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Posts tagged ‘writing’

Surface Level Update

Life is extraordinarily busy right now, which is part of the reason I haven’t updated. The other reason is that I  hit a wall in my writing, and I didn’t have the energy to break through. I dealt with this by shutting down, refusing to go through the process of translating ideas and images into sentences and evaluating the worth of each word. Even sending e-mails was getting to be too much writing. I owe a lot of people e-mails and phone calls. My apologies. Work and appointments have taken over my life. Working with kids is draining, even though I absolutely love it.

I’m no longer doing an official independent study with Marya. My plans changed so dramatically since she’d first agreed to work with me. Getting into grad school changed my priorities too. She said I wasn’t in a place where we could be productive enough together. Since I already had time off work and tickets to Chicago, she agreed to continue to work with me–just not in an official structured way. It’s actually pretty cool. I get to pick her brain about the huge range of life experiences she has and writing. She’s a very busy woman, so it’s incredibly kind she still makes time to meet with me and puts up with a million questions. I feel pretty lucky to have access to someone whose been through the whole publishing young thing. She suggested I abandon writing a book for now. It shocked me to hear she regrets publishing her first book. At only 23, she published Wasted. It was a New York Times Bestseller and nominated for a Pulitzer, so she lived every young writers dream.

She said that you can’t escape the first impression you make as a writer. She’s 38, and yet everyone still talks about what she wrote and thought at 23. I haven’t given up hope of writing a book young, but it’s not a priority anymore. Instead, I want to use my masters program to learn everything I possibly can about craft, discipline, and teaching at the college level.

Three weeks until I move south and start my program. It’s sneaking up on me, and I’m a bit overwhelmed. I have guilt about all of the people in my hometown I haven’t been able to meet up with; I owe a lot of people phone calls and e-mails. It makes me want to hide in bed under the covers when I get home from work. This is my only weekend at home before I move, and I’m supposed to be cleaning and packing. I’d rather do just about anything rather than pack. Packing makes me depressed every time. I don’t fully understand why, but I think it might be a reminder of life’s impermanence.

This is just a lame, surface level update. I’ll try to do a more detailed update soon. Despite being busy, life is good.


New Found Optimism

I’ve had a new found optimism for most of this week. I switched the furniture in my room around on Monday. The room had the bed in the middle, despite it already being a small room, which gave little extra space. The one maintenance woman suggested I rearrange things back when I first moved in, but due to a combination of apathy and laziness, I didn’t. It took several times of her suggesting it, and assuring me how much more I’d like it, that I finally did it. My stomach hurt less Monday morning, so I decided to be ambitious. It proved to be a complicated process, because of where the cable/internet/phone chords have to be plugged in, etc…

Now that I have everything on one side of the room, and my desk and lazy-boy chair are next to the window, I’ve been productive! Remarkably so. I’ve also had less problems with my stomach, which may be related to the fact I’ve cut dairy products from my diet. I’ve been sleeping better, which I’m sure also helps me function more efficiently. The deadlines for my graduate school applications are creeping up fast, so that also forces me to work a bit more. Although, my Statements of Purpose are killing me. I’m applying to five schools, and each school has different expectations, which requires five different statements. Until the past few days, I avoided even looking at them, because the thought of working on them seemed to paralyze me. I finished my first one today, after several days of working on it. It’s less than two pages, so I didn’t expect it to take this much time, but you have to say so much in very few words, so it took a lot of over-writing and then cutting…just like most good writing, I guess.

Tuesday night, we had a party here for all of the staff members and their families. It proved to be a beautiful, fun night. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about dressing up, so if being a 23-year-old living in a retirement home isn’t awkward enough, add the fact that I was the only one in jeans, and I started the evening feeling incredibly anxious. As more staff that I knew arrived, I started to engage in different conversations and have fun. I’m amazed that the staff is so kind to me here. I don’t like to make them go out of their way for me, because I’m not paying anything to live here, but they are more than happy to help me in whatever way they can. Not to mention, they all say hi, ask how I’m doing, and ask about my writing nearly every day.

The sisters are also wonderful to me. At the party, they told me how thankful they are that I live here. They also gave me a very thoughtful card with a gift card inside, as if they don’t do enough for me already! I’ve had a fear of being in the way (even just taking up space) since childhood. Needless to say, living somewhere for free where they feed me and spoil me with whatever I could need or want, makes me a bit uncomfortable at times. I’m constantly paranoid that I’m not contributing to the community enough or they will regret taking me in. So for them to not only take me in, but make me feel loved and appreciated has helped me feel more at home.

My therapist switched my meds a bit again. She said if this next adjustment doesn’t help, we may have to look into a mood stabilizer, which would imply I have some sort of bipolar, which I’d prefer not to think about. Researching bipolar, though, there is a spectrum between unipolar depression and full blown manic depression. Full blown Manic Depression is called Bipolar Type I. Apparently bipolar II is closer to my experience, although it still seems too extreme to describe my symptoms. But there is also a “gray area” in between unipolar depression and bipolar type II. It involves “more complicated experiences with depression.” People who fall into that category usually have depression that comes in cycles, does not respond to medication, or responds to medication for a while, but then comes back. It also involves symptoms such as sleeplessness, racing thoughts, migraines, and elated moods/energy where he or she talks faster, has more energy, gets more accomplished or thinks too fast to concentrate (reading is often more difficult) etc… The part about medication working, but then failing to work as brain chemistry (especially in connection with the seasons) changes seems to describe my experience pretty accurately. Not to mention, I’ve had a hell of a time reading lately.

Luckily, long-term therapy helped me learn to cope with the sick thoughts better, but it can’t protect me from the biological aspect of the illness, which seem to be surfacing now. Thankfully, I do not have any self-destructive thoughts yet. When extremely depressed, I not only have those thoughts, but they are relentless. I hope I’m being proactive enough, by seeing a therapist who is also a nurse practitioner and can control my meds, that I will continue to stay sane, and that the symptoms will fade soon. Being here with the nuns is probably the best place I could be while all of these health issues are surfacing. I have people who constantly ask how I’m doing, are sympathetic to not feeling well, and I have very few required obligations. I pretty much get to choose my own work schedule, so if I don’t feel well, I can rest. So as weird as it may sound, besides all of these physical health problems I’m experiencing and the occasional sleeplessness/racing thoughts, life is going really well. I’m optimistic about my writing.

It’s been a blast talking back and forth with the writer I’m going to do my ind. study with this summer. We’ve already developed a game plan for me to follow before I get to meet with her on my birthday when we will both be in Chicago for a Writing Conference. The best part of this fact, is that when my best friend, Laura, got me my pass to the conference for my birthday present, this was before I’d e-mailed this writer about working with her. Laura and I are both fans of her work, and knew she was going to be on some panels at this conference. Laura promised me this Leap Year (my birthday) would be fun, because the last couple weren’t. I joked when she told me she bought my pass and said, “I’m gonna pull the Leap Year birthday card to get some of my favorite writers to go to coffee.” Laura laughed and said, “Knowing you, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

I told Marya (my instructor) this story, requesting that our meeting fall on the 29th. She answered with a very brief message, saying she was in a rush, but something along the line of “Of course we can meet on your birthday. For Pete’s Sake! I’d love to!” Her enthusiasm cracked me up and made me realize I’m truly living my dream these days: I don’t work or go to school, but I learn new things every day. My life is centered around creativity and spirituality, which are closely connected for me, and I’m going to be able to write this book with the help of a role-model of mine. Life is good. That’s really all that matters. The rest will work itself out. It just requires my patience and forgiveness of myself on days I don’t feel well and am, therefore, not productive.



“Proved faithless, still I wait.”
–Franz Wright

Above I posted a link to an article by one of my favorite writers (Marya Hornbacher) about thriving in AA as a nonbeliever and just what it means to be both spiritual and atheist. I’m so grateful a professor of mine recommended her first memoir, Wasted, to me a few years ago. At the time, someone had suggested that maybe I should try to write in genres outside of creative nonfiction, because all of the great creative nonfiction I read was written by people over fifty. My professor had been lecturing me about my lack of confidence, telling me my insecurity hindered my performance. I couldn’t even fake the confidence, so I said, “I’m only twenty. Maybe I’m not mature enough to write in this genre.” Praise Zeus this woman was patient with me, because anyone else might have slapped me. She told me about how Hornbacher published Wasted at twenty-three, and it received all sorts of recognition and awards.

I bought it and devoured it instantly. I also lucked out because only a month after I read Wasted, her memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life came out. I discovered she was then 34, so I got to jump from her perspective at age twenty-three to thirty-four in just a short time. I felt like I got to skip the hard parts, and just gain all of the wisdom she shared about the struggles she experienced in between the two memoirs…That’s why I’m obsessed with memoirs, because I can learn from other people’s life experience. Their lessons-learned-the-hard-way add to my wisdom. I hope my mistakes can somehow provide wisdom for others too–if I ever finish my memoir.

Hornbacher’s latest book just came out this past May. It’s called Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power. When I heard about her working on this, I felt ecstatic and slightly scared. I couldn’t wait to see her tackle spirituality after I’d read so much about her struggles with mental health. I also feared that there wouldn’t be room for me to reflect on mental health and spirituality after someone with her talent beat me to it. Her book only proved to excite me even more about my own project.

I’ve been reading all sorts of spiritual books here. Plus, I go to mass every day. I came in as a pretty confident nonbeliever, but the more I listen to religious individuals with an evolved, well-thought-out spirituality, the less anger I have toward religion. I used to think it was just an exclusive club. They all say anyone can join their religion, but if you don’t believe, what are you supposed to do? Force it? I love that Hornbacher addresses her attempts to find faith, because she thought she was missing something. It gives me hope that she realized the answers and wisdom already were inside of her. It blows my mind that I can be reading a Catholic nun (Joan Chittister) and Hornbacher and feel like I agree with both of them. I don’t really like religious language. Wise individuals like Chittister define “God” in a way that I can get behind. Yet, I’m still slightly uncomfortable with a word that stems from  belief about an angry man in the sky.

This long entry was really just to say that all of the spiritual seeking I’m doing is pointing to nothing more than telling me to keep seeking. It’s about the humility of seeking something greater and waiting. Hornbacher and many other great spiritual writers, regardless of “technical belief labels,” agree on the importance of humility and a constant seeking. The quote from the poet, Franz Wright, is how he ends his book God’s Silence. There were points that the book got a little too Catholic for me. Wright has struggled with depression and alludes to suicide attempts throughout his work. Yet, I still started to disconnect because of his devout faith. Then, he ends the book with that line, “Proved faithless, still I wait.” Wow. What a punch to the gut. I love it.