About half a year ago now, I went to Los Angeles for a queer writers’ retreat. It was effortlessly the weirdest trip I’ve ever taken, as well as one of the most significant. I met my wonderful literary agent because I went to California, and made some incredible friends into the bargain. I wrote a short story that’s now in print! For the first time in my life, I used a bathroom that didn’t match my assigned gender. Absolute scenes all around.
I am thinking a lot about the writers’ retreat at the moment. I messaged a fellow attendee the other day that a part of me wished we were all still there, sitting around picnic tables in an art school courtyard and muddling through together. Queer quarantine, we called it, even though queerantine was, like, right there. It’s not only the companionship I miss: it’s the implicit and shared understandings we had, as a group, about the world we lived in and the place we held within it. Everyone I met in LA is doing everything they can to undertake social distancing, within their socioeconomic constraints. My Lambda Literary comrades are engaging with mutual aid networks, and offering their skills and resources to those in need. I think about this in the same breath as I think about my own local mutual aid network, which was founded by transgender people — who have already been doing this for one another, long before anyone else cared.
I don’t know when I will be able to go back to California.
I don’t know when I will be able to go anywhere, and I’m frightened. Before Covid-19 had even been imagined, I’d arranged a working holiday visa, with a plan to leave for Canada in September 2020. As you can no doubt imagine, this was not how I’d planned to break that news. I had friends who were prepared to let me crash on their sofa until I could find a room to rent. I had been planning to freelance where I could; I built and shared a text adventure game so I could cite it when applying for video game writing work, and have been making a concerted effort to pitch short stories and poetry, to build a portfolio of creative work. I would probably have attempted a newsletter even if we hadn’t fallen face-first into a pandemic, because of Canada. I was wavering on the economics of it all, but I have savings, and I thought I could make it work, which at this stage is just another thing I don’t know for sure any longer.
Nobody knows where we’ll be with this in September. Even if the borders reopen, the economy is a massive question mark; I suspect there will be very little market for freelance writers, and very stiff competition for the kind of part-time, low-skilled work I’d imagined I could pick up after moving. I’m extremely fortunate that none of these plans had coalesced into, for instance, handing in my notice at my extremely good job — which I would, no matter what, have been pretty sad to leave! — or not renewing my lease on my studio flat. Nothing material has been jeopardised here. But since the general election (all those many moons ago, am I right?) I’ve been clinging to the idea of getting the fuck out of Dodge for a year or two, at least. To be suddenly unsure of whether moving will be viable before my entry permit expires — mid-September, to be clear; that’s a hard deadline, or I’ll have to reapply — is a pretty hefty blow.
First world problems. I know that much.
I am trying not to think about it. When the situation is calmer — and again, it’s necessary to believe that the situation will get calmer eventually — I suppose I’ll hit up Gouvernement du Canada for advice on whether my entry permit can be extended a little. I’ll weigh up the risks, like I always do, and see what’s possible then. My therapist keeps telling me I am very pragmatic, though I don’t often feel that way. When I think too hard about this almost-future that might not happen anymore, I want to take a very unpragmatic approach, which is to say I want to cry and cry and cry until I’m sick.
So I’m thinking about California instead. I was there, and I remember it fondly. I never imagined when I went that I’d regret going (that I’d have regrets about the trip itself? perhaps, but that’s an omnipresent risk), but with the way things are right now, I’m glad for every place I’ve ever visited. Snow on Christmas in Vancouver; the fever dream of Melrose in July; an evening walk between the Spree and the Berlin Wall. There will be more places. I’m holding out.