A year ago, I moved to Alaska. I started grad school. I started teaching. I took seven antibiotics a day for Lyme disease, and often puked between my office hours and teaching, between tutorials in the Writing Center bathroom. Other side effects included severe muscle pain, excess sweating, loss of appetite, dizzy spells, neurosis, long days unable to eat. I was fine. I went on hikes. I read everything assigned. I moved to Alaska and I wrote and I met people and felt things and was challenged and exhausted and was it only a year ago?
I fell in love with Alaska. What happens below 0F–the trees shuddering still, frosted white on white on white. The cold. The bite of my first moment at -40 degrees, where celsius and fahrenheit merge. Outside of Alaska, via word of mouth and dramatized reality TV shows, it’s over-sensationalized. Alaska is horrifying and grand and extreme, but really, I wear what I wore in California, but with a layer underneath and some more layers on top. I slip more. I walk faster. Every step a crunch through hard snow.
I fell in love and in hate with the extremes of the light and dark. When I landed on the last day of December, December 2014, there were only about 4 hours of daylight. By February, light was creeping in fast. It’s alarming. The light. It’s happening now, mid-January, and yet still I sometimes don’t get outside soon enough to see the sun. And last year, my first semester of grad school, late March, the sunsetting near 9PM, I was manic and talking at high speed, high volume. I was walking into the woods that surround the campus with a box of wine and slipping on ice. I was scratching my skin and pacing between the campus pub and bus hut. There is so much I can say about the light in Fairbanks, Alaska. The lack of it. The disgusting, indulgent excess of it in the summer. Its rapid changing in November and April.
I moved to Alaska last December. I started teaching. Did I ever think I could love teaching so much? My worst days that semester were saved by my 90 minute class sessions. My students. My students telling me secrets. My students telling me they were no longer afraid of writing. My students confiding in me. My students saying thank you. I found solace in lesson planning and glee in winging it in the classroom. So, I started graduate school. MFA in Creative Writing–totally unnecessary and indulgent, but in Alaska and fully funded (see: teaching). I started being social again. I dived into a new relationship that first sparked when I visited Fairbanks the August before after my initial deferral. I was still sick with Lyme disease. I am still probably sick with Lyme disease.
I was newly agented with a 10 page editorial letter waiting for my attention. I had to defer my revision, just like I’d had to defer grad school in the fall. I was heart broken. My agent, Sarah Davies, was so patient. Wanted me to wait for me to be in a place where I could make the manuscript the best it could be. Understood the exhaustion of moving, of sickness, of Big Changes. But it took me ten years of active work to get an agent, and then I had to tell that agent, sorry, no, wait for the summer, I’m sick, I’m spoonless, I just moved to Alaska and my brain is confused. I never expected I would have to pause my dream once my dream finally kicked into gear. It was my first time not making writing my number one priority. I never expected it to hurt as much as it did.
I moved to Alaska over a year ago and I did the thing I’ve done periodically since I started blogging–the thing I do when I feel vulnerable, when I feel like the people near me might be watching. I shut it down. I stopped blogging when I now feel like I should have been blogging most. Instead, for a Forms course, I wrote non-fiction creative essays about cyclothymia and PTSD and Lyme Disease and Mormonism and my grandma dying that February. I wrote some forty pages of academic scholarship on Twilight and I read a lot of pedagogy. I finished the semester when I thought I wouldn’t finish the semester because, by April, the sun wouldn’t go away and my brain was a drum and it was all so new, too much, too much, but I finished the semester with As and a class that I wanted to hug, students I wanted to keep. And then summer came: giant mosquitos, and endless days, and spongy forest walks, so much more, an escape to California to meet my niece and embrace the costal nights and rock the aforementioned revision in a single month. And in August, a two-week roadtrip up the continent, a 4 day ferry included, back north, because Alaska Alaska Alaska, what is this place?
I am still here–calmer now (by some standards), my 3rd semester of teaching, teaching Academic Writing about Literature, titled Growing Up During the Apocalypse: Trauma and Resilience in Young Adult Literature. I’m head over heels shocked and honored that I’m teaching a college course I designed and proposed on my own. We had our first day on Thursday, and the classroom has expansive high windows that look out to Denali, the Alaskan range, the white and white and white and pastels and frost that will soon turn brown then green and bright. I get to teach books like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Courtney Summer’s This is Not a Test in this room, to students who seem to care, who try, who listen, who laugh when I knock my hip into a desk. I’m off the antibiotics because my body needed, needs, a break from supposed healing. And I feel so lucky. My manuscript is finally out on submission and it’s surreal. I am outrageously happy that I am so lucky. I worked so hard to be this far in the process. Even if every editor says no to BURN, I am a happy girl. I made it this far, so far. I’m doing what I love. I’m writing. My writing is being read. I’m teaching. I’m learning. I’m young.
So, I’m still in Alaska. For now, at least. And a dear, dear friend recently reminded me of my love for blogging and, you know, naturally, I realized how much I missed it. I missed having a place to go and ramble, let friends and strangers read if they so desire. I missed having a place to deposit frustrations and photographs and random thoughts. So much has happened this past year, too much for a single year, and I think I may want to interweave some of those memories into what I write here. But, for now, I’m going to try to at least post monthly with a something. A photo. A passage. A story. Fuck insecurities. Embrace vulnerability. I’ve been shedding my skin here since 2008, why stop now?
In reply to the entry I posted in December 2014, my last post before my disappearance, mere weeks before my move to where I am now: it’s everything and more and nothing like I expected it to be.
I have so much I need to say. I’m going to try not to go away again anytime soon.
It’s December. I move to Alaska in 22 days. My original flight was January 7, but apparently I can’t let plans remain as they are when it comes to that state, and so some night a few weeks back, around 3 am and on a Skype call I don’t quite remember, I changed my travel plans. Surprised? Antsy doesn’t cut it when it comes to my urgency to get to Alaska, and I think maybe it’s because it’s like I almost lost it back in August, and maybe because I’ve been in Orange County since May and that’s the longest I’ve been here in one go since 2008, and maybe it’s because there are so many New Extreme Things within this single move, and probably because a variety of reasons that I feel no obligation to explain.
On Thanksgiving, my family danced after the prayer. It was for my aunt, her idea, and I made fun of it in the moment and before the moment and after the moment. But the truth is, it suited me well. The dancing. I have a tendency, a compulsion, a something: I often (almost always) laugh during grace. The everyday dinner prayer between my parents. A rare moment when I’m back in a church. The stumbled words of my younger brother at the request of my father. With strangers. With extended family. Alone. All styles. All religions. Doesn’t matter. I will laugh. And laugh some more. This has been a thing for years and years, and it’s not just a prayer thing, but a life thing, once I start I can’t stop–a visceral reaction to quiet moments I can feel. I have to laugh.
It should also be noted that I’m known for random hysterical laughing in class and workshop, during massages, in movie theatres between trailers, at the dinner table, in the car, on the phone, etc etc etc.
So cheesy dancing and clapping and communal embarrassment? It worked for me.
And it’s absurd, this might have been my last Thanksgiving in California for three years. Or maybe not. Maybe only two years. Or maybe I’ll be here next year. Maybe maybe maybe maybe. I need to quit it with the maybes and the planning and the looking back and ahead, but what would I do with all the space if I quit obsessing?
Space. I could use the space. I’m kind of freaking the hell out about everything and more. If I’m not laughing, I’m crying or rolling on the floor or making lists that really won’t make a smack of difference in the end. I’m kind of freaking the hell out, so I’m laughing more every day.
Three weeks from tomorrow, I fly north. Between now and then, I’m going to soak up every spare minute with my family and my pup and the gloriously paid hours at work (almost done with the corporate world!) and not being in school and under deadline and California and its bristled hills, because I have no return flight and no idea when I’ll come home.
My solution to the panic is random bursts of dance and inconsolable laughter.
It’s kind of working so far. Kind of.
I was fourteen when I sent out my first query letters. There’s a photo of the moment floating around on some hard drive somewhere: me at the UPS store in Rancho Santa Margarita, holding the stiff envelopes addressed for various literary agents in New York. I probably look annoyed, a forced smile, posing to appease my mom. I’ve always felt shy about this process–afraid to share the good or admit the bad. Even now, it feels weird to explain.
I’ll hyperlink to past entries in an attempt to make sense of what I’ve said here previously, in an attempt to connect the tangents of the last four years.
Anyway. Every agent I queried that round said no.
And every round after, too.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
(This, I guess, inspired me to write my personal statement for my grad school apps on how I THRIVE on noes–which was extraordinarily cheesy but finally landed me a Yes.)
Fifteen years old, I revised. I tried again. No and no and no. I revised some more. I tried again. A full request. A no. I edited and tweaked and turned sixteen and left high school. I wrote another book, finished it at seventeen while living in Berkeley. A double request followed. An almost yes, a summer of edits with an agent, an ultimate confusing no. I revised again and turned eighteen and moved to Colorado. A partial request. A no. I wrote some more, aside from two revisions on my second book, always working on that first manuscript. Nineteen, living in Humboldt County, I rewrote the beginning. A fire, a wildfire, but I let it die too fast.
I moved back to Colorado Springs to attend Colorado College. My focus was on school, not writing. The book was in the drawer. But then, my first summer after CC, I had a sinus surgery and rewrote it from word zero during my month on the couch. I was lazy. I followed the same plot and fell into the same holes. I went back to school. A writing conference that next summer. A full request I was hush about. I spent June and July and August revising like a fool for that request–switching from past tense to present, digging deeper but not deep enough. I knew this even when I clicked send. I was wrung out. I started my senior year at Colorado College and had some moving/Faulkner/flood panic attacks and wrote some weird short stories for workshop and drove around town alone when it all felt like too much.
Another no. This one felt big. A big no. It also felt inevitable. I blogged about it and then shook it off. I went back to writing. It was thesis season. This was last year. I thought I’d write my third book. I was ready to put my eight-year mess aside. But then the fire came. Ideas on ideas on ideas on how I could fix my old story. An understanding of the story, the REAL story. By December, I was in mad dash of rewriting. Real rewriting. Not following the same plot, the same scenes, but dealing with something almost entirely new. The fire from Humboldt County chasing me through all of the winter and spring.
I “finished” the draft and submitted the thing to my professor. It was my senior thesis. Fresh work. A new book inspired from the bones of that book I started when I was thirteen. I graduated and moved home and spent the summer rewriting the end, because I knew the end was limp. I cut the last ten-thousand words. Started in again. My goal was to finish and query before the end of August, before I moved to Alaska for grad school. I did, within a day of my deadline.
And then I didn’t move to Alaska, so I had time. I submitted the manuscript to Pitch Wars and made it in (!) and spent September and October gently revising under the nurturing guidance of Rachel Lynn Solomon. I was her alternate. And then the showcase happened. Requests! What! Within a single weekend, an agent read the book, and a phone call was scheduled. I read that email on my phone while on the drive home from San Jose with my parents. It was late and we were somewhere in Central CA. My dad insisted we stop for sugar. Starbucks was the first place we saw. They made me pose for photos. I couldn’t stop smiling and messing with my hair and it was weird and, I swear, my dad and I weren’t intentionally matching.
Then, a few days later, the call. The Call. An offer. Shock. I’m still in shock. It still doesn’t feel real.
Two weeks followed. More offers–from the Pitch Wars requests and the queries I’d sent out after the contest. On air. I was on fucking air. It’s the weirdest feeling: being wanted, hearing good things said about your book, speaking with people who believe in the story. It was the spin of all spins. I cried over the decision, but, somehow, I knew who I’d sign with early on: the agent who would challenge me the most, cultivate not just this book but my career, who gave me chills during our first call.
I accepted an offer of representation from Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency in the backseat of my mom’s car, parked in front of the UPS store where I sent out my first queries at fourteen. This–the circularity–was not intentional, wasn’t something I realized until days after, but I love it. Ending the query trudge where it began.
It still doesn’t feel real. My having an agent. Sarah Davies being my agent. Finally (FINALLY) making it over this hurdle. I’ve been jumping at it for almost nine years. And it feels so good. It feels right.
I don’t have the exact number of queries I sent out or rejections I received between now and when I was fourteen (somewhere around a hundred). I lost count of the revisions (the lame attempts and painfully thorough) and the endless editing rounds and the critiques from friends and the cut chapters and the versions of the manuscript lost to laptop crashes. But I don’t think those numbers matter. Albeit some extended breaks for the sake of sanity and education, I simply didn’t stop writing. That’s how I’m here. I wrote and I rewrote even more and, you know, I’m so happy it played out the way it did.
I’m so, so happy.
So much is happening, and it’s weird to be exposed, to share this, to not be so ambiguous. It’s weird that my mom shared this news on Facebook before I had the chance to even shoot out a tweet and people I’ve never met know. And gosh gosh gosh I’m happy and also scared and nervous and thrilled to see what happens next. A succession of THINGS. This. The past month. This whole autumn. And what waits. Revisions with Sarah. Hopefully kicking Lyme disease in the ass. Moving to Alaska. New friends, new important people in my life. In some ways, a new life (with the same head, same me). Grad school and teaching (?!). Going out on submission (!!!!). Writing a second (well, technically, third/fourth) book sometime SOON.
What then? WHAT THEN! What is happening?
I do not know, but I like it.
Last week, I left Southern California for the first time since I flew to Alaska in August.
Truth: I wasn’t supposed to go on this trip. My parents were going to visit my older sister and I invited myself along because I was desperate to leave. Speeding up the 5, we passed a small fire in the brown Santa Clarita hills. And, you know, after writing about a wildfire all autumn and declaring my revision done only the week before, I considered this–the obviously contained fire–a sign. A good sign for the book. Is that dumb?
And it kind of totally was a good sign. I think so. We’ll see. I’ll let you know.
So last week, I reunited with my two sisters, because my Chico-living little sister invited herself too. A mini reuniting before next week, Thanksgiving. It was fast and lovely and I was sick and miserable but so happy and we toured Tesla (where my brother-in-law works) and we hiked around Saratoga and I slept on a couch and I was cold and felt compelled to text long paragraphs of messages to friends far away until I finally fell asleep, which took too long.
And then the drive home down the coast, when it was time to go. Central Coast. California is home, the entire state. I feel odd and disjointed that I didn’t go further north than San Jose. It’s weird to not know when I’ll come back for longer than a visit. Never? Maybe. February? I hope not. And it’s also weird to think back to two weeks ago, when so much felt floppy and far away that now feels close and real. Nothing has really changed. I’m still on the living room floor. I’m still struggling with picking myself up, with my health. I’m still scared of Alaska and the cold and falling on my face and freezing in a snowbank. I was sick two weeks ago and I am sick now, nothing has really changed, but I’ve seen my sisters in this time and I’ve talked on the phone with people who made me smile and the days are passing and basically EVERYTHING IS WEIRD.
Anyway, it was a good little road trip. A nice break from the past 13 weeks. It was a mere quick jolt north. Nothing special. But considering how well I’ve stayed still the past two months, it was ever so slightly spectacular.
Also, I think I’ll have NEWS news soon.
Tonight. Tonight. Tonight.
I’m bloody grateful tonight.
So grateful that I cried in front my screen on my parents’ living room rug when it hit me what had happened. What’s happening. My mother thought I made a nice image. Perks of temporarily living with your parents include nice writing rooms and paparazzi (and so, so much more).
What’s happened: another revision finished thanks to Pitch Wars. I’ve never revealed titles on this little blog, because titles always feel so temporary and I like to hide, but can I reveal this one, maybe, please? NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. Another attempt at the story I first told when I was thirteen and fourteen and again at fifteen and seventeen and then twenty and again at twenty-two. Twenty-two, last winter, that’s when I tossed out the old plot and a few characters and gave it one last sprint. That’s when I gave my protagonist a fire to chase and found a fire fighting boy stuck in a lie with guilt you can taste and changed the timeline from six months to a single day.
And now, twenty-three, my revision of that sprint is complete. It won’t be the last revision, possibly not the last sprint. But it feels good. It feels damn good to consider what this story was in 2005 and what it is tonight in 2014.
So grateful to so many. Almost a decade. Those who said yes and who said no and who read and shredded my pages and underlined lines and ate giant slices of almond cake with me under silly deadlines and who sent emails I didn’t deserve and read and reread and read and reread and critiqued and believed in this crazy thing. Most recently, I want to smother Rachel with hugs, for choosing me and the final push and the love and just being there, being here.
Obviously this isn’t the end. Nothing may come of this revision, this manuscript, but I’m closer and I didn’t give up in 2005 and I won’t forget it in 2015. This story is in my bones. Always will be, no matter its outcome. I don’t remember my life before thirteen, before my mind was threaded with this voice, the smoke. It’s so engrained. And I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m damn blessed by the love and persistence that’s kept me going. Family and friends and community. The luxury to make writing a part of my everyday.
Like I said, I’m bloody grateful.