I want to tell you about failure so that you know you can fail and still be a writer. And I want to tell you about failure because my failure to hold up to my own rubric for success crashed my career, tanked my income, and has left me struggling financially, and is going to take years to recover from.
So in a way, I'm still proof of what I've been telling you about how to be a writer—about the hours it takes and the consistent (dare I even say "daily"?) effort. I have simply taken up the mantle of "cautionary tale" for a couple of years instead of "behavior-modeling example."
I need to contextualize this. Some of you have heard this story or have been reading long enough to know what's been going on for the past two years. You can skip ahead. (Maybe somewhere around "Summers have always been hard." Although really you can wait for the next part.)
For those that don't have the context of the last couple of years, here's a rough timeline.
I fell in love in April of 2021—oh, our first date was 3/14. I know because it was over Zoom due to the pandemic and Rhapsody had to go make pies for pie day. I fell…HARD. And I am not a person who falls lightly and politely as it is, so I want you to understand what I'm saying when an incurable romantic with ADHD hyperfocus tells you they've fallen hard. I dove so willingly into that blissful feeling and I spent a couple of months being really bad about getting around to writing. I thought I would get through the spinning feeling of the new relationship energy, and get back to it.
Except in late summer of 2021, we decided to move in together. It was rash. Impulsive. Too soon. We didn't care. We were madly in love—and all the clichés were true. We went from talking about it as an "if" to "when" pretty fast. By early summer, I was staying there multiple nights a week. By August, I was not really going home. By early September, there was a moving truck in my apartment driveway. It wasn't quite "lesbian second date" fast, but it was pretty close. Suddenly I was buried in two hour drives back and forth to load up the car with as much as I could carry and do some cleaning. Packing. Unpacking. Writing stayed on the back burner.
The day I pulled up the moving van to get the big furniture from my apartment, Rhapsody had to be careful with how much she lifted.
She had to be careful because she was pregnant.
We weren't ready. It was bad timing. Our finances were not in a good place. It would have shattered our lives. But if there's a place where I've been sorry I repeatedly picked writing instead of a typical life with typical trappings, it's in not having kids I'm a really good parent. And I mean I'm a REALLY good parent. Kind. Patient. Nurturing. Gentle. But I've always been "Uncle Chris." And I always kind of wanted a kid of my own. Getting pregnant was stressful. It wasn't quite the awful news that was to come, but it put a lot more on our plates. I needed to get writing, but we also had a lot to talk about. Everything from having a third child in a three-bedroom (where one adult absolutely NEEDS their own bedroom) to trying to figure out how we were going to make an extra thousand dollars a month to cover childcare costs. I got some writing done, but there were a lot of doctors appointments and a lot of trying to figure out the next steps and strategizing.
And then, in September, there was a miscarriage. The kind of loss that is hard to even begin to convey. They tell you—tell you in clinical, biological terms—how statistically common and insignificant the event is and how you ought to cheer up and not take it that hard. They don't tell you how to deal with the fact that you sat up night after night and felt panic shift to fear, but then slowly melt into a kind of glowing acceptance and this sort of giddy excitement that the most incredible journey you had ever undertaken was just a few months away—that a little human was coming, and that they would break everything in your world in the most wonderful way. Grief is hard. Grief is hard to write through. And even when you can write through grief, it's usually a grieving kind of writing that feels like sticking something hot and sharp inside you and letting feelings splatter out on the page, not a funny blog about an unrelated topic.
And before the ink had dried on a little poem I wrote to mark the passing of that idea, it was clear that I was sick. I needed a new primary care physician when I moved, and they took some tests "for baseline stats." I had anemia. And when they called me in to get some additional data, that anemia had gotten much, MUCH worse. So much worse, that the doctors were calling ME, and asking what I was doing that day…and could I come in.
There were a lot of tests.
I look back on it now, and I know they knew—they just wanted to make extra positive sure before they gave me a life-changing diagnosis. But they weren't running batteries of tests and scratching their heads. They were running the NEXT test to get to a cancer diagnosis, telling me they wanted to rule things out and not to worry, and acting like they hoped they were wrong.
I tried to keep writing during this time. I did.
November was tests—so many goddamn tests. By early December, we found the tumor. I was scheduled for surgery right before Christmas.
I honestly cannot remember Christmas 2021. I asked my loved ones to make sure the kids in my life had gifts with my name on them, and I went into a fugue state. Anxiety. Fear. Panic. And then the haze of schedule II painkillers—only to be replaced by the blinding pain of NOT having schedule II painkillers before I was ready.
I thought I would pick up the pen before surgery, but surgery was all I could think of. I was scared beyond my ability to be scared. I thought I would start writing while I convalesced from surgery, but I was a mess. I thought I would write when I was physically recovered after six weeks, but I had debilitating anxiety and an involuntary trauma response. I couldn't concentrate on ANYTHING for more than a couple of minutes. I would lose the plot to shows and have to rewind. I would be unable to remember conversations I'd just had. I definitely couldn't write.
The months wound on. It was shocking to me—truly breathtaking—how long it took my mind and emotions to recover. I was running long distances a mere six weeks after abdominal surgery. But it was almost ten months before I started to sleep through the night and be able to think clearly again. Writing was so sporadic, and any kind of significant article took days and days to finish. I was so sick of every post being about the cancer and about surgery and about how I wanted to get back to writing that I stopped writing them, but they were the only thing my brain would cooperate with me on. I hated it.
And then the 2022 holidays. I can usually write during tough times, but everything in my world had turned into slider bars instead of switches. I wouldn't have had a problem writing during the holidays if all my medical trauma and post-cancer anxiety were just…gone. I mean I would have, but I've written through busy times before. But anxiety didn't go AWAY—it just got easy enough to deal with provided everything else was going pretty smoothly. But not everything goes "pretty smoothly" during the holidays. So something that normally wouldn't throw me off—like a tough day of childcare or holiday prep—was just wiping me out.
Early February of this year, Rhapsody dealt with the sudden, traumatic, violent death of her boss and friend. There's so much I have to say about that, and it's coming in future articles, but for the past six months, I've had a different role to play. I was actually starting to recover from having had cancer—the anxiety and PTSD were more and more manageable—and I was basically ready to get back into the writer's chair. But with what happened, it seemed like being a good partner and good person meant it was my turn to support HER. And that might mean I lose some patrons and stop writing for a few months.
At first it was putting food in front of her. Then it was making sure she took a walk or we did something distracting once a day. I made sure Treble and Clef were getting to appointments and activities and school and getting fed as best I could. Writing languished on the wayside, and when I had the time (rarely), I was usually just wrapped in a towel after a shower, sitting in bed while I drip dried and doing a thousand-yard stare at the wall.
Months went by. Things got better, but it was two steps forward and one step back in a complicated process of traumatic grief.
Then summer hit. Summers have always been hard.
When I started Writing About Writing, I had a summer-school class where I was writing lesson plans (without any training in HOW to write lesson plans) based on a curriculum that was basically, "Try to teach them some study skills….or something. Look it's not that you're JUST a babysitter, but most of these parents just want a few hours off for a couple of days a week during the summer. Good luck, brah!" It took 25 hours a week on top of everything else I was doing, and it made getting regular updates really hard. Since that time, I've quit that job, but I've had kids I take care of, and no matter how many plans and activities you try to line up for them, it's not the same as having them in school. Summers are just kind of a little wild.
This year has been a perfect storm. Rhapsody is better, but not okay—especially not early in the summer. The kids aren't in school. They can kind of entertain themselves, but they get pretty "Servants! Entertain us!!" if they're not just on screens and that's ever a struggle. The six-year old either needs screens, constant stimulation, or he makes it everyone's problem. My own slider is down (even though I'm better) and I find my resilience to stressors is still just a little bit smaller than it used to be. It creates this vortex where I want to write, but it's just too easy to derail me. I'll start wrangling the kids, turn around, and a whole day will be frittered away. Or I sit down to write and suddenly be swept up in a couple of hours of emotional support.
And I want to be honest with you. When I've had time to myself, I've gone on dates with loved ones. I took a vacation in June. I just had company in town. Or maybe I just sat down and cried or stared off into space. I'm not out here just writing like the Bruce Almighty Gif with every spare particle that isn't in support mode. I decided to ramp up slowly and not pause everything in my life for writing until I felt sufficiently redeemed. Self care was on my agenda. So there's sometimes this internal monologue of Sopranos characters saying "Hey you human calzone, you have time to watch Supernatural? You have time to take a run? You have time to write." (Followed by a beat down.)
|What do you mean this pop-culture reference is 20 years old???
But I have definitely failed this summer. And I'll talk more about that in the next post.