An Assemblage of Memories

I’ve been cleaning my house all summer, which isn’t particularly memorable except for the fact that I really don’t clean if I can help it. But my housekeeping habits are not, thankfully, the subject of this post.

In the process of cleaning, I gave away a shirt my sister gave me. It was peach, light and cottony, drawstringed at the bottom. It had a hole, and it didn’t fit me anymore. I’m only now realizing how much I regret having given it away- and not just because my sister happened to see it and even though she has said a hundred times she doesn’t mind, I still feel bad about it.

I regret letting go of the visual memory in that shirt. I was living in a rented basement full of spiders that was never ever warmer than fifty degrees, I had a job and an internship, both of which I hated, and I was finishing graduate school on the weekends. Looking back, I’m relatively certain I was depressed because the three things I remember most are angry tears, trying to drag myself out of bed in the morning, and a sense of grief and isolation. My sister overnighted a package to me in the midst of all this darkness. It had a bottle of lavendar nail polish, a package of gummi worms, and the shirt. I cried for hours over how much hope those three things gave me when I thought I couldn’t find any.

It was a horrendous time in my life and to this day I cope with it by alternately joking and pretending it never happened. The shirt served it’s purpose- it gave me hope, uplifted me, reminded me that people loved me and would no matter how bad things got for me. It didn’t fit. It had a hole. It was right to give it away, and yet I regret it because in just a glance from the shadows of my closet or a touch of the soft fabric, I could remember all of these things.

There are other things in my life heavy with memories. The t-shirt I wore on the worst date of my life. The song I listened to on my drives home from overnight CNA shifts on a dementia unit. The orangey cinnamon perfume I wore my first year of college. The smell of spaghetti cooking on a cold winter evening. Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, which transports me home to the living room of age ten while my sister played piano and my dad sang as he did the dishes and I didn’t worry about anything of consequence. The strong sharp chai I drank doing homework at my childhood friend’s kitchen table. The lumpy stuffed lamb I’ve had all my life, part puppet and part stuffed animal. The coarse flannel of the blanket I was given after finishing my final performance in high school theatre. The feel of cold winter wind in my hair and thumping bass as I drove home from community theatre rehearsals my first year in a small town after college. The taste of a banana shake the day the neurologist confirmed I wasn’t dying. The smell of fresh hay and cut grass through the windows as I drove home ahead of a moving trailer when I finally left that terrible basement and horrible year behind.

The things that hold our memories aren’t always obvious until something happens. You turn on the radio and suddenly you’re fifteen and falling in love again. You sit down to dinner and suddenly you’re caught in a moment of pride and joy and celebration from ten years ago even though in this time it’s just another Tuesday night. You send a shirt out the door and realize it was holding a tiny piece of your heart. It’s like meeting yourself coming and going- encountering the ghosts of all the selves you’ve been, and maybe a few you aren’t just yet. Seeing yourself as a stranger, just for a moment.

This is good. The only way to know who you are is to see who you’ve been- all the good and all the bad, all the broken and all the whole- and acknowledge that pieces of all those past selves are still in you. But they’re also not you anymore. You are more than the sum of your experiences and moments. You are more than your triumphs, mistakes, broken hearts, angry words, shed tears, greatest achievements. You are a future in which all of those pieces have impact but not power. You are the accumulation of every one of those things plus something more. The person you’re becoming. Give your moments and memories their due. Look around you, touch, smell, listen. Then make it all mean something.

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Everything Is Not Enough

Am I the only person who gets these two mixed up with each other pretty much always?

I’m an everything person. When I start a project I want to do All Of It Every Single Thing Immediately. Unfinished things irk me. They nag at me, pulling me back to them over and over. I’ll be in the middle of a meal and get up to add or change or adjust something, I’ll stare at the ceiling for hours trying to sleep and constantly being lured back to the project. It’s not just writing that does this to me, though it is the main culprit. I can’t clean my house unless I’m ready to clean every nook and cranny top to bottom (which is why I never clean). I’m terrible with gifts because I want to buy every gift for every holiday for every person NOW but then I just want to give it NOW too and not just any gift will do it has to be the most amazing and wonderful gift ever given. I set my Goodreads challenge sky high but then think if I’m not ahead and over it, I’m behind. I make a weekly to do list and then feel like a huge slacker if I don’t finish it all within a few hours. If I’m invested or interested or excited enough about something, I’ll forget to eat or lose track of time for hours. You might say I’m very thorough in my passions.

The thing is, none of my obsessions are laborious. I’m not miserable, in fact, getting super excited and enthusiastic about everything makes my life really very enjoyable. Most of the time. But in all honesty, it’s also EXHAUSTING. At times, being somewhat incapable of moderations and halfways has prevented me from starting things I know will be difficult to manage long term (waking up early, exercising, saving money, anyone?) Being so determined to Accomplish Everything With Perfection Now can make me scatterbrained and distracted, and sometimes makes it really hard not to feel like I’m failing when I don’t accomplish one thousand things at Quality One Thousand every single day. I get restless, have trouble sitting still, and despise red tape or progress that takes time. I hate not yet/not now almost more than no. And while I’ve grown pretty good at accepting these things in the world (publishing moves slowly, people in general have lives, traffic happens, people have to be allowed to think and respond on their own timeframe, change happens slowly) I’m terrible at giving myself the same permissions. I expect this high level of performance from myself almost all the time and most of the time its wonderful and exciting and invigorating and something I’m totally capable of. It’s not until I’ve crossed that fine invisible line from thrilled to stressed that I realize it.

Goals don’t have to be as high as we can possibly make them to matter. Just because we don’t do it now today this exact moment doesn’t mean we won’t do it, eventually. In good time. Passion and excitement are excellent and wonderful, but they can so easily become stress and shame. It’s good to want to rule the world. It’s not so good to kill yourself doing it.  This is probably something I’ll be working on my whole life (bless the people in it for loving me anyways) but I’m not going to give up on it. Our lives are important, nuanced, unfolding things. They happen over time for a reason. I’m going to try to get better at granting myself grace, and knowing that doing enough doesn’t mean doing everything. I hope you will too ❤

The One Where I Write Something Like A Bio

To be clear, I’m writing this because I think I’m going to give PitchWars a whirl and someone had the brilliant idea of doing mentee bios so we can all get to know each other. Another point of clarity: my bio writing skills are pits. Also, I’m terrible at being particularly interesting and I love gifs but have no idea how to make them work with WordPress. Apologies.

So I guess we’ll start with the most important facts: my favorite kinds of candy are sour, fruity things like gummi worms and Airheads. I like to say my patronus might be a falcon or unicorn but it’s really probably any animal wearing a cross expression. I love coffee, tea, and hot chocolate equally and in particular situations, my favorite season is fall, and my personality in TV characters is something of a cross between Leslie Knope and Nick Miller.

About Harry Potter- I’m a Ravenclaw, which I know from Pottermore. However, some friends of mine have been recently alarmed to learn I haven’t read all the books (I’m finally doing it now, halfway through the Half-Blood Prince so I’m almost there!) and I’ve only seen the first three movies.

TV shows I adore include Parks and Rec, Sherlock, The 100, Broadchurch, The Paradise, and old ones like I Love Lucy. My favorite movies, depending on my mood, are Inkheart, Pride and Prejudice, Letters to Juliet, and National Treasure 2. Like any true book lover I can hardly choose a favorite but I reread the Anne of Green Gables series every year, as well as various Madeleine L’Engle titles, and some modern books I’ve loved enough to reread are Vicious and The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, How We Fall by Kate Brauning, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and The Winner’s Curse/Crime books. Other favorite things are bonfires, candles in all kinds of delicious smells, flowers, super soft blankets and super fluffy pillows, chocolate chip pancakes, spinach dip, naps, and collecting both beautiful books and unique antiques (favorite word combo!) I also adore cooking, and I am relatively fearless in it which means sometimes I make amazing things and sometimes I fail in a truly spectacular way. Fantasy- ESPECIALLY historical fantasy- is probably my favorite genre to read but I love a really good historical or contemporary and I most love books that are very hard to define. A handful of other random things: I just tried Stitchfix for the first time and I love it, I’m considering applying to phd programs, I work with kids in my dayjob, my best writing day was 11.5k, I adore live theatre both on and off stage, and musicals are the fastest way to my heart (especially Guys and Dolls and the Music Man).

Anyways, now that I’ve rambled forever and ever, let’s get to the nitty-gritty: what am I like to work with? First, I love feedback and it doesn’t have to be sugar coated because while I do usually have a twenty minute Woe Is Me I Am A Failure Forever, I am always ready afterwards to tear the book apart and begin again. I’m comfortable raising questions or stating disagreement if I feel really passionately about some piece of the story, but I’m always focused on making the story the best it can be and open to ideas and advice accordingly. I have a vendetta against good in my work- good is okay, but why would I not want it to be it’s best? I usually manage to fit in at least 2 hrs of work even on weekdays and I’m very motivated by deadlines (also candy, but that’s neither here nor there).I’m probably best at plot and maybe setting/descriptions but sometimes struggle with dialogue and definitely with overwriting. I’m relatively flexible and respectful of people’s time and the ways life can sometimes interfere with our best intentions. Oh, and my project is a YA alternate history about a girl who is equal parts society darling, seductress, and spy. And that’s about it.

potential mentors, heyyyyy thanks for reading, please excuse my only passable query writing skills when the time comes, and Let’s Get To Work (picture Leslie smiling crazy-eyed at you)!

mentees, HI, nice to meet you, come find me on Twitter and let’s talk snacks and projects 🙂

also you regular readers who for some reason may have read this whole thing- bless you. Have a gummi worm.

A World In The Palm of My Hand

I was talking about writing with a lovely friend tonight, and we were discussing how to build the world of a story. We agreed that one of the most terrifying things is the sensation that you’re writing yourself into a corner and you’ll never be able to get yourself or your characters out. We talked about taking risks, making false starts, and all those other fun adventures books tend to take us on.

Then we started talking about how to move forward in a story when we’re not sure what happens next. There’s a lot of buzz about character-driven stories and letting the characters lead, and I completely agree with that. But something I realized through this last round of revisions I did was that usually, in order to write a character-driven story, we must explore the unknown through the eyes of the character. That can be frustrating and confusing, though, when you don’t KNOW how a character might see something, not to mention why. So I thought I’d share a little trick with you that I’ve only just started using in my writing, and you can tell me how it goes!

My education is in social work, and one of the myriad theoretical foundations for the practice of social work is something called systems theory. Systems Theory is a way of viewing the world with the idea that people exist in a series of systems, both internal and external. These systems act on people who in turn act upon the systems, and the more people and systems involved, the more complicated both the problems and the solutions. This theory is summed up by the phrase, “Person in Environment,” which is a solutions-focused concept that suggests problem solving begins by recognizing that a person is influenced by everything from their country down to whether or not they have a stomachache, and that solving the problem requires recognition and analysis of systems first. It’s a way of understanding not just what has happened but the nuances of why and how, and a way of recognizing that certain solutions to problems may only create more problems in other systems.

This gets much more complicated, and I’d actually encourage you to research it if the idea is interesting to you, because I rely heavily on it both in my day job and in my writing. But hearing about theoretical concepts can get confusing, so let’s give it some legs.

Parks and Rec is one of my favorite TV shows ever, and the episode where Leslie is trying to keep the Parks budget from being cut is an excellent example of systems going awry. Leslie convinces a councilman not to cut the Parks budget, but because the money must come from somewhere, she learns the animal shelter will be closed to obtain the funds. She doesn’t want that to happen, so she does some research and finds some unnecessary jobs to get rid of which will make room in the budget. However, when she does that, her best friend’s job gets cut.

I won’t tell you more because some of you guys might be crazy and not have watched every single episode eighteen times, but you can already see the issues. Leslie wants to solve the problem right in front of her, and she sees that problem only from her perspective as a Parks employee. She makes her decision from a position where the systems exterior to her are the state, the city, the local government, the parks department, her immediate friends, her neighborhood, etc. Interior systems are her passion for the parks, her loyalty to city/government, her drive to solve problems, etc. Because of her unique perspective and relationship to the systems around her, Leslie doesn’t see the problem or her first (or even second) solution clearly which causes a whole string of new problems.

This is where it benefits you as a writer – your character exists within some kind of array of systems, and every one of them exercises some level of impact on your character. When you get stuck and don’t know what happens next, or you’re having trouble figuring out motivations or who your character is, think about systems. How is your character impacted by her geographic location? The times in which she lives? The political, religious, cultural surroundings? How do these things shape her reaction to your plot events, and how does it shape the choices she makes in response to those events?

I recently used these ideas in my own revisions. I realized that most of the book as it used to be was just my character being acted upon by the other characters and floating along, always reacting to other choices and not making her own. I knew I didn’t want that and I read everything I could get my hands on about making characters more active, but I still struggled because I felt like I didn’t know enough about her to know what she might do when NOT just reacting. It wasn’t until I thought more about her background of poverty, and how that might cause her not to trust the systems around her, to distrust sources of help someone else might naturally turn to, and to view the world as being against her, that I could begin to understand how she might think and act. Revisions were still difficult – are they ever not? – but I finally understood my character, and that moved the story forward. I understand how my character saw the world until I figured out how that world has shaped her view.

Maybe this’ll open up a flood of new ideas for you and maybe it’s just confusing, but if you decide to give it a shot, let me know how it goes!

How my sister reminded me that creativity is a good thing

First of all, thanks so much for your support regarding my last post! I was super nervous about putting it out there, but y’all were so kind, and I received so many notes from people going through similar things and needing the encouragement, that it was absolutely worth it.

Anyways, on to today’s post – I used to live really far from my family, but now that I live closer, my baby sister has spent a week or two at a time with me over this summer so far. Sometimes it shrinks the amount of time I can work, but it’s totally worth it: a) because I love my sister, and b) because she wants to write books, and has started working on one already. And the thing is, watching her both at work and at play reminded me about some things I forgot, things that I used to know when I first started writing and that seem to have escaped me more recently. Maybe you’ve forgotten too.

First: Creativity is a good thing! I remember in middle and high school, staying up as late as I possibly could tapping away on an ancient Gateway laptop that creaked noisily at all times and occasionally went white screened for a few minutes for no particular reason. It had no Internet capabilities, and the Internet was slow back then. I didn’t have a cell phone, and then even when I did it was just a prepaid one with limited minutes and zero other functions. So when I wrote, I wrote. For hours, alone in the lamplight, lost in the story. I lived for those chunks of writing time, and at a time when so much of my identity was still under development and tangled up in the messy confusion of those years, I knew for a fact that I was a writer. I was a creative person, and my creativity exhilarated me with it’s potential.
I forget that now. Writing is a part of my life I generally take for granted. Sometimes it’s more burden than anything else. I still love the words, but fitting it into an extremely busy schedule does feel like work more than not, and as I dive deeper into the bloodletting of revision, the science and study and art of carving up a story from my fingers and turning it into a Book, there are times when it’s really not all that fun. I get distracted by Twitter and texting and staring into space. I carve out huge chunks of time but really only focus for maybe 40 or 50%. When I watched my baby sister write, it was sheer joy. Her face would light up and her pen would go so fast it seemed like she could hardly keep up with herself. When she did get stuck or lose track of her way, she tucked her notebook back in it’s spot and went on with her life, content and able to wait until she found her way again. No stress. And more importantly, no fear.
Creativity is joy and passion. It is often work, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be because I firmly believe that if you abandon everything that doesn’t bring you immediate joy or requires effort from you, you’ll never really complete anything. But it doesn’t have to be drudgery or based in fear.

Second: My sister made writing part of her life, but not in this dreary, proscribed, dutiful fashion. Her heart was in it, intensely, for brief periods of time, and then when she wasn’t writing she flung herself into other activities. She still plays with Barbies, and she’d have the floor of my living room covered in various families and clothing and shoes and whatever little paper-based structures and things she made for them. She engaged in play unselfconsciously, sometimes related to her book but usually not, and she was entirely focused on that. She colored, she helped me cook, she did lots of things that had nothing at all to do with her book, and she had no guilt for that.
I’m an achiever. I can’t help it, I’ve always thrown my whole self into everything, but it can become problematic at times. I have workaholic tendencies, and sometimes I get tunnel vision so I can’t see beyond the immediacy of what I’m doing in the moment. I have to remind myself that other hobbies, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with words, are okay. Healthy, even. I could take up playing the piano again, or do more with my growing cooking hobby, or play a videogame or even color a picture myself, and I don’t have to feel guilty that that time’s not going to writing. Writing will always be there, words aren’t going to leave, but time is going to pass and my life will be what I construct it to be. I want it to be a whole, healthy, flourishing thing – and that, in turn, will feed my writing much more than some kind of forced and dutiful routine. That’s not to say routine isn’t important. My sister wrote every single day she was here. But routine and obligation don’t have to be synonyms.

Third: My sister’s heart is in her story. It is uniquely hers in every possible way, and she’s proud of it. She loves it. She’s very aware of it’s faults (both real and imagined, like any good writer) and she’s the first to spot mistakes, but she loves it. She talks about it with everyone. It comes up in casual conversation. She doesn’t criticize it as compared to other writers, and she’s not so focused on how it’ll fit in the market, whether it’s conventional or edgy or YA or adult, she doesn’t have the first clue about pacing. But she loves the story, and it shows in her work.
This last lesson is a tricky one to transmit. As a more developed writer, it’s natural for me to have a strong awareness of the market, people’s expectations, expected reader reactions, categories and style, and all the other structural pieces of writing a good book. But sometimes, because of our intimacy with the nuts and bolts, we can’t stand back and see the creation as a whole. We notice the slight tilt of the flooring, that corner where the paint already chipped, how the front door window is just barely not quite in the center, but we miss the comfortable grace of the story home we’ve built. This kind of intense focus on our story faults can make us shyer and quieter, hesitant to discuss our stories for fear someone will ask how it’s going and we’ll have to answer honestly. It can make us afraid, which in turn can crush the very creativity we so need to foster. If we can find that illusive balance between knowing our markets and our publishing business, and still loving the little seeds of stories we carry in our hearts, and more importantly find a way to transplant that seed from our hearts to the page without judging the sapling for not being so sturdy, I think we’d all be more joyful, and more creative, writers. Don’t let fear, or your own judgement, crush your heart and your individual voice.

Grow and learn. Read, research, develop, make yourself the best you can be and always push yourself to do bigger things. But don’t forget to enjoy the work you do and the life you live.

A Letter That Says A Thing Or Two

Okay, you guys.

This is the scariest thing I’ve ever written in my life. I cried buckets while I wrote it and at first I thought I wouldn’t post because it’s so incredibly personal, and it’s also WILDLY long, like over 2500 words and I feel like no one wants to read that many personal words.

But I can’t stop thinking about how maybe one person somewhere out there needs to hear a story like this and feel less alone or like there’s some kind of hope.

So. This is an a letter I wrote to myself about getting sick and coming through that whole experience. If you’re the one person who needs to read this – I hope it helps. And I’m always around to tell you things get better and it’s going to be okay.

It happened right about this time, three years ago.

It’s still a little early – would you have used these last three weeks differently if you’d known what was coming?

It started with the hiccups.

At least that’s what you thought.

You sat at your desk almost one full year into your first real grownup job after college, your first apartment. Things were infinitely perfect and you didn’t realize how much so. You were accepted to grad school, you were respected in your job, you had taken the leap and auditioned for community theatre and you starred, you got your wish, you took the last bow and you were successful there too, the show did so well it got extended, the entire office came to your opening night and you had never been so happy and found the world so full of incredible things. You knew who you were and what you wanted to do, and every dream was huge but possible.

And then it was the day before your 22nd birthday. And you got the hiccups. They were weird though, your stomach moved more than your chest. The muscles along your ribcage pulsed, in and out, no rhythm to the movement and you told someone later you thought it was weird but you didn’t think much about it and oh, you, if only you’d known would you have done something different, would you have gone done said watched worked climbed
Adventured
Differently
On that one
Last
Night?

The next day you had those same not-quite-hiccups again, and by the next day after that there was this tightness in your muscles, an ache in your joints. The not-hiccups were big now, noticeable, pulsing uncontrollably through your body in waves.

They thought it was Lyme’s.

That’s what she said, the fresh out of college doctor on call. Mom came that weekend and she saw it and you watched black and white tv with your head in her lap and she stroked your hair and made a song out of your name as wave after wave of cramping twisting pulling pain started across the top of your stomach and eventually all through your torso up into your shoulders and head. After that weekend
At Grandma’s, when you kept having to duck out of the room and hide in Grandpa’s room to let it tear through you
(you were already learning you had no control but you could hide)
And Mom made excuses for you
And it seemed like everything was too loud, too bright
And your aunt lay on the bed next to you and held your hand and asked what it was like and you didn’t have words
(the first time, no last in sight)
After all that, Mom said you had to go in so
You sat in the doctor’s office
And she said it was Lyme’s.
You believed her because
Back then doctors knew things
They could help
But most importantly you needed it to be true.

If you knew then, would you have embraced those last minutes, hours, days before the breaking?

You took the pills and you waited but it spread. Now when it happened, your toes curled, your calves turned to rock, your body twisted, it hurt, you were afraid
You started cursing
You didn’t cry.

Back then you had the privilege of keeping some things sacred.

The second Lyme’s test came back negative and there were more doctors, 3-4-5, white coats and waiting rooms and you had to tell HR so they could put you on Family Leave, so someone, anyone, could tell you what was wrong
No one did.
You knew you should be thankful for a job with benefits like FMLA and you were but oh, God, you were 22 and were you dying? And all the doctors did was stare and say “never seen that before” and give you pills for stress, things that made you dizzy, gave you hallucinations of people in your apartment, made you stupid, made you sad, filled you with doubt about who you were and who you were becoming.

They said it was living away from your family – five hours away
They said it was grad school
They said it was your job
They said it was all in your head.

They said and they said and they said but meanwhile you sat at church through the October memorial service watching the slideshow of people who’d died that year and you were gripped by the deepest darkest fear that it’d be your face up there the next year

And they still said, but
It was November and you had to sit in a staff meeting and lose those shreds of privacy you were clinging to and tell them all that you were sick
Sick with something
No one knew what or why

They were all sympathetic but you couldn’t drive anymore; your whole job was home visits and teams and a few weeks later you heard someone you thought you could trust asking sharply why you couldn’t just deal and the SHAME
(you got so accustomed to the shame but you weren’t then and it was so heavy)
Weighed heavy on you.

The doctors said and said but it was December and you dozed off midsentence in front of your computer at work from the drugs
You lay on the conference room floor jerking and flailing and twisting
You had to be helped out of a client’s – a client’s – home
You scraped by with B’s in the first semester of Saturday grad school and you were still working forty hours a week on top of that so no one understood how much it hurt
-you’d always been at the top of the class and now when you read textbooks, heard a lecture, wrote a paper, it was all through gray fog that ate up the words and the meanings
-you’d always worked harder than most but now you were tired, so tired, and you couldn’t connect to your clients, you were behind on case notes, your teammates were picking up so much slack and you knew it
You knew they knew it
It tore you apart.

You’re 22. You can’t drive. You call your parents every night so they know you’re alive.
Someone else shops for you. Cooks for you. Does the laundry, the cleaning, helps you study
Holds you together.

Your coworker drives you to and from work every day, covers for you when you’re on the floor in the conference room every hour, takes your pulse and blood pressure. She makes you food, introduces you to The Big Bang Theory, helps you feel like you can still laugh. She doesn’t run away from the grotesque twisting cramping breaking of your body. She knows to put pillows under your head, clear away breakable things; she massages your hands when the muscles cramp and make them into claws.
She’s your best friend.

You can’t wear heels anymore. Sometimes books are too heavy and you can’t read. Sometimes your eyes won’t focus.

Often you’re alone.

You’d lost twenty pounds when you did theatre, you were fit and thrilled and felt beautiful –
-Forty pounds came with all the pills and when you watch videos of yourself to catalogue symptoms, though your body is writhing contorting shaking so violently, all you see is your fat
It only adds to your burden of shame.

You go home for Christmas. One sister won’t speak to you and you’re pretty sure it’s because for months now your parents have driven down every weekend, five hours there, five hours back, to take you to classes, pick up groceries, go to appointments, make sure you’re alive and they don’t miss any last moments

She might hate you because everyone’s lives revolve around you now

And the craziest thing is that you feel like you have no life at all

Your baby sister, who you love nurture protect finds you on the floor on Christmas Day and cries.
She asks if you’re going to die.
You don’t know.

Three days later a woman with short dark hair
Wire rim glasses
Thin lips
The specialist you were made to wait three months to see
Says
I can’t help you, maybe it’s trauma or stress , see a therapist, come back in

Six

Months.

You’ve already been diagnosed by a therapist back when the first doctor sent you there – “Not mental health related, send to a specialist.”
She was the last hope.
You and your mom drive home together
Through cornfields heavy with snow
She asks if there’s anything you’ve never told her
Pain-grief-fear
There wasn’t (there might be now but it’s grown out of this thing)
Neither of you can speak anymore and you cry
So
Many
Tears.

You go back to your doctor, a poor family physician who’s kind – who hears you – who’s stuck with you, believed you – been a safe place
Her righteous indignation makes you feel you might be alive after all

She has one last idea. One breath of hope. Another pill.

You’re 22 and you don’t even know (broken up fears, terrors, sorrows, losses) who you are anymore.

You say yes.

It’s gradual. This thing that’s dominated your life doesn’t recede into it’s black pit so easily.

A digression: you’ve been awake every second.
Every cramp. Every pulse. Every twist. Every yank. The way you describe it now is like a seizure, but more violent and you’re awake
For the throbbing, the pulling, the twisting and turning
The smell of electricity, the feeling
Of being Awake
(like the warning your body sends when you have the flu and you know when you’ll vomit)
You’ve been Awake every single horrific second.

In March, you sit behind the wheel of a car for the first time in six months.
You drive up the hill to Walmart.
You buy something.
You drive home.
It feels like the whole world is singing.

You ask the doctor for more of this stuff and less of all that garbage that’s made you so slow and stupid and helped not at all.
You’re still on the floor, but five times a day now, not eleven.

You feel reborn.

There are ups and downs
You’re not dying
But if it’s what they think it is
You’ll never get better
They can’t say for sure because the insurance won’t test you when
There’s no hope of a cure.

You almost don’t care because
Now you’re only on the floor two or three times a day and you drive, you get accepted for an internship, you’re much braver than you were but also
More solemn, more isolated.
Quietly grieving.

Your life is becoming yours again but you don’t recognize it.

Time passes. Your birthday makes you cry. People say how did you do it how do you now you always smile you’re so kind you’re so brave and you
Talk about your faith, because it’s been the single slim line keeping your from drowning
Talk about small blessings because you’ve truly found them to be abundant
Talk about family, one or two incredibly loyal friends, coworkers and an office like family

But you try not to mention
Not now
Not ever

How the weight you gained sticks with you
How you’re prisoner to the night because the flash of headlights in the dark gives you symptoms
How you have to measure activities by the strength you have left
No bright or flashing lights
No startling
No loud noises
Avoid crowds stress strain busyness exertion (life)
How you’re afraid you’ll never get married because how will anyone love you?
How you’ll always need more help than you like, be reliant on strangers sometimes
How it’ll never be the same and you’re
Always
Waiting
For it all to crumble again.

You see the short haired thin lipped doctor again.
She’s pregnant now. Her life went on.
She can’t believe her eyes.
You’ve never hated someone before now
But if she’d just looked
Past herself
At you
Maybe so much wouldn’t have been lost.

You do an internship. You change jobs, you move, you increase meds now and then.
You’re careful but busy again.
Sometimes you’re still on the floor.

You get your master’s degree (graduation is all bright lights and noise, you don’t go, you don’t grieve)
You get a job
Buy a house

Sometimes it catches you unawares
That this is who you are now
Can’t separate yourself from your disease.

You still can’t imagine anyone will ever love you “that way” (the lifetime kind of way)

You miss theatre, driving long distances or after dark, not planning pills and energy levels ahead, trusting doctors, steady hands, close friends who fell away, believing in your body and yourself, not being such close friends with shame.

You insist on trying everything at least once just to see if maybe somehow you can handle it okay.

You find joy the way you always have – somehow you’ve always been gifted with eyes to see. Sometimes you take that for granted but not as much anymore. You build a life again.

Time passes.

Now it’s time to let go. It’s going to be your birthday again and it’s hitting hard somehow because you’re officially in your midtwenties and you feel like you lost
So much time
So many dreams
Innocence and belief.

And you grieve it, grieve with silent wailing, calm smiles, a constant sense of bittersweet
But you can’t change it.

You’ll probably not star in a show again. You won’t be able to mow your own lawn, travel will be unpredictable at best and not real safe, you’ll always have to decide when (not if) to disclose, your hands will always shake, you’ll be weak, people will sometimes think you rude, standoffish, selfish, strange, gross, broken, hard, because sometimes you
Just
Can’t.

But maybe there’s something you
Can.
Things you didn’t ever think you could even Before
New dreams
Brighter stars.

Oh, you. You can’t reach for those stars with both hands holding so tightly to the past.

Stand on faith. Exchange your shame for humility. Accept that your fear doesn’t make liars of people who call you brave.

Something happened to you. It tore you up, carved scars in your heart, left the print of something heavy on your soul.
It does not define you. Only you do.

Soon, it’s your birthday. The Anniversary of something much bigger than a disease.

Today is the beginning of everything you make it to be. All of this is not your story.
It’s still unfolding.

The One Where It’s Finally Done

This is a story about strawberry tea and sparkly star stickers and avocado fries.

It’s mostly about doing impossible things, the importance of having people to complain to until your face melts, and why you should have a really nice chair at your desk.

It’s about how I finally, Finally, finished the book.

A brief review: In January and February I revised a different book. It was hard and it was long and then it was done.

In March, I did…possibly nothing. I know I wrote a 10k short story, which you can read right here on the blog, and I have absolutely no idea what else. This is not uncommon for me. Nothing to see here. I do know that I went on vacation and stayed in a gorgeous hotel and walked through some ruins and started dreaming about a book.

In April I did Camp Nanowrimo and tried to give that book some guts. I got 20k in and I realized there was no story there. It was all too clean, dry, dull. It was already boring me and if something bores you at 20k, my friends, just don’t force yourself through 50-70k more. It’s just not worth it.

In April I also moaned and complained and blogged and fussed, until I suddenly realized what I was really telling was the story of a somewhat villainous girl with a stone for a heart and a whole lot of fears hidden away underneath it. Then I found the story.

In May I worked on the book. Which is to say I wrote in fits and starts, interrupted by days of staring at the ceiling or reading books so I could hide from how scared I was of the book. I talked people’s heads off. I brainstormed via DM and email and I’m kind of surprised I have any friends left. I was grouchy, irritable, and then giddy sometimes. The story inched along, and it got bigger and deeper and darker. It started a body count.

I started getting cramps in my forearms and elbows.

In June I started the sticker system again, annoyed with my brain and my apparent need to only write 3-4 days a week instead of six. I’d never written a book so slowly and it was slowly crushing my confidence.

And then it wasn’t. It wasn’t slow, it was bloody, there was a lot of kissing, my back was aching from the hours in my antique, lovely, awful chair, and there was Progress happening. I only missed two days of writing between June 1st and today. Aside from those, my lowest wordcount for a day was 1500. The last two days, Monday and yesterday, were 7k and 11.5k respectively. That’s right, I finished this book exactly the opposite of the way I started it – in April it was a creeping, miserable thing. In June it was a marathon fueled by avocado fries and tea from my lovely OTSP secret sister, the encouragement of my very, very lovely and sweet and understanding first reader, Pinterest, Woodkid and Two Steps From Hell, and a kind of satisfaction I’d been missing before.

Finally the story is right. It’s not necessarily good, y’all, good takes more time and I already have a list of things to polish up, but it’s very solid. Much more so than usual. Which makes all that extra time and frustration very  much worth it. AND IT’S DONE.

Usually I write six or seven drafts of books per year. In 2015, I’ve written one. This one. And where that used to scare me, now I’m a little bit proud of it. Because I know it’s already on it’s road to being what I want it to be – what it’s capable of being. And that’s what any writer wants for their story.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m back in a week or two weeping and tearing my hair out over how it won’t polish up as shiny bright as I’d like it to. But I finished a book, y’all. And if you’re staring at a screen or a page and moaning and stuffing yourself with cookies, let me just encourage you – it is, it is, it is worth it in the end.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to see these kind of things, I’ve included a little scene below from this draft. Words in the rough, you know.

You guys, it’s done.

They climbed the steps into the ruins themselves, and she was swept by a silent awe that nested in her bones, wove itself through the fabric of her skin, laced itself through the slipping furious strength of her blood. Evian’s hand fell from hers as he walked slowly across to the far wall, running a hand across the stone with head bowed as though he absorbed the whispered pleading prayers of a nation through his fingertips over the rough façade.
She felt loose. Untethered. It was a heady sensation.
Marguerite turned slowly the way they came, staring out across the sun-dappled gravestones to the river beyond, flowing blue and green and fast along it’s path. She felt it’s movement, wild, in her veins.
The high arches where the bells used to sit framed a sky so blue it made her breathless. Low branches of trees hung overhead, drooping down over the stone walls into the dirt courtyard they stood in and sneaking through the wide square windows carved into the stone. There was nothing but rock and sun and late afternoon breeze, ripe with spring and lilacs blooming somewhere beyond the walls. The silence wrapped itself around her, easing the pain in her side, the burn of her cuts and the stitches woven through them, and the aching gape of her fear of the future.
She sat on a low stone stoop leading down into one of the copses standing diligently on either side of the arched entrance to the ruins and tilted her head back, letting the sun fall full and hot across her face, washing away the damages.