A year ago, our lives became so unpredictable, so unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic is an undeniable tragedy that has changed all of our lives. As time passed, we lost so many lives. Everyone’s lives have been upended, and a new social etiquette is in place.
We continue to collectively yearn for our lives from 2019 and collectively grieve for what we lost in 2020. These are normal reactions. However, after a lot of reflection, I want to acknowledge another facet of the pandemic: gratitude.
Before the pandemic, my life was busy and comfortable. I graduated college, saw my human companion every day, was finally able to jog after foot surgery, and worked with my best friends at a bookstore that connected me to the local creative community. There were problems with our clients and the corporation: endangerment, emotional abuse, exposure to dangerous substances, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, colorism, and more. At the time, I just dealt with it.
My human companion hated listening to me complain about the physical and emotional abuse I endured as a bookseller. He grew tired of my soapbox diatribes and begged me to quit. He wanted me to be challenged, earn more money, feel respected, and grow.
I responded with a slew of excuses:
“I need health care.”
“These are my friends.”
“My writing isn’t ready.”
“I’ll apply for grad school next year, I promise.”
I was in an abusive relationship with my day job. I had normalized middle-aged white women screaming at me because I couldn’t buy their scrapbooking guides from 2007. I shrugged when finding thin, folded sheets of burnt foil inside video game cases. All of that was okay because I got to see my friends every day and got a killer discount.
The truth was: I had outgrown my job. I was no longer happy working at the bottom of the bookstore’s labor hierarchy.
When I watched the early American news coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, I thought this would fizzle out. I grew up during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. I am also accustomed to measles and smallpox outbreaks since being an anti-vaxxer is popular amongst upper-middle-class Californians.
Obviously, I was wrong.
On March 14, I picked up the phone at the bookstore. On the other end? A recording from my county’s office announced the official lockdown, which started in twelve hours. That’s when everything changed.
A month into the lockdown, I was laid off in a group call with a dozen other people—a callous, albeit anticlimactic ending. While that experience was dehumanizing and alienating, this was my wake-up call.
I became so grateful for my community: my immediate family, friends, and romantic companion. Spending time with them mattered more than a retail job that ate my time and energy. Working at my childhood bookstore was a dream, but I have other goals:
Working on a magazine.
Get an MFA.
Be published in a top-tier literary magazine.
Be nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Working at a publishing house.
Publish a novel.
Teach a writing workshop.
The rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 has been dire. After all, death could be lurking in a grocery store or house party. I would not risk my life at a nonessential retail store where customers refuse to wear masks, pee on floors, and start physical altercations during a global pandemic. (Yes, all these events happened in 2020.) Strip away the brilliant, kind staff at that bookstore and it is just another corporate entity that refuses to protect its employees.
Being laid-off bought me time. I could take on more freelance work than before. In the past, I’d taken up the occasional gig: editing a college paper, tutoring, writing product descriptions, transcribing PDFs, etc. Now It was time for the big leagues.
I dove headfirst. I wrote and wrote. I applied to everything that appeared in my feed. I attended dozens of masterclasses and workshops on scholarships.
It wasn’t easy. The market was more competitive than ever before. Legit job listings disappeared after a day. So, I started pitching to magazines. I wrote essays and articles even though I identify as a fiction writer. I broadened my writing identity and sharpened my nonfiction skills. This was out of necessity, but I love a challenge.
I bet on me. And it worked. I’ve snatched several honors, my work has been nominated for awards, I have relationships with a couple of publishing houses from my work as a reviewer, and I have a handful of mentors who provide me with emotional support and feedback on my work. My writing career looks so different from a year ago, and I can’t say I would be here if I still worked at the bookstore.
Cultivating my writing career has been a great privilege during one of the worst years in the 21st century. I would not have been able to do this without my beautiful community, which continues to grow each day. If it wasn’t for the amazing people in my life, I wouldn’t have found these opportunities or have the mental fortitude to show up every day ready to kick life in the ass. Living through a global pandemic had me appreciate my life more and forced me to move out of my comfort zone because everything was uncertain.
Collectively we’ve lost so much. Many of us are still struggling to make ends meet (especially in the United States). However, we can take a moment to appreciate what we still have, especially to acknowledge our resilience. Because if you’re here, regardless of what you’ve lost or how you feel today, you’re resilient. We’ve made it.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.