2017 made me sick. Literally.


I won’t lie. 2017 was good to me, and it wasn’t good to a lot of my friends and family. Most of that has to do with the fact that I’m in Canada and they’re in the United States. I’m a permanent resident here, working on attaining citizenship. My graduate degrees come from Canadian institutions, and I’m married to a Canadian, my literary agent is Canadian, my most recent novel made it to the final round of Canada Reads, and I teach in Canadian universities. This year I felt more Canadian than ever — in part because promoting Company Town for Canada Reads took me to Alberta and Newfoundland, two provinces I’d never visited, and the Canadians I spoke with welcomed me and said that the book spoke to them. In the tiny community of Glovertown, Newfoundland, readers told me that they were excited about Company Town because lots of writers are fascinated by Newfoundland’s past, but few if any are interested in its future.

When I wasn’t in Canada, I was in Dubai, Amsterdam, and London. (And New York, once, for a talking-head gig at FilmStruck.) I am now obsessed with Dubai mint lemonade. I wear oudhs. I beeline to “protein cups” at M&S or Pret; I have a wallet with three different transit systems in it. I keep an entire shower kit at Chez Changeist. I stuff my toiletry bag with samples of sleeping packs and marula oil to hydrate jetlagged skin. I am always in drugstores but continually forget to buy the good EU melatonin, the kind that makes you feel boneless, and so I pack snacks for jetlag. (Those “protein cups”? I eat them at two am, when I wake up in my clothes staring at some obscure documentary, wondering if it’s too late to wipe off mascara. The avocado is hard, but the hardboiled eggs are soft. Go figure.)

It was a successful year. But that success came at a cost. I got sick. A lot. I gained weight. I had pneumonia twice. I had a shingles outbreak. In between, there were colds, exhaustion, and malaise.

Here are the things I missed, because I was sick:

  • Speaking at the SpecFic Colloquium
  • CanCon
  • ChiSeries events
  • Thanksgiving with my family
  • Christmas with my family
  • Parties
  • Writing dates
  • A deadline for a super-cool anthology that I was invited to

“Are you okay?” a friend from undergrad asked me, a few months ago. “Every time I talk to you, you’re sick.”

This was the question I was asked more and more often, as the year wore on. “Are you feeling better?” “Are you okay?” “Is your voice back?”

I bring this up because it doesn’t get talked about, a lot, in the novelist/consultant/freelancer discourse. There’s the “con crud,” of course, which is the thing you get after a convention. I don’t mean that. I mean the systematic destruction of an immune system by, among other things, an airline industry that shrinks seats and crams people (and their germs) together. I mean the slow degradation of emotional immunity, as watching Twitter (or Facebook, or the tv at your gym) feels ever closer to watching a car crash in slow motion, or some other Xeno’s Paradox of dread. I mean the sudden realization that you’ve misplaced your energy — that your emotions are running malware that mines AnxietyCoin, and that the treasure can never be spent.

I mean the kind of thing that makes you lose your voice.

Writing has been hard this year. But what I’ve written, I’m happy with. Possibly because it came at a dearer price. The keynotes, the appearances, the opportunities to connect with people, no matter where they are or how long I have to fly. I’m probably happiest with a short story I wrote for NASA and ASU, called “Death on Mars.”  It took a long time for me to write. Too long. But the delays made the story better. In general that has been one of the lessons for this year — things unfold in their own time. Another project I’ve been working on? It’ll be way better thanks to the events of this year. I was all set to undergo a big research phase, and then everything I needed just…came out, naturally and organically, and with greater honesty than anything I could have discovered on my own. Am I sad to be behind? Yes. But I prefer having more accurate information.

That said, when I think about the times I was happiest this year, it wasn’t when I was writing. It was when I was reading, or traveling. It was getting my feet wet in the Arabian Sea under the light of a full moon. It was a four-hour trek across Newfoundland. It was fried chicken skins in Calgary, overhearing business bro gossip. It was another full moon, on the rooftop of a Toronto hotel, warbling spirituals unsteadily with a diva and her band at two in the morning. Next year, I want more of that. Those were the moments when I was healthiest.


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