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My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Writing (And Not Writing) In Strife

Not CLOUD Strife! What the hell?
Fire the image-finding intern immediately….again. 
 
[CN: Miscarriage, Cancer]

It's looking better now, but when this post started, my room was a disaster.

I don't mean "I need to do some cleaning." I mean it looks like it could be the setting for a post-apocalyptic thriller about how vampires took over the shattered remnants of humanity after a nuclear war. It was in that stage of reorganization where, before things can be put away properly, everything is just kind of in a huge pile in the middle of the floor. Now the furniture is reconfigured, and MOST of the worst of the piles is cleared out, but there's still a lot of reorganizing needed.

When I moved in with Rhapsody, I set up the room I took over with a number of Band-Aid fixes that I knew were going to be temporary. There was a crappy bed in the corner. My desk didn't fit, so I bought a tiny, cheap, temporary desk. I had to put things in the closet just because it was the only place with space. And though I managed to get the trundle twin bed replaced with something I can fuck in once in a while (also stretch out on when I'm sleeping, I suppose), it is a testament to how many trials and tribulations the last few months have held that I am only now getting around to that project of rearranging things up in a way that could be more permanent. I've told you all the story of the cancer and the surgery, and of falling in love and moving, but there's actually been a lot more going on.

Let me explain. No…there is no time. Let me sum up.

  • Of course, anything happening now in any of our lives must be taken into context of a global pandemic, rising fascism, and the existential threat of global climate change (and right now feeling like we're on the edge of World War III). The "background radiation" of our lives is incredibly stressful. Nothing can be fully understood unless it is in the context that you can't just go out with your friends to grab some hugs. 
  • It started almost a year ago. A message on OK Cupid. A few more. Rhapsody and I hit it off. A FaceTime call. A hiking date. A park picnic. (Still hitting it off.) A passionate rendezvous on the exact date of vaccine efficacy. And within just a couple of weeks I knew it was going to be Real™. And then I fell…HARD. Love is joyous and blissful, but it's also chaotic and spinning, and makes you feel sick when they're not around and makes it hard to think straight. (Oh who am I kidding—I don't do anything straight.) It has been lovely falling deeper and deeper into such an intense romance, but that intensity sword is not without its double edge.
  • It was only a few months before Rhapsody and I were ready to move in together. I'm not really an impulsive person in matters of commitment and entanglement, but when it sparks, it really sparks. Moving is…a whole thing. It really takes a month from start to finish. But moving IN with someone is even harder. You have to pack, unpack, combine two houses, find a way to make you fit into a space where in all likelihood every square inch is already spoken for. That means sometimes before unpacking, you have to pack up the space you're going INTO. Suddenly you have six cutting boards, way way way too many towels, one more bed than you have a bedroom, a corner shelf piece that is really nice but "where the fuck does it even fit," more dental floss than you can use in a decade, and you have to decide who has the better food processor because that's the one you're going to keep. And that's just STUFF. When it comes to living with new people (who are more than roommates you might see in the hall or when you're cooking dinner), it's an adjustment. The little habits and routines of living alone are completely thrown into chaos as you learn to work around new needs and wants. I can't just walk naked into the kitchen to have two servings of potato salad right out of the container at four in the morning. Not…uh…that I ever used to do that.
  • Moving had a consequence in the age of Covid. Now that I was in a pod with kids who were going back to school, I had to take a break from the kids I took care of. Understand that this isn't just a job for me. Unconventional lifestyles (polyamory, in my case) sometimes mean strange relationship logistics. And I've got some of the weirdest ones even I'VE ever heard of. I lived with my ex-partner for nearly a decade including when she and her husband had their first child. I was the stay-at-home housespouse of our V triad, so I ended up with a lot of the childcare. For three years, I spent more waking time with that little guy than either of his parents, and after she and I broke up, I deliberately (to see him) made myself available as their nanny and continued to see him usually four or five times a week. ["So yeah, I go over to my ex's house five days a week, love them like family, take care of her kids, and no we're not still involved in any way…why are you looking at me like that?"] This is a child I've promised—PROMISED—that I'm not going to leave the way both my dads left me. Not getting to see him was supposed to be a long, AGONIZING month estranged. I screwed my courage to the sticking place. We both cried when I broke the news. One month, I thought. I can do one month. Then Delta happened. Then I got cancer. Then I had surgery. Then Omicron. SIX. GODDAMN. MONTHS. LATER. and I've only seen him a couple of times. I can't even begin to describe how much my heart aches about this. I miss the whole family, but him…I can't even talk about it or THINK about it for too long. I've crammed it into a box in the storage room of my heart, and even my therapist knows not to bring it up.
  • Adjusting to living with Rhapsody's kids, Treble and Clef, was not without its own growing pains worthy of mention. Moving in with kids is extra on top of extra. They might like you just fine when you stop by a few times a week and tell them their breakdancing and karate videos are really coming along, but they don't have the emotional sophistication to deal with the feelings that someone is disrupting their world in a fundamental way. Suddenly ALL mommy time is not unfettered and there's an insecurity about getting enough. Suddenly they're sharing space with someone who they might feel is betraying their sense of family if they feel affection towards. Suddenly a new adult is there having the audacity to tell them they've got way too much Nutella on their spoon. There's a lot of stress. We're STILL working things out. The five-year-old especially is still not quite sure how I fit in.
  • The day after I gave my notice that I was moving—the DAY AFTER—Rhapsody and I found out that we were pregnant. We weren't trying to get pregnant. There had been some talk about postponing my vasectomy because "maaaaaaaaaaybeeeee," but all of that was "at least a year and some relationship settling down" away. But there we were. And even though everything would have been okaaaaaaaaay, there was a lot of stress about this huge thing we weren't really prepared for and were wanting to wait on. Money was going to be a huge issue (I make enough to pay MY bills, but I'm still a poor artist), space was going to be an issue (the house BARELY fits four as it is), and how our lives were going to change was stressing us out. 
  • Perhaps the worst part of it all happened shortly after. When you get used to that idea, it starts to settle in and get comfortable and put its feet up in your mind. There's morning sickness and doctor's appointments, and it's suddenly all real, but also, you realize there are worse things. Having a kid might not be so bad. You do some budgets and talk about where bassinets might fit and get scheme some plans for how to bring it all together, and you know that things might be weird, but you realize that you're going to be okay. And you know—after years and years of kids in your life who aren't yours, you just KNOW—you're just going to be a great dad. And the shock fades and it all gets so REAL. And that idea grows, and even though it's probably desperately late in life to start having kids, this concept that you might be a parent (of one of your own) after all takes root…. And it makes the miscarriage that much more difficult. And it rips the heart out of you even though you told yourself not to get excited in the first trimester. And you cry, desperate sobbing tears, even though it was just an idea, and a stressful idea you weren't ready for at that. 
  • And before I could even catch my breath from that grief, I realized that this health thing was bigger than "No Big Deal." It was a big BIG deal and doctors were calling ME to schedule appointments right away. 
  • In fact, it's cancer. Colon cancer. 
  • There's something about having cancer that's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't. We all know we're going to die, but there's something about being face to face with an existential threat that just changes the entire world. That face-to-face with death thing can't be denied. Nothing is ever quite the same. The world shatters in a way that death is a visible, breathing, living thing sidling up and never letting you forget it's there. Cancer in particular has the ability to change one's perception around it. Now I'm a walking spreadsheet of probability and statistics, and unless I get hit by a bus, one day there will probably be a recurrence or a new cancer.
  • And then you have surgery to have it removed. And the surgery (and the days around it) is incredibly difficult.
  • And it's Lynch syndrome. Which means no chemo—a blessing—but it also means that you have this thing that predisposes you to all these kinds of cancers and a lifetime of prophylactic screenings and high risk and wondering if every ache and pain is caused by a new tumor starting to grow.
  • And then the bills start rolling in. A co-pay here. A lab test there. So many procedures that even with insurance, you have to pay a percentage of. The hospital stay and surgery haven't even landed yet, and you're cruising up into the five grand range. Every day is a new dance of calling the billing department and setting up a payment plan, or ignoring a bill until the next paycheck.
  • Rhapsody also went through a major breakup in early January. It added stress to everything that came before it. Like most major breakups, it affected everything in her life and is taking time to get past. 

Obviously, I did not navigate these obstacles without difficulty, and my writing suffered. Some I onboarded knowing exactly what I was getting into. Some I thought I knew what I was getting into but it turned out to be even more. Some came completely out of left cliché. Taking a glance back through the posting schedule the last few months is a real-time witness to my inability to shrug ANYTHING off and keep writing. (And I want this blog to always remind people both that writing is work but also that writers are human, so I'm not "sorry" or anything, but it is pretty stark.) Any one of these things, and I probably wouldn't have slowed down. Maybe even a couple, and I could have kept chugging with just a missed post here or there. But the hits just kept coming and I was not even done processing the last thing before the next one showed up and demanded my urgent attention. 

Now I'm processing a backlog of seven months of just some of the worst shit a person can go through. 

I don't have a lot of good tidy answers. I can sometimes fit my life into a neat little didactic message about how to apply my lessons to writing. But that's when I take things one at a time and tie them up in a little bow—this time I'm just flopping the whole ugly mess on the table. I'm physically healed from surgery, and even getting into running (a lot), but still processing the mental and emotional trauma. I don't have some TV/movie-moment where I'm now getting up off the mat with a clenched fist and a jaw set in determination. (I hope I am, and March turns the page, but I'm not naive enough to think that there isn't more processing and more than a few rough days to come.) I don't have the perfect package to feed the messiness of all this unfettered BULLSHIT into an inspirational, writerly message. 

It sucks, and I've been trying to slog through.

All I can tell you is that the habits you establish when times aren't so stress-bombed are still there when life is power-round-house kicking you in the gonads. Instead of a hiatus, I'm having a tough time. Instead of a multi-year break, I'm having a couple-month lull. Instead of getting back in a year, it's going to be more like a few months. Posts are still getting up even though they're sporadic. Instead of having nothing, I'm able to gut out a couple of posts a week.  Perhaps best of all, I'm getting back into writing almost the MINUTE the anxiety fades. Literally as my stress goes down, my urge to sit down and write conversely goes up.

It's not that an epic hard period of your life won't affect your writing (it would affect anything you did—a relationship, a regular job, or your social life). And in fact, you may find you need to be kinder to yourself than you imagine you need to be in order to get through this caliber of tough time. But if you've worked hard to establish those habits during the times when things were a little smoother, you will weather that hit better and faster than you might expect. 

5 comments:

  1. I'm just going to stand here and hold out my arms to hug you until you arrive in St. Louis.

    See that person standing outside the train station? The one in the red coat? Yeppers. It's me.
    <3 <3 <3 <3

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  2. Dude. How about I make us some tea and we sit in comfortable silence until the conversation starts. Sending hugs and hellos.

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  3. Wow. What an amazing story that reached out and gripped me. I kept wishing it was 500 pages instead of a blog because I felt so thoroughly drawn in. It's also a catharsis and inspiration to hear what you say about life. Maybe some writers are like part of themselves in words, and then another person's brain can translate the words, and it's like getting an infusion of experience. Reading what you wrote feels like it lands inside like an intake by my senses, a more real osmosis with emotional nutrition.

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  4. All the hugs and soft squishy thoughts to you, and to yours, and to those you can't see yet. No words, just hugs.

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  5. Chris - I adore you and your raw vulnerability in this post. I know these last couple of years have kicked me hard in so many ways, affecting everything from relationships to work to facing down cancer) and I feel I’m a small amount farther down the road of my processing and healing. These last couple of weeks, I’ve been setting better boundaries and not apologizing. I’ve been finding peace in the messiness and I’ve been returning to doing the things I love that are just for me. I’m so glad you’ve had Rhapsody through this and I can see you in the lifeboat now. Love you friend!

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