Time Is Real

It’s the last day of a year of unrelenting nightmares. I don’t need to re-catalogue them here. We’ve all had our own versions of surviving this year and our own versions of supporting our friends and loved ones, of finding new ways to have community, to fight for what we believe in, to sustain ourselves in the many ways our bodies and minds and hearts demand. You’ve made it and, fuck it, that’s enough. That’s always enough, but that truth feels more intensely true this year.

The passing of time has been weird this year. I heard a theory that because we’re largely in the same rooms, our brains are having a hard time forming new memories which makes feeling the passage of time difficult. It’s like the inversion of a Proust novel where you’ve always been eating this madeleine. It’s madeleines all the way down, baby and the moment has no beginning and no end.

And yet, time keeps passing. Thursday, it turns out, is indeed a concept and a reality. The year has only felt interminable (and also terrifyingly short). We are at the end and it’s hard for me not to reflect on the last twelve months.

It’s been a year where I’ve been constantly behind, on emails, on edits, on reading, on submissions. I’ve had to turn down writers I know to be brilliant and wonderful people simply because I didn’t have the bandwidth. It’s been a year where I’ve lost clients. It’s been a year of crises. And yet I saw books I worked on launch to great acclaim and a warm reception from readers. I brought on a couple brilliant writers. I sold a trilogy in under two hours for the most money I’ve ever sold anything. I edited half a dozen manuscripts. Brainstormed new pitches. Got clients working on their favorite IPs. Solved problems. Talked writers through missed deadlines, existential panic, and thorny editorial knots. Launched a YouTube channel. Wrote a couple essays. Built a table.

It feels like I did nothing this year. It feels like I was always behind, always scrambling, always letting people down. But when I look back I can see there were accomplishments too. There were things I’m proud of even as I navigated some of the most painful and difficult moments of my professional life. And, in the end, I’m still here and I’m still surviving and that’s enough.

There’s no guarantee that 2021 will be better than 2020 was. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow will hold a safer world for us. But it won’t be what yesterday was and it won’t be what today is. Time is real, but it is a sequence of present moments. A string of pearls, each one discrete. Time is an illusion, a story we build out of linking these moments into a narrative. The past is a story we tell ourselves and the future is a story we want to believe in.

When you look around and see other people’s deals, book launches, bestsellers, award nominations, all of it, it’s hard not to feel that you’re not doing enough. It’s hard not to feel that stab of jealousy or fear that you’re failing or hunger for more. Time is passing and with that doors close. That book that got published isn’t your book and never will be your book. That bestseller list does not have your name on it. That trophy went to someone else’s bookshelf.

But time passes and with it comes new doors, new opportunities, new things to work for. Looking back is useful because we learn from our failures and shortcomings. But the work is ahead of us. The work of building better worlds, of telling new stories, and of surviving, maybe thriving if we’re lucky.

So, as the year turns, I am closing the door on what was and taking note of what could be. But in the end, the story is a story I tell myself. I could tell the story that this year was the worst year of my life. I could tell the story that I climbed to new heights in my career. I could tell the story of how my life outside of work (who knew that existed?!) grew and changed in ways wonderous and strange. I could tell the story of a world in collapse. I could tell the story of mutual aid and resistance. All of these stories are real and true. Time is real. Stories are real.

But what is also real, what is the realest real, is that I am here, now, alive. And in this moment, I tell myself I will be here tomorrow, alive. I tell myself there is work to be done that builds on the work that I have done. And I tell myself next year will be better than this one.

Time will tell.