The last time I posted here I was 26
It was late spring and Nothing Left to Burn had just released
I lived in Olympia, WA on the border of a rainforest
Since then, I’ve experienced absurd joy, kindness
I’ve experienced rejections and bummer news
I’ve heard from the loveliest readers, received emails I couldn’t have dreamed up
I’ve heard from my publisher, good things, bad things, all of it
I’ve felt disappointment, shame, awe, conflict, gratitude
When I last posted here, I was still tapering off clonazepam,
one of the most agonizing experiences of my life
I never had a dependency or abuse issue but was prescribed it for too long
(9 years) (Our bodies are strange and delicate)
I worked as a book coach, an editor, a tutor, a copywriter, an admission essay advisor
(I still work all of those jobs and more)
I’d never visited New York City before, never met my editor
Never met the online, far away friends I did
I had health insurance
I missed teaching fiercely
(and I still do but I’m in the process of satisfying that desire)
I hadn’t yet started and made great headway on the current book of my dreams
(It’s dark and spooky and about sisters in an old house in a forest and more)
I hadn’t started developing what I call the Alaska thriller project
I hadn’t also had the recognition that no, I can’t give up on that summer-rejected bone book
I still lived in Washington. I really do miss it.
Since I last wrote here, I’ve also (re-)come to terms with my being a “slow writer” (but I really don’t like this phrase because it sounds like a negative, especially in the YA community, where it often feels like you’re a dud if you’re not at least doing a book every other year), which is funny because when I received my agent offers in 2014 my first question for each offering agent was whether they’d be okay with my being a “slow writer”–publishing every few years max. I had that awareness, knew my process, was happy with it, but then I got swept up with the standard publishing timeline expectations and it was a mess. After I sold NLTB in 2016, I psyched myself out. Desperate to churn out sellable material–based on industry advice, trying to develop proposals to sell rather than actually draft those books, even though I knew in my heart that I need to write a book to know it, to then revise (maybe rewrite) a book to truly understand it inside and out. I can write thousands of words in a stretch of a few hours, and sometimes I do, but I often need to write a hundred thousand words before I know it as I need to. And that’s okay. It’s how I write and that’s beautiful.
This does not make me a bad writer. There is nothing wrong with my process. I am not a bad writer.
And it’d be easy to regret the past several years spent outlining and developing and synopsis writing and hitting my head at my desk because, oh my god the time, the work I’ve put in. Since 2016, it’s been at a minimum a part-time job, often full-time hours, and some would say I have nothing to show with it. Some have even implied as much to me and that’s really sucked. That REALLY sucks. To those people I say: no. I have so much show for my past three years — perhaps most significantly is the acceptance of who I am and how I write and finding joy in that process again. And then there’s healing from the trauma of bipolar disorder, working toward stable medication management, and learning to be creative on these stabilizing medications, learning to be creative while not manic. And there were the six moves, the unemployment, the exhaustion of being so poor, the new jobs, the debut of Nothing Left to Burn. The hundreds and thousands of words I’ve put down. I’m doing so good. I’m so proud of myself.
And this, too: since I last wrote here, I’ve recognized that I don’t only want to write. That I love teaching too much to not pursue it. And the only way that I to do that is to finish the master’s degree I started in 2015. So, strangely, unexpectedly, perhaps one of the greatest twists of my life, I left my beloved Washington and moved back to Fairbanks, Alaska at the start of January. It’s been odd and hard, but also surprisingly not that hard. At the end of the day, I’m happy to be here. It needed to happen. It’s most difficult when I think too much about my time in Olympia and the magic and simplicity of it all. It’s impossible when I think about Bellatrix. It’s mostly only scary because I’m on week four with no health insurance because transitioning to Alaska’s Medicaid has so far resulted in silence (my several month supply of my medications is my savior). It’s also hard because being a graduate student is just a lot. Plus spring is en route and I’m in Alaska. We’ve gained four hours in the month of February and I can feel it. A discombulation. By the end of March, the sun will set near nine and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this doesn’t give me a little anxious spike. But I also know I’m okay. I’ll be fine. I’m prepared and stable and I’m ready for it: the sun and the second half of the semester. And whatever happens, I’ll be okay. I know what I need. I’ll miss the dark terribly but that’s life. We miss things constantly.
So I’m back in Alaska. And even if this isn’t exactly where I’d most like to be right now (because I miss WA so much, miss that time of my life, miss insurance, miss my friends, miss the rain, miss my dog, missing my savings, miss being an author with a book coming out soon) or what I expected of 2019 and 2020, this is where I ultimately DO want to be, where I need to be to get the shit I want done done. Does that make sense? To not want to be here but also so want to be? Because I don’t only want to write. I also want to teach. And in the next fourteen months, if all goes well, I will be completing three semesters of work, taking a 30+ book comprehensive exam, writing a thesis (a novel; will it the bone one or the sister one?) and defending that thesis, and I’ll come out with the degree that will dub me a master (ha) and will make me, at the very least, qualified to teach college-level writing. I’ll be doing what I need to do and writing, as I have been, and I’ll be cradling the one copy of Nothing Left to Burn I brought with me because, I did that, and I still am in awe that it’s a thing that exists. I am stupidly happy. Basically, it’s been ten months since I last wrote here and I’m all the better for it. ALSO. As of this spring, I’ve been blogging here off and on for ten years. What!
More soon, maybe.
Um. So. It happened.
I graduated. And it was weird and it was awesome and I’m a college graduate. I don’t have a diploma, but I have a degree. My name was called and I walked across a stage under the high Colorado sun and I was grinning like a buffoon the entire time and it’s kind of awesome because in 2010 I had this crazy idea of attending a little crazy school down the street and somehow the idea transformed into a dream that I kicked at for two years until it became reality. And then, another two years later plus four months, today, I graduated.
So. That was cool.
I did it. I did it. I did it. My last essay submitted. My last reading read. My last class meeting attended. I’m graduating. I’m graduating from something. I’m graduating from the school that I never thought I’d be given the opportunity to attend, let alone succeed at. Confession: I’ve been bluffing since 2011. I never knew if I’d make it through the end. To this moment. To my last fourth Wednesday, standing with my fellow graduating seniors on the quad, holding a bottle of champagne, counting down to noon. I never thought I’d dance and cheer and cry beneath the sticky cold spray on an absurdly cold spring day. It was an idea. It was a dream. Something to fantasize about when I was on walks or trying to fall asleep. Yet I did it.
And on Monday, I walk the stage. They’ll call my name. My name is on the list taped to registrar window. It’s happening. On the quad, sticky and shivering from the champagne, hugging these crazy people I’ve grown to love and respect during my 2 years here–who have let me in despite my only have been here for 2 years–I kept saying that: it’s happening.
Am I being over dramatic?
If I am, guess what. I don’t care.
See, here’s the thing, I’ve identified myself as a high school graduate since 2007. That’s not technically true because I ducked out of high school with a Certificate of Proficiency, but in my head, I left. I feel like I dropped out. And for years, I told people I didn’t want to go to college, that it wasn’t for me, that I did’t see the need, but, let’s be real, I was scared. Scared out of my bloody mind that I wasn’t cut out. Scared to try. Didn’t think I was worth it. Didn’t think I was smart enough. Considered it unattainable. But then I stumbled onto CC and I summersaulted into an obsession, a silly dream that somehow came true. I was accepted. Yet even then, I was horrified I’d fall face first. But I didn’t. Well. No. I did. But I laughed it off, shook the rocks from my hair and treated the bruises with care, and then got back up and tried again. These have been the most challenging years of my life, but I did it. And I’ve loved it. It was everything and nothing that I expected at the same time. And now, on Monday, I graduate. They’ll call my name.
You’ll be hearing more about this later,
P.S. I didn’t take any of these photos. They were all stolen from Facebook. Oops. I was too busy to take photos–jumping and drinking and hugging friends, such as my fellow Creative Writing: Fiction major/Writing Center Tutor.
Oh, and YAY, finally non-snowy photos. GREEN! Green, green, green when only on Monday it was white and grey.
My last assigned reading at Colorado College is Raymond Carver’s “What’s in Alaska?”
It’s kind of perfect. I think it’s perfect, even if it challenges the way I’ve constructed nature and the idea of the place–any place–in my mind. Even if it’s not an ode to Alaska and Fairbanks and moving to such an obscure place.
Today, in Colorado Springs, it snowed and snowed and snowed. My last Colorado snow. It’s expected to be in the 80s next weekend, graduation weekend. I’ll miss this. I will miss Pike’s Peak. Bright and high. I will miss these streets. The sharpness of the mountains the next morning. The white on bright spring green. The gentle fall. Soft and cool, quiet. What will the snow be like in Fairbanks? Google tells me it snows about 70 inches a year in Fairbanks, compared to Colorado Springs’s 37 inches. And in Fairbanks, it can plummet down to -50 degrees. In Colorado Springs, we freak out at 0. I will miss taking lame photos from my car. Because–TRAGEDY–I’m no longer driving to Alaska. It doesn’t make sense to shell out extra thousands of dollars (that I don’t have) simply for the comfort and convenience of having my car. So my car will wait three (one? two?) years in California until I return and I will instead journey via the clouds.
I work my last shift in the Ruth Barton Writing Center on Tuesday. I’ve only worked in this little nest of the library for a year, but it’s home. it’s become home. The people. The walls. The cubbies. The floor. I’m often found on the floor. I’ll be tutoring in the Writing Center at Fairbanks (it’s part of my TA-ship agreement), but I suspect it won’t be the same. It won’t be here. It’ll be there. Until it becomes here. Does that make sense? We had our end of the year party on Friday–the Writing Center–and in every photo from the event, I’m grinning or laughing or trying not to laugh in every single photo. Happy. I don’t know if I can usually recognize my own happiness in photos, but hell, you know, I was–I am–happy.
Please excuse my scattered brain, I only have three days left of being an undergraduate. Would you think it’s a bit over dramatic if I told you I cry at random every hour? Like on the floor can’t breathe can’t stop sobs. Maybe it’s a bit dramatic, but whatever. It’s who I am. It’s how I am. This is big. This is unlike anything I’ve done before. I’m graduating. I’m actually going to graduate. And then I leave Colorado Springs for a summer in California and then I’ll attempt to make a new home in Alaska. Perhaps it’s silly, but I take comfort in these small signs. Meeting folk in the Sprout’s check out line from Alaska. My last assigned reading’s title and subject matter. Our screening of the Grizzly Man . All signs point to Alaska.
But until then, I’m here. Right here. Colorado Springs. And it’s beautiful and painful and warm in the homiest of ways, and though I’ve forgotten how to sleep, there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
I’ve often joked about moving to Alaska, but I never actually thought I would, you know, move to Alaska.
Did I even realize the distance a journey to Alaska would require? Did I ever actually look at a map and consider that Alaska is closer to Russia than it is to California? That to get to Alaska I’d have to drive up the west coast, through California and Oregon and Washington, then up through British Columbia (which is HUGE) and into the Yukon? (The Yukon. That’s a whole separate confession. I think I used to believe that the Yukon was a mythical place–my public school education didn’t have a single unit on Canada.) Or that in (parts of) Alaska some nights don’t end and some days span into weeks? That winter can mean -60 degrees? That summers can be brilliant and green?
In December, Colorado Springs broke records with a stretch of days that dipped below zero. The night we fell to -14 was the ONE TIME THIS ENTIRE YEAR that I decided to walk the forty minutes to campus for my late-night shift at the Writing Center. Why? Hell do I know. The cold does something to me. The silence. The blinding white and sharp nights. I whined and moaned about my scarf freezing to my lips, about my numb legs, about almost sliding on my ass as I crossed beneath the interstate, but I adored it. That night I tweeted: “It’s currently colder here in Colorado Springs than in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’m taking this as a sign. Alaska, I’m (kind of) pursuing you.” But even as I typed those words, I didn’t really think it a possibility. It was like I was still 18 years old. Still bemoaning Southern California’s triple digit autumn days, begging anyone willing to listen that I was going to run away to Alaska. Colorado returned to its famously mild winter ways (it snows and then its 50 degrees and sunny the next day) and la-de-freakin-da life went on.
But then I applied to grad school because I am a senior and it was winter break and what the hell else was I supposed to do? I applied haphazardly to a few MFA programs. Only ones with the potential for full funding. I have mixed feelings about MFAs. I even (very) recently proclaimed a public No to Graduate School in a fit of traffic-enraged exhausted. Said I’d rather wait tables. But, let’s be real, to have the time and space and place and support to focus on my writing, to continue studying, to be selfishly passionate about the way words fit on a page… It’s a privilege. A total privilege. And regardless of my internal confusion, I applied. And I applied in a fit of apathy that led to my shooting myself in the toe in a variety of ways. Uploading the wrong documents to a Only Once Chance to Upload Uploader. Confusing asses and assess on earlier teaching statement drafts and then sending in the ass-head drafts. Asking committees to reject me to thicken my skin because I’m such a pro at hearing the word no.
However, there was one application I managed to send in correctly, that I–for whatever reason–actually thoroughly proofread and took care with. My MFA/MA application to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. A program I’d name and people would scrunch up there faces and either say what or why (this is happening still today). There were no hiccups with my application to UAF, though there was a moment in my kitchen where I cried to my mom and sister, “I WILL NEVER GET TO ALASKA!” After which I proceeded to rip up my GRE study page. UAF requires the full GRE and, when I took the exam in October, I skipped the Quantitative Reasoning portion. I was scheduled to retake the exam in December. The full event. But my brain revolted. It was a week before Christmas and have never gone beyond Algebra and haven’t even taken Algebra since 2011, what did I expect to happen? So I ripped up my notes and made my grand announcement, concluding that if Alaska wanted me bad enough, they’d overlook my meager and missing scores.
I never thought they would. I didn’t even know how to articulate to my professors or my mom or my friends why I applied in the first place. Why I felt so compelled by their program. I never thought they’d actually say yes, and no way did I realize that I wanted them to want me as badly as I did.
But my GRE fail was overlooked. I was wanted. I am. And then, at the news of my acceptance, I was confused. I cried, because I’d learned of a friend’s suicide two hours before in a similar format (email) and I thought it was weird how life tends to act in such bizarre ways and likes to play cruel timing games and I was happy and shocked and hurting in a way I’d never hurt before and I was also crying because it made life difficult because it meant I’d have to choose between the horrifying loose plan of driving to Seattle blind and hoping to find a job or the horrifying jump to a place as remote and wild and intense as interior Alaska to attend graduate school for a degree that won’t make me any more hirable than my BA. Initially though, there was no funding attached to my acceptance. This ultimately made it easy. NO to MFA debt. Debt to read and write as I have and as I will regardless if it’s assigned. No, no, no. Even if I wanted to fantasize about it, no.
But then, on Tuesday, UAF offered me a teaching assistantship with a full tuition waiver and a stipend. And then my head was flying north. And current students in the program emailed me and my heart ached and I couldn’t even journal because I realized yes, yes, yes. I’m bloody terrified, but yes, I have to try, yes. I accepted the offer within three hours.
So, the joke has come true.
This August, the day after I turn 23, I will move to Alaska. The trip will take 9 days. 6 days on the road. 3 days on a boat. If only I could tell 18-year-old me to wait a few years. I’m moving to interior Alaska and I’m scared out of my mind. Crying scared. Laughing scared. Watching Youtube videos on dry cabin living (aka a life without running water) or “winter biking” turns my life into a comedy. I’M DOING WHAT? I anticipate some sobbing. I anticipate some pillow screaming and freak out phone calls to my mom. I anticipate all nighters and a struggle to acclimate to the semester system after living on the block plan. I anticipate a sharp ache in my gut for Colorado and the sun and a place where clothing choices aren’t a matter of life and death. I anticipate moments of joy and beauty, of silence and solitude, new friends and shenanigans, hopefully some academic and writerly breakthroughs and invigorating discussions over a single line or passage or page in a book similar to what I’ve experience at CC. I’m ridiculously excited and terrified in the same gasp.
This I know: it’s not going to be easy. Fairbanks winters are violent. Few hours of sunlight. Subzero temperatures I can’t begin to comprehend. Isolation. Severe isolation. A trip home to my family will cost about a thousand dollars roundtrip. Might as well be abroad. Might as well be in Russia. A new place. Living somewhere that is not California and not Colorado. Not my Rockies. Not the Front Range or the I-25 or Uintah Street or 6,000 feet above the sea. Somewhere so totally abstracted from what I know. I’m giving myself permission to hate it. I’m giving myself permission to love it. I’m giving myself permission to reevaluate the situation in a year, though I have every intention to stay. I think I might adore it. I think I’ll be challenged in ways I can’t yet anticipate. And it’s funny, because a boy told me not to go. Asked me why would I go if I’m so afraid. Told me to move to Denver instead, to stay, if I know I love this state so much, why the hell would I leave? Stay, he said, Denver, he said. Why go?
Because, in my experience, when something scares me this deeply, it means I need to give it a try. Because I refuse to stay somewhere out of fear and I know I’d end up resenting Colorado and its glorious people and impressive peaks if I let them keep me from something as extreme and new as an Alaskan move. Because I’m wholly passionate about writing and literature and want to continue thriving in a community that gets that, that cheers me on and pushes me to my edge. Because I want to be forced to read some 100 treacherous works ranging from Old English to contemporary and then be tested on them all in a single day my second year of grad school. Because I can always come back to Colorado in 2018. I can always move to Washington at 26. I’m still young. I have time to be stupid. I’m being offered the chance to be an idiot and drive up the continent in my Mini Cooper. Offered free education and teaching gig (!). I’m going to take it. I can always come back. Nothing is permanent. So, boy, no. I can’t stay in Colorado.
Because now–or, well, after I graduate from CC and move to California and work and write and work and write and turn twenty-three–I’m moving to Alaska to write, to teach, to read, to study, to go out of my mind and find a new groove in life. I’m moving to Alaska.
How weird. I submitted my undergraduate senior thesis on Wednesday? All 246 pages of it. In robes, I walk across a stage a month from tomorrow. How odd. Submit one thesis and commit to penning two more in the same week. Four years ago I didn’t think I’d earn a single degree, let alone three. Alaska was a joke of a dream. Wasn’t even a dream-dream, not something I considered to attempt to achieve. But hey. I guess that’s how life works.
Dear 18-year-old me, the joke is on you.
Dear Mini Trooper, I hope you are ready for your greatest exploration yet.
You Know Who