Over the summer I started a new project, a biography in verse for teen readers that explores larger issues of how a person can maintain dignity and imagination under a totalitarian regime that seeks to monopolize truth for thought control. When my partner for 45 years — my husband for 38 — passed away suddenly, I was in the middle of a poem titled “Lucky.” I am still stuck in the middle of this poem.
The poem describes a boy born into wealth and privilege, but in addition to his family having money to buy him things and assure his future, their source of wealth was in itself “cool.” They owned a theater, an entertainment complex, and a movie studio. He could look forward to inviting friends to see the latest films for free, enjoy the rides and games, and perhaps play bit roles in films. I imagine he would have had a lot of friends. As a child beginning school, he could look forward to a long, happy, and glamorous life, surrounded by a large circle of family and friends.
I’d always considered myself lucky too. My family isn’t huge, but it’s close — a perfect balance in terms of size because often large families split into warring factions. We were blessed with identical twin boys a year and a half ago, and Jonah and Reed continue to delight. I had a job I loved as a magazine editor, and when the magazine folded in the 2008 recession, Richard’s tenured position meant I could afford to pursue my dream of writing full-time even though I never made much money from it.
Sometimes, though, luck runs out. A war and its aftermath snatched away the boy’s fortune, drove much of his family to foreign lands, and consigned him to a bleak and narrow future. He didn’t accept this future, though, and showed us that real friends don’t care if you have no money or goodies to offer. You didn’t need movies, games, and rides to create a fun experience. Stories and songs will do, especially ones that surreptitiously make fun of those who hold the power.
The year 2020 wasn’t great for me, or for most people, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of that, I broke my ankle in January, required surgery, and was laid up for many weeks. Writing Moonwalking was my solace, as I was able to travel in my mind to the early 1980s, with its explosion of music and art, even if I couldn’t travel to Portugal in real life.
That year became a prelude to the disaster of 2021. I lost not only Richard, but also his mother, who passed away from Covid earlier this month. She was almost 97 and in declining health, but losing someone with as much life experience as she had is truly like losing a library. My uncle in Houston, a kind and gentle man whose home was a second home for my brother and me growing up, also died of Covid this year. So many of our families have lost the people we loved, elders, breadwinners, and children. I believe that my mother-in-law lost her will to live after her oldest son died.
This year has taught me that the lives we enjoy rest on a shaky foundation of luck. If you are not born in a place where half of the children die before the age of five, you are lucky. If wars, natural disasters, or decrees by those in power don’t force you from your home or take away your livelihood, you are lucky. If you steer clear of accidents, health emergencies (especially in a place without a tax-supported national health care system), job loss, or senseless violence, you are lucky.
But looking at how other people have faced sudden reversals of fortune and found joy in unexpected places can show a path forward. I spent my first holiday season without Richard (and locked down due to the highly-contagious Covid omicron variant) hanging out with my children and grandchildren and building more Lego. While I haven’t finished “Lucky,” I’ve made some notes and plan to finish the rest of this book as well as my YA verse novel in 2022. I have at least four books coming out in 2022, and I hope that they find many readers who appreciate them and discover hope, strength, wisdom, and wonder in their pages.
I hope you have a happy and healthy 2022! See you on the other side!