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There are so many ways to mark the time: according to astrological seasons, according to books read, after thrown tea bags, after Fridays, after miles of walks, according to pages, according to semesters, after songs and so on. At each end of the calendar year, I obsessively search The Millions for the series “A Year in Reading”. Two December ago I read about Grace Talusan’s book 2019. The essay mentions so many wonderful titles, including Good Talk by Mira Jacob and I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib. Also, I had a little more sticking to me than books. The Body Papers writer has an online responsibility group that began years ago with a desire to “address the imbalance in women’s writing on literary magazine and book review pages by encouraging each other to submit more frequently”.

Oh how I wanted that too. I longed for a community to discuss the hard-to-measure, invisible work that writers do. If you’re a storyteller with hopes for publications, you know how much time and silence can lie between victories: 365 teaspoons, one spin of the sun. Inspired by Talusan, I measured interest in my text chain at the moonrise. Of my dear fictionalists, two – my MFA wife and my poetry buddy – wanted to celebrate their consistent moves as well.

In the spirit of accountability, it is important to meet regularly. Once upon a time, responsibility groups met in person. (What a daydream, right?) Some chat virtually. As you may know, I’m a bit of a recluse and I prefer trousers to pants. Given the isolation times, our dispersed locations, and various schedules, we forego future planning by agreeing to meet in email country on the first of each month for our reading, writing, editing, and delivery goals to discuss.

On January 1st, 2020, I’ll hit send the first love letter, which contains three reading intentions: a new release, genre fiction, and translated work. Since February 1, 2020, we’ve been thinking about the last month – psst, I did – and setting goals for the current month, like focusing on books that I was embarrassed not to read. It’s been about 15 months now, and when we look back on the year 2020 that some have summed up over the holidays with toilet paper and dumpster fire tree decorations, we find it a blessing that we can turn to each other and old missives for bright spots contemplate cling to her for comfort.

Like the Talusan Responsibility Group, we are also discussing the submissions. In 2020, we sent work to 189 locations and received four recognitions. A common piece of advice when writing is to read a lot and often. From the essay “So what should I write about?” Haruki Murakami insists, “Record as many stories as you can physically. Imagine a lot of great texts. Too much mediocre writing too. “So we read.

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Last year we broke personal reading records. My MFA wife read 24 books, her post-child reading life was high. I’ve read 165 books. We set out to do great things like taking part in Nicole Sealey’s The Sealey Challenge, where poetry enthusiasts read a poetry or scrapbook every August. We also set out to do little things like finishing bookmarked titles or reading 100 pages of a new novel.

Homie Danez Smith Cover

After work, our exhausted eyes and our exhausted pandemic heads and hearts often read for “escape”. Sometimes we find ourselves reading the same book as Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and we rave about it. Often we read organically and let ourselves be guided from Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries to Danez Smith’s Homie to Janice Lee’s The Sky Isn’t Blue. Sometimes we give each other homework.

We read books we wanted to read, like Conflict Resolution for Sacred Beings by Joy Harjo. We read book club tips including Fiebre Tropical by Juli Delgado Lopera, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, and Memorial by Bryan Washington. At some point we all crack Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks and hit the road.

Luster Raven Leilani Cover

We fall over Shruti’s head with our feet A house is a body, Carmen Maria Machados Im Traumhaus, Zadie Smith’s hints, Raven Leilani’s glamor, Cathy Park Hong’s little feelings, Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses, translated by Christina MacSweeney, Akwaeke Emezi’s pet, Natalie Diaz’s post-colonial love poem, Audre Lorde’s sister outsider , Zeyn Joukhadar’s The Thirty Names of the Night, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, and Yanyi’s The Year of Blue Water.

From winter to winter our focus areas as well as our reading lists expand. We donate. We are training. We paint toenails. We do do-it-yourselfers. We rest. We take a deep breath. We eat dumplings (for research and for fun).

Because we are human, it is not always sunflowers. Sometimes we don’t write until the second, third, or sixth. Sometimes we skip December. Sometimes we miss our goals. In fact, our shows contain a lot of that language: “I haven’t written much this month. That’s okay. “Occasionally, we choose to be kind to ourselves in goal setting by not setting it and declaring,” Let poetry arrive when poetry arrives. “We even intuitively plan to find peace by don’t cross all things off our lists.

2020 taught me that our relationship with time and productivity can change drastically, but one thing that has stayed constant has been my responsibility group. While protecting yourself on the spot, it’s no small matter to witness the seemingly tiny tasks of others – capturing an opening line, sneaking into multiple poems, examining a chapter – between hand washing masks and disinfecting food. Especially when you look back on last spring or even last week, you feel a little like looking into a funhouse mirror. Since some days it feels like an achievement getting things done, our Responsibility Group congratulates each other for showering, taking a day off, saying no to things, and ignoring everything but our current reading.

Do you have an accountability group? If not, are you going to be one with your loved ones?