The Other Side of the Street

I lost my laptop and a fellowship, and writing got a little easier


Leading up to my last reading of the spring (at Skylight Books in May) I’m trying to get 100 reviews of my book on Amazon. I’m allllmost there. You can help me out by writing a single sentence. Scroll down on the Amazon page and on the left you’ll see the button “Review This Product.” A one sentence review (“I liked it!/I didn’t!”) helps more people even see a book is for sale. It’s a numbers game, sadly, like much of publishing, not about the content at all, but all about the algorithm.

The Other Side of the Street

For the first time in nearly eight full years, I am coming to you from a new laptop! In the span of two weeks, I won the Philip K. Dick Award for my debut novel, I lost a big fellowship for which I was a finalist, my laptop spiraled into a boot reboot loop of death, we got a screw in our car tire, and I received my second COVID vaccine. 

Am I starting to look at the world differently now that I’m vaccinated, now that I might begin to consider going into it again? Maybe. We still have a long way to go, as a country and as a planet, and children like my own can’t be vaccinated yet. I will never feel truly safe until my son is safe.

At the same time, as a deaf person who utilizes lip reading to communicate, my world will continue to be very limited as we wear masks. Even if I can go outside (or inside places other than my home), what can I, as a person who can’t hear others, really do?

I can walk on the other side of the street.

In my new home in Colorado, we’ve had an uncertain spring. A record snowfall melted the very next day when the sun came out. It does that here, vigorously. I’ve got a walk I like, around the neighborhood with its Victorian houses and townhomes, its porches and little free libraries, its elderly men who wave, its dogs, and its turkeys (don’t ask). A few weeks ago, the melted snow had made floods of my usual route, made spreading puddles at every corner, too deep for boots. I had to walk on the other side of the street.

It was a small change, but it was a change. I noticed different things: junk metal on the porch of the man I’ve decided is an artist, candles on the patio table of the woman I’ve decided writes too. From the slightest shift, I saw differently.

I’ve been struggling with my new book, the one I drafted entirely during my son’s Zoom meetings. It turns out that writing with remote school down the hall and a child interrupting every few minutes doesn’t create the best work? I don’t think I’ve ever struggled this much, and I’ve written almost a dozen novel manuscripts at this point. I was almost ready to give it up, when two things happened.

One: I was a finalist for a new fellowship created by TV writer Cord Jefferson. It’s designed to help laid-off journalists transition to TV writing--something I’ve thought about a lot over the years, but never seriously believed could happen, not for someone like me. For the fellowship process, I pitched a few stories as TV series, including my work-in-progress.

I thought: if I’m chosen for the fellowship I’ll turn this novel into a script. If I’m not chosen, I’ll keep writing it as fiction.

I wasn’t chosen, but the interest generated by my story made me see it is worth continuing. The premise is exciting and scary, the characters new. That energy and someone else’s belief in my work can carry me far. (And coming so close made me determined to find my way into TV writing somehow in the future.)

The second thing that happened? My laptop, which I’ve had nearly as long as my son, went to black.

We did the usual things. We took it to the Apple store (they were no help), my superhero spouse managed to boot it up long enough to backup everything, and he finally convinced me that eight years is long enough. I need a computer I can count on to work to do my work.

Kitten-approved new computer, or at least: box.

The last time I had a new computer, I didn’t have any childcare. I wasn’t fully divorced, just separated for years. My child and I received no child support. My child couldn’t read. I think he was still nursing.

To write on a new computer is a revelation. (Is this a secret of mediocre white men? Do they have really nice stuff? Does that help their confidence?) Without the pressure of a machine breaking and me having to pay for it hanging over my head every minute, I feel more free. I want to work, when before I had been dreading it. I can see easier how the pieces of my narrative—half set in the present, half in 1996—fit, maybe because I can physically see the screen better. I’m not worried about personal disaster every single day. I feel hopeful, and I haven’t for a long time.

I’m not suggesting you get a new computer every time you have a new project. And I really don’t advocate missing out on something you wanted. 

But maybe … cross the street? Maybe write in a different room, or on the opposite side of the table. Maybe write this one longhand. Maybe get a new notebook, or new paints, or drink tea instead of coffee.

Maybe trick your brain into thinking it’s a new thing—it’s having a new experience; we haven’t had those for so long.

Some people say there will be no going back to normal after the pandemic, that there will be no after. As a disabled person, a single parent, having the life I’ve had … I’m not sure I’ve ever known a normal. But one thing is certain: life will change, even a slight shift. And you can shift too. Change. Change on purpose. Cross the street if it helps you keep moving.