Today is the official publication date of Community of Magic Pens. You can find the anthology at various retailers—Amazon, Bookshop, Kobo, etc.—or buy direct from the publisher, Atthis Arts.
This project has been a delight. I was charmed when I saw the Kickstarter. A lot of the stories kicking around in my head have trended dark, lately, and this was a nice break. The editorial back-and-forth was great—I don’t think I’ve ever had a story edited so thoroughly or thoughtfully (note that I’m not just counting the short list of fiction under this byline). At some point, I told Emily that the anthology and production experience felt like the indie press equivalent of Bob Ross. Just contemplating it made me feel warm and fuzzy. (Admit it, you felt the same way when you read the name “Bob Ross.”) Some days, we all need happy little trees.
In 2020, we could use a forest.
That brings me around to my story, “Shared Space.” Set in a cube farm, it’s about cubicle life. All the little ways that people negotiate fitting into corporate culture without sacrificing their individuality, all the tiny ways they find satisfaction, all the small soul-sucking realities, and the surprising ways that community can sneak up on you.
I began writing the story at the end of last year, shortly after I started a new job. (The bio in the book states that I currently work in a cubicle. That was true when the book went into production, though I was subsequently among the millions of folks laid off.) While less than fulfilling, in the manner of many jobs, I still kind of liked it. People were friendly, the cube farm wasn’t bad for a cube farm, my executive function largely executed, and there was sufficient flexibility and personal interactions that I could work there without constantly being confronted by my status as cog. As has been noted, we are steeped in capitalism no less thoroughly than the divine right of kings. Finding a not-uncomfortable niche within that system relieves some of its stresses, and writing the story was kind of a way of saying “this is fine.”
“Shared Space” has now become historical fiction. The idea of routine work in a cube farm no longer computes. Maybe in a year, after a vaccine and widespread testing and contact tracing, the old normal might be somewhat conceivable. But none of those things are in the offing in the United States, though other countries are dealing with the pandemic more successfully. Aside from the practical barrier, there is also the emotional landscape: will people accept working at close quarters after this, or be forced to do so—or will this be a catalyst for positive systemic change? Either way, there is likely to be fear, and masks, and (as always) disproportionate suffering of marginalized groups.
Some events make for a bright-line “before” and “after,” and a pandemic most surely counts as one of those events. We can’t be certain how this moment will be remembered, but we know that it will cast a shadow. Plagues can make themselves felt through silences and absences, no less than detailed data and vivid accounts.
And so at least for me, one minuscule piece of remembering this time will be to see how rapidly a story I wrote changed from a picture of banal drudgery to one of a happier past. Memory, like community, has a way of sneaking up on you.