This Didn’t Have To Happen

Someone I know just died from COVID. We weren’t close friends—she was someone I knew from when I was wrangling editors at Author Solutions twelve-to-fifteen years ago. But she was one of my top editors. She was efficient, accurate, as well as friendly, funny, kind, and a little flirty. We’ve been Facebook friends since I left, and when I tried, unsuccessfully, to reignite my freelance editing career a year and a half ago, she was there to walk me through it to the best of her ability, even though we really hadn’t talked in an incredibly long time.

I don’t know the details, like, at all, but I know she came to the United States to visit someone, a friend or family, and she got sick and died. She was at risk, so it didn’t take long.

I’ve been taking this outbreak pretty seriously for the past six months (the first month, no so much), and I’ve been horrified watching the infection rate and the death toll rise while our populace walks around like nothing is happening. I haven’t been personally affected by it while some of my Facebook friends have been infected and recovered—as much as it’s possible to recover from this disease. But I’ve not seen anyone I know die, especially not someone I really liked.

I’m not trying to make this about me. It’s about her family—both genetic and adopted, who will most certainly miss her because she was one of the most sparkling editors I’d ever met (and editors aren’t people you’d really describe as “sparkling”).

But I feel this bubbling inside, and I apologize because I try my hardest to avoid using language like this in my feed, but fuck you, coronavirus for everything you’ve done to us this year. Fuck you Donald Trump, along with everyone else who doesn’t take this seriously/thinks it’s a conspiracy. If you’re one of those people, please unfriend me. Don’t say goodbye, don’t drop in and tell me why I’m wrong about COVID-19, just go. My country is a plague state that killed this incredible woman, and it’s all your fault.

And good bye, Karen. I know we weren’t close, and we weren’t really a part of each other’s lives, but now that you’re gone, I really miss you.

That Darn Cat

Newcastle just got back from the cardiologist, where I just spent a lot of money to get him checked out. They diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. Six years ago. When the doctor called me after the appointment today, it was clear that he was shocked that Newcastle was still alive (the usual survival after a diagnosis like this is a year, two tops), much less in great shape. At sixteen, there is no sign of arthritis, and he sleeps a lot, but he loves to play, with Henry and with the ribbon-on-a-string, he eats really well, he has no problem in the bathroom, and his coat looks like it’s been blown out recently by an expensive stylist named “Grigio.”

There’s something special about this cat, I tell you.

Antisocial Studies

If I needed any further proof that I have completely lost my ability to be a normal, social human being functioning in society, I have it.

Today at the pet store, the clerk was delighted by my Doctor Who mask, and he started a conversation with me about it. And I just stood there, staring blankly, like I was in a spelling bee, and they asked me to do Zstylzhemghi. I know I should have answered in depth and asked him some questions, but I had no idea what to say or how to say it. The moment passed, and I knew I had dropped the ball, and that’s been haunting me all day.

I used to be social. While not an extrovert by any means, I used to be friendly and chatty and attentive, and now I’m decidedly not. One of these days, I’m going to need to make more friends, and I can’t if I’m always standing there, like a deer in headlights.

Oh, No, Mr. Build!

When LEGO started to transition from freestyle building to model building, I was resentful. I spent a large fraction of my childhood with my LEGOs, creating worlds from a handful of styles of bricks. My imagination could fill in the rest. I was sad that the next generation of youth was going to have these rigid rules forced on them about what they should be playing with. What was the purpose of a set of blocks if they could only go together a certain way?

My attitude on that changed many, many years later, as a plague wept the nation, and there wasn’t much to do. I decided that I wanted a TARDIS for my LEGO-compatible (but not actually LEGO, let’s be clear on this) action figures to play with, and I remembered that LEGO had made a playset. It’s out of circulation, so I had to pay an obscene amount of money for it, but it arrived in the mail, and I spent an afternoon following the directions, watching as the familiar shapes and colors met with new shapes and colors and formed a TARDIS, a console room, and a pair of Daleks. I had to put it in a display case because Henry the Cat insists on knocking it to the floor whenever he feels not loved enough, so I can’t play with it anymore, but I still have that powerful feeling of accomplishment from converting a pile of modular plastic into something that looks mostly like something I watched on TV for years.

Months later, I’ve been living a routine of writing my book, going to work, watching TV, going on walks, and going to bed, with eating in there someplace. I decided to break out of the cycle and drop another ridiculous sum of money on another LEGO kit, this time just for the joy of building it.

People who suffer from attention-deficit disorder sometimes go through something called “hyperfocus.” I’m pretty sure people who don’t have ADD have experienced it too. It’s when you set yourself on a task, and nothing else matters. Your house could catch fire, but you don’t even care because YOU HAVE TO DO THIS THING. I can get this way with writing, though not lately. Today, though, as I poured the thousand-plus little pieces onto my desk and opened the instruction manual, I was there. I’ve been at it for two-and-a-half hours, and I’m only a third of the way through, and I pried myself away to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, and pet Henry, who can’t wait for me to finish, so he can knock it off of a shelf.

Me, I don’t want it to ever end.

Cat Nap Fever

Lately, I’ve been feeling … I don’t know if guilty is the right word … about Newcastle, because all he does is sleep. He will aggressively snuggle with me about once or twice a day, he likes to watch the birds sometimes and tries to attack them through the window. He and Henry will wrestle every other day, and occasionally, he will run the length of the apartment and back again. Of course he eats and goes to the bathroom. But that’s all he does.

I shouldn’t be so concerned. He’s sixteen years old. I wouldn’t expect a senior citizen to go running around like his cousin, who is a third his age. I just don’t want him to be napping all the time because he’s depressed. I don’t want him to be wishing he’d stayed in Reston with the other two cats, group snuggling. Is he bummed out that my roommate has been gone for the past two months? Are his needs being met? Is he seeing and smelling enough to stimulate him? Is he happy? And then I remind myself, he’s not a person. He doesn’t think like we do.

This is the part of quarantine where I’m starting to crack up. The rest of the city is acting like the pandemic is over when it’s actually as bad as it’s ever been, if not worse, and instead of relaxing my protective measures, I am solidifying them. Thanks to grocery deliveries, the only reason I leave my apartment now is to go to the drug store (they won’t deliver with my insurance for some reason). With my world having gotten smaller and smaller, and is now only about 800 square feet, this means I may be worrying a little too much about things that aren’t a problem.

I tell you what, though. That cat is one hell of a cute sleeper.

Finding Your Audience

In this FB group I’m a part of, there was a discussion started for authors. One of the authors responded with his calculation of exactly which books were going to be bought (Hindu myths, if you were curious), and how he was going to basically write books for the sole purpose of selling many of them.

Later that day, I saw a YouTube ad that told me that the only way to sell a lot of copies of your book is to research which audience you want to sell it to you, and if you’re sitting around, writing your book, you’re making a huge error because writing is step 6 in getting your book out there (steps 1-5 come at a fee, of course).

I found myself deeply offended with this one-two punch. The current hurdle I’m facing is getting people to buy the books I wrote for myself, for the sake of writing them and writing them well, not to make a quick buck. Writing is not some moneymaking scheme to me, it’s who I am, to the very core of me. The first thing I do when I sit down to put together a book is write, not do market research. I crossed my fingers that this guy’s writing algorithm fails, and nobody buys his books, and I cast judgement on the shallow people who would buy something that panders to them like this.

But then I started thinking. Exactly what part of the Marvel movies that I’ve seen all of in the theater do I think was a deep, personal reflection on what the directors had to say, from their heart? When was the last passion project I watched? I am one of those shallow people I’m complaining about. People are going to watch and read what they want, even if it is cynically concocted to push their buttons. That’s going to be an obstruction for me as I continue this path I’ve decided to take, and as long as I put my soul into my laptop, it’s going to be one I am going to have to live with.

I still want that guy to fail, though, because he was being a real smug asshole about it.

The Write Decision

Okay, so this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to do it. I’m going to dip my toe into the pool of self-publishing. Based on everything I’ve read over the course of the day, I will have the most success if I start out with a series of three or four, which I have. The first step I’m going to take is to pull these books out of the mothballs and give them a serious edit. Step two will be getting covers for all four volumes. The tricky part of step two is that, I shopped around, and a cover is going to cost me between $250 and $300 each. I have enough money to afford this. But it’s a serious investment, and that is making me really cagey. Step three is getting people who will read for free, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Basically, going through traditional channels has gotten me nowhere (but I do plan to start back up on that), so I need to take matters into my own hands.  

An Excerpt

Actual dialogue from meeting my downstairs neighbor for the first time:

HER: … because I grew up in the Southwest.

ME: Where in the Southwest did you grow up?

HER: Well, New Mexico.

ME: Where in New Mexico?

HER: I tell people Albuquerque because that’s a place they’ve heard of, but it’s actually not very close to Albuquerque.

ME: Oh, where’s that? I might have heard of it.

HER: I was born in Gallup.

ME: Oh.

HER: It’s actually—

ME: I was raised in Gallup.

HER: What?!

Looking back, I didn’t ask her enough questions about it, and seeing as I’ve lived here for almost nine months and had only seen her once through the window, I probably won’t get the chance. But hey, pretty wild, right?

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.