Is it Monday? Of what month? Did I wear this shirt yesterday? Is my hair clean? Why am I sleeping until 10 am? It must be because I’m binge-watching all six seasons of Downton Abbey like a crack addict.
Welcome to Authors in Pandemics, where book nerds like me are being stretched harder than any at-home yoga app can do.
Here we are at the start of another week of my new, virtual author life, where everything, right down to my office, has become part of a video. That means it’s you, me and my phone camera, my friends. Let’s just hope I remember to point it in the right direction.
Here’s the schedule this week:
- Tuesday, April 28: a takeover of the Texas Book Festival Instagram feed during which I plan to make a café con leche in my kitchen and ponder ‘what would the Suárez family do in a pandemic’?
- Thursday, April 30: video panel for the Virginia State Reading Association’s virtual seminar series, featuring me and fellow Virginia authors A.B. Westrick and Steven K. Smith, along with teacher extraordinaire, Pernille Ripp following us.
- Friday, May 1: keynote as part of the much-anticipated Everywhere Book Festival, launched largely to help authors with books pubbing during the pandemic shut-downs.
In the past few weeks, children’s and YA authors have been scrambling to stay calm while we help teachers, librarians, and kids survive the pandemic as best we can. Some folks are practicing self care quietly. Others have been game to do free readings, interviews, inspirational spots and everything else to keep learning and reading happening.
So far, my pivot to video has been up and down. I had a great time at the National Book Club’s event with librarians and kids all over the country. They said that seeing my face on their computers and TV screens in their own living room made our visit feel strangely more intimate. I also enjoyed a bilingual book talk with fellow Candlewick authors Tania de Regil and Juana Medina, sponsored by the Junior Library Guild.
But not everything has gone smoothly for me or anyone else. There have been reports of hard moments out there. There were some horrible, racist behaviors during a Zoom author visit detailed here, for instance. It’s made all of us feel wary of how little we really know about all these platforms and how to problem-solve on the fly.
My own frustrations have been mostly with my learning curve. Here’s a snapshot of what I mean. Recording a video and realizing that the mic picked up my husband peeing in the bathroom next door. Having to plunk down fifty dollars for a Lume Cube* – popular, I’m told, with teen bloggers hawking makeup skills on YouTube – to brighten my dim office when filming. And don’t get me started on how many hours I’ve spent figuring out all the production tricks for i-movie, like cut-aways and that infernal Ken Burns pan feature. A five-minute video can take me hours.
The hardest thing, though, has been the blurring of lines between personal lives and public. Right now, my house has morphed into an office building of sorts. Book publishing is in my office on the right. My son is doing finance work across the hall in the living room. My husband, Javier, is working his pharmacy and medical services job from down in the basement.
I’ve struggled with some of this, even though I’ve been working from home for years. Video has made my sense of privacy go pfft faster than I can say Kardashian. It’s not just showing the world the black bananas still sitting in my fruit bowl or my family members opening the fridge behind me, or even the fact that my hair is rapidly turning into a mullet. It’s that there just isn’t time to curate some perfected version of my life. Right now, it’s all in live time.
Take the bilingual reading I did of Mango, Abuela, y yo a few weeks ago on Instagram. Great fun, but I was recording it just as the deaths at my aunt’s nursing home were climbing. I had my cellphone on vibrate and tucked under my thigh, so I wouldn’t miss a call back from a state leader who was trying to help me get information. Even as I sang “Los Pollitos,” I was crazy with worry.
Another example: on the afternoon that I recorded my keynote for the Everywhere Book Festival – which I did from my bedroom – I lamented that the timing of Target picking up the paperback edition of Merci Suárez Changes Gears coincided with the pandemic. Just as I was wrapping up, the phone rang, with the camera still rolling. It was the family of my aunt’s roommate, calling to tell me their loved-one had just tested positive for the virus. Suddenly all my complaints of a few minutes earlier seemed utterly frivolous compared to these sweet roommates and how we were unable to help them.
There have been sweet pluses of the stay-at-home orders, for sure. Simple pleasures, really. Little kids in my neighborhood writing encouraging chalk messages on the sidewalks. Entire families taking a stroll together in the middle of the afternoon, with nowhere to go in particular. In our house, we’ve all been walking Hugo so much that he gives us that ‘Oh dear God, not again’ look every time one of us reaches for his leash. My yard looks healthy and neat, too, because when the stress of screen time gets to me, I walk outside to fill the birdhouse or to dig in the dirt or pick snails off the hostas. At noon, Javier comes to the deck for a cup of coffee together. When normal does return, will all those things go away or will we figure out how to hang on to them?
Here’s what I do know. My work life will be different for a long time. How I connect with readers will change. My compensation for virtual visits will change. But change isn’t the same thing as lost. I have not lost all of my income. I have not lost my home or my ability to feed my family. None of us has fallen ill or died – not my daughter who is a nurse working with Covid patients, not even Tía Isa, living inside the worst nursing home outbreak in the US. In all of this, I am one of the lucky ones.
So, I’m going to embrace the new normal and be utterly grateful for it, even when the camera is turned wrong and the sound won’t work and the computer has crashed before the Zoom visit was done. I’ll figure out how to get comfortable enough in these new spaces because there is no choice moving forward.
There won’t be a time soon when I will see you and be able to hug you and whisper, hola, que tal, the way I once did. There will be other ways to say hello, and we’ll find a way to make those new ways meaningful together.
Meanwhile, I hope you’re finding some peace with your own new normal. Know that in all of this, I’m reading the books that once towered on my endless to-be-read pile and that I’m trying my best to write new work for you, too.
Wishing you good health and moments of peace until we see one another in person again.
Find Meg’s virtual events here.
*Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you use them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I post them for your convenience and hope you will make your purchases where you are most comfortable.