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.
We did it. The roadtrip. 3,434 miles. Google Maps says that’s 59 hours of driving. We estimated 2 weeks, anticipated 10 days but in the end made it in 8, with one full day break. We drove. It hurts my brain and my hips to really think about the distance. My poor car needs an oil change, a total check up. My poor car? She didn’t quit. We drove with such risk. No spare, despite knowing the poor road conditions and the car’s heavy load and there often being no towns–no passing cars–for hours and hours and hours.
In Beaver Creek, Yukon, a man told us he got a flat. His friends from Anchorage were driving it up to him because the nearest full-serving tireshop was in Fairbanks. After that exchange, I drove with a clenched jaw until we reached a real big city that had to have my tire size. Fairbanks was six hours, seven, eight, ten hours, two days, three, four days away.
This roadtrip was different than the one we completed in August, when it was California to Alaska and not Alaska to California. August was planned so that we only drove every other day. On off days we wandered cities or hiked, moved our bodies, drank with friends. In August, we skipped most of the Canadian drive and instead took a four-day ferry and slept on the desk in a tent. Driving driving driving every day with no friend retreats is a different thing.
This roadtrip was glorious, painful, whatever. We did it. I’m so happy we did it, made it, left, drove the roads that people dream of crossing.
Even after getting into that packed Mini Cooper for 7 days straight to drive all day–sometimes not seeing other cars for hours, sometimes driving on unpaved road that hurt my bones–after becoming dull to music, dull to crying, dull to unfathomable sights and endless mountains that still had me keening despite my being so dulled, even after giving in to Outlander on audiobook–even after hearing I had a reason to get to California sooner to say goodbye to someone I love–we were still alert, sort of smiling. Or at least I was. Maybe because I’d just had my first coffee of the morning.
At some point, I think as early as the first day, I stopped taking photos of everything that made me squeal. I became more selective with what I chose to capture and tried to let go, be there, wherever I was. On some days, I hadn’t slept and it hurt to sit because my knees are bad and sitting in my car requires very bent knees. On all days, I drank more coffee than I ever have and ate at least two roadside soggy sandwiches.
I’m already missing it, at least glimpses of it. I’m already nostalgic. I still haven’t washed my car. I’m driving around shiny south OC in a dirt-covered Mini with Alaska plates and a giant cargo box on top. There may be some pride involved with my procrastination to wash it.
And when I finally drove south enough for a real night? The first night it got dark-dark? Like not just a dim twilight but I CAN’T SEE OUTSIDE IT’S DARK AND LOOK STARS dark, on day 3 or 4, I don’t know, I howled so happy, so relieved.
The next day, we drove through sun and rain and snow. The Northern Rocky Mountains, a touch of home. Connected to Colorado. I’m too sentimental. I called it a blizzard. Regan laughed at me and we argued about the snows of Indiana versus those of Colorado and then we just drove through the snow until we reached the end of the day’s road.
Southern British Columbia is a damp dream. Like Scotland. Or maybe I only think that because we were listening to Outlander as we made our way through it, I don’t know. But we were through the worst of the drive, the most remote, the risky portion, and it felt so good on the eyes and mind. The rain. All that rain. It only made my car more muddy.
If you have the option, drive the Sea to Sky Highway. But please, take a piss before speeding through the bulk of the curving knuckle-gripping mountain way. Don’t make my mistake. Or do. I have no regrets. It was mesmerizing. It was home. Go through Whistler (because at this point you’ll have no choice) and be confused by the sudden affluence, by its comforting similarities to Park City.
Vancoooooooouver! I love you, I do. I have since 2014 (or really 2010 when I did my first Vancouver research) and still do.
In Vancouver, we stayed at a harbourfront hotel. A treat for making it through Yukon, through British Columbia. A farewell to British Columbia. It was nice.
The next day, I started paying rent in Seattle–a storage unit, in which we emptied half of the car into, I put much of my life into. A commitment to Washington. We were only in the city for a few hours. There was an urgency to go further south, to finish the drive. We stayed in Portland with friends. The next day, we drove 10 hours to the Bay Area, to my older sister, to my darling niece.
We took our first day off. A day off from driving before the last final stretch. It was a delight. I wore a dress and boots, not my jeans and a beanie and some grimy tee. We drank wine and I played with my niece and we just fucking relaxed.
And then, the next day, 7 hours down the 1-5, through Los Angeles rush hour traffic, then then then then, the roadtrip was complete. Over. A little over a week doesn’t sound that long but time warped up there on the Alcan, somewhere between the Yukon and British Columbia. I live in California now, for a few months. I’m writing every day. I’m sleeping and healing and will be seeing too many doctors next week and next month.
Why the hell am I already nostalgic for the roadtrip?
What is happening in Alaska? What’s Alaska?
17 months in Fairbanks, Alaska. Okay, fine, 17 months minus a brief interlude (in which it still felt like I lived here) last summer when I needed night so bad that I flew south a few days after summer solstice and didn’t come back until last August, via my Mini Cooper, which is now stuffed to its limits. And upgraded with a roof cargo box. It took me moving my whole life in this little clown car some times to finally make the upgrade. About time.
(Okay it also took me moving another person’s entire life and, after today, can I just say I’m so exhausted with moving in this damn car, of buying the same kitchen essentials only to ultimately give them away?)
17 months. I only stayed in some cities for 4 months. 17 months, for me, is a lot. I have so much to take away. Moments tucked and hidden, forgotten, saved. Hips swollen from climbing up rocks too fast and sitting at a old desks for too long. Mosquito bite scars on my legs. Experiences that will take me forward. A greater understanding of my own brain, my body, my limits, my needs–I think.
I’ll miss Fairbanks in the most particular, pained ways. I already long for the winters. The cold that kills, that freezes the white and frost into place. Plugging my car in at night, the ordeal of layering up just to take out the trash. And maybe I’ll even miss the atrocious speeding springs, the stagnant summer–even the shiny navy sky at midnight in May. The craze, disorientation, that comes from near constant daylight. The hours I lost to dizzying hyper-speed thoughts, hours slowed by I don’t even know how to explain it hurt.
Now to drive 3000 miles south, away, through Canada, down the coast. Plans changed again and may evolve once or twice more–but no more Utah (it was playing it safe and stupid and I’m antsy for Washington). A two to three month reprieve in California to see doctors and take my dogs on walks at night, in the dark (!) canyons of my home. And then, sometime around August, crossing my fingers, back north, straight to somewhere-around-Seattle.
Or maybe not. We’ll see. Priorities: health, BURN revision, finding a new home and a job that involves some form of teaching/tutoring/mentoring (please), drafting new (literally) muddy book.
Farewell, Alaska. I’ll keep talking about you, I suspect, always. I don’t think my time here is necessarily quite over, but we’ll see.
What’s great about the above photo is–if you don’t know what to look for–it could be taken in Alaska, Colorado, California. I’m not quite sure why this pleases me.
I’m moving again. This is not real news. I’ve tweeted about it. I’ve hinted at it. I’ve known it was a certainty since January.
I’m leaving Alaska.
Oh, it feels so good to say that, can I say it again? I’m leaving Alaska. My beloved Alaska. Alaska, Alaska, Alaska–taunting me with its cold and dark and 3000 miles from California since I was a teen, luring me in with an acceptance to an MFA program with full funding and the opportunity to teach. And if I’m totally honest, sealing the deal with the power of ~love~ (for real) and a relationship that was utterly worth pursuing.
But I’m in a three-year graduate program. I’ve been here for a year and a half. So I’m dropping out. No. I’m taking a leave of absence and I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back, which my brain translates as I’m dropping out, because a part of me HAS to tell myself I’m LEAVING and I’ll be OKAY. This is all familiar. I left high school at sixteen. I transferred colleges after single semesters before I landed at CC for good. Taking a bow from (a) school is not new territory but it’s nonetheless frustrating to leave something unfinished. This program has its faults, yes, oh yes, but it’s been a place to be, led me to my love of teaching, connected me with some incredible, beautiful friends. And, bonus, I spent a wild, first semester NOT revising NOTHING LEFT TO BURN but writing anxious, perhaps too personal creative nonfiction that was really, really necessary (plus, one of those essays will be published this summer at an online mag that has sweetened my heart for so long–stayed tuned). Thank Daryl Farmer for that, please.
But Alaska. Alaska is beautiful and strange and challenging and evidently not good for my brain. My mental health has always been a particular thing to manage. My physical health even more so. And Alaska, or probably Fairbanks in particular, is not the best at health care.
When I needed a psychiatrist more than I ever have in my life, I was turned away by all six in town because of overload. I sobbed on the phone. I screamed. A receptionist suggested the ER. Another said this–my poor mental health, the lack of help–is just a part of living in Interior Alaska. Right.
I’ve lost days to my mind in fugue state. I’ve tried explaining the light up here before, I know, how it buries itself into your brain. The speed of the seasons’ changes. How you can’t slow down, and sometimes you can’t get up. Alaska–the extremes, the distance from help (and probably the inevitably of what was waiting in my mid-twenties that has nothing to do with Alaska at all)–aggravated what was previously a problem I could shrug off as not okay but manageable to potentially life threatening.
I’m not doing a really good job at explaining.
Basically: my health has changed, both the physical and the mental. Last spring, my brain felt broken. This fall, I was afraid. Afraid of myself, of my body, my mind–its slips and cracks. Of what would happen if I didn’t get help. So, I’m finally getting help and I’m finally getting out.
Also there’s still that Lyme disease thing that I kind of decided to pretend wasn’t real after a year of antibiotic hell. And I bleed 3 weeks of the month–a sign I need get back in with my hematologist and there is no hematologist here. And I hurt, everything hurts, and maybe that’s a symptom of the mental gunk or maybe that’s my body telling me that something is again not working, that the doctors I’ve ignored in the past were right, that the symptoms I’ve deemed as everyday whatever annoyances are something more .
I don’t want to consider my pain an everyday matter. I want my somewhat-stable health back.
Really, there are so many–too many–reasons to leave (cost of living, a relationship, proximity to family where health always is fragile, streamlining focus, etc etc etc). I’d be a fool to try and stay.
My heart will always ache for Alaska. Is that too cheesy? I don’t care. I’ve met people who have changed me, loved me, who I will cherish always. I’ve endured and taught and hiked and sobbed under beds and froze my eyelashes walking to call at -40 degrees and played with writing in new ways. Fairbanks is a city in which I fell in love, where I learned I would be a published author, where I reminded students that they ARE writers, where I taught a college course of my own design. A place where I’ve been reminded that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to leave when you need to leave, to take care of yourself. Prioritize yourself. It seems I need this reminder all the time.
I hope to return, to visit, to see the southern parts I haven’t yet explored. Alaska is wild and gigantic and oh do I love the quiet, the winters, the dim and hush and heaps of snow. I also hope to finish my MFA eventually, either here from afar or with a physical return–maybe–if either of those options are at some point possible, I wish they could be possible. Or I might seek an MFA elsewhere, because, though I know all the more an MFA isn’t necessary for me, it’s something I want to complete, something that intrigues. And really? Teaching college-level is gold. Everyone said freshmen comp would be torture and, yeah, sometimes it is, but it’s the best job I’ve had. Can I just write and teach, please (minus the grading)?
So, another 3000 mile roadtrip awaits in May. Through the Yukon into British Columbia, back down the West Coast. A month at my parents’ house in California. And then. Well. Utah–a place I never thought I’d move to but a state that has always been a home and will offer me a house and a place to see the doctors I so need to see and recover from these incredible past 15 months and visit my grandpa regularly because he’ll finally be so near and write, write, write The Next Book and edit NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and maybe start sorting out my ultimate grad school intentions (technically, I’ll still be a student here at UAF–only on leave) and prep (job search) for what will maybe be a move up to Washington (though I already was offered a teaching gig up there, but hey… Utah is happening!).
I do love moving. I do. How many moves has this blog seen me through?
I must say this: I’m so happy I came to Alaska. I’m so happy I flew up the day after sending the I Must Defer because, hell, non-refundable ticket. I’m so grateful I met the people I did during that two-day visit. So happy I decided to cut the deferral short and make the actual move up 4 months later, even if it’s ending with me leaving the program early (though this isn’t really the end, is it?). That I pushed and pushed and pushed. That I was vulnerable. And I’m so lucky to have such incredible people in my life who have been patient and supportive and so understanding of all of this run around, trial, and hope on my end.
This place is in some ways magic but, right now, I’m ready to go. And I’m trying to say goodbye. It’s hard. I tend to look at the floor and isolate more leading up to a move. If you’re someone in Alaska and I do this, I’m sorry. I love you. I promise, I’m trying to say goodbye.
Side note, can someone please help me get Hamilton OUT OF MY HEAD?
There is so, so much good to share. I’m full. Full of shock and gratitude and confusion and hurt because I’m human and sometimes wine and sometimes coffee and always thrill. There is so much good. March was a month of all months. A dream came true, and I was eventually able to share that dream with family and friends and the outpouring of support and excitement was tremendous.
March was exhaustive (2016 as a whole has really been a Thing) but in mostly the best ways, finally.
And where did March end?
With these beloveds (who showcase the splash page of this little site of mine):
Hugging my dog (and her weirdo fluff friend) was not the purpose behind the trip (that was AWP LA–a monster in itself), but it was truly all I needed/wanted/appreciated more than anything.
I’m back in Alaska, for now. Most of the snow melted while I was away and it’s strange. The sun sets after 9PM and I have too much I want to share but each night at midnight–when I think it’ll be a good time to write, to blog, to whatever–fatigue convinces me to wait another day. It’s the typical procrastination scenario.
In my defense, it’s been a very busy few weeks and I caught a nasty California cold.
I’m so happy. I’m so tired.
More later, I hope.