I was asked what I’d wish I’d known before my black lab entered my life. She arrived only three months old in August 2007. I was fifteen and now I’m twenty-five. Easy math: she’ll be turning ten this spring.
The number one thing I wish I’d known: how fast ten years can pass.
This question is surprisingly emotional.
Of course there are technical things I wish my family had known: the danger of ocean waves; her allure to anything edible, including dog-treat-like painkillers (she survived an entire bottle–it’s a mystery how she got into the high cabinet); how she won’t simply chew a bone but eat it down to its marrow, making herself sick.
But what has been most surprising, most important, is my black lab’s impact on my life.
The timing of this question–what I wish I’d known–is spot on. Once again, I’m separated from my beloved. She’s in California and I’m in Washington state. My biggest want is to spend her final years with her, which is implausible and selfish. We also have a relaxed Bichon Schitzu mut in our home, one year her elder. They’re pals, sort of, despite their different temperaments. What would I be doing to these dogs if I separated them, if I took Bella from the house–a house that is large, open, with a yard that looks out to valleys, mountains, a national forest? The home she knows.
I’m convinced she won’t mind after too long: she loves me, I take her on hikes, I give her constant love. But this isn’t the topic of this post–my desperation for more time with her–so I’ll save that tangent for another time.
Excuse me as I will absolutely get sentimental.
///what I didn’t know when Bella(trix), my black lab, arrived.
Hide the macadamia nuts. When Bella snags a newly opened bottle from the cupboard and devours it, she’ll lose control of her back legs. Your parents will think she’s paralyzed, dying, and will carry her down the stairs using a towel. She’s unable to stand, to sit, to move, to respond. Your parents won’t call you until they find the destroyed macadamia nut container and turn to Google, when the vet deems her okay. You will cry regardless.
In her early days, she will help you recover from anorexia. When she is still being kenneled at night, you will hear her crying as you cry and bring her to your bed. She will nuzzle you to sleep. She will calm you, give you the love you don’t think you deserve. In her early and mid and later days, she will be the force that pulls you out of the dark. A reason to keep trying, move forward.
She will maybe save your life in so many damn subtle and large ways.
One day, when you’re on a walk–she’s one, maybe two–two dogs on extending leashes will bound to her. She’s on your leash and you’ve trained her well on walks. She stays by your side. But the other dogs, fully grown, fast and thrilled, they will jump onto Bella before you can pull her away. She’s already shy. The dogs will hump her, try to play. Bella will whine, whimper, let out a howl, and try to escape, claw to you. You will sob as you try to end it. The owners of the other dogs will laugh it off, apologize, ignore your eyes. You calm Bella down, nuzzle her face, and let the moment pass. Continue the walk. Shake it off.
From that walk on, the only other dog Bella will trust is Leonardo–the shitzu mix she shares a home with. At dog parks and beaches, she keeps her distance. She will always prefer humans. When other dogs enter the house, she’s not aggressive (she will never be aggressive) but dubious, timid, sad–keeping a distance, only stepping in when she feels small Leo is at risk.
This one is hard for you to admit: technically Bella was a birthday gift to your brother and is not technically your dog but his or at the very least the family’s dog. (Shhhhh.) Even at age twenty-five, you will generally refuse to accept this as fact.
Because when you’re home, you and Bella spend every moment together–her following you like a shadow–she will pick up pieces of your personality. Or maybe you will pick up pieces of hers. Your family and friend are dubious about what came from who. You both share an affinity for hanging out on the floor (okay, she often chooses the couch but still), bouts of hyperness followed by exhaustion, you don’t like being left alone but rather be near the chaos to observe from afar, your shy around crowds of new people, both empathetic to a fault and cry too easily, introverts who crave attention and give too much love. You both press your face against the faces of those you love. And, fine, are both a wee bit bratty and entitled when it comes to best-sitting spot in the house.
When your younger brother and dad innocently, playfully, toss her into the pool as a puppy, they ruin her the possibility of her every willingly swimming in it again. You will spend years trying to lure her out with treats and patience. She won’t go past the second step.
But days where the temperature peaks past 95 degrees, you’ll look out a window and see her–your pool-fearing dog–relaxing on the top step of the pool. And occasionally, randomly, she’ll prance inside with her belly and legs soaked wet.
Because of your tendency to press your face into her face, she will attempt to do this with every other family member and frequent house visitor. And if someone is sitting on the floor, or really sitting anywhere, she will try to cuddle real close. You will be blamed and you will not care.
As soon as you pull out a suitcase, her mood will plummet. She will nestle in a corner, on a bed or your folded pile of to-be-packed clothes, and stare at you with the saddest eyes. She knows what it means.
She will do anything and everything to obtain food. She will steal an apple from the fruit bowl and raw steak out of the sink. She will find the boxes of expensive holiday toffee in the closet and eat every last piece. Chocolate does not make her sick. It’s a mystery–how she snags food your family now ensures to hide, put up, put away.
Your dad admittedly offers her his breakfast plate for her to lick clean. This will drive you crazy. But after her weeklong stay at the animal clinic after a surgery, when the vet happily proclaims he gave her a McDonald’s egg sandwich every morning, you will be annoyed and amused and you father will be vindicated.
Her guilt is palpable. Especially after food stealing. She will hide, duck her face, hurry outside. She’ll watch your face from afar, your energy, waiting for the punishment to end.
When you return home–because after your first year and a half together, you develop an addiction to sporadic moving–she will tackle you and love-nip your face and cry whimper joy. You will live for these moments.
After you have a surgery, or when your simply very sick, she will know. She will be tentative around you, removed from her normal eagerness. She won’t hop onto you bed but wait for your beckoning. She will lick your face so carefully, nudge her head against your chest. She knows. And when you’re having an episode, when you’re in absolute distress, sobbing, unable to breathe, she can be in another part of the house, outside even, and know this too. She’ll find you. Sit with you. Wait it out. Let you sob into her belly.
After you free her from her kennel mid-night when she is still a puppy, she won’t go near that kennel again. When it’s brought into the house, she will stay several feet away, watch it carefully. She will only go inside when you crawl in too and with a treat.
When you are away–in Colorado Springs or Berkeley or Humboldt County or Alaska, at college, an extended vacation, a random move–your heart will break every day because of how much you miss her. You will become a crazy dog lady. Have you ever missed anyone like this? You will pester your mom for photos and videos and you will sob. Knowing you’ll see Bella again will be your calm.
The ocean is not Bella’s friend. When she is brought to the dog beach a fourth time, she will be infatuated with the waves. She will walk out too deep. She is seven years old and her hips and knees are already weakened, damaged even, from a puppyhood of “dog dancing” (we were young and dumb–me and my siblings) and her jumping near back flips for food and simply being alive–and, at that beach, a series of strong waves will slam her, drag her backside to the sand. You will see a video of the exact moment and your stomach will sink. Her legs under her, her hip yanked to the side. After, she doesn’t care that she’s in pain. That she’s injured. She continues her ocean dance and beach frolicking. She will come home with a limp and bounce around the house, still gleeful. You will try to tell yourself it’s okay.
Three months later, you will demand a vet visit despite the cost. Her limp is worse and she’s developed a tremor. The vet first thinks it might be cancer and your heart shatters. But, ultimately, you learn she has torn ligaments, a faulty joint, other horrifying terms. She needs an intensive surgery. Metal in her knees, her hips. She might not survive. Your heart breaks again. You’re told she’ll probably need a second one on her other back leg in a few years. This expensive surgery. This pain.
She has the surgery. She heals. Her nights spent away from the house, at the hospital, are too quiet. As soon as she is brought home, she fights the concept of not walking on her own, not running. Using a sling, you will help her outside to use the bathroom. She will whine like there’s nothing worse in the world when she’s confined to a small room so she doesn’t hurt herself. She will heal. Two months later, you’re walking with her, running with her through the hills and valleys that make your home. Two years later, you’ll notice an occasional small limp and wonder. You and your family are mindful, watching closely.
But you’ll always resent the ocean.
One day, you will write a blog post dedicated to her, and you will cry as you type and gather photos. You are as dramatic as her.
She will become a spoiled queen. Your family can’t resist. Since your first dog, pups have been allowed on beds and couches. And Bella is the worst–believing she’s entitled to sofa space and pillows, and perhaps you enable this by your preference for the floor below her.
When you realize she is nine years old and has outlived your childhood dog, you will start reconciling her limited time. You will consider the span of her life. Of what she has given, taught. You will make plans for her time ahead. You will cry and then get up and remember there is still time.
At some point, you will consider her a part of you. She has developed you, taught you how to grow from a broken teenager to who you are now. This black lab that you initially avoided. Every day away from her hurts. She is your baby. Your patronus, a bone, your best friend–the only one who understands you so completely. She has seen you at your very worst. She has watched you self-destruct. She has watched you love. She has taught you how to love.
You never expected her to teach you how to love yourself.
Bella reminds me why I stay proactive with my mental health to this day, and she will continue to in memory when her time ends. I’ll say it again and again: I never thought a dog would teach me how to love myself, but that is exactly what Bella did. If I’d known sooner, I would have treasured her early puppy days, would have let her in right away.
This year. That spring. This summer. This fall. We all ache and are fighting and I don’t know what to say. The past week–it’s been similar to when my aunt died. I wake gutted, deep. It hits me every hour and I cry. I get through the day okay, I make it past sunset, only to collapse. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be able to stand again.
But this is different from my aunt’s death. It’s take so much to reconcile that–how this is harder to move on from than a loved one’s passing. I knew she was going. She had fought and won for a decade. She was in a pain. I knew she was going to die months before, and I’d somehow left Alaska soon enough to say goodbye. And I knew my mom, my family, me–we’d heal, prevail, move on in small ways gradually.
But this. I didn’t expect this. We. New tragedies and damaging news hit every day. People are dying. And me, my family. We are privileged. We are white. While my personal financial situation is in shambles, my parents are well off and stable. I am educated and straight passing and have a safety net: I can return to my childhood home if necessary. But I’m also queer, have an invisible and chronic physical illness, bipolar, losing insurance in eight months, and a woman. And still, I am so so so safe in comparison to so many others.
My heart breaks more every day. I want to make it stop: what’s happening, what’s happened. I can’t begin to understand.
I don’t know how we’ll heal, how we’ll move on beyond raising our voices, refusing compliancy, fighting, making phone calls and writing letters, doing at least one thing each day to refuse to accept that this our new normal. The hate. I don’t know when we’ll get a reprieve, and that’s–that’s horrifying.
Too many have spoken far more eloquently, powerfully, bravely, inspirationally on this election than me. Too many are fighting stronger, louder. I have so much respect, so much love. I try to let those emotions overpower the fear and anger. I’m fighting too. I’m making plans. I’m listening. I’m trying. I am. And I’m tending to my heart. And I hope your tending yours too.
This is not to trivialize the events unfolding. This is not to say “it’ll all be okay”–I’m not sure this is a fact these days, at least for so many in this country. This is–this is my way of coping, of saying I love you.
Because I do: I write with love. I write hoping that whoever you are, you are okay. You are not alone.
And yet I don’t know what to say beyond sharing fragments and thoughts that are helping me get up each morning and do my work, take care of myself, keep hope, keep working. it warms me in the tiniest of bits and I hope it warms you, maybe, too.
my heat pad, pressed to my heart.
the puget sound rain, drizzle, relentless, secure.
wood burning in the fireplace, breaking the cold.
me finding calm in watching the flames.
my revision, the highest stakes deadline of my life.
receiving comfort from my editor, a dream come true
–it’s hard to wrap my head around a lifelong goal, dream,
coming to fruition in the admits of all this pain but it’s real–
I must focus on that.
i must allow myself to celebrate.
growing an orchard every day in my Forest app,
losing myself in the words.
cutting off my internet for hours at a time.
thank you Stay Focused, the silence, the silence.
i am wanting to fight, to be active,
but I must also respect the quiet.
the quiet strengthens me.
my new bookshelf:
my one splurge from the first third of my book advance.
imagining moving all of my other books still in California,
filling my apartment with a wall of books–
–and yet, all the while,
my wander lust/moving love kicking in, my ache for the outside.
can you believe I’m looking into moving again?
(yes, if you know me, yes you can).
reading in bed, snuggled warm
the gentle reminder that I’m not a city dweller.
looking at the olympic peninsula, san juan islands,
the coast, the mountains.
cheaper rent and possibilities.
room for my black lab to move to me for her final days–
my baby, my pup–does she even have two more years?
planning to celebrate her days,
her and me, in these wet forests, the mountains, and trees.
chicken and dumplings.
tacos filled with avocado and salsa and sour cream. that warmed tortilla.
mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. pork loins and sage gnocchi.
pizza. chocolate. endless chocolate. buttered toast with sea salt.
feeding myself, even without an appetite.
feeding myself because it’s no time to starve,
no time to self sabotage or relapse
to go into default habits.
it’s time to stay strong. rise up.
hot salt baths.
yoga by the fire.
the lack of beastly wildfires.
reminding myself that there’s no reason
to live in a city if the city isn’t offering you work
and if the city is more than you can afford
and, though you absolutely adore the particular city,
you much rather be lost somewhere you can walk outside and be outside
–the hope and dream of that.
every place I’ve lived has offered immediate access to outside, to quiet:
trabuco canyon, humboldt county,
colorado springs, chipita park, fairbanks.
not so much berkeley when I was seventeen,
but even berkeley had trees in which
i could get lost within walking distance from my studio.
renton–i love it’s proximity to seattle and montains and water–
but I feel severed. i need my open roads,
my immediate walks from home.
the hope of that in my near future: it helps.
i also don’t like the name renton.
books. thank you books.
what I’ve done lists instead of to do lists.
i went to the emergency room in late october,
or maybe mid-october.
my mind wasn’t right and i was scared
–it wasn’t okay,
though I said it was okay after the time.
i still wasn’t being honest.
after my last blog post, I was so far from honest.
leaving my job at b&n within a week of the er visit.
this soothes me: the bravery of that action.
i wasn’t being honest with myself before.
i sound so flakey, but I’m not. i’m not a quitter.
my therapist gave me a talking to and
I walked out of her office and made the call.
taking control of this short life.
hugging the man i love.
i am a fighter.
i have been fighting since the first grade.
i am loud and adamant.
when i get an idea, a dream, I work for it.
i’m stubborn. i don’t quit.
i find the paths that I need to make it work,
listening, learning, growing.
i’m a work in progress. i’m writing.
hearing, pausing. patience and love,
so much love. connection.
with myself, my heart,
with those I love and those I don’t know, with you.
knowing I’ll see my family soon, california, my dog.
showing up. doing the work, the tending.
rising up. I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.
I love you. take care of you.
I’m an open book. But that’s kind of a lie. When life has shifted, I put the blog on maintenance mode–not wanting the pressure of new posts, not wanting to be found, not wanting to explain a change or failure, not wanting peers at my new undergrad to discover I was a high school drop out, what have you. That’s been the trend: I’m back with BIG NEWS! But then I’m gone again.
But I do share a lot. I was open about deferring graduate school and leaving graduate school. I try to be open about my mental health. I’ve blogged endlessly about writing rejections. I’ve rambled and published private interior monologues that no eighteen-year-old should ever feel safe to give to the world. And so, this past month, I’ve been thinking about what I share and what I don’t. The way I’ve curated my life’s dramatics online. The move there, the away from there, this big downfall, the big hurrah. And as September fell apart, week by week, my bizarre social-media trained brain thought: what do I do with this?
This is my attempt at better honesty. Too many superiors have told me I’m too honest. I’m fighting back. I’m sharing. This will probably be longer than anyone will read, and that’s fine. This is for me.
September: I started training to teach ESL. I was thrilled, timid, horrified, under qualified but eager to get back in a classroom. From the get-go of being hired, I was honest about my chronic health issues and the upcoming time demands of my NLTB revision. From as early as May, I was misled on the hours and expectations. In September, I signed an At Will contract, and yet–not even a full week later–my bossfriend walked me into a corner and demanded that if I remained past that day, I had to commit to staying on until February. And that the job would only get harder. And that he didn’t think it was a good idea.
He asked: when was the last time you wrote? are you sleeping? will your quality of lesson plans remain this high? how bad was your pain this morning? He also said he hired me to have someone to vent to, that I should be careful of him taking advantage of our friendship, that that that–look, I’m good at pretending I’m a high functioning, good-feeling, pain-free creature. But I told the truth. I trusted him and was honest, which led to him saying weighted, implication-heavy lines and me trying to say that I’m good to teach at high pain, it’s the only way I’ve taught, I was only being real, I won’t let you take advantage of me, listen, please–
And it’s funny because, earlier this summer, that same bossfriend made fun of me for being too honest in my resume. Lie more, he said. You’re being too honest, he said. And then I was honest with him in person, because that’s who I am, and then I was unemployed.
I didn’t quit. I wasn’t laid off. I was walked outside and sat on the grass and given forty-five minutes to decide how I wanted to proceed with my life. I took the riskier of the two very risky options.
I leased my apartment, bought my furniture, MOVED to Seattle under the pretense of that job and its income. Under a salary that gave me heart eyes. Under the assumption that it’d work perfectly with both my health and my writing, and I’d be teaching. TEACHING.
I was ready for the guilt of walking away from the teaching opportunity and the income, but not the depth of it. I’m not solo. I cosigned a lease with my partner. I moved with someone I love, telling him that my job would keep us comfortable while he looked for work. Who the hell does what I did? Who quits her job a month after moving to a new, competitive, expensive city when her partner is still struggling to find work?
I did that.
But I’m not a quitter. I didn’t quit. I took a different direction. I honored my health and the guttural feeling that the situation with my bossfriend would only escalate. And we talked about it, me and my partner. He knew the circumstances of the job were breaking me. I did what was right for me. For me and those potential students and for our relationship because fuck did that situation–
So, in September, I started training for a new job and then I no longer had that job and then I was hired for another job and then I quickly quit that job. That job was a bad idea: a graveyard on-call shift for a caregiving company. It was a job I applied to without a cover letter after I drove home newly unemployed--but I’m not unemployed, I write, I have a book, I’m being paid by a Big 5, and I edit and have invoices, I’m not unemployed–and I accepted that job like a child, desperate, needing to make rent, only to days later realize, shit. I’m a bipolar insomniac and, when I don’t take the pills I need to sleep, I deteriorate and become episodic. And shit, I can’t take sleeping meds while on call. And shit, when I don’t sleep I don’t write and my health crumbles andandnandnandand–I quit that job and apologized to the sweet women who hired me and they were thankful for my honesty. And then I applied to more jobs, more mindfully.
Whenever I drive into Seattle, I cry. Whenever I drive out, head to my home with its tree and wood-burning fireplace , I cry more. Let me stay here. Please let us stay here. I hold my breath and wish it to the Puget Sound, to Mercer Island, to the persistent rain and thick trees. Let us stay.
A local Barnes and Noble hired me the first week of October, which feels funny, strange. As a teen, it was a dream job. As a twenty-five-year-old signed author grad school drop out who aches to teach and aches to be around books, it will do just great. Glorified retail in a corporation that’s clawing to stay afloat, god bless it. It’s part time, so there’s still space for my freelance editing and my NTLB revision. And, unlike with teaching, I don’t bring buckets of work home for me (don’t let me think about this too much because I missteachinggivemeaclassroomnow). Again, I was honest when filling out paperwork: I disclosed my having a mental health disability. For the first time ever, I’ve asked to not work a specific shift on a certain day because I don’t trust my brain to stay/feel safe outside of my home on November 8.
Let’s see if my honesty bites me in that regards.
It was strange. September. Being hired. Being fired. Quitting. Being angry at my body, that I can’t do all that I want to do. Coming out to family and friends and twitter, because, hey, I’m bi. That also happened in September: coming out. Unemployment. Realizing that because neither I nor my partner have actually been HIRED since leaving school we aren’t eligible for unemployment. Applying for food stamps. Feeling like a weight on Washington State. Wanting to stay here. Wanting to stay here. A lease. No money–
Tucking in my pride. Breathing it in. Accepting that this is okay.
And it’s interesting because I didn’t want to share any of this. I didn’t want to share the mundanity of looking for work, of losing work, of the depression that swells when you let people down, when you watch someone you love apply day after day after day and get a close close call and then silence and silence–and okay, retail for me now, okay, okay, okay, it’s not ideal for where I want to go, it’s not teaching: it’s accepting a position you’re not so head over heels for but enjoy and can manage and do well and will pay the bills.
You want more honesty?
When my bossfriend gave me those forty-five minutes to decide whether I’d stay and teach ESL at a high-impact pace, I imagined myself sticking it out and how I would write about it months later. The grind. The pain. The pride of of announcing to the world that I threw myself into teaching this scary thing (for which I have no qualifications–bossfriend was also training me to lie to the government in January) and how I embraced my students and the prep work and the classroom, and I revised my debut with Penguin, rocked my revision, and I freelanced edited because it makes me happy, and I even still exercised and meditated!!! I imagined that scenario. How it’d look in words, my being like, well that was a fucking mess and led to a total collapse, but hey, resiliency!
That is not resilience. That is ignoring your instincts, your body, not listening to your soul.
And see, sharing that I left a complicatedly fraught job that would have been harmful to my physical and mental health, as well as to my deadlines–to my writing, my passion–that I left a coveted teaching job with a weird bossfriend situation in which I was being taken advantage of, a job that paid so much (!) after moving to a new city while my partner is still unemployed–that I left that “dream” teaching gig out of fear of collapse–that I left because I felt uncomfortable with the demands my bossfriend was putting on me–
It’s less glamorous. But it’s honest, so.
One my first day at B&N, I referenced in a tweet that I am now working at B&N, and that was an emotional release. A hey, yeah, I’m not teaching and I’m back in retail at minimum wage and I also write books and now I get to sell books I love and books by friends and I have a relatively stable source of (low) income. I’ll have time to write. I’ll have time to maybe reapply to MFA programs so I can teach college-level in a safe environment at some point (BECAUSE TEACHING: LET ME TEACH! AND ACADEMIA? WTF WHY DO I MISS THE EXHAUSTION OF BEING A STUDENT?), so I can continue to my studies. I’ll have time to help other writers further develop their manuscripts. I’ll have time to tutor. I’ll have time to write the last few scenes of the muddy book I drafted this summer. I’ll have time for this and that–
Ha, look. Somehow, I’m already spreading myself too thin.
That first imaginary blog post: the one of me sharing how I did all that I did despite my health being in shambles and my deadlines tight and having no experience teaching ESL? You know that aforementioned imaginary tale–how I did it and that and this and that and that to? Here’s the thing, I love HAMILTON. Obsessed. Have one-woman acappella shows in my apartment on the regular. But god damn–fuck the Hamilton complex. Fuck the notion that we must do it all, do it fast, get it done get it done, no breaks, no self care, write like we’re running out of time. This notion is so prevalent on YA twitter and hell yes it can be inspiring but it also can be damaging and I am so so so tired of catching myself getting into that mindset of IMRUNNING OUTOFTIME NEEDTOWRITE MORE OH YES ANOTHER JOB OH YES GIVEMEMORETIME OH I NEVER HAVE ENOUGH TIME I NEED ANOTHER HOUR NOW, PLEASE, CAN I BORROW ANOTHER HOUR?
So even though I’m only working in retail, these days I’m trying to repeat “take a break” again and again–to honor the spoons I have. I’m going to remain too honest because fuck anything less. Support those I love. Do my work. Truthfully, as I can. Take the less impressive routes if they’re the best routes. Stay calm. Don’t spend money I don’t yet have and, always, consider the why behind my shame, the why behind my resistance to share one story and not another.
And all the while, I’ll hope I can stay. Dear Washington State, let me stay. I could make this a Hamilton pun, but I’ll resist. Because god damnit enough with the premature goodbyes.
One last thing. Heather of last year: you already know you will miss teaching, but you have no idea how deep the pulse will go, you will miss teaching as bad as you missed Colorado at age fifteen. Yeah. At that severity. You will miss your infuriating students, miss grading until your wrist goes numb, miss walking into that classroom off of a bad morning and leave it gleaming and on a high, miss the stories your students tell you, miss their thank yours, miss their essays that make you cry because THEY LEARNED AND THEY TRIED AND, SOME STUDENTS, THEY JUST NEED TO BE HEARD TO FIND THEIR VOICE AGAIN–you will fucking ache to teach again at a horror you can’t prepare for–also, be more patient on your roadtrip out of Alaska. Chill the fuck out on those dirt roads, okay?
Where does a summer go?
Grief. Saying goodbye. Watching grief manifest in others, settle, find a place.
Spending every moment possible with my dog, the love of my life, my baby, the girl who saved my life when I was sixteen. Bellatrix. I need to bring her to Seattle. I’m done with this being apart thing. She’s my love.
Time with family,with my one-year-old niece, on boats in Newport Harbor, in the backyard by the fireplace. Hiding in bed with a book, and then another book, so many books, so much decadent reading. Afternoon glasses of cold wine. A sprained ankle that had me on my back for a week.
Visiting a dear friend in LA. I’ve known her for over for ten years now, how is that possible? Visiting LA. Aching at the dryness, the drought, the smog, the desperation for rain.
Speed drafting a nearly-whole book. Lurking around its critical setting point. Hiking in a dress and sandals on hot dirt, through spiky brush. The energy, the thrill. A new story. A new world. New heartbreak. Falling in love with writing, with drafting, all over again.
Living with my parents and my boyfriend and my younger brother. When will I ever live with my younger brother (or my parents) again? Missing my young brother before I even departed. Why can’t I find a photo on my phone of my younger brother from this summer?
Another roadtrip. My dear car pulling through, making it, still clunking along. Back up the coast. Back north. The road and the road and the road and the road. 2 full driving days is much gentler than 2 weeks.
Moving. Again. I was dubious but we made it happen. By the beginning of July, I’d signed a lease. On August 1st, we moved in. I now live in Washington State. I’m twenty-five minutes from downtown Seattle.
Whenever I go out, whenever I drive into the city, drive anywhere, I’m struck. How do I live here? How can I possibly live here?
I love it here.
My birthday. That happened. 25. Mid-twenties. I’ve never liked birthdays, mostly because August is hot and sweaty and bright and during family trips to desert lakes. This was my favorite birthday. I ate chocolate and read and went for a walk and it was cloudy and kind of chilly and simple. I still cried. I always do.
The act of settling. Chicken and dumplings in early-August because of the Seattle chill. Nesting. Furnishing a home on the strictest of budgets. Unemployed since May, resources dwindling. But I had a couch and a desk and a chair and a dresser and a bed and a bed-frame within three days. Thank you, Craiglist. And boyfriend from lugging it all up the stairs.
I have a balcony that faces a tree and lush living room carpeting to sprawl out on. I call the tree my tree. While in Indiana, I kept saying I miss my tree. My tree. It’s already turning. September is tomorrow. My tree will lose its leafs soon, I think.
FaceTiming with my dog. Sobbing about my dog. Missing my dog.
Seeing my grandpa during an 8 hour layover in Utah. I haven’t seen my grandpa since my grandma’s funeral. Seeing my grandpa and feeling that swell of joy, comfort, of coming home.
Pitch Wars. So much Pitch Wars. 142 submissions in my inbox within three days. The swell of reading. The honor. Being on the other side of what I fought against for ten years of querying. Understanding what all those agents meant when they said this is good, this is great, but I didn’t fall in love, I didn’t connect. Also falling in love and connecting with multiple books, but only being able to give one a yes.
My god, the joy of giving that one a yes–it was and is very real.
Two weeks in Indiana after only two weeks after moving. Indiana, hot and bright and muggy and, goodness, that humidity. Two weddings. Both so different, so lovely. All along, a violent head cold that turned into a violent ear infection. Meeting friends that weren’t my friends before. Seeing a family that has accepted me, perhaps only tolerates me, a family I adore.
Savoring Indiana’s particular beauty. The silence of it. All the bright green, those forests, those cornfields. The country. Those storms, my goodness, those storms.
Jet skiing for the first time since I was under ten. Jet skiing during twilight, the sun setting, the wind and water a relief from the oppressive heat. For an hour, feeling like I was on vacation.
Signing my contract with Penguin Random House after nearly six months of waiting. The 2013 merger and new boilerplates were the blame of the delay. It doesn’t matter. The delay ended and I got it. My contract. A book contract. It’s signed: my book will be a book and, if it’s not made into a book, bad shit will happen, so it’ll be a book. A dream come true: signing my name on a contract with the Penguin Random House logo in the lefthand corner. What. What is my life? What? I’ve imagined that moment since I was thirteen and actively started writing YA. I was even giddier than I anticipated.
Coming home. Feeling like this is a home. I guess I attach myself to places easily, but then again Washington has felt like a home since my first visit when I was seventeen. Or, really, since I first read about it in detail at fourteen, and discovered a place unlike Southern California, where it frequently rains, where it’s green and there’s both water and mountains and it rains and rains and rains. Okay, I guess I have Twilight to thank. No shame.
Coming home. Surviving perhaps one of the most bonkers summer of my life.
My first semester of grad school, I took Forms of Creative Nonfiction. Apart from blogging and an accidental memoiristic short story I wrote in undergrad, I had little experience writing creative nonfiction. The class was intensive, invigorating–my favorite part being the weekly creative samples.
In one particular instance, I was told to write a narrative “about a conflict from three different voices.” I can’t recall the specifics. I think one voice was supposed to be my own, close and intimate, revealing. The other empathetic to the others, and the third removed, report-like. I might be remembering this all wrong; it doesn’t matter.
I’ve never been good at following rules: I showed up to call with a two part narrative. The first part was from my perspective, my voice, closer to how I journal than anything else. The second part was third person, with the close interior from my dad’s perspective. A creative essay depicting a conversation in a crowded car about me and mental illness and Snapchat. In class, the professor and a fellow grad student read this essay out loud. I scratched my hands and listened. Outside, it was -40F with an extra windchill. And after class, I walked home, my own words itching.
A year later, I returned to the essay. A year later, I knew I wasn’t staying in Alaska, wasn’t staying in the program, and I figured I ought to submit something somewhere while I was in grad school for an MFA. And, hey, while I’m at it, why not go for the flipping moon? I’ve always loved The Rumpus. And when I thought of this little sad essay, I thought of the Rumpus. I could only submit it to The Rumpus. It was a long shot, an improbable shot; immature and native. A whatever. My I love you, The Rumpus, read my whiny writing, thanks, please.
So, on a Saturday night after midnight, I submitted the essay to The Rumpus. I woke the following Monday morning with an email from Tracy Strauss. She liked my essay. Would I be interested in doing a revision?
I am always interested in a revision.
We did a week of back and forth of edits, some big, some tiny. Within days, the essay was officially accepted. And now, some two months later, the end result is published at The Rumpus. My first piece of creative nonfiction published. I doubt it’ll be the last.
Please read it here:
I’m proud of “Nothing’s Changed” and I’m scared of it and I’m screaming to the skies that it exists and it takes me back to the episodes of Alaska, to what I lost and gained and forgot. I’m medicated now. We’re still figuring it out. I’m safe. I think I’m safe. My psychiatrist in Fairbanks quit on me a week after The Rumpus accepted the essay for publication, which felt funny, felt ironic. But I’m stable, mostly. I have an appointment set for once I arrive in Seattle. Though in some ways, it does feels too late. What could I’ve stopped, calmed, had I not waited until it got so bad that I was scared of my own brain?
Would it be weird if I did a sort of acknowledgements now?
Thank you, Tracy Strauss. For your elegant, keen eye, and for hearing my voice and giving me a platform to tell this story. Thank you, Daryl Farmer, for pushing me to write outside my normal genre, allowing me to bend rules, and reading my work out loud in class–along with Whittier Strong–in such a way that I couldn’t get the words out of my head, in such a way that I was led back to it.
And I’m grateful to my mom and dad, who have always listened, who have never doubted. I’m thankful to my dad especially, in regards to “Nothing’s Changed.” The revised, published version doesn’t include his side–the bits of his life that aren’t mine to share, his love and patience and understanding and urgency to defuse a wound, all the elements and more that make him such an incredible father.
Maybe this is cheating but I’m compelled to share the original ending to “Nothing’s Changed”–an essay that was once two parts and now is only one. Sharing the original final overly-dramatic paragraph in honor of my dad who has seen me at my worst, and supported me even from there, who has loved me and held me even when flailing.
Like I said, fuck the rules. Here’s to breaking them.
He understands the pain is real, that something isn’t right. But when driving a full car down the I-5 on Thanksgiving Eve, he only wants to laugh. Wants to warm what’s frosting in the back. He doesn’t want a reason for the middle sister to cry, so he tries a joke instead. He understands we hurt, I hurt. The thing is, though, he’s only seen possession of a diagnosis worsen scars. It’s just a word, he says. It’s only a word. You’re human. You’re human. You’re human. This is his way of saying we’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. This is his way of saying, it’s okay, you’re still you, you’re here. You’re safe. You’re human, he says. He’s saying, you’re doing just fine, he’s saying, you’re doing great. You’re human. I love you. I hurt too sometimes. We’re okay.
Cheers to The Rumpus and mental illness awareness. Cheers to stable days and the hope of better health care, the hope of sanity, the hope of peace.