Thanks to The Collagist! My poem “Are We There Yet?” (from my upcoming book, Field Guide to the End of the World) is featured in their wonderful new issue 85. (Check out work from other notables and friends such as C. Dale Young.)
And speaking of Field Guide to the End of the World, my publisher has finally gotten in the ARCs (advanced review copies) so if you want to review it and want either an e-galley or a print ARC contact Moon City Press or let me know at jeannine dot gailey at live dot com. You can also leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!
I wanted to write a little bit about poetry and ambition, in the context of finding out you have a terminal illness. You may remember an anecdote I’ve told before on the blog about me waking up in the hospital in San Diego, about seven years ago, with a very severe case of double pneumonia and pleurisy. I could barely breathe and definitely couldn’t sleep due to a loud roommate and the constant waking for blood pressure checks. I thought then that that might be the end of me (in fact, the same weekend, another girl who had swine-flu-related pneumonia, same thing that I had, did die – and she was 15 and healthy, at the same hospital I was staying in.) My mind raced with all the things I still wanted to do. My strongest thought was “I can’t die yet! I still have to publish three books!” This was before my second book had found a publisher. My next three books were published in rapid succession shortly after this revelation – She Returns to the Floating World by Kitsune Books in 2011, Unexplained Fevers in 2013, and The Robot Scientist’s Daughter in 2015.
None of these publications changed my life. My work hasn’t been widely distributed, given big prizes, nor have any of them made me a household name. But I felt satisfied, after The Robot Scientist’s Daughter came out, that I had fulfilled my promise to myself to get the books out there.
Now, as I returned yesterday from a bunch more boring yet stressful and unpleasant cancer tests, I was looking through a similar lens as that hospital bed – a limited time frame, and a sense that I need to focus on what’s most important. This time around, I had strong urges to reach out to the people most important to me, to spend time outdoors appreciating the beauty of the world around me, to spend time with friends and family. (Hence the nature picks – lots of exploring our new neighborhood, especially at sunset and dusk when it’s cooler..) But I do have a sense of urgency about this upcoming book and the one I’m in the middle of writing about my journey with cancer. Cancer is ugly and scary to people, I think – and I think one way to diminish the fear is to speak about it as clearly as possible, to share experiences with it. So I’m trying to trick myself into writing poems even though we’re not all the way settled into to the new house yet (usually it takes me a few months after a move to be able to write again) and I’m trying – despite somewhat scattered energies – to focus on doing what I can to promote Field Guide to the End of the World, which is coming out in September. Poetry takes on a weird form of importance – even though so few people read it or respond to it – when you’re thinking, OK, this might be my last shot. What do I want to leave people with?
So I’m planning a book launch party (Sept 18!), a reception in October at local poetry bookstore Open Books (Oct 15!), some other local readings, getting ready to send out book cards and a newsletter and design a flier for the book..all kinds of “busy work” things that are important if you want to get your book into people’s hands. Remember that notes to authors, book reviews, and buying books – all things that support a writer in their lives’ work – might have a lot of impact. We never know what writers are going through when they’re writing, when they’re posting little PR blips about their books. Your support may mean more than you think.
First, some publication news!
Thanks to Alyss for publishing “Dorothy: Since Arriving in the Emerald City” in their issue 4. It’s a fantastic issue, including work by Jessica Goodfellow, whose work I really love. Check it out!
Thanks to The Mighty, a blog community for people with disabilities and illness, for publishing my essay on cancer and luck:
Please click on it and leave a comment if you like. I’ve been writing tech documents, poetry, and book reviews for some years now, but I’m a bit of a novice at the art form of the “personal essay,” so this is really me getting my feet wet in that area. I’d love to know what you think!
Well, the cancer stuff – we’re now in a phase where I have to do some more fancy rare tests where I go off half my medications and eat a weird diet for a while, then do the rare tests, then get info back on how we move forward on treatment. I thought I’d be getting my first chemo dose at the end of the month, but because the endocrinologists suspect even more weirdness concerning my neuroendocrine tumors, they want to be sure it’s the right kind of chemo before we jump in. Which makes sense, but is frustrating because MORE WAITING.
Had a great long coffee visit with an old friend yesterday who also struggles with chronic health issues. Right now all the support and friendship I can manage to squeeze into my schedule seems like an extremely good idea. Finally made some headway with the post-moving box problem and have started to think of this new place as a place I can actually entertain! After years of tiny apartments, this seems like an enormous luxury.
In the meantime, because one of the side effects of the chemo is some hair loss and change of texture, I decided to lop off about three more inches of hair. I grew it out all last year, so it was a little emotional, but it is much easier (as every woman with short hair claims). Here’s a pic of the haircut, with the very dry grass in my backyard, courtesy of my husband. I also want to get you some kitty therapy here, so here’s another pic of little kitten Sylvia, this time sacked out next to Shakespeare. I call this art masterpiece “Sacked Out Ragdolls.”
I have been thinking about things that help me feel better, things that might bring me joy and strengthen my immune system before my octreotide scan at the end of the month, which involves my first dose of chemo, but radioactive, plus three days of scans. Fun! And I have to do to the endocrinologist tomorrow for a workup, as neuroendocrine tumors can apparently mess around with your endocrine system. So, did I spend my days responsibly unpacking and setting up the new house, which is still basically a pile of boxes? Well, some, but…it’s August in Seattle, which means it’s time to go out and enjoy as much sunshine and outdoors stuff as possible before the rainy months settle in.
The narratives of children’s books and movies often rely on a narrative of “healing nature.” Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, with its neglected children being visited by kindly forest spirits while their mother is in a country tuberculosis hospital, fits this narrative. Two of my favorite books from childhood, The Secret Garden and Heidi, both feature children being healed by eating healthy food, getting into the outdoors, and connecting with other people, animals, and plants. I know it’s a too-facile idea, but I figure exposure to fresh air and flowers can’t hurt and might help.
So it’s no surprise that I’ve been drawn to spending time outside, going on long walks, eating fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s markets, visiting the local lavender garden, cuddling with my new kitten, and even dancing (Yes, it’s been a while!!) at the local wineries when they bring in live music. These things do feel restorative and healing.
One of my other joy-bringing practices is taking advantage of the art scene here in Seattle. Went to the final group show at my favorite Seattle art gallery, which is closing – Roq La Rue – which was called, appropriately enough, “Death and the Maiden.” There were some fantastic pieces – most of them already sold before we got there, by both up-and-coming artists and familiar names. We also hit the after-party at The Pharmacy bar down the street afterwards (where I got carded! I was like, young man, I could be your mother!) The show and the party were packed, and Roq La Rue attracts such an interesting mix of characters – vibrant candy-colored hair, glitter masks, and eccentric costume are the norm at a show there – that the people-watching was almost as fun as the art watching. There were several pieces that really caught my eye. Here are a few:
This Move Will be the Death of Me: Moving Drama, ER trips, a new poem up at The Pedestal and a book party date set!
Our move is done – though we are far from finished on either house projects or unpacking – and there was enough to drama to hope that this move (our eighteenth in our 22 years of marriage) is our very last one. We moved on a 90 degree day and it took a full 12 hours in the sun despite just being a move across town – the movers brought too small a truck, for one, and we probably could have used either larger guys or more guys on the moving team – Glenn and I frantically packing at the last minute – and me ending up in the ER that night from midnight til 4 AM for an infection that flared up (probably brought on by dehydration, my own fault – I’d felt a little sick for a few days but just thought, I’m stressed, I have cancer, etc so…didn’t do anything about it.)
On the positive side, of course our kitten kept us entertained throughout the move. Here are some pics of the kitten and the view of Mt. Baker from the back deck of our new place.
Anyway, trying to find lost items in the new house is my new hobby! And Glenn has at least several days of home projects left to do – more work on the bathroom floors, drywalling, venting, and backsplash – and we’re putting together furniture we’ve dismantled so we can put away books, clothes, etc. Comcast messed up our move in so many ways that I spent over 40 hours on the phone with them and still everything isn’t fixed! So remember kids, don’t ever need internet/phone/cable service, because those monopolies that provide them are the devil!
In the meantime, while I was away, I had a new poem (“Post-Apocalypse Postcard from the Viceroy Hotel, Santa Monica”) from my upcoming book appear on the newly updated and refreshed The Pedestal Magazine. It looks great, I think!
I also think that the ARCs for Field Guide to the End of the World will finally be ready by the end of the week from Moon City Press, so if you are interested in getting a review ARC, be sure to contact me at jeannine dot gailey at live dot com or Moon City Press.
I’m ready to get my new office in order (pictures to come) and start writing and sending out work again, plus working on the final copy of the book so I can make sure the acknowledgements are all updated and there are no awkward typos anywhere. I’ve also now got a date and venue for the book launch party! September 18 at 3 PM at Matthew’s Winery in Woodinville, WA. (Wine and snacks provided, of course!) I hope you put it on your calendars now. There’s even a little B&B – the only B&B in Woodinville – on site in case you want to spend the night checking out wineries and doing all the wine-country-type things afterwards.
I’d actually been writing around to shelters and breeders around town for the last six months because I’d been looking for a kitten to keep Shakespeare company (he’s been a little needy and despondent since our 20-year old blonde cat passed away last year.) So imagine my surprise when I get a text out of nowhere from Shakespeare’s original farmer/owner, who had two kittens she was trying to “re-home” as they were not getting along with her dog and generally causing mayhem. Would we be interested? But they had to be picked up this week. In the middle of packing up our house and moving. Ideal timing? No way. But we decided to jump because the kitten was so adorable.
So, out to the farm and then to the vet we went. We have to keep the cats separated a few days (!!) – which as you can imagine, is no easy task when we’re trying to pack up the house – and trying to acclimate the kitten (a silver-point ragdoll we have named Sylvia) AND Shakespeare to each other and the new place at the same time.
At the same time, I scheduled my octreotide test, the next step in the no-fun “cancer journey,” blithely believing it to be no worse than my previous SPECT nuclear test. Sorry, Charlie. The scheduler blandly explained the terrible procedure – involving colon prep, then a giant needle “too large and painful for the arm” which would inject a radioactive dose of the chemo drug (which “most people tolerate well” – which means 10 percent do not tolerate at all) and then three days of multi-hour scans with no movement allowed. Yeah, I get twitchy during a 30 minute MRI, so this was going to be worse. Much worse. And then I read that it probably wouldn’t turn up – as doctors had said it might – anything the MRI with contrast from head to toe I had a few months back hadn’t already caught. Hmmm. Painful, difficult, time-consuming and little chance of giving new information? Terrific!
Then I read up on the chemo itself – side effects, efficacy, stuff that was pretty alarming. For one, the standard treatment isn’t really that effective – it doesn’t shrink or disappear tumors, and can’t really even prove that it slows them down, apparently – and for some people has a load of unpleasant side effects, from weakness to flu-symptoms thyroid trouble to extreme stomach trouble. As a scientist, not just a patient, I ask myself: Will the benefits – which seem shakey at best – be worth the pain and sacrifice of time, giant needles, and possible side effects? Did I mention the need for frequent explanations to nurses, who can’t seem to administer the tricky chemo correctly (has to be done in the right place in the hip, at the right angle, and the solution mixed to the exact right temperature and texture (it clumps, hence the big needle) to work. Suddenly I don’t feel in a hurry to get either the test or chemo any time soon. (Did I mention the fact that each injection could leave a permanent, painful lump? And that’s for people who do NOT have bleeding disorders. Neat!)
Speaking of welcome distraction, I’ve had lots of visitors – artist Michaela Eaves (she did the cover of Becoming the Villainess) came over for dinner and a quick catch-up, and my brother and sister in law came over for a “meet-the-kitten-and-pizza/packing party” complete with the gift of boxes! Our phone and internet, predictably, have not been working reliably but Comcast can’t get the technician out before we move. Better luck in the next place? It’s been great to see everyone, despite the fact that the house is a wreck and I’ve been as scattered as a person can be. The weather has been beautiful, despite the fact that Glenn and I have been mostly missing out on it due to 1. packing 2. projects at the new house 3. doctor appointments. Bah! I’m hoping I get to catch more of summertime’s relaxing vibe in August…
Post more after the move! Happy end-of-July to you all! (Despite the politics, terrorism and horror in the news, vitriol in our papers…) I also recommend kittens for all dental and doctor’s offices from now on. Great therapy.