I swear a review of the January/February F&SF is coming soon. My issue came very late in February (thanks for screwing up the Post Office forever, Donnie and the Dipshits), and I finally finished it. It’s on my desk now and I hope to have that done this weekend.

But I’ve been busy, too. Besides my day job, I’ve had meetings with a marketing/editor and a cover artist for my novel, Shadow Of A Doubt, which I plan to self-publish late this year (sometime in November). I’ve also been in discussions with one of the genre ‘zines to begin doing some freelancing for them, author interviews and (fingers crossed) a monthly “recent stories I liked” article. Just before this opportunity presented itself, I signed up for two weekends of a Cat Rambo class on freelance writing, so that turned out to be ideal timing. I’ve had my first emails with the editors of Apex to plan my joining them for their November issue as honorary guest editor. I’m now in my fourth (fifth?) month of volunteer work with SFWA, helping put out the New Release Newsletter.

And last Sunday I went to lunch.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it was my son, Gareth’s, 21st birthday. Sort of a big deal. Even though the post office let me down and didn’t deliver all his gifts to me in time, we decided to get together and eat out. It was the first time I’d sat at a restaurant in over a year. We wore masks of course, except while eating, and though it was a bit windy and brisk, we sat outside on the patio well socially distanced from other tables. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing it otherwise. It felt strange, but nice.

I’ve been stretching lately. Putting myself out there. Part of this is the natural transition from winter – turtling under the blankets in a warm house and refusing to acknowledge my participation in the outside world, let alone that the very chilly outside even exists – to spring. Part of it is winding down a year of pandemic, and the hope that the vaccines have provided (even as we watch careful what’s happening with the new variants that are spreading). And still another part is reconnecting to the world after the trauma of the election and the weeks of anxiety the big lying baby ex-president produced, forcing me to go further inward to get away from the endless screech of his attempts to steal an election he lost in a landslide, and the sycophants and ass kissers who enabled him and his failed fascist attempt at drumming up a coup.

But mostly it’s me remembering I’m part of the world.

I want a career in writing. It’s been my goal since 2012, and was an unpursued fantasy long before that. Over the past nine years I’ve penned a couple of novels, many short stories, and a lot of personal blog posts. Mainly I focused on my own fiction. But more recently, I’ve begun to think about freelance writing as a way of being part of this community I love and cherish, both non-fiction and fiction. A way of being connected to it even if sales of my own stories have been slower to blossom than I wished.

The past year has been hard for the world, but it’s been great for me. There’s no better reality for a social butterfly than the one where he can sit at home all day and not have to interact with anyone except through Zoom meetings. There were no after work drink invitations to politely find a way to blow off. No expectations of holiday parties (although my department has, the last two years, decided to hold its holiday party in January, AFTER the holidays are over, and no, I can’t even). No stressing about stopping to talk to someone in the hallway when I really just want to get to the restroom and back to my desk and quietly work. Just me, the wife, the pets, and a whole lot of quiet (other than the endless housing construction across the street).

To have such a career, though, I need to participate in the world around me. The world of writers and publishing at the very least. For a man with deep, lingering social anxiety, that’s been a challenge. I realized in January I’d gone too far the other way, feeding my need for isolation at the exclusion of any social contact. My interactions outside my bubble were mostly on twitter and reddit. That’s good for snarky jokes, and terrible for building friendships and relationships.

So I’ve been stretching. I had lunch with my son and my wife, and it was wonderful. I’m signing up for activities. I’m putting myself out there, and look… I now have a potential ongoing writing gig for a genre mag. Amazing how once you start putting yourself out to people, they reach back and accept you.

It doesn’t change my anxiety. It doesn’t remove the constant bubble of fear roiling my stomach with every conversation I have. That little voice telling me “you’re dumb, you have nothing to contribute, they don’t care about what you’re saying.” That will always be part and parcel of who I am. No amount of therapy has ever quelled it, beyond my acknowledging it, and recognizing that almost all people have the same fears and doubts and worries. Knowing that one fact makes it easier for me to handle. It gives me power to overcome it and participate in the world again.

I’m de-turtling now as we hurtle towards spring. Here’s hoping 2021 is the year the world can – safely, cautiously, and with vaccinations – de-turtle and we can all participate in the life we want. The life we deserve and desire. But we’re going to have to fight through a lot of bullshit to get there, both internal and external. Even now, external forces are creating numerous culture wars to keep us divided. Like the great and powerful Oz, they are waving their hands and telling you not to look behind the curtain of the reality they’ve careful constructed. Because if you do, you might see a better world, one where we  work together as a nation to solve problems, instead of casting everyone in shark-infested waters and blaming them if they get eaten.

In the meantime, those reviews wait for me. Time to get writing again.

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