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Tag: fear

First Printing

I took a big step earlier this week, which was so big for me and which I doubted would mean anything to anyone else.

I printed my first manuscript for the first time.

It turns out that lots of people thought it was big and told me so on my social media platforms, which was affirming and very much appreciated.

Printing my manuscript for the first time involved a fair amount of deliberation mostly related to my feelings about printing and the environment (I prefer digital to save trees whenever possible) while also realizing that editing a hard copy is much more effective for me than editing on the screen, and worries that with a black toner cartridge down to 15% I wouldn’t have enough toner to complete the job and then that would just be a weird let-down to have a partial printing in addition to impatience while waiting for the new cartridge to be delivered. My mind is complicated, people.

I enlisted the help of my engineer husband, who is quite handy in situations like this. I asked, “How many pages do we have left on the existing black cartridge?” He went into full-on tech mode, pulling up supply status pages and researching statistics about how many average pages a cartridge can print, delving into information on both a regular cartridge (which we suspected was currently in the printer) and a high-capacity cartridge, including cost per page. God, I love this man.

I had resigned myself to waiting for a new cartridge to be delivered, or putting it off until the next day because procrastination was appealing since seeing my manuscript in print for the first time felt daunting. Is it even worth the paper? The ink? Who knows. “I’ll do it tomorrow” felt really good. Self-doubt was driving the bus. I realized that it wasn’t really about the environment and toner supply, after all. Ecology and supply issues were just speed bumps along the way to Shameville. Who do I think I am to print all those pages of my so-called manuscript? No, I don’t need to print today. I’ll wait until tomorrow, when I can come up with yet another reason to stall.

After M did all his research, he said what I needed to hear. “Print it.” To me, this wasn’t just a go-ahead because the toner supply was adequate. It was someone I trust telling me that it was okay to print my manuscript. I’m not saying I need external justification to proceed, just that it feels good when my best friend says, in so many words, “Yes. You can do this.” He says this a lot, which is one of the reasons he’s my best friend. Of course, he’s also tried to use this to his advantage in the past, trying to convince me that yes, I could change all the poopy diapers and yes, I was utterly brilliant with my use of the washer and dryer and way better than he was at doing laundry, and yes, I could cook dinner rather than go out. Still, what counts, when it comes down to it, is that he always says, “Yes, you can do this,” just when I need to hear it. He’s the Wizard of Oz to my Cowardly Lion, helping me to occasionally take my fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city. His yesses help me overcome my nos.

I re-stocked the paper tray and, before I could come up with any more excuses or chicken out, hit the “print” icon. 286 pages later, after feeding the printer more paper (oh my gosh, do we have enough paper?), my manuscript was complete. I held the 1 5/8” stack of printed paper to my chest and damn near cried. It’s pretty hefty, and I find it hard to believe that I thought of and typed all those words. It represents hours and hours of work, not just sitting down and banging it out, but the thought that went into the characters and the plot, the reading and attending workshops that gave me the tools I needed to craft a story that is (hopefully) compelling and interesting and has conflict and resolution. I have thought about this story at night while I’m trying to fall asleep, in the shower, in the car as I’m driving, waiting to pick up Zoe after school or sports, on my walks. I have thought about this story in cars, trains, and airplanes. I’ve worked on it mostly in Missouri, but also in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. I worked on it in every state on the Amtrak California Zephyr route, the Coast Starlight route, and the Empire Builder route. It’s a massive personal investment.

Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Although the man was a raging alcoholic, I take this also as a nod to writing being the easier part (as hard as it is), and editing being the long, hard slog. I have never edited a manuscript before so I have no idea if Hemingway is correct, but I adore editing so I’m actually looking forward to this. I do realize it’s a ton of work, but since I’ve actually written a book now, I think I might be up for the work.

Thank you to everyone who liked and/or posted celebration and encouragement on Facebook and Instagram. Ya’all are my field wizards, feeding my heart and pushing me down that yellow brick road to my dream. Thank you for helping me fight my own flying monkeys.

Thursdays

Thursdays have been my Monday lately. Thursdays used to be my Saturday, but for the past month-plus, they are definitely Mondays.

Thursdays used to be my favorite day because of doughnuts, dress downs, and patty melts. I am a simple woman with simple pleasures. And then Thursdays consistently blew up.

It was Thursday when I found out my dad had lung cancer.

It was Thursday when I blew up my family.

It was Thursday when I realized that a week after surgery to treat the lung cancer, Daddy was still in the ICU and I still hadn’t heard him speak or laugh.

It was Thursday when the doctors did an MRI on his brain and found “something.”

I know these Thursdays because of how you remember exactly where you are when catastrophe strikes. My mother remembers (well, she used to remember) where she was when Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was when Challenger blew up, and when the twin towers fell down. I remember who was around me, how I felt, how other people reacted.

Every Thursday night I’m with my writing group. This small band of diverse people gather each week to write, to bounce ideas off each other, to celebrate victories (submissions, acceptances, the finishing of first drafts, new story ideas)…to be writerly. I was thrilled when one of them invited me to join, as this is the sort of group I’ve been longing for my whole writing life. What I didn’t realize was that this little band of writers are now much more than just the people who give me good synonyms and encourage me to keep writing.

They give me real support, the kind that goes well beyond writing.

I know this because when my life blows up each Thursday night, I am with them. And they immediately give me hugs. There is no judgment, there are no questions. Just loving concern. I sit at my computer and then I start crying and they kindly ignore me until I look up, shaking, and make eye contact and they realize I’m about ready to bolt or lose my shit or, quite possibly, both at the same time.

The hugs are the good kind. The kind that are tight and long and unrelenting. The kind that say, “I have you. You are safe, at least for this moment. I get it.”

The first time this happened I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for these people to give so much of themselves, so much of their own humanity. Our conversations around the writing table are typically pretty light-hearted. I inevitably end up laughing and feeling so thankful that I was invited into this little community where the topics are wide-ranging and I learn something new each week. I considered this group my friends, definitely, but they were segmented into my “writing friends” group. Not my “cry my heart out friends” group. (I have those, too, but I don’t get to see them the same night each week, although I should because that would be awesome.)

Then one Thursday night all my fears and emotions about my mother’s Alzheimer’s came tumbling out, manifesting themselves awkwardly in public through my tear ducts. I stood up to bolt, because no one wants to bawl their eyes out in the local coffee house. I was cramming my belongings back into my backpack when one of my writer friends stood up, too, and wrapped me in a giant bear hug. All he said was, “I know.” And I remembered that his mother has Alzheimer’s and that he cared for her until he couldn’t anymore and that he visits her all the time in the facility that now cares for her better than he can. And I knew that he knows exactly how I feel and that I am not alone, despite feeling that way most of the time. Why do I forget I’m not the only person to go through this? Why do I think that I should hide my feelings about this because no one would understand? That’s the sort of garbage thinking that derails me completely. Left to its own devices, my brain will spin and spin, gaining in speed and destruction. It takes someone who has been there, reaching out to stop the escalation and still the spin, to get me back on track. It takes someone who knows the wide range of ever-changing emotions that comes with having a loved one with Alzheimer’s. It takes someone who can say only, “I know” and have it mean worlds. Only then can I slow down, stop, and remember that I am not alone, that there is a path through. It may not be the same path, but it’s a journey that none of us has to take alone.

I’ve written a lot over the past couple of weeks, and it has helped me feel better even though I know it’ll never be published anywhere. It’s been too dark here, though, even though the dark is sometimes comforting. I need my presence here, even while I want to hide under the covers.

Daddy’s surgery was almost two weeks ago. The surgery went fine. All the stuff after – the stuff that’s supposed to be the recovery – hasn’t gone well. At all. It took over a week and half to hear him talk. I miss his laugh. I miss his ever-present concern over our well being. Instead, I’ve seen him in conditions that I will never forget, and that will always make me cry.

They don’t know what’s going on. At first, he was aggressive when they feathered off his sedation. They don’t know why he woke up once and, even with restraints, managed to yank out his IV, his NG tube, and his chest tube. The nurses finally got him subdued and tightened his restraints and, I imagine, gave him something that knocked him on his ass for his own good.

It’s not supposed to be going like this. He’s actually supposed to be home now, grouchy but whole. He’s supposed to be grimacing as he sits up and doing his breathing exercises and setting up follow-up appointments. He’s not supposed to be still incoherent at best, and unconscious at worst.

Mom knows what’s going on, generally. She doesn’t understand why he’s not home yet, which is perfectly normal because we don’t understand, either. She forgets that she’s already been to see him today. She cries because she misses him. We all cry because we miss him.

I think perhaps the hardest part is the unknown. We don’t know what’s wrong. So we don’t know how to fix it. We don’t know when it’ll be right again.

Sometimes I’m able to step outside my reality, and look at it objectively. That’s the woman whose dad is in critical condition. That’s the woman whose father has been in the surgical ICU for almost two weeks. How sad that must be for her. I wonder what’s going to happen? I wonder how she’s dealing with that? I think I’m able to do this mostly because some part of me just can’t believe that this is what is actually happening. At work, one day last week, colleagues started showing up in my office. “I’m so sorry about your dad and mom. I had no idea.” Over and over. I realized that someone must have sent out an email. It was touching and weird all at the same time, because I have been on those emails, have felt bad for the subject of those emails, have wondered how that person is coping with so much tragedy all at once. That’s when I could step outside my reality and look at myself clinically, as someone else. That poor woman whose world is crashing around her.

My sister and I take turns breaking down and building each other up. We text and email a lot during the day. She calls me with updates after she talks to the ICU nurses. She tells me over and over that I can call them myself and get updates, but I don’t know what to say to the nurses, or how to understand what they tell me. She has the medical background. She asks questions in that special code of medical language that I can’t decipher, the code that tells her volumes through data. She gets his temperature (the highs and lows). She checks on his oxygen, on his heart rate. She knows what all the different medications are that they’re trying, and what their dosages mean. She knows which is a sedative and which is for fever and which are his normal medications that he takes on a daily basis. She takes in all those terms, all those numbers and knows if he’s doing better today than he was yesterday. I say only, “What’s going on? Is he better? Have you fixed him? Why can’t you fix him?”

When the nurses answer my sister, they speak in that shared, common language. When the nurses speak with me, they speak in the dumbed-down language that they reserve for the Muggles of the medical world. “He’s doing a bit better today! Just wait, one of these days it’ll be like flipping a switch and he’ll be back to himself!” They are kind and professional and caring to both of us.

He has started coming back to us, slowly. He started speaking yesterday. When I visited him this afternoon, I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying. He wasn’t too responsive to me, and I realized that I wasn’t speaking loud enough. The nurse bustled around, belting out questions and getting crisp responses from him. I went to leave and spoke loudly, like she did. It felt like shouting to me. “Daddy! I’m leaving now but I will be back tomorrow. I love you!” He opened his eyes, puckered his lips, and gave me a kiss. He said, “I love you.” My heart soared and everything inside stilled and the universe tilted a little bit back towards center. And I realized that I will never again take it for granted when he says, “I love you.” I will remember when he asks me, for the fifth time, “Did you lock your doors? Did you close the garage?” he is really saying, “I want you to be safe because I love you.”

This Thursday was good. I am moved into a new office at work and today felt settled there. (Maintenance hung my pictures yesterday, which always makes it feel like home.) I had a wonderful end-of-the-year lunch with colleagues after an end-of-the-year plenary faculty meeting where five of my peers were recognized for being amazing people. There were doughnuts in the faculty lounge this morning. The rain stopped and the sun came out and Daddy said, “I love you.”

I’m sitting here with a group of writers, some of us writing and some of us talking about writing, and nothing is blowing up. When I arrived tonight, anxious because of how the past Thursdays have gone, two of my writer friends immediately looked me in the eye and asked how things are going. I relaxed, and said, “Much better, thanks.”

And then I sat down and started writing.

Occupied. Thanks!

Forgive me if this is rambley but my mind is jumping all the over the place and I can’t keep up with the thoughts and they’re starting to pile up and so I just need to get them out before they overflow and I have a big mess to clean up.

This Girl Scout stuff. It escalated terribly last Wednesday night and then early Thursday morning I caught the 6:05 to Chicago while feeling like I was going to throw up, simultaneously upset that I had to leave when I felt so bad and grateful that I had the distraction. I found the little bag in the seatback in front of me just in case, and I have never, ever had to find the little bag, so that freaked me out. And then when I was in Chicago for the day I spent the seminar breaks texting with my sister and calling the neurologist’s nurse because my mother’s tremors are escalating and clearly the meds aren’t helping and why the heck haven’t you called me back because I have left three messages in three days and my dad has called and my sister has called and this is my mother for Pete’s sake. Thursday was hard. Really hard.

Since then the Girl Scout issue has eased, because I made it ease, despite the near constant inquiries from people who know that this is devastating to me and who tell me that they, too, think it’s unjust and unfair. It’s nice to hear all the support. But I also need to move past it, because I can’t change anything about someone else’s decision, no matter how I feel about it. And I will move forward, because I figured out a plan years ago when all this stuff started surfacing and I knew, as we all know, that we can’t always get our way.

I realized today that I’ve moved back into that “hate the world” place that I was stuck in for so long last year. The first indication of this is when I get irrationally angry at every single driver I encounter on my very short commute to work, and am fuming by the time I park my car. I identified that in myself today, after screaming, “What the everloving %$#& are you doing?” at a car that came to a dead stop and blocked traffic because it needed to turn right but was in the left turn lane, and apparently didn’t want to go further down the road, turn around, and come back and so made the rest of us wait. I took a deep breath and told myself, “Dude. Calm down. The five-second delay is not worth the stroke you’re bound to have if you keep freaking out like this.” (Note: I drop Zoe off about five nano-seconds into my commute, so she does not witness my commuting freak-outs.) (Usually.)

I am becoming rather enamored of the musician Amanda Palmer. I read her book, The Art of Asking, and fell in love. With her. With her music. With the idea that to be successful and happy we need to get over ourselves already and ask for help from others. And give it, of course. It’s a whole circular thing. She released a new song today, and it’s incredible, and just listening to it I realized that I Am Bigger Than All The Stuff. I am bigger than the Girl Scout issue. I am bigger than the people in my community who think they make better decisions for my family than M and I. I am bigger, because I make things instead of destroying them. I need to let go of this petty stuff that takes up too much space in my brain and focus on the creating. The doing. The giving.

And with that realization, the weight lifted. Just like that. I wanted to run out and hug faculty members and apologize for scowling since last Wednesday. I wanted to create something right the heck now. I poured that energy into my work and cranked out some projects, and they turned out great, and it felt good. And now I’m pouring that energy into this. Writing. I also made a pretty picture today, so that counts, too.

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We have a nursing mom on staff here and to help her out we stuck some furniture in the women’s restroom so she can pump. And by furniture I mean an old office chair and an even older student desk. Eh, it works. We’re not exactly the Taj Mahal anywhere in this place, and it’s endearing. We are small and scrappy, and we do really well with our sometimes-limited resources. It’s part of the reason I love the place so much. This makeshift pumping set-up is a perfect example.

The bathrooms here have a main door, and then inside a smaller metal door and panels surrounding the toilet. Even the tiny bathrooms have this arrangement. For those of us who want to use the restrooms to change into our workout clothes at the end of the day, this is annoying because we can’t lock the main door and instead have to cram ourselves in the tiny stall to change. We asked for a main door lock for months. When the nursing set-up was in place, we thought we had the perfect excuse. She needs privacy and can’t pump in the stall, so the main door needs a lock. Turns out that the main door can’t have a lock for safety reasons. That door is solid wood, a few inches thick. If it were locked and someone was in distress in the bathroom, it’d take a battering ram to get through the door. At an all-boys school, it’s not wise to have battering rams lying about. So, no lock. We determined that the easiest, most effective solution was to use a post-it note alerting people to not come in. Someone wrote, “Occupied. Thanks!” on a post-it and stuck it to the wall inside the door. The note is transferred to the outside of the door as needed. It eventually lost its sticky, so we’re on our second “Occupied. Thanks!” post-it.

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I see this thing every day when I use the bathroom. Sometimes I see it on the wall inside. Sometimes I see it on the door outside, and I know my friend is in there doing her awesome mom-thing and it makes me happy. Today I figured out that I should use that post-it on the valuable real estate that consists of my head and my heart. There’s limited space in there, and I sure as heck don’t want to give it over to people who make me miserable. When some nasty person tries to spread their bad juju, I’m gonna try to say, “Occupied. Thanks!” and go create something instead. I think I’ll be happier for it, and my heart will be happier, and my brain will be put to much better use. I’ll use that valuable internal real estate to create, to affect others positively, instead of stewing in the vile poison someone else tries to share. So I had an idea this afternoon. A bit of guerilla art. Time to stop writing and start a different sort of creating. If it pans out, I’ll take a picture and report back here.

What’s occupying your head and heart today? Is it good? Does it make you bigger, fuller, happier? If not, boot it out the door. Reclaim your ground. Occupy your own space, and leave no room for outsiders who don’t fill you up with joy. You’re worth it.

On Fear

Last week, when I couldn’t stop crying, I texted with a close friend. I had gone round the bend and knew even as I was typing that I was being irrational. Which only makes things worse. She was doing a phenomenal job of cheering me up by making me laugh, as she always does, when out of the blue she typed, “Maybe you’re crying bc you’re scared.” I stopped breathing. She was totally right, and I hadn’t even realized it.

Then, this week, a writer friend wrote a lovely blog post about fear. I read it, and I related. Because right now, my friends, I’m scared of a lot of stuff.

I’m scared that M is traveling to places like Tel Aviv. And Dubai. And London. And San Jose.*

I’m scared that my ancient cats will die some day. I mean, I know they will eventually die, but I’m dreading it. Because even though they are old and disgusting and they barf and sneeze and drag kitty litter all over the house, they are still sweet and loving and they keep me company when M is traveling to All The Dangerous Places.

I’m scared that the sweet, disgusting cats will die when M is gone and I will have to deal with it by myself. Because I am sure that I will fall apart and I must not fall apart because someone will have to make sure our child is okay.

I’m scared that the BBC will only make Doctor Who available on their own paid streaming service, not one of the two we already have. Jerks.**

I’m scared that I will never be able to adequately express to the people in my life how much I love them and how much they mean to me. It’s a lot. More than mere words can say.

I’m scared that I will get early onset Alzheimer’s like my mother.

I’m scared that something will happen to my child, because I know that I would not be able to go on.

I’m scared I will never lose the weight that crept on when I couldn’t move because of crappy feet and then back-to-back foot surgeries.

I’m scared that I will never finish any of the books I have started.

Fear is a powerful thing. It can stick you in neutral and leave you on the side of the road. Fear doesn’t care. Fear laughs at your insecurities as it tosses your meager belongings out the window and drives on. I don’t want to be stuck in neutral, so I try, by and large, to power through.

However, sometimes the fear wins and I shut down. I stop writing. I stop photographing. I stop putting myself out into the universe. And then I’m even more miserable than I was when I was trucking along with fear as a constant, unwanted companion. Because without momentum, without forward motion, the fear stagnates. It swirls and binds. Fear begets misery and claustrophobia and anxiety. More than anything, fear begets sorrow. Sorrow for what was lost, what was missed, what could have been.

My fear du jour is this: rejection. I have started on a new book that I’m really fired up about, because it’s something no one else has written. There are lots of articles, but none are complete. None tell the whole story. And, most importantly, none tell the story of the very people at the heart of it.

Everyone has a story to tell. It’s amazing, really. I learned this over the course of the past three years at work, when I started interviewing faculty and staff as part of a regular feature in our weekly newsletter. It began as a way to introduce new employees, but when I ran out of them I started interviewing the veterans. I learned some pretty incredible things about people I work with, and every interview inevitably leads to at least one surprise. Sometimes it’s something we didn’t know we have in common, sometimes it’s something I’d never have guessed. Every interview has been great. Every. Single. One.

The most gratifying response is when my subjects review their bio before publication and tell me, “You made me sound so interesting! I never knew!” I love that. Because people are interesting. They’re fascinating. All of them. So many stories, so little time.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get in touch with the people at the heart of the new book I’m working on. I found names online, and a few stray snail mail addresses. I busied myself with creating a list, telling myself that the grunt work was worthy and keeping me going. And it was, for awhile. But when I thought about reaching out to these people, I froze. So I just kept researching.

Someone (thanks, Judy!) suggested that I look into a group some of the people formed on Facebook. I searched, and I found the group. They are right there. Right within reach. All I have to do is ask.

So, naturally, I froze. I stopped all work. For days. I thought about it a lot. I thought about it as I drove to work, and in between projects at work, and on the drive home from work. I thought about it while I made dinner. I composed hundreds of messages in my head, asking them to give me a tremendous gift, the gift of their stories.

And then I’d sit my butt on the couch and watch Mad Men. When Mad Men ended I switched to The Newsroom. I finished that last night. Or almost. The third season on Prime is not free. Of course. Because they hook you on the first two and then dangle the third behind a pay wall. It’s only like ten bucks, but it’s the principle of the matter. Stop behaving like the BBC, Amazon. Clearly I am carrying quite a bit of angst about streaming television. Anyway, I’ve maxed out my free Newsroom and I’m sick of reading Writers Digest articles that all tell me I should be writing instead of watching Mad Men and The Newsroom.

I read my writer friend’s blog post about fear a couple days ago, and left a comment. What if I get rejected? What if they tell me no? What if they don’t want to talk to me? What happens to my book if the people at the heart of it decline to be interviewed?

My friend responded with very wise words. I’ve heard this before, but tend to forget it. She wrote, “Failure is not the worst thing that can happen, not trying is, because one day the question will come back and haunt you…what if I had tried?”

Her words started to haunt me worse than the fear of failure. What if I never got out of neutral and then my whole life went by and all I had at the end was regret for not trying?

Then I thought again about approaching the people whose story I so desperately want to tell. What if they reject me? I guess the book doesn’t get written. Which is exactly where I am right now. Only now I would know that at least I tried. And then I would find a new book to write.

So my writing assignment tonight at my writing group was to compose a message to one of the group admins. I had a writer friend review it for me, basically to ensure that I didn’t sound pushy or disrespectful. I want the group admin to know that I think her story, and all the other stories, are worth telling. They deserve to be heard.

And then, I sent it. Before I could chicken out. Before I could go home and cave and pay Amazon ten bucks to watch the last season of The Newsroom and fall asleep having made no progress at all for yet another day.

So it’s out there, now. Floating around with some dreams and hopes attached. Fear be damned. It feels good that it’s out there, even though the fear is still lingering. Onward.

*I never said my fear was rational. I mean, San Jose? Really?

**Okay, so this isn’t so much a fear as just a general feeling of being mad. They yanked the Doctor off Amazon, so I subscribed to Netflix. Now they’ve yanked it off Netflix. Grrrr.

UPDATE: The administrator of the group responded! She is going to take it to the members and they will let me know. It breaks my heart that others have asked to interview and they had some negative experiences, so they are naturally wary. These people went through so much, and the fact that someone would cause them more grief is unfathomable. They, like me, are scared. Wow.