Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

I am fifty-three today.

53 is a weird number. It’s a prime number, so I can’t play the usual games like “I’m exactly twice as old as when I ____”. It’s not a nice round number age-wise, but now I’m old enough and this blog is old enough that I’m twice as old as when I wrote this entry, which is a bit weird to think about. But other than that, there’s no numerical relevance to 53. My locker in junior high was 153. My combination was 2-31-16. (Why do I remember this?)

Grasping at straws, this birthday is 35 years since I turned 18, I guess. It’s 40 years since my parents divorced, which means it’s 40 years since I got my first computer, the Mattel Aquarius. But as I start writing this, I can’t think of any other big even-numbered anniversaries or dates or anything else. It’s another year.

* * *

I’m loath to write about this, but I guess in the interest of full transparency, I should. That little cold I got when I came back from Wisconsin? Turns out it was COVID-19. I’ve spent the last three weeks out of commission dealing with that. And although it was not as bad as it could have been, it was as bad as most people say it is.

It’s stupid to have an illness that is so politically divisive. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, and end up in an argument about how it did or did not exist. For the most part, everyone was nice about it, and the only unsolicited medical advice I got was that I needed to take it easy and rest. And that was correct, because I was horribly tired, and sleeping twelve hours a day was not enough.

The worst part about COVID was that I had to spend about two weeks on an air mattress in my home office, staying isolated so S wouldn’t catch it. (She didn’t.) And sleeping on the floor of an 8×10 room for weeks is a good way to put the zap on yourself, especially when you’re already depressed about your station in life and what you did over the last year, and are looking up at another big milestone.

So that whole thing was no bueno. And I am supposed to be in Las Vegas right now with the usual crew, but I had to cancel that. Physically, I’m 90% better. I’ve been testing negative for a few days now, and the symptoms are mostly gone. Mentally… what am I doing?

* * *

When I wrote this post for my last birthday, I basically said I wanted year 52 to be better than year 51, that I wanted to write more, do more, be more. Was it? I don’t know. I traveled a lot. I did another master’s degree. I published two zines. But I didn’t write anywhere near as much as I wanted. I was recently looking at the draft of Atmospheres 2 and I put a bunch of notes in it on the morning of my birthday last year, a laundry list of things I wanted to do, a punch list of what I needed to finish. I did almost zero on that. And it wasn’t because some other big project got in the way. I “un-quit” writing, but I haven’t gotten back into practice yet.

Year 52 was spent spinning my wheels on a lot of stuff, thinking about what I need to do, what I need to start, what I need to finish. Need is a bit of a dirty word, though. When I say I need to write a big book and I don’t write a big book, it just makes me feel bad or guilty. I should want to write a big book, then either do it, or do the prerequisite work or exploration or research. Ultimately this is all noise, because the era of fame and fortune from a book is about to end. I shouldn’t want to write a book because I need to keep a roof over my head or become a household name. I should want to write a book because I want to write a book.

I was emailing with my friend Michael about this need to create the other day, and I remembered a story from my childhood. I was maybe ten years old, playing with Lego, like I did for months at a time. And I must have seen the M.C. Escher lithograph Relativity in an encyclopedia or something, the one with the orthagonal staircases going off in different directions and opposing gravity wells. And instead of assembling the stock fire station or moon base or whatever you do in the instructions that come with Lego kits, I started randomly building this structure with staircases going nowhere and little side pods of houses in the air and catwalks going across them and walls sticking up akimbo, leading to towers and ramparts and pieces of vehicles affixed to turrets or cupolas. It was this endless mess of structure going everywhere and nowhere, eventually taking over the entire kitchen table until I was required to remove it. But what I remember most was just the joy of growing the thing in every direction with no plan or idea or concept, spending hours just creating for the sake of creating, and it generated such a wild out-of-the-box product. I thought about this a lot when I wrote Rumored to Exist. And now, I feel like we have unlimited Legos and an unlimited kitchen table to build on, and it’s all a matter of snapping those first bricks onto a baseplate and going.

* * *

So 52 was eh and 53 is no magical number. But I’m still here, and I’ve got a lot to do in the next year.


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