thoughts on last semester

Another semester of grad school down, two more to go.

It’s strange (amazing) being in Alaska while healthy, while stable. I mentioned this in an Instagram post: it’s a tangible affirmation of how much healing I’ve accomplished since I was diagnosed with bipolar ii in 2016, when I was last here. It’s also a testament to mood stabilizers and good psychiatric care.

“Affirmation to how much healing I’ve accomplished.” I’m aware of how ridiculous I sound.

I took Forms of Poetry last semester and it was nice to write poems every week, weird too, weirder to have to share them within a day or so of said writing. I liked the practice. Not the sharing so quickly but the regular poetry writing. I like to think that maybe I’ll write a poem every so often now, or return to revise the poems I wrote for that class. Crack those poems open. Maybe. I think I’m too obvious in my poems, too sweet and sentimental.

I know that I’m always initially too obvious in my prose, absolutely too sweet, horribly sentimental. My first drafts are syrup. Sticky on a dirty plate in a sink.

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I also took a British lit course. I’m so out of practice in the realm of “academia” and lit theory. How was I ever an English major? How am I a grad student in an English program? Was struggle in that class imposter syndrome or boredom or fatigue? If I’m being honest, I don’t find lit theory terribly interesting anymore. (But did I ever? Not much. Oops.)

It’s really weird being one year out from the debut of Nothing Left to Burn. I feel like that time was an entirely different life, I was a different person, it was another world. And it kind of was. It’s sometimes hard to be a year beyond with no future publications on the horizon. It is sometimes hard to see those I debuted with, friends, actively publishing and me as an author arguably fading out, no longer a part of the world I recently inhabited.

Would it be so hard if it didn’t feel so public?

My process is my own. I’ve never once thought I’d be one to publish every year, let alone every other year. As long as I’m actively writing, I’m doing my work. Something will land again.

Real talk: in my writing life, I feel more fulfilled now than I did last year.

In every part of my life, I feel more fulfilled. (I think.)

We’re a week or so from summer solstice. Night isn’t a thing anymore here in Fairbanks and it hasn’t been for awhile. And yet I haven’t had a bout of insomnia since March and that from stress, not the light. How. Who am I? A diehard fan of lamotrigine and sequel, that’s who. Someone who keeps a mini fan by her bed and blows air in her face when she can’t sleep and then wala she seeps.

My third class this semester was workshop. I liked it enough. It was interesting to give feedback in that setting after years of doing so in my usual paid editorial capacity. But I’ve always had mixed feelings about workshops and I’m not convinced they are always especially helpful, aside from the deadlines and camaraderie. Both of those are important enough. The spare bits of inspiration too. I think it’s a matter of pinpointing the other writer/s in the workshop who get what you’re doing, who offer the most passionate feedback (esp negative passionate feedback), and listening to them.

The forest that was frozen over three months ago is now blazing green and studded with wildflowers and weeds and moss and it’s all muddy and glorious. I will never be particularly fond of spring or summer but it’s also kind of great. Divine.

Maybe part of that divine quality is because the cross country ski trails stopped being cross country ski trails and so there are more trails open to me now, trails that go deeper into the trees.

I’m teaching my young adult lit composition course again this fall! I’m stupidly excited. I’m also stupidly intimidated because it’s been three years since I taught, three years of building it up in my mind—how much I love it. Maybe it’ll be an awful semester. Maybe it’ll be fantastic. Maybe it’ll be just okay.

But I’ll be teaching and I’m so relieved.

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In the past two weeks, I wrote twenty thousand words of the manuscript I thought would be my thesis. I was gun-ho, sure. And then: no. It’s not right for the context of my current situation, an MFA committee, a thesis chair reading as I go. The book was paranormal bent and maybe it was a retelling of a weird 20th century horror novel (the genre of said book is disputed), and I need to save it for a time where I can remain in my vacuum for several drafts, not only one. It’s not right for right now. So I’m archiving those twenty thousand words and some hundred pages of explorative writing and now I’m so so behind on my thesis writing schedule.

I promise this decision has nothing to do with hitting 20k middle area. I’m being sincere when I say that.

My young adult lit composition class is “growing up in apocalypse” themed. Apocalypse in a wide sense of the definition. We’ll definitely be reading Courtney Summers (zombies and suicide/abuse) and Laurie Halse Anderson (sexual assualt) and watching It Follows (one of my fav horror movies). I haven’t decided on the other books.

I transferred my website over to squarespace from wordpress last month, which meant transferring all of my blog posts over, copy and paste style, because despite being convinced that I was going to do away with all of them, I just couldn’t. What does that say about me? That I went through all of that effort to keep the cheesiest most dramatic writing of mine online? I don’t know but it’s so embarrassing.

Then again this blog post is embarrassing too but here you go. Old habits die hard.

It was alarming to read each blog. 2011, I was a mess. I was such a cycling manic mess and I wish I’d asked for help.

(OK, I admit: some blog posts did not make it over, like maybe ten, and nine of those were from 2011)

In the next twelve months, I need to write and defend a thesis, take two lit seminars, take one workshop, take one elective (maybe pedagogy related?), pass a thirty-book (or something in that range) comprehensive exam, teach two classes, enjoy Alaska, move out of Alaska. I did a rough estimate and in theory I’ll be needing to read about four books a week starting in August and that’s if I manage to continue to read even more this summer.

My wrists hurt. I’m still glad I came back to grad school. Very. Because teaching. And more. Almost done.

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You’ll notice I’ve now labeled my blog as “updates” because that feels less intimidating, less youthful, less 2011, like I can be more sporadic, like I’m not indeed blogging personal thoughts to the internet but just giving oh so vital updates to my readers!

So my thesis will be another weird book, not that supernatural one, a weird book that has been mostly haunting me since 2016. The bone book. I’ve given hundreds of pages to it over the years (most of those planning pages, freewriting, first fifty pages, synopses, faied outlines, crappidy crap) and I had to set it aside last summer for a break. I’d beaten the thing into the ground. This was one of the two projects that acted as a stark reminder that I need to write the whole book first before I can possibly know it and tell it right.” And I knew I’d come back to it eventually but I didn’t think I’d do it so soon, but this is one of those gut feeling situations. Bone book: now. Bone book: thesis. And as soon as I made this decision, some significant anxiety fell away.

This will be my last go with this specific story.

I think this appeals to me—the bone book being this next year-long process, drafting and intensive revisions—because even if nothing comes of it in terms of the publishing world, it’ll serve a significant purpose in acting as the final means to this silly degree. I just want to get this book out of my head, off my hands already.

The current situation kind of reminds me of Nothing Left to Burn, which was my undergrad thesis after being a book I worked on for years as a teen. Originally I was going to write my Mormon book (ha) for my thesis, but at the last minute I decided to return to Audrey for “one last go”.

I’m obviously so glad I did.

I often forget Nothing Left to Burn was published. That it’s a book and one can still buy it. But then someone will mention it, or I’ll be tagged in post on social media, a photo or kind words, or I’ll get an email from a reader that makes my heart swell, or I’ll see it on my shelf, or I’ll just remember. And it’s like. Oh. Right. Dang. It’s always a good feeling, that remembering.

Speaking of remembering. One of the best parts of Forms of Poetry was a discussion on wasting time. The need, I guess. Especially for a creative mind. Or whatever, whatever, insert something deep here. I still have yet to waste time this summer. Maybe I’ll drive to the gas station diner some thirty minutes out of town. Drive all that way through the hills for a piece of pie. Does that qualify as wasting time? If you plan to waste time, and you plan to waste it by doing something specific, can it really be time wasted?

I feel like this blog post was me wasting time, actually.

Don’t ask me how that relates to poetry I don’t totally remember.

This was my update, bye.

One Year

Nothing Left to Burn released one year ago and so to celebrate I stood in a parking lot to pose with my still sort of a baby debut. I'm still so baffled that I managed to get Audrey's story out there in the world and that readers have found it, are still finding it today. A lifelong dream came true a year ago and I made it happen. I was lucky but I also worked for it. Happy one year, Audrey.

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Since April

The last time I posted here I was 26
It was late spring and Nothing Left to Burn had just released
I lived in Olympia, WA on the border of a rainforest
Since then, I've experienced absurd joy, kindness
I've experienced rejections and bummer news
I've heard from the loveliest readers, received emails I couldn't have dreamed up
I've heard from my publisher, good things, bad things, all of it
I've felt disappointment, shame, awe, conflict, gratitude

When I last posted here, I was still tapering off clonazepam,
one of the most agonizing experiences of my life
I never had a dependency or abuse issue but was prescribed it for too long
(9 years) (Our bodies are strange and delicate)
I worked as a book coach, an editor, a tutor, a copywriter, an admission essay advisor
(I still work all of those jobs and more)
I'd never visited New York City before, never met my editor
Never met the online, far away friends I did
I had health insurance
I missed teaching fiercely
(and I still do but I'm in the process of satisfying that desire)
I hadn't yet started and made great headway on the current book of my dreams
(It's dark and spooky and about sisters in an old house in a forest and more)
I hadn't started developing what I call the Alaska thriller project
I hadn't also had the recognition that no, I can't give up on that summer-rejected bone book
I still lived in Washington. I really do miss it. 

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Since I last wrote here, I've also (re-)come to terms with my being a "slow writer" (but I really don't like this phrase because it sounds like a negative, especially in the YA community, where it often feels like you're a dud if you're not at least doing a book every other year), which is funny because when I received my agent offers in 2014 my first question for each offering agent was whether they'd be okay with my being a "slow writer"--publishing every few years max. I had that awareness, knew my process, was happy with it, but then I got swept up with the standard publishing timeline expectations and it was a mess. After I sold NLTB in 2016, I psyched myself out. Desperate to churn out sellable material--based on industry advice, trying to develop proposals to sell rather than actually draft those books, even though I knew in my heart that I need to write a book to know it, to then revise (maybe rewrite) a book to truly understand it inside and out. I can write thousands of words in a stretch of a few hours, and sometimes I do, but I often need to write a hundred thousand words before I know it as I need to. And that's okay. It's how I write and that's beautiful.

This does not make me a bad writer. There is nothing wrong with my process. I am not a bad writer.

And it'd be easy to regret the past several years spent outlining and developing and synopsis writing and hitting my head at my desk because, oh my god the time, the work I've put in. Since 2016, it's been at a minimum a part-time job, often full-time hours, and some would say I have nothing to show with it. Some have even implied as much to me and that's really sucked. That REALLY sucks. To those people I say: no. I have so much show for my past three years -- perhaps most significantly is the acceptance of who I am and how I write and finding joy in that process again. And then there's healing from the trauma of bipolar disorder, working toward stable medication management, and learning to be creative on these stabilizing medications, learning to be creative while not manic. And there were the six moves, the unemployment, the exhaustion of being so poor, the new jobs, the debut of Nothing Left to Burn. The hundreds and thousands of words I've put down. I'm doing so good. I'm so proud of myself.

And this, too: since I last wrote here, I've recognized that I don't only want to write. That I love teaching too much to not pursue it. And the only way that I to do that is to finish the master's degree I started in 2015. So, strangely, unexpectedly, perhaps one of the greatest twists of my life, I left my beloved Washington and moved back to Fairbanks, Alaska at the start of January. It's been odd and hard, but also surprisingly not that hard. At the end of the day, I'm happy to be here. It needed to happen. It's most difficult when I think too much about my time in Olympia and the magic and simplicity of it all. It's impossible when I think about Bellatrix. It's mostly only scary because I'm on week four with no health insurance because transitioning to Alaska's Medicaid has so far resulted in silence (my several month supply of my medications is my savior). It's also hard because being a graduate student is just a lot. Plus spring is en route and I'm in Alaska. We've gained four hours in the month of February and I can feel it. A discombulation. By the end of March, the sun will set near nine and I'd be lying if I didn't say that this doesn't give me a little anxious spike. But I also know I'm okay. I'll be fine. I'm prepared and stable and I'm ready for it: the sun and the second half of the semester. And whatever happens, I'll be okay. I know what I need. I'll miss the dark terribly but that's life. We miss things constantly.

So I'm back in Alaska. And even if this isn't exactly where I'd most like to be right now (because I miss WA so much, miss that time of my life, miss insurance, miss my friends, miss the rain, miss my dog, missing my savings, miss being an author with a book coming out soon) or what I expected of 2019 and 2020, this is where I ultimately DO want to be, where I need to be to get the shit I want done done. Does that make sense? To not want to be here but also so want to be? Because I don't only want to write. I also want to teach. And in the next fourteen months, if all goes well, I will be completing three semesters of work, taking a 30+ book comprehensive exam, writing a thesis (a novel; will it the bone one or the sister one?) and defending that thesis, and I'll come out with the degree that will dub me a master (ha) and will make me, at the very least, qualified to teach college-level writing. I'll be doing what I need to do and writing, as I have been, and I'll be cradling the one copy of Nothing Left to Burn I brought with me because, I did that, and I still am in awe that it's a thing that exists. I am stupidly happy. Basically, it's been ten months since I last wrote here and I'm all the better for it. ALSO. As of this spring, I've been blogging here off and on for ten years. What!

More soon.
 

An Essay on What I Didn't Know Was Bipolar II

My first semester of grad school, I took Forms of Creative Nonfiction. Apart from blogging and an accidental memoiristic short story I wrote in undergrad, I had little experience writing creative nonfiction. The class was intensive, invigorating–my favorite part being the weekly creative samples.

In one particular instance, I was told to write a narrative “about a conflict from three different voices.” I can’t recall the specifics. I think one voice was supposed to be my own, close and intimate, revealing. The other empathetic to the others, and the third removed, report-like. I might be remembering this all wrong; it doesn’t matter.

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I’ve never been good at following rules: I showed up to call with a two part narrative. The first part was from my perspective, my voice, closer to how I journal than anything else. The second part was third person, with the close interior from my  dad’s perspective. A creative essay depicting a conversation in a crowded car about me and mental illness and Snapchat. In class, the professor and a fellow grad student read this essay out loud. I scratched my hands and listened. Outside, it was -40F with an extra windchill. And after class, I walked home, my own words itching.

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A year later, I returned to the essay. A year later, I knew I wasn’t staying in Alaska, wasn’t staying in the program, and I figured I ought to submit something somewhere while I was in grad school for an MFA. And, hey, while I’m at it, why not go for the flipping moon? I’ve always loved The Rumpus. And when I thought of this little sad essay, I thought of the Rumpus. I could only submit it to The Rumpus. It was a long shot, an improbable shot; immature and native. A whatever. My I love you, The Rumpus, read my whiny writing, thanks, please.

So, on a Saturday night after midnight, I submitted the essay to The Rumpus. I woke the following Monday morning with an email from Tracy Strauss. She liked my essay. Would I be interested in doing a revision?

I am always interested in a revision.

We did a week of back and forth of edits, some big, some tiny. Within days, the essay was officially accepted. And now, some two months later, the end result is published at The Rumpus. My first piece of creative nonfiction published.

Please read it here: https://therumpus.net/2016/07/sitting-on-something/

I'm proud of "Nothing's Changed" and I'm scared of it and I'm screaming to the skies that it exists and it takes me back to the episodes of Alaska, to what I lost and gained and forgot. I'm medicated now. We're still figuring it out. I'm safe. I think I'm safe. My psychiatrist in Fairbanks quit on me a week after The Rumpus accepted the essay for publication, which felt funny, felt ironic. But I'm stable, mostly. I have an appointment set for once I arrive in Seattle. Though in some ways, it does feels too late. What could I've stopped, calmed, had I not waited until it got so bad that I was scared of my own brain?

Would it be weird if I did a sort of acknowledgments now?

Thank you, Tracy Strauss. For your elegant, keen eye, and for hearing my voice and giving me a platform to tell this story. Thank you, Daryl Farmer, for pushing me to write outside my normal genre, allowing me to bend rules, and reading my work out loud in class--along with Whittier Strong--in such a way that I couldn't get the words out of my head, in such a way that I was led back to it.

And I'm grateful to my mom and dad, who have always listened, who have never doubted. I'm thankful to my dad especially, in regards to "Nothing's Changed." The revised, published version doesn't include his side--the bits of his life that aren't mine to share, his love and patience and understanding and urgency to defuse a wound, all the elements and more that make him such an incredible father.

Maybe this is cheating but I'm compelled to share the original ending to "Nothing's Changed"--an essay that was once two parts and now is only one. Sharing the original final overly-dramatic paragraph in honor of my dad who has seen me at my worst, and supported me even from there, who has loved me and held me even when flailing.

Like I said, fuck the rules. Here's to breaking them.

He understands the pain is real, that something isn’t right. But when driving a full car down the I-5 on Thanksgiving Eve, he only wants to laugh. Wants to warm what’s frosting in the back. He doesn’t want a reason for the middle sister to cry, so he tries a joke instead. He understands we hurt, I hurt. The thing is, though, he’s only seen possession of a diagnosis worsen scars. It’s just a word, he says. It’s only a word. You’re human. You’re human. You’re human. This is his way of saying we’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. This is his way of saying, it’s okay, you’re still you, you’re here. You’re safe. You’re human, he says. He’s saying, you’re doing just fine, he’s saying, you’re doing great. You’re human. I love you. I hurt too sometimes. We’re okay.


Launch Week

It's been over a month since Nothing Left to Burn hit stores and I'm still unable to articulate my joy, shock, relief, and the general high surrounding it all.

Can I just say it was lovely and I'm honored by the support?
Can I just post a stream of pretty photos from that whirlwind launch week?
Can I just admit that I didn't know I talked THAT much with my hands until I saw post-even videos and photographs?
Can I just say thank you thank you thank you?

So here are some moments from the week, in no particular order -- the morning of release day at the beloved Browsers Bookshop here in Olympia (where I stopped en route to the airport to have my first in-store stock signing), my event at Vroman's with Farrah Penn, the fashion show at Willow Manor, my LA/OC Barnes & Noble visits, and my incredible launch party that was hosted by the fabulous Lido Village Books in Newport Beach, CA. Thank you to every family member, friend, bookseller who has made this experience such a journey. I was warned of post-launch depression but, really, I'm still riding this wave and incredibly thankful and hoping I get to do it all over again (hoping as in working!).

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