reflections on a year i barely felt

Winter

It began with triumph: covid vaccines on the way, a new party in the White House, an impending major climate change summit where perhaps real progress could be made.

It began with tragedy: an insurrection in the first week of January, an impeachment trial that went nowehere, horrible news out of a frigid Texas winter.

I spent January 2021 madly working on revisions for Platformed, which wouldn’t come out until May. I felt swamped by the edit letter and overwhelmed by the changes that were needed, including a completely new ending. One week into the year, I started a new job, which was both exciting and terrifying.

Spring

My own trajectory mirrored the heady pace of 2021’s early days: after Biden was sworn in, we raced toward 100 million doses of covid vaccine delivered in the first 100 days of his administration, which sounded insane until we surpassed 200 million by that deadline. More jobs were created in that time than the start of any other American presidency. The US hosted a climate summit. It felt like things had turned around so sharply from 2020 that we dared believe we would be okay, but that only meant the stakes rose higher.

My new job related to modeling forest biomass-quantifying the carbon content of forests based on satellite images, basically-and it quickly became the most interesting project I have ever worked on. There was so much to learn at this daring intersection of forest science and machine learning and I panicked at whether I was up to the task, but my love of the company and mission grew. It’s a cliche in Silicon Valley to say that your startup is trying to save the world-a cliche that I lean into in Platformed-but it is true to me now.

Meanwhile, I had become convinced that Platformed’s new ending was perfect. It felt like it had always been foreshadowed, from the very first draft, and I loved it immediately. Soon enough we were unveiling the cover and sending it out for early reviewers. I convinced a beloved author to let me use her words as the epigraph. My book was about to come out!

Before Platformed even released, I started submitting Pretty Deadly to small publishers. I knew I wanted to release it next. I contemplated getting an agent and shooting for a major publisher, but felt that it was too dark, too niche, for that kind of mass-market appeal.

Summer

By the time summer arrived, life was flying by at an insane pace.

The company I work at had begun to expand, and my team grew and split like dividing cells. I am so proud of the things I’ve learned and contributed this year to our rapidly growing company and mission to restore nature (lofty, I know), and I can’t wait to see where 2022 takes us. My panic early in the year was needless; I have done well, and so has the company.

The US had weathered yet another off-the-charts wildfire season, and I spent yet another summer choking on smoke in my California apartment. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan cast a pall over an increasingly stymied presidency. Covid variants sent us all scrambling to put our masks back on.

But I had another book coming out less than six months after the first! I had accepted a publishing offer from Darkstroke Books, and Pretty Deadly was already with advanced readers by the time I got covid in September.

My first planned vacation since 2019 was canceled when delta hit my partner and me. We were double-vaccinated and mostly felt fine the whole time we were sick, but still, we holed up in our apartment for ten days instead of flying to Iceland as intended. The pandemic was making it very clear that it was not done with us yet.

Fall

Publishing is exciting, but it’s also frustrating. I befriended so many other authors-mostly through Twitter-over the course of this year, which means I’ve now heard more stories of success and failure in the publishing industry than in my many years lurking in online communities combined. I befriended people who wrote their first book in early lockdown, stumbled into representation before they fully understood what it all meant, and were closing out 2021 with a bookdeal from a Big Five publisher. I talked to people whose pandemic book launches stumbled and crashed, hindered by distribution plans that didn’t work at all anymore. I faced this a bit myself-bookstores mostly have ceased in-person events, so both of my book launches were online. The second was via Instagram live, alone in my living room, because the publisher is based in Europe and doesn’t run these things for authors due to timezones. It felt anticlimactic.

Sometimes, it feels like 2021 didn’t even happen at all. I’ve published two books, held them in my hands and seen them on shelves in my neighborhood bookstores, but it doesn’t feel real. I’ve ordered books written by my friends off of Amazon, but the name on the cover seems disconnected from the name of the person I message with all day.

I’ve thrived in our virtual world, in an objective sense. I’m in the best shape of my life, more well-rested than ever before, and reading and writing more while also contributing more in my professional career. But there’s something hollow in it still, this sense of unreality that permeates my secondary publishing career but so much else as well.

Are my writer friends real friends if I only see them online? If not, then I don’t really have any friends at all-my original in-real-life friends have been reduced to, and remain, almost exclusively squares on a screen.

Are accomplishments solid when they are not tangible? So many book sales these days are ebooks, especially in the genres I write and read. I’ve read 163 books this year, but almost all of them were identically typeset, located only on my kindle. I’ve written three manuscripts, edited three more to prepare for querying, and published two whole books. But all of that happened from the same desk where I write code all day.

I suspect we all feel this way sometimes. It’s hard for me to recognize all that I have achieved with how limited my world has become. I don’t want my productivity to fall, but I crave the change and tangible growth that my life once provided.

I don’t know the solution to this, but I suspect 2022 has some lessons to teach. We’ll see if the vaccines hold ground and we step out into a new normal that’s finally defined by something other than a virus. I’ll see if any of my new writing projects gain traction with agents or find homes with publishers. Climate change will tick on, unresolved, unaddressed.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

Originally published at https://www.kelseyjosund.com on December 31, 2021.

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I am a software engineer and author living and working in Silicon Valley, California.

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Kelsey Josund

Kelsey Josund

I am a software engineer and author living and working in Silicon Valley, California.

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