Linkage: Rejecting Rejection

I have a guest post up at the Writing Barn blog. I talked about how badly rejection hurts when it comes from your family and how I found my voice after a four-year writing hiatus. The post is part of the Rejecting Rejection series, which has included some really fantastic stories about writers facing and overcoming rejection.

I was a little hesitant to put this story out there. Not only is it a deeply personal story that still stings from time to time, but also the story is not quite over. The director’s cut version is that ever since  the thesis incident I haven’t been able to talk to my family about my writing. They ask me polite questions when we get together and I answer them if I’m able, but we don’t delve too deep. The few times those boundaries have been breached, it’s resulted in frustration and hurt feelings all around.

But despite my hesitation I wanted to share my experience because there has to be other writers that struggle with feeling rejected by family. It’s a sucky feeling to be expecting support and congratulations and instead get rejection. If it’s happened to you, please know you aren’t alone. I only wish I could offer better advice for dealing with it, but it’s a learning process.

. . .

In other news, I’m close to finishing a draftrevisionthing of a new book. Look for real updates coming to this site soon!

2013: Making it through

It’s that time of year when people are posting their recaps of 2013. The highs and lows. Milestones. The goals accomplished and the resolutions surrendered. I wasn’t going to write a recap. As far as I’m concerned, good riddance to 2013 and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

But then the other day, my husband and I were driving out to his parents’ house and a Paul McCartney song came on the radio. I asked if it had been one we’d heard when we saw him live.

“Was that this year?” my husband asked.

I counted the months in my head. “Yeah,” I answered. “May.”

“That feels like forever ago,” he said.

“It was before July,” I pointed out.

And that pretty much sums up 2013 for me: Before July. After July.

Before July was pretty good. I started the year with the publication of my short story, “Weddings for Grown Ups” in the Black Fox Literary Magazine. My husband and I traveled. I took an advanced writing workshop with Sara Zarr, through which I met several good friends and writers. I started strength training and completed the New Rules of Lifting for Women (something I never imagined myself doing). I took a stand for women’s rights by attending protests and filing testimony. I went to concerts and comic cons. I met Andrew McCarthy and Rob Thomas and Jason Dohring. I talked to Community creator Dan Harmon about story structure in a comedy club parking lot at midnight. I saw the Dixie Chicks, The Killers, and the legendary Paul McCartney.

It was an amazing year. And then Blanco got sick and died.

The second half of the year seemed marked by loss. I lost July to a black cloud of grief, regret, and anxiety. I lost a member of my family, who I’d cared for and loved every day for more than 15 years. I lost the innocent belief that our little family would always be together. As the months rolled on, I dropped out of book groups and dinner groups because I couldn’t face the idle chit-chat. Long-time friends slipped away. I drawered the manuscript I’d worked on for nearly seven years because my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. The cloud that came when Blanco died slowly covered the rest of the year until I couldn’t remember anything but loss.

After that conversation in the car, I was feeling sorry for myself so I tried to list all the good things that had happened since July. For one thing, my husband and I adopted two Siamese kittens and watching their escapades has cheered us up on several occasions. I put my heart into a new manuscript. I started working with a kind and encouraging mentor who took on my crazy writing process letters (ie. therapy) without judgement. I found more writing friends. I did another advanced workshop, this time with Francisco Stork and got re-inspired to write.

But it was only after I’d made the list that I realized that my biggest milestone of 2013 was that I made it through.

You know how there are those with whom we just can’t imagine life without? It might be one person. It might be several people. It might be your cat or dog, your career, your home. Who or whatever it is, you feel like the day you lose it will be the day your world will end. That was the way I felt about Blanco. Who would I be if I wasn’t taking care of him? What would my life be like without him in it? I didn’t want to imagine it when he was well and then when he got sick, I couldn’t think of anything but. It scared me.

That day came. It was awful and hard. The next several days and weeks were not much better. The house was emptier and someone important was missing, but the world kept spinning. Things got a little better every day. I’m changed, but I’m still me. I made it though.

And that’s the thing I’m holding to as I usher 2013 out the door. There will be other challenges. There will be other awful and hard days, but I’ve been through it once and I came out the other side. Whatever the future holds for me, I’ll remember that.

Happy new year.

On Not Writing

Blanco died on July 25th. It was awful and sad. The weeks that followed were also awful and sad, but I don’t want to write about that right now. I want to write about not writing.

After B was diagnosed with cancer, a lot of people advised me to write. Some suggested it as a distraction. Other writers encouraged me to use the emotion. A therapist, upon learning I was a writer, assigned me to write a poem or tribute to him for our next session, so I chose not to have a next session. It’s not bad advice; it just wasn’t the right advice for me at the time.

By the time I was hearing a lot of this, I’d found that the best thing I could do was rewrite sentences and rearrange words. I could be analytical. I could be an editor. For the life of me I could not free up enough energy to create. Even the last blog post took days to write.

I spent the weekend after Blanco died in a grief stupor. I watched Gilmore Girls. I played Tiny Wings and Tap Words and Running With Friends until I was sick of them. And I beat myself up about not writing.

When you’re a writer, especially one with the goal of publication, you feel the pressure of writing all the damn time. Of using every experience to fill the emotional well of your fiction. It’s drilled into you by teachers, writers, and even cheesy tumblr memes. I know very few writers who willingly take a vacation from writing, which is why I was back at the computer after a long weekend, staring at a deadline and feeling bad about wanting to immerse myself in Stars Hollow instead of the novel I should be revising. During that time I read an interview in Texas Monthly, wherein one of my favorite writers, Benjamin Alire Saenz recounts how, during a terrible time of his life, writing Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club saved his life. You read something like that and you think, well, gee, I should really get back to that manuscript. And maybe I could if I wasn’t so sad.

Sometimes I think the hardest part of being a writer is recognizing when it’s okay not to write. It took some time and a couple of conversations with friends for me to admit that it’s okay if the writing does not pick up this week or this month. It’s okay if I need to push words around for a while and it’s okay if I need to do nothing but read.

I went back and reread some stuff I’d written just before Blanco died. It was pretty awful. Stilted and boring and well, you could just tell that neither my heart or my mind was in it. I know some writers that say push through at all costs, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Otherwise, I’d be scrapping a whole first act today instead of a few measly paragraphs.

It’s been almost three weeks and I’m just now getting to the point that I even want to think about writing or revision in a serious way. I’m not quite okay with that, but I’m learning to be.

A month of sighs

Cleo (tabby) and Blanco curled up

Cleo (left) and Blanco in one of their cuddly moments.

July 2013 may only be half over, but it’s already been a hard month.

My cat Blanco was diagnosed with cancer. It started with what seemed like another IBD flare up cleverly hidden around the time his usual brand of cat food was discontinued. Over the 4th of July holiday he started turning away food and hiding in the corner of our bedroom instead of hanging out on the bed or near me. He seemed so off that superstition made me think twice about posting a silly Facebook status update celebrating the 15-year anniversary of adoption day for my fuzzballs.

My cousin is a fantastic local vet and has treated Blanco through diabetes and IBD, so we called and got the first available appointment after the holiday. There was a mass. Tests. Lymphoma.

Lymphoma is treatable, but it is not curable. There are drugs — chemo, even — that can slow the growth, but cannot eradicate it. Treatment is about improving the quality of life in the animal for the time he has left.

And that’s where we are right now. At the time he has left.

We went to see a specialist about the options for treatment and we got a prognosis. It wasn’t as long as I would have liked. If it works, maybe a few months. If it doesn’t, maybe less. Still, we decided to try to give him the best quality of life possible for as long as he’s with is.

It’s been a roller-coaster of highs and lows around here. The lows include the days before starting treatment when Blanco looked just miserable. The highs are anything that remind us of his normal self. Going downstairs without being carried is cause for a celebration now. Jumping up on the bed in the middle of the night earns him extra snuggles. I used to scold him when he’d crawl over to my nightstand and bite my phone or glasses, but the other morning it got him swooped up and hugged. The happiest moment I had since this started was last Friday night when he sprawled out across my lap and just slept. But we don’t get many of these and when we do, they’re slightly dampened knowing that there are only a finite number of these moments left.

I feel like I’m wearing a weight around my heart. Sadness comes in waves and at the least expected times. When I’m not sad, I’m sighing.

I’m not doing much else, honestly. Grieving uses an awful lot of energy. So does trying not to have a tearful breakdown in public or making your friends feel bad because your mind drifts off mid-conversation. Writing-wise, I can push around words on the page, but I can’t get lost in a story. My head goes back to my little white kitty and I get up to go check on him. If social media is to be believed, everyone else is experiencing a crazy burst of creativity and productivity, so I think I’ll shut down social media for a while.  I want to make the most of the time we have left and do the best by my B.

I am not, by nature, optimistic. Nor am I very good at living in the moment. I’m a worrier, a planner, a think-ahead-er. Roller-coasters are not my idea of a good time. I don’t like the peaks, knowing the valley is going to follow. But I’m trying to not think ahead. I’m trying to live in the now and appreciate every moment we have left.