Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Four Weeks, Nine Days

Time is weird when you’re grieving. Untitled design

It seems at once too slow and too fast, and feels like it’s moving through water.

Churning.

It’s been two days shy of three  months since my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

It’s been four weeks and nine days since he died.

I count time like this now. Each minute, each day, each week, I remind myself I’ve made it through another one, and am strong enough to get through the next.

“Stay busy,” everyone tells me. “Keep your mind occupied.” So I do. I haven’t missed a day of work since I went back after the funeral. I’ve put out a new book, a collection of horror shorts. I’ve made five gigantic shawls and one miniature one. Most I’ve given away. It helps my anxiety to have something to do with my hands, so I haul my bag o’ yarn with me everywhere. I make dinner. I shuttle my kids around. I text friends. I try to read, but the truth is, I’m having trouble focusing. My mind drifts, and sitting still is such an uncomfortable sensation, I can barely tolerate it. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house this year. It was different and sort of quiet but we made it through. I miss watching the TV shows I used to enjoy, but I can’t seem to follow the plots enough to grasp what is happening, so I stopped watching.

My therapist says I need to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to understand how to put that into practice. I have forgotten how to let my mind be quiet. If I don’t keep it constantly filled with projects and sounds and plans, grief hits me so hard and so fast I can’t catch my breath.

At first, I feared I’d lost my words. I tried to write, but nothing came. But about  a week ago, I worked on When Knowing Comes, and I thought if I could just write one good paragraph, that would be great. It took me a while. First I typed a few words, and then a few more. Rearranged them. Deleted. Rewrote. Then all at once I had two paragraphs worth keeping. Then a solid thousand words.

I released Consumption with zero fanfare in November. I didn’t have the strength at the time to contact reviewers & bloggers. Last weekend I spent a Saturday working backwards, contacting bloggers to see if they’d be willing to review the book I surprise-released a month ago. Some were really nice about it. Most remained silent. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault I dropped the ball. They don’t know what’s going on in my life. As far as they’re aware, I’m just another author with no regard for their time. I’m really grateful to the ones who responded, though. It means a lot.

For the most part, I’m learning to cope with the anxiety attacks. If it comes on slow, I can use the breathing exercises I’ve been taught to stave off the worst of it. Sometimes, though, they hit when I’m in the middle of a store, or driving to work. I’ll have a cart full of groceries and out of nowhere I think, “There are too many people in this store. There’s not enough air for everyone.” Even though I realize it’s illogical, the thought won’t leave. And before I know it, I’ve broken out in a sweat, my heart is hammering, my hands are shaking, and I’m stuck there in the produce aisle, hoping my ice cream doesn’t melt before I can pay and get out of the store. The week before last, my son texted me at work “lol my school is on fire.” I was so instantly panicked! I was able to reach him by phone and the kids were out in the parking lot, the fire was just in a bathroom (some kid dropped a cigarette in a trash can full of paper), and everything was under control in minutes. But I couldn’t calm back down all day. It’s days like those I realize how  much more amplified the anxiety has become. When I realize it’s in control of me instead of the other way around.

Sleep is a crapshoot. I fall asleep most nights but wake back up at two a.m. for no apparent reason at all and remain that way. Grief is a kind of exhaustion all its own, but sleeping less than three hours a night just makes it worse. I stare at nothing in the darkness and try counting backward from one hundred in an effort to trick my mind back into sleep. It never works, but I keep counting.

Counting backward. Counting days. Counting through anxiety attacks.

Marking time.

I’m still here. I keep getting up. Keep showing up. Keep working. Keep writing.

It’s been four weeks and nine days.

I’m still counting.

My website

My books

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Bits and Whatnots, Writing

The First Step is Worth It

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I started this blog, I think, four years ago. It began as a way to practice writing, as a way to organize my thoughts. There are times I’m blogging weekly and times I go months without a post, and that’s fine. This is my own space to do with what I wish, but the joy I found in writing regularly is part of what led to me think I could publish a book in the first place.

Now, at the time, I had written a book that I was doing nothing with, other than occasional tweaks. But after my sister’s death in 2013, I had this overwhelming desire to see my work in print. Because death is a hard thing, and it often forces us to look at our own lives and what we are doing (or not doing) with them. In my case, it struck me hard that, Oh my God, I really could die without doing this thing I had wanted to do since junior high.

Write and publish a book.

And this desire gave me courage, and I put the things in motion that would help me get my book out there. My first book will never hit a bestsellers list. It is not The Greatest Book in the World. But it is a book, and people buy it and read it and like it, and if I had never taken that first plunge, I wouldn’t be on the brink of releasing my fourth book.

As far as publishing goes, there are a lot of things I have done wrong. I still have no website or newsletter. I don’t publish books on a regular schedule and I don’t write within one genre. My books are weird and not everyone likes that.

But that’s okay. They don’t have to, because I like them. I’m satisfied with the stories I write, and I know I don’t cave to expectation or do what’s considered the current trendy thing. Every book I write is true to the vision in my mind, and that is what is important to me.

And I have this little band of followers who buy my books and read and review them, and one who sends me fan art (which is awesome). There are people who send me messages to tell me they enjoyed what I’ve written.

The point here is, none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the first step. If I had never started this blog, I don’t think I would have gained enough confidence to publish my words in a book. If I had never published my imperfect first book, I wouldn’t be getting ready to publish my fourth.

These dreams are inside us for a reason. We’re meant to take those first steps. Sure, we’ll stumble and sometimes fall along the way. We’ll end up with bruises and scrapes.  The first attempt won’t be easy or probably very pretty. But we need those first steps. We learn from them.

They give us the courage to keep walking.

My fourth book, In the Presence of Knowing, will be available this spring.

Bits and Whatnots

Word Shortage

I have heard there are people with a shortage of words. They open their mouths to speak, or sit down to write….and nothing comes out. I feel a little bit sorry for them.

Then again, I seem to have the opposite problem. And that isn’t always a picnic, either.

Sometimes (most times) I am afflicted with an over- abundance of words. They bounce around inside my brain – much like an over-achieving silver pinball, fired out of its slot by the trigger and determined to hit against every bit of space, every obstacle, collecting as many points as possible – and the words clamor so loudly to be heard, to be noticed, that I often cannot organize them into one single essay or bit of poetry.

These words fight for recognition; enticing me into developing new characters; yanking my brain through an entire story idea in just a few minutes; rhyming themselves willy-nilly and without permission in my mind.

My folders are stuffed and my flash drives are filled; spiral notebooks are no longer fitting into the drawers allotted to them.

I simply have too many words. I need someplace else to stick my overflow of verbage, so they don’t get lost or mishandled.

And so I have started a blog.