The Constants of the Universe

Sometimes I think about variables and constants in existence. What changes—always—and what stays the same? Ironically, the most important constant I’ve ever come across happens to be change.

This month, things are changing for me. The last few years of existential reflection and stumbling are coming to a natural milestone—not one that I can articulate, but one that I can feel, deep inside my bones and what makes me me. With proper light and warmth and water, I’ve felt a whole life underground begin to stall and new parts of me forming, parts that seem so much more me than the parts that have formed so far. Whereas these tough roots fit for extreme conditions have been all that I was, it turns out that there have been shoots that emerged—some that have stayed, others that have died off—and the ones that survived the harsh climate of this reality are now ready to take over and begin growing whatever I am into the being I need to become.

I like using plants as metaphors for human existence. There’s something about slow they are naturally, yet how quickly they can surprise you when you stop paying attention for a few weeks. Some can go for a while without water or light, others need it constantly. Some develop rich networks of roots, others want to push out leaves as fast as they can. Look, they shout, I am a plant. This is me.

I can feel a part of me dying off like early leaves that are yellowing and starting to wilt. These were the leaves that helped me survive, the ones that I worked on first. The oldest ones. A part of me is sad to see them go, not because I cannot exist without them, but because they are a reminder that all of my leaves will eventually wilt and die because that’s what all plants do. Eventually.

It probably doesn’t make sense to worry about which leaves are yellowing and which ones are healthy anymore. The roots are established and the environment is finally one that is stable and nurturing. The adult leaves are out, healthy, green. My energy doesn’t need to be in reproducing or rooting anymore; I can focus on my leaves, making them bigger, more vibrant, adding more color and energy to this reality for as long as I’m here.

There’s a natural ebb and flow of submitting fiction. I was walking with my wife the other day and we were talking about that process. You clean up your manuscript, save it appropriately, then get it submitted out to the next market and log it in your tracking system (I just use a spreadsheet). It can be a lot of work of your creatively discursive like me; I try out new ideas, new endings, new beginnings, cut out sections and rewrite whole pages before packaging up a story and getting it sent out again. This process is time consuming and feels like walking across broken glass just to get to the end of a trail where I can touch the sign that says, “Congratulations, writer. You’ve made it. Now walk back across.”

Perhaps it’s my upbringing that has conditioned me to consider the painful aspects of a journey as the ones I ought to focus on. I don’t really know. What I do know is that I have three books published (let’s not talk about how many unpublished ones I have) and about a dozen short stories now that are making their ways through the submission grinder (the circumstance, not the service), so I get to have some say into what being a writer means for me. And for me, writing is work. Constant, unending work. It’s second-guessing yourself. It’s throwing away pages and replacing them with two sentences. It’s finding something you wrote and feeling like an imposter. Did I write this? Was this really me?

Imposter syndrome is real—and it didn’t get any better once I had some well-received stories out there. The pressure to not disappoint readers is constant. (Really, to not disappoint people), and somehow it has become a driving force in my life. I want my stories to be good, so I let them simmer on the backburner after they’re done and several weeks later pick up the lid to see what’s going on. I’ll add things, scoop things out, and put the lid back on for a while. This has, so far, produced some perfectly fine home-cooked meals. And in the end, what is the goal here? To feed imaginations. To give me something to spend my time on and be proud of myself. So as long as I’m cooking good imagination food, and people are feeling sated from the stories (including myself), I’d call that a good day.

I came here to schedule this for publication tomorrow. Usually I’ll schedule these to go out the first time I start it for the month. This month, though, has been really hard. I can’t stop thinking about my dog that we put down back in December. An old friend of mine who had been there for me (along with that same dog) right after a suicide attempt had a heart attack and died. I left a toxic work environment. I’ve come to terms with the depressive effects of the pandemic and that I have no control over how it has changed everyone’s emotional lives. I’m slowly coming to terms with what may be clinical depression and not just overworking my body and mind.

There are lights at the end of this tunnel. The new workplace I’ve found myself in is indescribably safe and welcoming. Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am so incredibly grateful and appreciative to now have. When I can turn off my thoughts for just a moment, I can see that my wife and I have never been more close. My kids are growing up and I feel like I’m finally starting to connect with them. And the icing on it all has been an acceptance letter for one of my short stories.

So maybe it’s bereavement. Maybe it’s the change of jobs from a toxic environment to the polar opposite of toxic. Maybe it’s something else. What I know is that I feel grounded in getting stories finished, not just writing for the sake of writing, and I’m looking forward to continuing down this path of taking myself seriously and, above all, taking my writing seriously.

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