Spring is my least favorite season unless it’s followed by a particularly lethally hot summer. The week after Daylight Savings, mid-March, insomnia hits without fail. I always forget this trend but, the past two years, Facebook has reminded me. Day four of no sleep and TimeHop pings me with a post from that same day in 2007: “Sleep deprivation will kill me.” This past March, with its lengthening days and breaks in the rain, had me aching for early February, for the season’s last snow, for the dim mornings and afternoons.
Spring has never been kind to me but, then again, this spring has been all right. I think the rain helps. The news says this has been the coldest, wettest winter on record in Seattle and the cloud cover has pushed deep into April. It’s a relief. It’s a dream. Why am I so lucky that with every place I live it’s hard to fathom that it’s my home because of its beauty? That I live here. Here. I’ve been lucky with everywhere, this silly blog is a testament to that. I’ve been so spoiled.
I live in a place where five minutes on foot leads me to a forest. And in that forest are tree houses, and huts made of twigs and branches and logs so that I can crawl over rivers, and platforms in the highest trees. It took me three months to find these forest gem. Three months to see past the mossy evergreens and rain and hail and all the lush green.
I live three hours from Forks, WA. Fourteen-year-old me would be so amused. And, now, naturally, whenever I have visitors a trip up the peninsula is essential. Less for Forks and more for the Hoh Rainforest, for La Push, and Ruby Beach. I’m admittedly going through something of a fangirl resurgence–triggered surely from a personal event that I can’t go into, triggered inevitably from my basically living on the border of the Olympic National Peninsula, triggered probably from meeting new friends who are loud and unashamed in their past fangirl ways. It’s refreshing. And it feels good to embrace nostalgia, to laugh at the passion of younger me but also seriously acknowledge the impact that events and friendships in conjecture to Twilight had on me. I’d be a fool not to be grateful.
The best of news: I’m moving my dog up from California to live with me in June. A three-day drive with my baby. Living with my beloved. I’ll believe it when she’s here, or maybe when we’re on the road, but oh my heart. It’s been a hard few months in terms of health and pain levels, so I’m holding onto this truth with the tightest grip: my dog with me always.
I keep thinking about what I want to do with this space. My blog. I’ve gone through and privatized a bunch of old posts–those that felt too revealing, those in which I showed my teenage naivety, or were simply too painful to read. There are still many vulnerable ramblings public, though I could argue that every last post is just that, including this: exposed, transparent. Where’s my privacy? I’ve been here, open and loud and clear, for so long that I don’t know how to set new boundaries. Since the beginning, I questioned my having a blog on a yearly basis, often shutting it down for months or years at a time, and lately, more and more, I lean toward replacing it with an “updates” page that will offer more book related updates. ~Professional~ Ha? Finally? Maybe. We’ll see.
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’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.
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.