June, June, what are you?
I’m proud of my work in June. I’m devastated by June. Nation-wide, global-wide, June hurt.
June–there were only a few days of June Gloom in Orange County. A few days where, when I woke early enough, fog gripped the canyon hills and blurred out the lower valley. As a teenager every June morning–no, almost every morning apart from those in July and August–were drenched with that fog, that glorious gloom. This month, we only had a single morning where I couldn’t see beyond my backyard’s turquoise metal gate. That was my favorite day to write.
I’m finally writing again. Did I mention I’d kind of unwillingly stopped?
I think I hinted, referenced, evaded the topic. Alaska wrung me out dry. Alaska inspired and aggravated. In Alaska, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and PTSD (which I wrote about while in Alaska, and that essay will be published by the Rumpus some week soon). In Alaska, I only wrote if it were required or NOTHING LEFT TO BURN revisions. I don’t need to keep discussing how my mental state was in Alaska, how my body and brain conspired, how the sun kept me spinning in the worst way. I’ve already explained.
I attempted to start my “next book” back in September. I wrote what I thought was a novel outline, play scenes that sketched its core. It was more of a short story than anything and people liked it. I attempted to start planning, because I was told by important people that I needed to outline, to learn from the mess I’d made in the early days of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. I was told I shouldn’t start drafting until I knew the heart of my new book, until I knew the end, every twist. This froze me. This had me on the floor, making notes with arrows, making notes that stated I don’t know. Attempting to change my writing process while being out on submission and receiving rejections and then having the dream come true, all the while my mind cracking every day, all the while trying to fix my brain, was a lethal combination. Long story short: I didn’t write much. I was stuck. I was cold.
There is a strange, heavy sense of shame when you sell a book after having not written a fresh word in what feels like years. I will never let myself feel that again. I’m a writer, even if I’m not writing. Even if I’m in a drought–that’s okay. I’m a writer.
So, in May, I left Alaska with what I called a “muddy rambling novel plan” (which really is a glorified term for a messy, playful synopsis), but I felt as if I had nothing. As if my brain had shattered so terribly up north that I’d lost the spark. I would never write again.
Instinctually, I knew this wasn’t true. I was hopeful. I was eager. I was ready to move, to drive those 3000 miles, to find my discipline and love for writing again. But I was scared. God, I was scared.
The first day in June, a week after I’d returned to California, three days after I visited her, cried and told her I love you, thank you, I love you, my aunt passed away. She fought breast cancer for over some twelve years. Half of my life. My aunt who said why not? why the hell not? when she heard that I wasn’t going to apply to Colorado College because I didn’t feel I was equipped, didn’t feel worthy, didn’t feel I had a shot of ever being accepted. My aunt who loved fiercely, who was so intimidating with her strength and grace and elegance and determination. My aunt passed away and, it’s strange, because my greatest fear for the last two years was that she’d go while I was in Alaska before I had a chance to say goodbye.
This is why I went home for Thanksgiving. To say goodbye, to see her. But I was too scared to say goodbye. Just as I was too scared to say goodbye to Alaska, the friends there. And this is sounding selfish, like I think my aunt held on for me to get there in time, which is by no means the case at all. Coincidence is all it is. I’m so incredibly lucky, and it’s so odd, that I was so fixated on saying goodbye adequately in May, only to have to say goodbye in the truest of ways on the first day of June. Say goodbye to my aunt. Say goodbye and watch my mother’s heart break.
June. June. What did June do?
The hurt. The grief. The losses. The what the fuck is happening to this world.
On the twenty-ninth day in May, I stared at the four pages of my next novel’s unfinished planning ramble and I cried. My mom poured me a glass of wine. My mom, who has shouldered this month, this month of losing her sister, the past four months of being at her dying sister’s side, my mom who has given and given and given, this month, this past year. Serving others. Sacrificing her time, her writing, her healing. My mom poured two glasses of wine and she forced me to talk about my writing and I cried.
We talked and she asked questions and I cried and I retreated to my room and, dun dun dun, I opened up a new document. I wrote. I played. I screamed a fuck you to thorough planning, to total I know it all outlining. That’s not how my brain works and I’m not interested in doing it one specific way. I wrote. I fell in love with the story. I fell in love with writing again. The discovery. The surprise. I channelled fourteen-year-old me: the girl writing in between homework sessions, writing when sick, writing as both an escape and a form of play. June hurt in so many ways. So I adjusted my mindset, reprogrammed the approach, and I let writing messy–playing with this new weird muddy story–be my play, my solace.
I had to allow writing to again be an act of healing.
And when I hit 20k words this past weekend, when I started to feel my wobbling, I reopened that planning ramble. I filled in more details and I expanded. This is how I will write this book. Discovery. Some planning. Fucking up. Outlining. Re-channeling. I’m expecting to start the next BURN revision in two weeks and I’m aiming to finish this zero draft by then, so I have it, so my brain has something more to focus on than this tired, sad world. Because writing gives me hope. This zero draft will suck. No one will see this draft, except maybe my boyfriend who read that accidental short story in October, maybe my mom who is my greatest reader. But, ultimately, I will outline this next book through the zero draft. I will write. I will rewrite. I will write.
I have many more novels in me, novels that will fail and instruct me, and novels I’ll be proud of and hold close. And I’m promising myself this: I’ll write in the way my mind demands. I will write it my way and it’ll be just fine. Because why not? Why the hell not?
My aunt will never see my first book, or any of my books, in print.
We’re all so ready for June to end. We’re all so wrung out by 2016. I want to hug and spread love and cry with those who hurt. I do that sometimes. And I write. I write not for my career as an author or because it’s what’s expected of me as a debut author. I write because it’s how I say goodbye, how I understand the hurt that festers, how I listen, how I calm myself so I can be here.
My mom sent photos as I wrote this. She’s in Big Sur at Esalen, at a writing retreat with Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, other incredible heart healing writers. A retreat that she was signed up for last year, but her granddaughter was planned to arrive that week (and she did–my niece’s turns one tomorrow), so she cancelled. A retreat that she was on the waitlist for this year, that she thought there was no way for her to go because her oldest sister was dying of cancer and she needed to be near. Esalen called my mom the week her sister died. She was off the waitlist. My mom, who I haven’t seen take a day for herself this entire month, a day to spend in bed, or in her garden, a day of quiet to try to heal. I told my mom go. Please go. Go to the coast, go write, be selfish, give yourself this gift.
My mom is in Big Sur for the week. She says she not working on her novel but writing about her sister. She says she’s skipping assigned reading and listening to women play the guitar under the stars, talking to other writers in the hot springs. My mom will end June there, spend the first morning of July there.
July, let us heal and write. Let us move and act on our pain and listen better and continue to say goodbye.