There's a saying that It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, meaning that even the worst events tend to have an upside for some lucky weirdo. In 2020, I was one of the lucky weirdos.
For me, 2020 has been a year of creativity, rest, and healing.
Not that it hasn't been a difficult year in a lot of ways, but it's made me aware of how my life-long deficits have unexpected upsides in these unprecedented times.
I'm on the autism spectrum, and I grew up with emotionally absent parents who were intolerant to the point of denial regarding the obvious ways their youngest child deviated from the neuro-typical norm.
I started this year working with Peter Walker's Complex PTSD: from surviving to thriving, which I strongly recommend for anyone who suspects that emotional abandonment in their early life has been an important factor in their subsequent development. It was difficult and depressing to recognize so much of myself in some of the least savoury descriptions of cPTSD sufferers, but one of my few virtues is a willingness to look facts in the eye without blinking, and I made some good progress against high headwinds.
Then the pandemic hit.
There were three positive things that happened over the next few months. The first was that lockdown was a profoundly restful, peaceful, and healing time for me. For the first time in my life I felt like being on the autism spectrum was my secret superpower, not a defect I should be ashamed of. This year a lot of people discovered they aren't as introverted as they thought. I was not one of them.
The second positive thing was that I felt useful, like I had something to offer the world in general rather than a highly specialized technical part of it. Like I wasn't a burden, or just someone to be put up with.
This came in two guises: I started writing more about the pandemic and epidemiology, and people seemed grateful for what clarity I could give them.
The other was that I wrote a short play for Zoom and spearheaded the Gabriola Player's first online one-act play festival, which was joyous. How often do you get to participate in the creation of a new kind of theatre?
The third positive thing was that my own creative work continued on apace regardless of everything that was going on around me. I struggled a lot with three or four projects, because that's where I am in my career as as writer, but I self-published the second volume of the Inner Islands Trilogy, my small press published a friend's poetry book, and I finished the third volume of the Inner Islands Trilogy as well as completing extremely rough drafts of two novels, a non-fiction book on the nature of God, and another Zoom-based play as part of the Gabriola Players' online Christmas show. I also directed that play, which was the first time I've directed a play in eons, and it was a really rewarding experience.
We often only realize how hard we're working at something when we stop. Taking a break from virtually all outside social interaction during the first few months of the pandemic brought home to me just how much work it is for me to interface with neuro-typical humans, which I had never really appreciated before because I was always doing it, or thinking about it, every day. It was taking up a lot of space in my brain: how to be "in character" for a given interaction.
During the Phase 1 lock-down in BC, I didn't interact with anyone but the cats and Hilary, who is less introverted than me but still managed very well, and whose gentle presence was everything I could ask for. With her I am just me.
We both read a lot, hiked a lot, and created a lot. We got a couple of shorter sailing trips in. Her art took some interesting turns into abstraction, and I started to feel like I might one day be able to write a decent line of prose.
What I learned most of all: unprocessed childhood trauma--even if the trauma is acknowledged in some cerebral way, via counselling or otherwise--can be a far more powerful negative force in our lives than we often understand. There's a fair analogy between unprocessed trauma and a badly knit bone. Sometimes you've gotta break it to let it heal, and that process hurts. A lot. And even after it's done you may still walk with a bit of a limp, but that can still be better than the alternative.
When I sit down to do something today I'm not fighting myself all the time, not having to struggle to shut out the voices of the past saying I'll screw it up, that it isn't worth-while, or that if I do succeed in what I'm trying to do everyone will mock it (and me.)
There have been other changes too, all to the good. Some of them are just crazy little things, like understanding where my strong texture-based food aversions come from. Others are more significant. Some are still works in progress, and probably always will be.
I have felt incredibly fortunate this year. My kids are doing well. My extended family is doing well. In the midst of chaos and loss we are in calm.
I'm still hesitant to make plans. We have two trips tentatively planned for the coming year, at least one of which will have to wait for the vaccine. My work situation is likely to remain stable. But 2021 is looking like a year where I focus on getting my writing out into the world via more standard channels: published by a larger press, not my own.
The final volume of the Inner Islands Trilogy is coming together now, and will be published in the early spring, I think.
One of the novels I worked on this year will be my primary target for 2021: getting a submittable draft together and submitting it everywhere. Then there's that book on the nature of God that needs a revisit and a re-write, and another play in the works, this one for the real stage, damnit.
Who knows what else the future will bring? I'm dropping my registration as a professional engineer at the end of the year, because I'm primarily focused on being a writer, and hopefully there will be no need for it in future. It feels a little weird, but that's how life works: things change. It feels weird. Then after a while it feels normal. Then things change again...
Until they don't. I'm hoping the cessation of change will be a long way in the future. I've got a lot to do, and am really starting to enjoy the journey.