come true, is enough to distract me from everything going on.

I don’t know if this damned country has a future; if it does, it’s looking increasingly like a future full of fascism. And that means I don’t know if my writing career has a future either. Because the writing I produce is fiercely political, the type that would be censored if a dictator were in charge. And even if the current so-called “president” suddenly pulls a complete 180 and decides not to destroy our democracy for his own profit, he has already royally fucked up our economy with his lax response to COVID-19… so the chances of me becoming a successful, full-time writer like I’ve always dreamed are slim to none. (I’m also now constantly worried about the stability of my dayjob as a high school librarian, but that’s a whole other issue keeping me awake at night.)

It’s fucking weird. It’s weird knowing that, even if my family and friends make it through this virus unharmed, even if things do finally get better for the country and we manage to overthrow the current Nazis in office, this memory of mine will always be a little traumatic to recall. The memory of my very first publication, which should be a purely happy memory, will always be muddied with the things I want to forget the most: the sleepless nights spent crying in the dark, my heart stopping literally every time my phone alerts me to a text or phone call, trying to focus on breathing instead of worrying about my loved ones. I hate that this milestone will always be associated with this point in world history whether I like it or not.

Somehow, this achievement has become something that I’m mourning. Even though it’s still happening, even though it hasn’t been postponed like everything else and people will still have the chance to read my work, this isn’t how I wanted it to be. I realize that I’m extremely lucky because 34 Orchard is digital, it’s free to the public, and unlike the debuts of many writers whose work was going to be physically published, my debut won’t be impacted–at least in that way. But I still feel like I’m losing something, like my happiness is being stolen from me. And so I mourn that loss.

Anyway. Now that I’ve thoroughly bummed you all out, here’s the link to the 34 Orchard website. Please check back on April 25th when the first issue debuts, and even though it’s free, I urge you to donate to them even if it’s just a few dollars! I hope you’ll enjoy “Like It’s a Mad Thing,” and all the work alongside it. (I definitely recommend you listen to “Madame X” by Allie X while you read my story, to set the mood.) All the work in this magazine is dark and melancholy, yes, but I find it oddly cathartic to read scary stuff in times like these. And if you think you’re too afraid to read horror, well… just tell yourself what I tell myself every time I watch a spooky movie: Right now the real world is a hell of a lot scarier than any ghost story.

…….Man, I don’t want to end this blog post on such a morbid note. Hey, ummm, happy reading, everyone? I hope y’all are staying safe and healthy. Keep fighting the good fight! Love you all and thanks for your support, I hope reading “Like It’s a Mad Thing” offers you some entertainment in these tough times!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Published by

Lee Ann Kostempski

She/her. Bachelor of English and Creative Writing, Master of Information and Library Science. Currently a high school librarian, forever a writer. Fan of all things magical, horrific, and feline. Debut short story, "Like It's a Mad Thing," published in 34 Orchard on April 25, 2020.

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