I’ve been absent here due to a bit of a health crisis. The scary kind that catches you unaware, even me, seasoned health-problem pro that I am!
I was feeling crunched, worrying about finishing an essay for the upcoming Horror Writers Association newsletter, an article for Poet’s Market, edits for my PR for Poets book and trying to find blurbs for my upcoming poetry book, Field Guide to the End of the World. I was a little stressed, a little under the weather, trying to balance my writing life and everything else. Ironically, perhaps, I was also working on a talk I was supposed to give this Monday at UW Tacoma on overcoming discouragement and rejection.
But life likes to throw a little curve ball at us once in a while, and that’s what happened this week. Not only was I in the hospital by Wednesday, but I was given unexpected news due to some of the tests.
I know a lot of my friends in their forties, and even thirties, have already been through cancer scares, and I’ve even been though a couple myself. (I remember one doctor telling me when I was twenty: “It’s AIDS, lupus, or cancer. We’ll know on Monday. Have a good weekend!” PS: It was none of those things.) But in doing some tests for some terrible abdominal pain, they found something that might or might not be a serious kind of cancer. Only, they left me waiting in bed, not giving me any of my test results, for hours, which is unusual – in the same hospital a couple of months ago, they’d cheerfully come in to let us know the results of the same tests they’d run on me for Glenn within minutes of getting the tests. The nurse, when I inquired, said the ER doc would come in and give me the test results “after he talked to my doctor on the phone” – and the ER doc wouldn’t look me in the eyes as he gave me my diagnosis and check out information, telling me to follow up with my doctor as soon as possible. When they gave me my printed reports, there were the words from both the doctor and the radiology report: “concerning for metastasis.” I was on both painkillers, allergy and nausea medicines when I received the news, but woke up the next day thinking: Oh my God. What? It made all the things I’d been stressing out about seem puny and unimportant in comparison. I had to cancel a bunch of things as I rested up, barely able to eat or sleep for two days from the continued nausea and pain, intermittently looking up things like “Tumor Marker blood tests” and “what else could explain x (what they saw on the CT scan) besides cancer?”
One of the benefits – yes, benefits – of these kinds of health scares, the kind I’m going through now, is a kind of flipped switch of perspective. I’d been agonizing over rejections and no’s from people I’d asked for blurbs one day, and then the next I was thinking: Have I accomplished what I wanted to with my life? What would I regret not doing? How could I approach the end – if I had to – with grace and verve, like one of my role models who is going through liver cancer right now, still traveling and living like she has all the time in the world. She has not let herself become anything anyone would call a “victim.” But boy, it’s scary stuff, this life. All of us have an expiration date, though it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy not tell people we love them, easy to get mired down in the details of tax receipts and chores and minor complaints. I feel very lucky to have had the good breaks that I’ve had – happy to have some family living around me now, a great supportive husband, happy to have my fifth poetry book coming out this year.
If you had told me at thirteen the good and bad things that were coming, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. My body has certainly been an uncertain vessel, from the time I was in my early twenties – thwarting my attempt at a technology management career that perhaps wasn’t my best destiny anyway – keeping my from traveling to some of the places I’d still like to see – though I’ve made it to Paris three times, I’d still like to see England, Ireland, maybe the South Pacific. But mostly I’ve done the things I wanted to do, with the people I wanted to do them with. If I don’t get to accomplish everything else I had planned, well, I still think I’d be happy with what I’ve done.
Hey, maybe this is nothing, another incidental finding, another scare and nothing more. I hope so. In the meantime, maybe I won’t sweat the rejections, the bill paying, the continual grating annoyances of being alive, as much. Maybe I’ll be moved to be braver with my energy, my heart, and my writing. This feels pretty brave, right now – talking about this in public – and hopefully it might help someone else going through something similar, because, isn’t that why we write in the first place?
Happy to say The Robot Scientist’s Daughter has been nominated for the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Yay! If you’re in the Science Fiction Poetry Association, just like the political nominees these days, I ask for your vote! (But there are a ton of wonderful nominees there, including Laura Madeline Wiseman, Matthea Harvey, Marge Simon and E Kristin Anderson.)
Yes, it’s my once-yearly update of the blogroll, and it’s made me really sad to go delete the names of lots of old friends who have stopped blogging – some not since 2014. I guess with Facebook and Twitter and such, people have stopped blogging, but I still really like it as a way of connecting with other writers (with more than 144 characters at a time!) Call me old-fashioned. Anyway, blogrolls themselves have sort of gone out of fashion, haven’t they? My little brother tells me “no one has those anymore.” If you don’t see your name there anymore and we’re poetry friends and you’re still blogging, let me know in the comments!
Women, Chronic Illness, and the Desire to keep Writing
Some very interesting and touching essays on women writing with chronic and invisible illness, as well as chronic illness and capitalism:
These both make interesting points and both women are admirably strong, great writers and doing good by calling attention to our society’s willingness to ignore or let fall through the cracks people who aren’t whole in some way. I definitely identify with “the girl not meant to survive” – in fact, I just finished writing an essay for the HWA newsletter on just that subject, or rather, the subject of writing the world being a mutant/monster/outsider/etc. But I’m not sure the chronically ill do necessarily fall completely out of the capitalist system – after all, I’ve still been writing to earn money – not as much as I made as a tech manager, but something – through all kinds of crazy chronic and acute illnesses for the last ten or so years. Writing is one of the few ways you can earn money at home in pajamas, whether you feel great or not, sitting at your laptop. I have a handicapped placard in my car – a nod to the fact that I often can’t walk or do stairs and am stuck with a cane or wheelchair – but I have never registered for disability – due to the fact that I eke out enough of a living as a writer/editor to make “too much money” (i.e., in Washington State, $1000 in any one month gets you kicked off, or at least that was the case the last time I checked). No, I don’t like the fact that I can’t travel or do book tours like I could when I was younger and marginally healthier – and hold out the hope I’ll be able to do that stuff again. And no, I don’t write as much or as well when I’m in acute situations – say, in a hospital – but I give myself a pretty strict writing and submitting regime pretty much all the rest of the time. Am I inspired when I’m fatigued and discouraged, frustrated by the endless loops of medical visits/medical tests/new medications? No. Does this bring out the best in me? Again, no. But I fight against the idea that as a chronically ill person, I’m useless. I do require more support than I used to – and I’m thankful for the things that allow me to keep writing: several pretty good doctors, pretty good insurance, and a husband who cooks and cleans and does laundry when I can’t. The basic mechanics of life can be hard to scale when you’re chronically ill, but also when you have children or loved ones who are chronically ill (for instance, writers Daphne du Maurier and L.M. Montgomery both had to support their families with their writing because their husbands, both mentally ill, required constant care), or you have to work two jobs to pay the bills…Life seems easy for some, and harder for others, but everyone, everyone has challenges.
I hope I’m not being unrealistic or overly cheerleader-y, but I hope to maintain a writing career despite the health challenges!
And to end on a cheery note, this terrific “note to self” from sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, an excellent example of willing yourself successful as a writer.
Bram Stoker Prize Preliminary Ballot, Sci-Fi and Poetry, Taxes and January Hibernation, and Two Books Coming Out This Year
Very grateful and happy to announce that The Robot Scientist’s Daughter made the preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Prize (check out the other authors on this ballot – Clive Barker? Guiellermo del Toro? What???) Now to wait for the final ballot vote, which happens February 15! I’ve only been part of the HWA for a year, so this was unexpected! Thanks, Marge Simon (also on the poetry part of the ballot) for encouraging me to join! Like the Science Fiction Poetry Association, the HWA is a group I wish I’d found earlier, writers who love the same things I do. I’m a poet, but the sometimes rarified air of the poetry crowd – who, for instance, don’t watch television at all, never idolized Buffy or had a crush on Mulder – used to make me feel lonely. I feel lucky to now not only have poet friends, but writer friends of all stripes who also self-identify as geeks.
Thinking a lot, as The X-Files returns to television and as I’ve been re-reading beloved books from my childhood, how much science fiction and horror, in book, film, and television serial form, have impacted the work I do as a poet and as a human. I’ve always lived in a world where robot arms and Geiger counters were a normal part of childhood, where fish might glow with radioactive waste, and as an adult, have learned more than I wanted to about the caprices of genetic mutation. So I guess speculative fiction never seemed as speculative to me as it might to some. The worlds of Madeleine L’Engle or Ray Bradbury, The Twilight Zone or yes, The X-Files, seemed closer to my truth than soap operas, police procedurals or romance novels (or, come to think of it, the work of Robert Frost, for example) ever did. This probably explains why I write the books I write. I remember in 2006 hearing that Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow were going to include one of my poems in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, thinking, “Is that what I write, after all? Fantasy and horror?” Because up to that time, I’d just thought of myself as a really out-there poet who wrote about comic-book supervillains and fairy-tale curses and science who didn’t really fit in anywhere, I certainly didn’t know that there were more like me out there. Anyway, weirdo-geeky poets, unite, I say!
I’ve been both sick and commanded to stay off my feet as a foot/ankle injury heals, and during that enforced downtime I’ve managed to work on my 2015 taxes (dreary!), work on edits for my PR for Poets book, work on my NEA application, update my CV and Interfolio account and apply for a teaching job, work on essays and sent in the latest draft of my next poetry book for Moon City Press, Field Guide to the End of the World. While staying in is not good for my social life – I missed a couple of friends’ readings – it is good for getting work done.
That’s one thing January in Seattle teaches us – I can pretty much count on catching a couple of viruses (and, historically, at least one weird injury) and it’s not so inviting to go out in bitter cold rain and when it gets dark around 4:45 PM, but the opportunity to stay in, read and write are a given. In the summertime, when the blue skies can last til nine or ten at night and the mountains and trees and water around us look so inviting, it can be harder to create a lot of alone time. Seattle-ites shuck off their sweaters and lattes and basically become more manic (because Seattle-ites know their sunshine is only available for a limited time) Californians for three months, optimistic and outdoorsy. But January is a time for hibernation, wearing nothing but sweaters, yoga pants and rain-appropriate footwear, for computer geeks and for writers alike to get stuff done.
The reality (gulp) of having two books come out in a year – the Two Sylvias non-fiction book first and then my next poetry book in November – is starting to hit me. Have I signed on for too much? It’s a little overwhelming, but I hope I’m up to the task! Hoping the rest of 2016 is a little more cheerful, a little more sickness-and-injury free, but productive nonetheless!
Thanks to The Rumpus for running my essay, a response to Ellen Brown’s excellent essay on Ellen Bass, today! Here’s the link: The Amazing Disappearing Woman Writer and How to Avoid a Disappearing Act.
Thanks to RabbitReader for a new review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. It’s nice after six months to see some new reviews coming out! http://rabbitreader.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-robot-scientists-daughter-by.html
I was happy to receive two acceptances this week – one from Hayden’s Ferry Review, where I’ve been sending without success for (ahem) over a decade – and both acceptances are poems from my upcoming (November!) book from Moon City Press, Field Guide to the End of the World.
This week so far, I’ve tried to get organized and motivated, to work on my PR for Poets book edits, my NEA application. I wrote a talk for a visit I’m doing in February to UW Tacoma, and am working on an essay on the “dark side of poetry.” I’m still in the middle of a (somewhat fruitless, so far) house hunt and scheduling medical tests, dental work, and specialist appointments (new health news: besides b12 deficiency, I’m also folate deficient, despite my diet being high in both, and overloaded with copper, of all things! So, um, making progress in that at least we know some new stuff?) And I still need to help figure out cover art and blurbs for Field Guide. So, eep! Feeling a bit overwhelmed but on the plus side, lots of good things going on!
2016 so far – with its stock market dives, celebrity deaths (sniff, Alan Rickman!) and doomsday-esque headlines (deadly mosquito-borne virus! housing market the worst ever for buyers!) – has been tough for a lot of people. I’m trying to focus on the positive, the things I can do something about. And is it too early to buy tickets to AWP L.A.? It’s nice to think about going somewhere sunny and warm, even if it is two months away…
In the last few days since I’ve posted, I’ve met for the first time with the Seattle chapter of the Horror Writers Association, a group I joined last year (at Wayward Coffeehouse, the appropriately geek-themed downtown Seattle coffee shop), had sixteen tubes of blood taken out of me for neurological and autoimmune testing (the biggest pull the phlebotomist had done, she said, but not, I assured her, the biggest that had ever been done on me), had physical therapy for neurological issues, I stayed up all night with a sick husband (food poisoning, we think, not anything serious, but still not pleasant), mourned David Bowie, wrote a new poem, and an essay response to the recent essay on the terrific Ellen Bass (and her subsequent disappearance) which will appear in The Rumpus (!!). I’ve been sleeping irregular hours and eating oddly at odd times. I caught up on my reading a bit – from supremely great Japanese superstar author Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge (if you’re any kind of fan of Haruki Murakami’s short stories, please read this immediately) from The Unprofessionals, a new anthology from The Paris Review, to the Four-Legged Girl by Diane Suess. I hadn’t written a poem for…well it’s been over a few weeks, at least, and I’m usually good for at least a poem a week. It must have been a combination of the bloodletting, the strange winter sunshine we had for a few days, and the reading. Plus a lack of anything good on television.
I’ve been thinking of the things we do to keep from disappearing in our lives – to forcing ourselves out in the cold to take in a few minutes of sun over the admittedly still pretty barren landscapes, from making new friends and acquaintances to doing things like writing books and hey, blogging. It’s so easy to just live in our routines, to refrain from making a fuss or any noise at all, sometimes, especially in January, a month where cocooning seems downright practical. While my husband was sick, I wrote e-mails and stayed on hold with his doctor’s office – an attempt to keep him from being invisible to his care providers. We’re still (seemingly in vain) searching for a house to buy. In a month that can, with its cold, its short days, its worries about post-holiday bills and flu viruses, depress even the shiniest of people, how do we prevent ourselves from dimming?
I’m getting ready to get into a second round of edits on my PR for Poets book for Two Sylvias Press, removing unclear language, defining terms, adding quotes, examples and exercises. I’m really hoping this will be a helpful book for a lot of people who feel like they don’t know how to launch a book, how to get people to pay attention in a sea of self-and-traditionally published books. I’m also thinking about my next (!!) poetry book launch with Moon City Press (blurbs, cover art, do I need a new author photo, etc) even while helping Mayapple Press send The Robot Scientist’s Daughter out to be considered for book prizes (which it may or may not have a good shot at – these things are worth doing.) I think part of what keeps us motivated in cold, shrill January is the awareness that reaching out, connecting with and helping others is not only good for others, it’s good for our own souls. Part of effective book marketing has to do not only with what we say about our own books, but what we say about other’s books, how we communicate with the writing and reading communities at large. We can’t let each other disappear from view.