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.
Oh my gosh.
NOTHING LEFT TO BURN WILL BE PUBLISHED BY RAZORBILL!
How do I even articulate myself right now?
NOTHING LEFT TO BURN (previously known around here as AFOT 1), the book I started writing when I was 13. The book I first queried at 14. That I revised and rewrote and revised and rewrote and put away and gave up on and picked back up again some thirty times. That first received agent interest at 15, and then again at 17, and again at 21, and finally at 23, which led to me signing with the inimitable Sarah Davies–who continued fighting for this book when I was close to caving, collapsed, eating tear-soaked cookies on my studio rug.
And Razorbill! You guys, Razorbiiiiiilllllllll, oh my, an imprint of Penguin Random House, but more importantly, an imprint that’s been publishing books I’ve been DEVOURING since I was a pre-teen.
Can I please go back to 2006 and tell fourteen-year-old me?
I’ve been holding tight to this incredible news since March 1st, after a sleepless night, after jumping at a call from my agent and hearing “you’re going to be published,” after being in such confusion and glee I couldn’t quite cry though I’d been so sure I’d cry and yes fine I did eventually cry (and later sobbed), after calling my mom and my dad, after sleeping for some forty minutes (because my body shut down at the shock) and then somehow managing to teach and not shout at my students to shut up shut up shut up you guys shusssssshhhhhhhh it’s happening!!!!, after devouring a giant sushi boat with my boyfriend in celebration, and subtweeting about the news, and watching Sideways and opening a bottle of delicious wine despite the near-rancid cork.
how many times am I going to post a variation of this photo? I DUNNO. this is a face of a sleep-depreived someone who, mere hours before, learned her dream was happening! and also yay SUSHI!!!
In March 2006, I finished the first draft of the first version of this absurd little book about passion/obsession and first love/lust and Orange County and FIRE (!!!!!). In March 2016, I sold it to a dream imprint and landed with a kick ass editor (we bonded over Gilmore Girls within minutes of our call, and later our shared crush over my very own fictional character *swoon*).
Over ten years. I’ve been pushing and running and kicking and dreaming for over ten years. If you count my kindergarten declaration that I wanted to be a writer, then, well, even longer.
I’m so, so glad I didn’t stop writing (and rewriting).
It feels mighty fine to finally share the news. Hopefully I’ll be sharing even more soon. And perhaps elaborating on what it took to get from there to here, and the work that comes next.
What comes next? I start writing and revising books FASTER.
Some related posts:
- how it took a decade to find my agent
- a post-rejection blog
- rewriting a yr-long plot into 24 hrs
- basically I’m saying the same thing in every entry, but there you go
I feel like I need to write in the form of a list. I miss list blogs. Some of my favorite past posts, especially those not published here, were written in the form of a list (I’m super nostalgic for Colorado College and London, FYI).
It’s mid-March and the expected madness is at play. So much is happening every day and there are so many moments to share, that I feel I should share, that I WANT to share, but then the very idea of attempting to articulate all of it, some of it, completely consumes me and I just don’t. I’ve forgotten the art of blogging, which I think is totally acceptable and fair, albeit frustrating. It’s only a blog.
I also feel like I’ve forgotten how to write a new book. I’ve been revising and rewriting and editing and revising NOTHING LEFT TO BURN off and on for the last 10 years (!!!). And while, yes, I drafted another novel somewhere in there when I was 16/17 and one of the rewrites of BURN was so severe that it may has well have been a totally New Thing, I’m utterly consumed by terror and–as with blogging and journaling and ALL forms of writing–too many thoughts.
I live in graduate housing at UAF. We get monthly emails about the poor state of our water. “People who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer” and “If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your health care providers about drinking this water.” I’m not severely comprised but my immune system certainly doesn’t need another factor working against it, plus the water tastes rancid. So I go to a water station and fill up 7 gallons of drinking water a week.
Back in November, I couldn’t carry the water jug. Now I can lug it from my car to the apartment and (most weeks) even lift it above my head onto the fridge. This feels like the sweetest of victories.
My writing pause may also have to do with significant things happening with past writing. I need time to process, to recover, to let joy and terror sink in, to not be productive, to refill the well. I’m not saying anything new but the repetition is calming me.
On the first day of the month, I attacked a giant sushi boat for damn fantastic reasons.
As mentioned a few weeks back, I moved out of my studio and into the one directly below mine. Sharing 380 sq ft with another person is an odd thing. But I kind of love it, as a temporary set up, it’s damn cozy and warm. And I no longer have to walk back and forth and up and down those stairs twenty times a night, no longer have to carry down pots of soup and be caught by neighbors in my PJs. I can stay right here. It’s so nice to just stay right here.
I also forgot how to design and code websites, which I miss have the ability to do. I need to relearn at least the basics.
Last week, I said goodbye to my California driver’s license. The Alaska DMV wouldn’t let me keep it as a souvenir–surely a mini tragedy. While having an Alaska license for a few years will be swell (and my CA one was set to expire in August), I already miss my gleeful newly permitted 15-year-old face.
Today, I was preliminary diagnosed with an ulcer. Ulcers don’t run in my family. My mom says, “We don’t do ulcers” (to which I rolled my eyes). I have low blood pressure and severely low cholesterol. I eat generally healthy. I shouldn’t have an ulcer. I clearly know nothing about ulcers. My anxiety has been stupid high this year, paired with other significant mental rubbish that has been left untreated because of a shortage of psychiatrists in Fairbanks. I did’t know ulcers or heartburn could hurt so bad. I didn’t know stress could do such damage. Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve known the implications of stress since I was seven. But taking medication for the acid in my stomach? That’s a new one.
I’m visiting home in less than two weeks for AWP Los Angeles and I CANNOT WAIT TO HOLD MY DOG. And have a break from Alaska.
It’s spring break and so damn beautiful in its own Alaskan way. The sun is already setting after 8 PM, but we had the first real significant snow fall (10 inches) since December, which felt so, so good. I forgot the hush. The soothe. The brightness. How clean it feels. But I’m petrified of the growing light. My one advantage this year is that I know what to expect: madness, endless day, insomnia, people yelling in the Writing Center when they really mean to be talking softly, me running in circles, me pacing.
My Mini Cooper is my baby, more and more. I’m so happy I drove it up the continent this summer, even if I have to drive it back down in two months. I think I’m moving to Utah, and then Seattle several months to a year after that. Does this surprise anyone? I can’t stay still. Not yet.
This space will be changing significantly soon (next week?). I’m CRAZY excited (for so many things).
I want to spoon myself hot salsa so bad right now.
What a thick, passage-y list. Oops.