Timing has never been my forte. I discovered that early in life when the world around me didn’t behave in the way I scheduled it to. Yet I continued to compulsively plan every detail of my life with the hope it could move things in the “right” direction. I’ve always been the kind of person that has had expectations about how my time should be used and how life should go. I don’t know if it’s my German roots or my OCD that makes me obsessed with time management, but I’ve always believed that if everyone would make a to-do list and stick to it, so much more could be accomplished. And we would have discovered a cure for cancer, eliminated world-wide hunger, achieved world peace, and colonized Mars by now. Life is short, and I didn’t believe in wasting too much of it relaxing without a list of things to do.
One thing that I never put on my schedule, but did every minute of my waking hours, was making mental observations concerning human behavior. The storyline of the When Life Was Still trilogy I recently wrote was shaped by American cruelty and the resulting struggle marginalized people have experienced. I have some wonderful friendships, and people who know me well think of me as good-humored and encouraging. But I have witnessed the dark side of some people and feel compelled to turn that horrifying behavior into fiction. I created the trilogy with the hope that those who feel marginalized and struggle to succeed in America would read it and get the message that their story of struggle matters. I fully believed that I could help others by writing this trilogy with dark matter and selling lots of copies of it.
When I was finishing writing my books over the past year and pitching them to agents, I missed out on a lot of social events—and sleep. I kept telling myself it was all right because, as soon as my books were published, I’d make a point of returning to a healthy schedule and would fill it with getting together with family and friends. When I finished the trilogy, a marketing plan was laid out, my game plan was in place, and the books were published—at the same time as a pandemic swept across America. And I was stuck at home with a stack of books hot off the press.
It would have been easy for me to spend every day since my books were published wallowing in self-pity, sinking in a state of despair over having my best-laid plans swept away by COVID-19’s dictatorial nature. There was a new schedule Nazi in town, and it called the shots and created a new agenda that had me trapped at home with piles of useless to-do lists and marketing plans.
It stung to realize that I may have pointlessly devoted five years of my life to doing something with the hope of helping others and changing how the world moves for marginalized people. As I had attempted to lift up suffering people, life kidney-punched me. I could have easily collapsed into a puddle of tears as I watched five years of work head down the drain, but seeing the suffering of other people kept me from going there. I may not have gotten what I had hoped for when my trilogy was published, but I have food, a roof over my head, my husband is still employed, my friends and family are healthy—and that’s all that really matters right now. A lot of people don’t have that, so I won’t complain.
As my marketing plan became irrelevant, it was tempting to just ignore what was happening in the world and spend my staying-at-home time bingeing on Netflix and Top the Tater chip dip. I did devour plenty of Netflix and chip dip, but as I zoned out and munched away, that inner voice that originally told me my stories could help others was still telling me that—actually shouting it so I could hear it over the TV and the crunching sounds I was making. I really do believe that there are people out there who will feel better about their own situations when they read my stories. So that I could help people in an immediately tangible way, I was motivated to sell as many books as I could in April so that I could donate the royalties to FeedingAmerica.org. I poured myself into a new social media marketing plan to make people aware of my books and help get them to people who could benefit from reading them.
In the process of carrying out my cyber plan to sell my books and make the world better for suffering people, my own world shifted. My new marketing plan was intentionally flexible so it could morph with the ripple effects of COVID-19 and dovetail with the news of the day. With no alarms to schedule, I’ve been getting lots of sleep during the pandemic. It’s not unusual for me to sleep until noon and then work on promoting my books. I guess that’s the ultimate in terms of a relaxing schedule. Because of this novel go-with-the-flow routine, I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on social media and have unexpectedly connected with people around the world. They have reached out to me with the intention of making my life a better place by helping promote my writing. Through our communications it has become clear that we are all united in battling the same enemy. We’re all just trying to survive a global disease so that we can someday thrive once again. In these pandemic times, it seems that compassion is contagious. Many of us are recognizing the benefit in lifting up others because we share the same world. If one part of the world suffers, our part could soon be hurting too.
It took a deadly pandemic to reveal to me the genuine kindness of people—strangers and people already in my life who are helping promote my books—that I’m appreciating in a new way. And I am feeling that my existence has a higher value than it did a couple months ago. My view of the world has moved to a better perspective. I may not sell as many books as I would have without a global pandemic because paying for food and shelter are now priorities for most people. But in April, thanks to people who chose to purchase my books, I was able to use the royalties to buy over three thousand meals for families in need. And I have acquired a wealth of unplanned experiences that tell me there is hope for humanity.
The sequel to When Life Was Still just might turn out a little less dark.
© 2020 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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