Magicicada…and the Writer’s Cycle

If you live along the Eastern US Coast, chances are you are bracing for an invasion of apocalyptic proportions. I’m talking about the plague of 17-year locusts. “As if from some horror movie, cicada nymphs have been described as ‘boiling out of the ground,'” reports The New York Times. *shiver* This phenomena will happen from CT down to NC and there are many theories as to why these red-eyed flying beasts incubate based on prime numbers. Run a search and you will find maps and trackers (Radiolab’s cicada tracker is pretty neat), along with, gulp, recipes to roast the li’l critters and tips on how to emotionally survive what some are calling “Swarmageddon.”

I found myself at Ground Zero during the last periodical cicada cycle in 1996, as a fresh-faced librarian working in New York City. Buzzing louder than a stack of Marshall amps, the brood terrorized most of Staten Island. Walking to the train was like stepping on packing peanuts; it was hard to avoid them underfoot when you were trying to keep them from dive-bombing your head from above.

I live far from NYC now, in an area of the state safe from the wrath of periodical cicadas. But last week I witnessed something that got me thinking about another kind of life cycle.

The largest SUNY campus is about five miles from my house. I drive past it daily, rarely glancing at the buildings where I lived and breathed academia for 5.5 years. Yes, I was an undergrad and grad student at this very same university. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that I am back in the same city, raising my family and going about my business, after being away for so long. But the other day, I happened to see a lone graduate, decked out in his cap and gown, all tassels and smiles, posing for a picture near the large University sign by the road.  He made me think of the thousands of other students who must’ve swarmed out of last week’s commencement ceremony, all fresh-faced and ready to meet the world. He made me think of myself.

Two decades ago, I was standing on the same campus, armed with my degree and my dreams. I danced along a long pipe of a dream, hoping to fulfill my childhood wish to be a writer, but knowing I needed to follow a legit path of 9-5 with good benefits and a paycheck to survive in the meantime.

This September will mark twenty years since I hurled myself at New York City to seek my fame and fortune. Although I only stayed in my chosen profession for eight years, it set me up with lifelong friends, memories and the tools to chisel out where I am today. I needed that time to incubate, not unlike the cicada. Ironically, my first novel will also release that month, hurling me from “wanna be a writer” to “published author”.

I remember my first day on the job, walking into the New York Public Library. I was surrounded by new books and I wanted to read them all. Now I sit at my desk, far from New York, surrounded by new ideas.

And I want to write them all.

What will the next twenty year cycle bring? Another brood of cicadas, for sure. They’ll hatch in 2018. I don’t like much about those little demons, but I like that they’re known as members of the genus Magicicada. There is something magical about their emergence and endurance. I hope I’m still working some writing magic, incubating ideas, hatching plots and releasing them on the world by the time my next cycle rolls around. Or maybe I will have shed my skin and realized another dream?  In yoga, my instructor often reminds us it’s not so much about the destination, but the journey to get there. How about you? What’s your cycle?




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  • messymimi

    My cycle is kitten season, early spring to late fall, then a slight lull, then it begins again.


    • Jessica Topper

      Happiness is a warm kitten!

  • Mina Lobo

    I feel like my cycle stalled at 27. :) No, wait… :'( Yeah, that’s it.

    Whatevs, I’m pushing on with things, like them cicadas. But those buggers better not get anywhere near my face. 😀

    • Jessica Topper

      I know what you mean…I feel like I blinked around 27 and another decade piled on! Someone should really write a paranormal about those creatures!