Things are strange and wonky and as I enter the new year and try to lift up from the last six months, I need to remember the ways in which 2016 was kind–
So, the good that happened in 2016, accompanied by photos from November and December:
I started blogging again. I switched my domain back to heatherezell.com–coming out hiding–making a blog that goes back to my 2008 tangents public. Perhaps a silly, horrifying choice but hey. Here I am. Thank you for reading. Go back and see how I was at seventeen if you so desire.
Nothing Left to Burn was acquired by Razorbill at Penguin Random House. After ten years of work and trial and rejections, my lifelong dream came true, is coming true.
I finished another graduate semester at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I knew it’d be my last semester at the start of it, but I went in strong and finished strong. Thanks UAF (and Fairbanks) for the strange and exhilarating and painful and glorious experiences.
I taught a course of my own design: Academic Writing About Literature: Growing Up During the Apocalypse–a study of YA trauma and resilience. This course, aside from the book deal, was the highlight of my spring, and perhaps the whole year. It reaffirmed my absolute love of teaching. I worked with incredible students who challenged me and inspired me and I think I challenged them, too. I miss teaching in a classroom. I miss my students.
Finally, finally, after a decade of floundering, I was diagnosed that led to proper treatment, the right medication, and feeling hope, clarity, and safety in my mind. Bipolar II and PTSD. It still feels strange to accept those diagnoses, to work with these tools of labels. But I am working, trying–with a psychiatrist, with a therapist–I’m working to find some level of calm.
The Rumpus (one of my longtime beloved online journals) published my personal essay on my above mentioned lifelong struggle with mental illness, and particularly the two years leading up to my being diagnosed bipolar II. I’m rather proud of the essay. I wrote the first draft when I was hitting rock bottom in Alaska and was finally acknowledging that I needed help. You can read it here.
In May, I drove from Fairbanks, Alaska to Trabuco Canyon, California in a packed to the brim Mini Cooper. Down the Alaska Highway–through the enchanting Yukon and the outrageously beautiful British Columbia.
All the snow the fell in 2016 was a balm, in both Alaska and Washington. The rain, too.
From June to August, I drafted an entirely new book. This was and is a Big Deal. While I occasionally wrote short stories and creative essays (all for school), I’d been solely revising and rewriting Nothing Left to Burn since… 2011 (with some one or two year long breaks). I often regret not drafting other books–my tunnel vision, my obsession, my losing the sense of flowing into a first draft. But NLTB revisions and rewrites were all I could mentally manage with my time, with my frequent moves, with my completing my undergrad in two absurd years. So, last spring, last spring when I drafted a new novel, it was an absolute release.
And that new book: I’m proud of it, now working on further developing it, making a revision plan. It is a challenging and weird and sometimes painful book, and I don’t know if it’ll be the “next” book or if it’ll ever sell but I’m in love and proud.
Oh, and in 2016, I finally learned to outline. In December, when I took a break from my NLTB revision, I started a blueprint for an Alaska-set novel and ahhhhh! That’s all I will say.
Pitch Wars! I mentored in Pitch Wars and it was both rewarding and fun. It reminded me of passion for teaching, mentorship, editing, and working on projects outside my own. And I made new friends and have had the pleasure of watching them gain success and growth as authors.
And following that, in late November, I was hired as an author coach at Author Accelerator. I am utterly thrilled and may have cried when I learned I was joining the team.
In September, I came out. Hi, I’m bisexual. This was something I denied and ignored and refused to accept as a teen. And something I dismissed during undergrad, telling myself that it didn’t matter, I was taking those years to be solo and learn how to depend only on me, why make a fuss, etc. And something, over the last two years, desperately wanted to acknowledge and not keep hidden but didn’t know if I could and should, as it still often felt it was irrelevant because of my being in a relationship with a male. But it does matter. It was painful to keep that part of me hush. I let it impact my writing, my characters. I let it impact my identity, myself. It was damaging to lie and say I was straight. And it felt and feels so good to be out and honest with who I am, my whole self.
I moved to Washington State–something I’ve been attempting and planning and getting distracted from doing (hey Colorado, how are you?) for YEARS. And while I’m moving out of the Seattle area next week (goodbye city life, hello quieter and cheaper and closer to forest trails land), I’m so so so happy that I pushed to move the PNW.
All of the wonderful moments with pup, Bellatrix, and the glimmer of hope of moving her up to Washington to live with me. My previous blog goes a tad too into that but, my gosh, as she gets older, our bond only deepens.
I took risks. I quit jobs that were damaging to my physical and mental health. I chose to pursue freelance and editing (interested? email!) and tutoring, and–while I’ll probably have to supplement with some out of the house part-time work soon–it finally feels like I’m on the right track work wise. My health is far more stable. Retail schedules will never be a good choice for me.
I finished my first for-publication revision and signed my Penguin Random House contract and received my first paycheck as an author. It was strange. It is strange. It is exhilarating.
When I was at the lowest of lows, I asked for help–more than once. I aggressively pursued recovery for things I’ve refused to acknowledge for since I was teen. In 2016, I started taking care of my whole self. I also learned to take days off, to accept down days, to take longer baths, and not hate myself for relaxing. What a concept.
I spent weeks with my family and strengthened those relationships and didn’t go crazy for the two months my boyfriend and I spent living in my parents’ house (!).
And so much more. But these were the highlights, the moments and events that stick out in warmest ways. And I have hope and optimism and thrilling intentions for 2017. It’ll be okay.
Wishing you warmth.
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.
In no particular order…
Write 26 academic essays.
Complete 12 courses.
Jump from sophomore standing to senior standing, on track to graduate in Spring 2014.
Attend an absurdly motivating writing workshop (hello, Ventana Sierra).
Become your college’s Student Curator (what does that even mean?). Edit sections of the college website, do some copywriting, blog as the college representative. Feel sick when someone posts a link to a tad-too-personal post on your school’s Facebook confession page. Quit internship at the end of the semester, not because you didn’t adore the gig, but to move onto other things.
Travel to Park City, UT; Carson City, NV; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Victoria and Vancouver, BC; Oxford, MI; Lake Nacimiento, CA; and Crestone, CO.
Win your first award for writing. Don’t cry when you walk up to the stage to receive medallion and prize money at Honors Convocation.
Complete 5 months of training to become a writing tutor. Give up your beloved Copy Editor position. You can only do so much.
Get sick more times than you can count. Cancel important appointments and then regret it. Never quite figure out what the hell is going on with your immune disorder. Keep walking. Work on this next year, on treating your body well, on making health a priority.
Read a slam poem in front of strangers. Kind of cry, because it’s about personal shit, but mostly smile.
Move out of a campus-owned nineteenth-century house into a darling, ivy-choked, early twentieth-century mansion with an apartment complete with a hidden spiral staircase that leads up to an attic you never ventured to, but you wrote stories about. For a few months, live with female nurse who background checked you via the Deli Manager at your old beloved place of employment, Mountain Mama, and an artist/forestry-dude/genuinely good human being.
Hike hike hike hike hike.
Move out of said darling mansion when the ceiling collapses after a heavy August rainstorm. Move into a too-empty-too-spacious-too-white house that’s a mere trot away from the condo that was your first Colorado home when you moved at the ripe age of eighteen in 2010. Love this circle. Honor this circle. Move into the house just in time for Colorado’s horrific September flooding. Wonder what became of the mold-infested, collapsed-ceiling apartment.
Complete 9 short stories. Learn to love short stories, or at least to stop hating short stories.
Get rejected for a fellowship you really wanted, but then get a never mind! email a month later, offering you said fellowship. Accept the fellowship and become an Admission Fellow. Feel a bit too prideful about the position.
Witness your beloved state of Colorado burn. Witness it flood. Cherish it all the more.
Meet a boy on Tinder. Kiss boy from Tinder. Write a short story about boy from Tinder. Continue texting boy from Tinder, but make it clear to the boy from Tinder that it’s not ever gonna happen. Thanks, though, for the writing material.
When a block is in session, practice ballet for two hours three times a week. When a block is not in session, go for more walk and dance around your living room with the lights on or off. Don’t feel horrified when your neighbors later claim they can hear your sissonnes.
In three months, interview over 100 prospective students for admission into CC.
Start blogging again. Feel silly and vain. Feel mortified when IRL friends stumble upon it. Get over it. Keep blogging. It’s not a big deal.
Embrace moments with your family. Embrace tortilla chips and chocolate, sad days, fabulous days, bad plies and grand jetés.
Enjoy -15 degrees fahrenheit. Enjoy 115 degrees fahrenheit.
Watch an old friend from 2006 get married. Watch your cousin get married. Look at the pregnancy photos of your first kiss’s pregnant girlfriend. Look at the photos of your first serious boyfriend’s newborn. Attend your childhood best friend’s baby shower. Feel strange. Feel old. Don’t feel alone.
Learn how to say No. It’s kind of a wonderful thing.
Shoot a pistol. Hit the water bottle on the first time.
Get back into writing abundantly. Make it a significant thread in your life. Give up parties and gatherings and a normal college social life so you can collapse on your living room floor instead, stare at the high white ceiling, hear your neighbor’s TV boomboomboom through the shared wall. Write. Be forgiving when you don’t write. Scribble and plot and journal from your characters’ perspectives. Stare at the wall. You’re fine.
Read 101 books (seriously, as of December 29).
Learn to let go of being a grade perfectionist. Recognize that no letter can adequately represent how you’ve grown, what you’ve learned. Love school. Love class. Go.
Speak on a student panel about how fabulous CC is, remember why you’ve gathered all of that debt.
Take the GRE. Feel painfully inadequate. It’s all good.
Rewrite your first book through the summer, despite being in school full time and managing two jobs and travel. Some 50,000 words. Better understand. Develop. Cry. Write. Set it aside in September, vowing to move onto your Mormon book, to not touch the bloody draft for at least a year. Have a sudden realization in early December. Start another rewrite. From word 0. This will be your thesis. Write, write, write.
Don’t tell people that the summer rewrite was motivated by the fact that your dream agent requested the full manuscript, and that you agreed to send it in on September 1. You know how this game goes–it’s your third full request and, while an honor, yes, you know not to get too attached. So, you just write for the joy of it, for the story, for you. Make it the best you can and then click send at 11:56 PM on the first day of September. In early November, when you’re lying on a roof in Crestone on an Astronomy trip, the agent will ultimately say no along with some really lovely things, but really simply, she’ll say no. You’ll cry, because you should cry and you want to cry and it’s good to cry, but truly, you’re fine, more thankful than anything, far more pumped and confidant and eager than before. Her no was a good thing: it fed today, the dramatic changes you’re making to the story, it showed you that you can find time to write even when you think there’s absolutely no time, it brought you back. You’re back writing as you are because of her request, and her no is only stronger wind on this totally silly cheesy fun ship.
Blog not so subtly about receiving the no. Keep writing.
In August, turn 22. Accept that some days you’ll still feel 13, or 14, or 15, or 16, or 17, or 18. That’s more than fine. In fact, it’s kind of fucking awesome if you let it be.
Be cheesy. Never stop being cheesy. Life is so much sweeter with an absurd sense of humor, with a bit of dramatic flair. Seriously.
Learn to be comfortable to smile with your teeth. Smile. Smile with your teeth. Or, you know, don’t smile with your teeth if that’s your current genuine smile. Laugh like a tool. Laugh like you’re still six. Remember, it’s all about perspective.
Feel incredibly (sometimes painfully) uncertain about 2014. Try to be okay with this uncertainty. Sometimes do great. Sometimes not so great. Both are fine. It’s going to happen either way, might as well pick up your stride.
Like I said, stay cheesy.
Today it is the first day of August. And August is going to be a tad crazy.
I’m excited, so excited that I MUST MUST MUST make a list of the the days of significance, because I adore lists and I woke up too early and I don’t want to get ready for my second-to-last class meeting.
- Tomorrow is the end of Block C, the end of this course,
the end of Summer Session, the end of my 2012-13 school year. Finally.
- Saturday I fly to California and things become wonky.
- Next Thursday I drive to San Luis Obispo.
- Next Friday I’m no longer 21. How?
- Next Sunday I drive back to Orange County.
- The following Thursday I fly to Oregon and from there will road trip up to British Columbia for something like a week.
- On a Saturday, I depart Vancouver and return to California.
- On a Sunday, I return to Colorado.
- Monday and Tuesday is all day Admissions Fellow training.
- On the last Saturday of August, I take the GRE. This Saturday is also my revision deadline and thus the day my manuscript will fly away. Yes. I’m insane. I’m revising my manuscript and supposedly studying for the GRE in the midst of whiplash traveling. What? What?
- And then Monday it’s September 2.
- And then Monday it’s the first day of the fall semester,
the first day of my senior year.
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS ABSURDITY?
August, what did I do to you?
August, I am so very enthused for you.
August, be kind.
Who am I kidding? August means black lab cuddle time. It’ll be beautiful by default.