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Annus Mirabilis or how soccer saved my vocation

2020 was a hard year for everyone, but G. Willow Wilson explains how it led her to soccer.

Last Updated
6 min read
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: This is the first of what will become a monthly column that muses about the world of soccer. In the first installment, Willow explains her soccer origin story.

For me, 2020 was meant to be a golden year. A career milestone was in sight: after 12 years of writing superhero comics, I was finally going to write a Sandman book, stepping into the massive gothy shoes of Neil Gaiman, whose original Sandman series for DC Comics had a profound effect on me as a teenager and informed much of my own storytelling. I had been waiting half my life for this opportunity. But we all know what happened next: the Covid pandemic upended regular business across the entire planet, plunging whole industries into a state of existential uncertainty. My Sandman series was postponed. DC Comics switched distributors. Comics shops closed, some permanently. Projects that had been in the works for months were put on hold. I found myself with half of a job, spending most of my time homeschooling my two children to fill in the gaps left by the switch to remote learning. In the summer, forest fires raged in waves of scorching dry heat, leaving us with a choice between staying inside with the plague or going outside into poisonous, apocalyptic air.

This confluence of bullshit could not have come at a worse time for me. Unusually for a writer, I hit success early and hard, and by 35 had done and won nearly everything I set out to do, including, of course, co-creating Kamala Khan, which gave me the opportunity to see what it’s like to live in the eye of a media hurricane. (Equal parts thrilling and terrifying.) However, after I left Ms Marvel, I started to stumble. Everyone expected me to put in a similarly stellar shift on Wonder Woman; instead, my run was profoundly mediocre, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. My creator-owned projects were critically well-received but didn’t sell very well. The Sandman series was supposed to be my comeback book, the project that helped me get my feet underneath me again. But when it was finally released after several pandemic-related delays, it floundered amid shockingly low sales. I wrote a whole novel, hated the ending, and shelved it. My  freelance income, impressively steady for over a decade, shrank precipitously. I had a health scare that I will talk about when we know each other better, and which seemed to confirm, at least symbolically, that I was in a state of collapse. The golden year had become a year from hell. 

I thought I was finished. I became obsessed with the idea that creative people — artists, writers, designers, inventors — get 10 peak years, after which they enter a slow but inevitable decline. I had used up my 10 peak years early, and now there was nothing to do but figure out something else to fill the dismaying slog of years left to live. If you’re thinking “this is a somewhat overcooked way to think about life at age 38,” you are correct, but nevertheless, that’s where I found myself. I was out of inspiration and I had no idea where to look for it. It had previously felt like an unlimited resource, and now it was gone. 

I need a muse, I begged the almighty. It felt like a selfish, petulant thing to ask for at a time when morgues were filling up and every tree on the planet appeared to be on fire, but in my defense, my ability to churn out stories to a high standard was what kept a roof over the heads of my children. So I asked, though it was not the kind of thing I had ever asked for before. To paraphrase CS Lewis, God likes to catch us unaware. 

Somewhere in the midst of this annus horribilis, a colleague suggested I watch Ted Lasso, which I had thus far been avoiding, as I was not a sports person

“You should watch it anyway,” this colleague pressed. “It has the same vibes as Ms Marvel. It’s comforting.” 

So I did. My colleague was right: It does have Ms Marvel vibes, occupying a delirious middle ground between realism and fantasy. But to my surprise, the thing that fascinated me most was not the story at all, it was the sport. 

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