I’ve been itching to try the Scribbler subscription box for writers since it was first released. But alas, there’s the issue of budget that never allowed me to sign up. May I take a moment to say “Yay Christmas Bonuses!” Because I get to share my very first Scribbler box with you!
So I intended to take pictures if each item, and my Logan knew it. Hence, we get pictures like this.
The first thing I spotted when I opened my Scribbler box was a near magnetized dry erase board. I used it immediately to write a love letter.
Not only is the book included, but there is also a separate pamphlet that offers an inside look at the editing process. She shows us a scene from Circle of Shadows that was cut in edits, and walks us through everything that has changed since, including a whole storyline that was cut.
Evelyn also wrote up a great collection of tips and tricks for writing fantasy—mainly focusing on building magic systems and how it figures into and impacts world building.
This sticker gives me life.
An invitation to an exclusive chat with Kristin Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray, was also included, but, as is always my luck, it lands on the day and (believe it or not) exact time of a seriously important doctor’s appointment, so I won’t be able to attend. 😦
There was a great little notebook with a sturdy cover, built for the kind of writer that writes on the go. You can work on the writing prompt they sent in that adorable little notebook.
And lastly, this warm scribbler beanie, perfect for the snowy weather I’ve been trudging through–as modeled by Logan.
So, what did I think of my first Scribbler box? I loved it! Just having a bunch of cute things that relate to my life as a writer, while also relating to my life loving YA novels is just perfect. I do wish the writing chat was something I could attend—for instance, not in the middle of a normal workday—but other than that, every single piece included is going to get a lot of use from me.
I can’t afford to do this every month, but I think there are more of these in my future.
Recently, I’ve found myself saying things like “when I’m successful,” or “when I get where I need to be,” without thinking about what that actually means to me. The dawn of a new year is always good for making you take a step back from your life and forcing you to question those things that just seem like a given when we don’t evaluate them. One day, I’ll be successful. Except what does that even mean? To be successful? Turning it around in my head led me to understand that there is no real definition.
Success is self-defined. Only we can decide our own version of success and there are often many layers to be found there. So I decided to map out a few versions of what I considered to be my own personal meaning of success.
The Semi-Successful Happy Place–In this version of what I consider to be success, I sell a few books for moderate deals. I continue to work my day job as a legal assistant, but the money from the books sales help me have something extra to spend on fun things to do. My son is happy, my husband is happy. Life is relatively the same, but people enjoy my books and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Logan grows up well and I continue to nurture the wonderful relationships I’ve built. I don’t have everything I want, but that’s okay. More to write about. And life keeps on trucking.
All The Dreams–In this version, I sell a lot of books and I’m a prolific writer. I also get a load of editing business, and between the two incomes, it’s enough for me to leave my day job. I get to work from home with my writing and editing, and it gives me the freedom to be more involved in my son’s school life. I can participate in events at his school and be a more hands-on parent than my current arrangement allows me to be. I still continue to maintain the wonderful relationships I’ve built as well as new professional relationships that feed my soul. I get to travel some more and it feeds my writing material. Life is beautiful, but busy. And the beat goes on.
The Best Case Scenario–Not only do I sell books, but I get super successful. There’s fanfiction about my books and weird merchandise and I’m almost a household name, at least among YA readers. I run a successful editing business because I love to help other writers, and money is no longer even remotely tight. My family lives comfortably, we get to travel, and we buy a house on a lake, with one next door for my best friend to live in. I have enough property for a couple of dogs (can’t do that in my apartment because of my allergies), and everyone I love is well taken care of. I make a good living doing what I absolutely love. Things really couldn’t be better.
I would honestly love every one of these scenarios. Hell, just part of some of these would make me feel successful. It’s not about achieving all of your goals, although that would be wonderful. It’s about hitting a landmark. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something.
Success is different for every person. You define it. As large or as small as you want to go.
I recently had the wonderful experience of reading to children during Boogie Down Books’ Storytime, and it was an amazing experience. As soon as I arrived at Mottley Kitchen on Saturday Morning, December 15th, I knew I had to chronicle this experience for my blog and let everyone know about the delightful time I had and all about the wonderful bookstore without walls.
I met Boogie Down Books owner Rebekah Shoaf at The Bronx Book Fair in May and immediately took a liking to her. She was unbelievably friendly and energetic and immediately put me, who attended as both a networking author and a mother looking for new books for her son, at ease. She told me all about her company, and I immediately signed up for the newsletter, grateful to discover such an interesting new Bronx program.
Rebekah called Boogie Down Books a bookstore without walls. Instead of a brick and mortar shop, she organizes pop-up shops at events and schools around the borough. She even organized a pop-up shop in Mottley Kitchen, a cafe in the South Bronx, where she organizes weekly Storytimes for young children and a monthly book club for teens and adults.
After reading through their newsletter, I decided to volunteer to read a book for children at Storytime, and was selected to read Windows by Julia Denos. I was very excited and didn’t really know what to expect.
Now, hearing about all of this and experiencing it are two very different things. In theory, it seemed like a nice idea. In practice, it was warm, welcoming, and engaging. Rebekah greeted me and my husband and son, Logan, near the pop-up bookshop set-up, every bit as open and cheerful as she had the first time I met her. She chatted with Logan for a while and when he asked if he could help her, she promised they’d discuss it when he was older. Logan felt included and happy, and I was exceedingly grateful.
After showing me around and explaining my role, Rebekah left us to grab some buttery croissants, filling granola bars, and piping hot English Breakfast Tea (for my wonderful sore throat) from the staff at The Mottley Kitchen (we also bought books, of course), and we settled in until people started to arrive.
Once we had a good group gathered together, Rebekah called everyone together. I sat in a chair in the center of the reading nook and the children gathered around me. Rebekah led the group in a breathing exercise and then a welcome song. It was clear that the large majority of the children were regulars, and Rebekah knew them by name. The welcome song referred to each child by name, including Logan, whom she had just met.
Rebekah had asked me to read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in addition to Windows, as the books held many similarities. I agreed, eager to read even more to these adorable children. So, I read, and asked questions, and interacted, and for a wonderful half hour, I got to hang out with children, which really is the best thing.
Then, it was time for the kids to do their book related craft, and I got to mix and mingle with the lovely parents. By the time it was time to go, I was reluctant to leave. I had felt so welcome, and so comfortable amongst this group–I imagine that’s what the kids who come to attend storytime feel like every weekend.
And just like that, I decided I was definitely going to do this again. Maybe not for a little bit, since my schedule is packed, particularly on Saturday, but I would be back. It was such an uplifting experience. In the Bronx, where it’s been a struggle to get one brick and mortar bookstore open, where the overwhelming need for literacy programs are left to very few people to lead the charge, I decided I needed to be a part of it.
If you’re in the NYC area, you should absolutely support Boogie Down Books. Come out for a Storytime or a Book Club. If you’re not, and you can afford it, buy a book or two from their website. Little pleasures like this one are few and far between. We should try, however we can, to keep them alive.
I wasn’t supposed to go to the Red Bank Authorpreneur Workshop put together by Corvisiero Literary Agency at the beginning of October. Things had been absolutely nuts in my life, and I hadn’t been able to recommit myself to my edit of Never Say Never, the book I would pitch there. However, Maria Tureaud and Ari Augustine from Craft Quest were going to be there. I had been working with Maria and Ari on videos for Craft Quest for eight months, and had known Maria even longer than that, having worked on her manuscript for the Inkwell Council. I really wanted to go, if only so I could get to see my friends for a weekend in person, for the first time ever. It didn’t help matters when my co-worker on Inkwell and Craft Quest/my sister-in-law Megan Manzano, who is working as an intern at Corvisiero, decided to come help out with the conference. Now I needed to go. I bought my ticket. I booked my hotel. I re-dedicated myself to my final Never Say Never edit. I wrote my pitch. And I made my way to New Jersey with Megan as my travel partner.
That was why I went. But I left with so much more. Warning, this one is going to get long. Because I’m going to take you along on my weekend and tell you everything I learned about myself and writing on my weekend away.
Here, I paint you the picture of an anxiety-ridden writer. Since I’m not much of a traveler, my friend Denise lent me her rolling suitcase so I could carry all of my stuff, seeing as I have a bad back. I spent the entire night before panicking as I packed. How was I going to get this bag down the stairs? Was I gonna be able to drag this thing all the way through my half hour walk to drop my son off at school? Would I fit on the always over-packed bus I take from there to the subway? How would I get up the train steps with their lack of elevators? How many people at my job would question me about where I was going? Would I make it to Penn Station in a decent amount of time? WHAT EVEN DOES PENN STATION LOOK LIKE? I’d never been there. WERE THERE STAIRS?
In the end, it was really hard to get the bag out of my house, but everything else went super smoothly. And when it didn’t, Megan had already met with me and just started lifting my bag around like it was feather-light…which was only a little bit insulting. Stupid bad back…grumble…
Maria picked us up at the train station along with editor extraordinaire Jeni Chappelle whom I’d actually met when I was in Pit2Pub 2016. We had only corresponded here and there until we worked together on a video on editing for Craft Quest. By this point, she was a friend and Megan and I were so glad to meet up with her at the train station. Jeni was staying in the same hotel as us, with writer R. Mitto E. who also turned out to be super cool.
We rode to the hotel, got settled in our rooms and met up with Ari, who was already in the room she would be sharing with Maria. Once we were each more comfortable, we headed down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat and ended up taking over the hotel restaurant for an impromptu pitch drafting session with Ari.
While Megan and I headed back to our hotel room to get a decent night’s sleep, particularly because Megan already knew she’d be running around the conference the following morning, as an intern helping to keep everything running smoothly. I needed it because ever since fibromyalgia made its landing in my life, my brain is shit before noon…and I had all my pitches before noon. While we slept soundly, Maria, Ari, R., and Jeni stayed up late into the night, nailing down Maria and Ari’s pitches.
I woke up first, and though a series of mishaps (a broken coffee maker, a loud ironing board, a clumsy woman who tries to iron the iron’s wire into her shirt, then whisper-curses herself out) I managed to wake my roommate up a little earlier than planned. (“I tried to be quiet.” “Like when you were skinning that cat.” “That was the ironing board!” “I know, and you told it to be quiet.”)
Together, we proved that we totally could have been real-life roommates by seamlessly dancing around ourselves to get ready. And I proved what a disaster human I am when I got out of the shower, and my adorably curled hair somehow got straighter–except for the front, which frizzed into madness. I glared at myself in the mirror and did nothing. I’m not good at hair. After squeaking at my reflection for about ten minutes. Megan braided the disaster areas of my hair and managed to make me presentable. We then met up with Ari and Maria and headed over to the workshop.
Thank God for Megan, and thank God for the Dunkin’ Donuts super close to the location of the workshop. Dunkin’ selfie!!!
The first thing I did upon signing in was register for the synopsis workshop at the last minute. I’ve never been the best at writing a synopsis of my own work. There is something very difficult about reducing your work to its bones and it always reads robotically, which I keep hearing is a mistake. A workshop could really help.
There was continental breakfast waiting when I arrived in the ballroom where the event was being held (sidebar: this hotel is beautiful), but I was too nervous to eat and already hopped up on adrenaline and coffee. So I never got the opportunity to sample the offerings.
Before things even got started, I decided it would be funny to get Ari’s attention by throwing the complimentary mints we received at her. It bounced off the table and landed right in front of Marisa Corvisiero. I smiled my ‘Oops, I’m an idiot’ smile, which is 110% teeth. She teasingly designated me the troublemaker of this get-together. I have no idea what she means. My horns are fully hidden by my halo.
Anyway, after some brief announcements, Melissa Koberlein approached the stage. Melissa is a professor of communication and publishing, and a YA Science Fiction writer with a biting sense of humor and some damn good advice on public speaking. She gave a lot of great advice in her segment, but the one that really stuck out to me was the idea that you’re nervous talking about your work because you’re passionate about it. You wouldn’t be nervous if you didn’t care. This fact helped me so much when I went into the pitch room. It reminded me that it was okay to be nervous, because it showed my passion for the project.
Melissa also conducted a great ice-breaking activity in which she had each attendee pick a piece of candy from a bag. When everyone had one, she had the people who had the same type of candy meet up and give each other a quick elevator pitch of their book. Not only did this help me get to know a couple of the other attendees, but it made me speak to people that weren’t Maria and Ari, which was necessary at that point to shove past my social anxiety. I definitely left this segment ready to pitch.
After this, Marisa returned to discuss what comes next once you’ve written the book. She reminded us of something I have to personally echo–the industry is smaller than you think. Throughout the day, when people were mentioned, often they were familiar to all of us, even our fellow writers attending the conference. If you pay attention, it’s a very small world out there.
Marisa’s main point, and what ended up being the springboard to all of the other segments of the day, was that authors in our current climate need to think like Authorpreneurs. Writing is a business, the book is your product, your name is your brand. Your platform is any way in which you reach fans. Treating your book, your career, in this way, dictates how you conduct yourself, and gives you an edge in an extremely competitive market.
Can you get published without treating your book like a product and your name as a brand? Sure. But it will be that much more difficult.
Next up for me were my agent pitches. While I was waiting to go in, I also got the bonus of calming down by chatting with Megan, R., and Melissa, and sometimes Ari and Maria in between pitches. This helped immensely in easing my nerves and got me walking in the room to pitch as myself and not my weirdly stiff representative.
Agent 1 was super easy to talk to, and since we follow each other on Twitter, it was very easy to get comfortable in my first pitch. We chatted about the book for awhile and she laughed along with me as I explained my main character’s hijinx and her natural sassiness. She asked me to send her more. The ten minutes felt so long–not in a bad way, but it just felt like I got the story out and then we had time to chat about Maria’s awesome Irish accent, and a shared affinity to accents in men before time was up. Not only would I love to work with this agent, but she was a lot of fun to talk to, and definitely loosened me up to move through my pitches for the day.
Agent 2 seemed super excited about my work. She said it sounded like her catnip, which revved me up, and it didn’t hurt that we had similar taste in television and books. She seemed excited about one of the more difficult parts of Never Say Never, the topic of infidelity. Dealing with such a negative relationship issue in a romantic comedy can be a tough sell. Agent 2 seemed very interested in the idea that I would mix the lightness of the general story with a heavier topic, without weighing it down too much. I got my second request of the day.
Agent 3 was also interested in my story, but interestingly enough, her point of view on the way I handle the topic of infidelity was the exact opposite of Agent 2. She feared that it was a little too lighthearted for me to tackle the topic of infidelity appropriately. I could absolutely understand her feelings about it. She still made a request, and I told her I hoped I’d managed to write it with sufficient gravity for her tastes. It turned out, I didn’t. As of this week, she sent a rejection, but I absolutely appreciate her taking the chance and reading it, since she was already a bit iffy about the concept.
Most importantly, my interactions with Agent 2 and 3 taught me how subjective this entire process truly is. Agent 2 and Agent 3 had exactly opposite feelings about the very same concept. If that isn’t proof that not every agent is the one for you, I don’t know what is.
When I returned to my seat, the plotting segment was just wrapping up, so I unfortunately didn’t catch much of it.
After that came lunch, where there was an amazing selection of food waiting for us to choose from. After piling our plates high with–at least in my case–an absurd amount of food, I joined some of the more recognizable faces from the morning, and joined in a conversation that touched on topics far and wide. One thing was for sure–even with the strange dips and turns of the conversation–I was amongst my people.
The gong show! A bunch of authors submitted the first page of their manuscripts. Since it was only an hour long, they were definitely not going to be able to get through all of them. The rules of the game were that the first page would be read for a panel of editors and agents. As the page was read, the panel would hit the gong at whatever point they would stop reading. This was a very interesting peek into the minds of editors and agents, and what really catches them during the opening lines. Some of this was majorly subjective. There were notes on not liking particular genres or vibes. However, much of it was also valuable–a confusing line or a more interesting background character can suck the life out of a manuscript quickly.
And I will never get over my pride when Ari’s first page was the only one not to get gonged. It was a very exciting moment.
The synopsis workshop, led by Corvisiero agents Kelly Petersen and Saritza Hernandez, taught me a few very interesting ideas about how to go about attacking one. As with the other informational sessions I’m mainly going to include the things I hadn’t learned in other attempts to learn about the topic. For one, I learned to give the reader a good idea of setting. With my story in particular, I realized I needed to include a bit of the small town vibe of the story.
There was also the idea of adding the tone and voice of your story into your synopsis, something I sadly realized was sorely lacking in my synopsis. I resolved to ask the Craft Quest team for help with this later. One method that was suggested to manage this was to start by taking one or two sentences from each paragraph of your story and putting it into a document. From there, you would pare down until you reach two double-spaced pages.
There was also a comment about being careful about using too many names all at once. This screamed at me. The Order of the Key, the first novel I had attempted to have published, had a ton of characters in it, many revealed early on in the story. I couldn’t remember my synopsis for Order, but I was certain it had name dumped quite a bit early on. Though I have temporarily shelved Order, temporarily is the key word. I have never given up on it. I knew that before I put Order out into the world again, I would have to look for that issue in the synopsis.
Another tip that stuck with me was about Hemingwayapp.com. I had heard about this app before, but I hadn’t realized it assigned a reading level to your story. Kelly and Saritza told us that for YA, your readability level should be around 4th and 5th grade, even though the concepts could be more intense than what would be used for that age group. YA should be easily readable. This app can help show you how to reach that readability level.
The next segment was about demystifying book deals, and started with a reminder that when you sell your book to a publishing company, you aren’t selling the book, you’re selling a license to your book. That’s an important distinction, because the book is still the artist’s creation. There was a great discussion of the different portions of a book contract and what an author and their agent should look out for. For me, personally, who worked for five years as a secretary in entertainment law, many of these terms weren’t new for me, but I still learned a few interesting bits.
I’d worked with various other types of contracts, but not book contracts specifically, and I never realized that authors could sometimes have non-compete clauses in their contracts. A non-compete clause limits how much of the work that is contracted can be excerpted and printed elsewhere, as well as what other works can be contracted by other companies. This can be limited by genre as well as time period with similar or related work and can limit the timing of the release of other books. So, it’s an important clause to pay attention to, especially if you’re pursuing a career in hybrid publishing.
Another factor that’s important to realize is that there is no marketing plan in publishing contracts. Authors and their representatives should always ask the publisher about the marketing plan and whether or not they will assign a publicist. This is increasingly true in the era of social marketing, so it’s a good thing to know when signing with a publisher.
The event wrapped up with a visit from the Blessing Bag Brigade of NJ founder Kevin Garrison. If you’ve never heard of this organization, learn more here. Everyone was encouraged to bring donations to the event, and at Mr. Garrison and Marisa’s lead, we packed our own Blessing Bags to be given to the homeless. It was a fine close to the event to remind us of what we have, and what we should give back.
The afternoon wrapped in a lovely mixer, in which we had time to chat it up with each other and industry professionals who were attending. There was a ton of laughs and silliness, and shared jokes, and by the end of the evening, I found myself as part of a group twitter chat with these amazing, intelligent, and frankly, hilarious folks. Though a confluence of wacky events led to our core four Craft Questers eating dinner back at our hotel, we were soon followed there by Jeni, R., and Ella, for drinks and further silliness.
We stayed and drank until the hotel bar was overrun by two weddings, and we Craft Questers retreated to Maria and Ari’s room, where we chatted, remained ridiculous, and did the usual slumber party activities.
At three in the morning, after falling asleep on Maria’s bed, I was shaken awake by Megan, who dragged me off to our room. We ended up in the wrong elevator, and despite being one floor away, ended up in the basement. After that, we finally retired to our room for sleepy times.
I woke up at an absurd time in the morning which was bizarre after going to sleep at 3 AM. Megan oddly woke up only shortly after. A quick text to Maria showed that Maria was also awake. So, we gathered in Maria’s room and harassed Ari until she rose from her slumber.
We grabbed some hotel breakfast, which was, indeed, nommy. After breakfast, we headed upstairs to work on my synopsis, because Maria is a literal hero. She helped me to rewrite the whole thing according to what I’d learned the day before at my workshop.
After hanging out in Maria and Ari’s room and having several laughs, it was sadly time to go.
We piled into Maria’s car to drive to Newark. The goodbye was tough. I’d seen and spoken to these ladies online many times in the past, but in that one weekend, we bonded so tightly, that Megan and I truly didn’t want to leave them. A long conversation, starting in that car ride, and continuing on through the train ride home, became the seed of a huge announcement I’ll be making soon.
Megan and I met up with Ismael, my husband, and our son, Logan, and we all got to share the adventure of our weekends apart. Ismael dropped Megan off at home to make up for the sleep she’d missed. By the time I was home and taking a nap, my phone was buzzing with fun texts from the Craft Quest team, the chat we’d established with all the ladies we’d befriended at the conference, and one more group–The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsers, a group of writers and editors comprised of R., Jeni, Maria, Ari, Megan, and me. It’s nice to have a strong circle of writer/editor friends to toss around ideas and thoughts and frustrations with.
It feels like, in one weekend, I crossed over into a new era of my writing career, and I’m very excited. The conference really got me thinking about new directions to take with my work, and the people there helped me find new confidence in my work and myself, and new friends. It was definitely worth the price of admission.
Lots of good news to come, including an interesting announcement from The Inkwell Council. I can’t wait to fill you in.
You see that lady? The vacant stare? The irritated-looking but adorable baby? This was just the very beginning of my struggle with post-partum depression, and the beginning of my Logan’s colic. It was a hard first few months, made worse by my already existing anxiety disorder and what we would later discover to be a burgeoning Sensory Processing Disorder for Logan.
Since then, it’s gotten harder in many ways. In other ways, it’s gotten easier. What it has never gotten was boring. As our little family of three struggled with various and multitudinous mental struggles, we coped with love and, in my case, pouring my heart out through my pen.
“Organized Chaos” was a personal essay written in the height of my post-partum depression and maybe even was what led me out of it. Which is why, when I saw a call for submission to an anthology on motherhood and mental illness, I struggled to hit send. This was a deeply personal exploration of the things that made me tick, and why they caused me a struggle to cope.
But I sent it anyway. And now it will be published in the anthology, “It Will Not Be Simple: Motherhood, Mental Illness, and Trauma,” compiled by writers Liz Howard and Christina Xiong. More details are forthcoming, but I hope you will take this journey with me.
More on my other writing projects, as well as my wonderful time at the Author-preneur Workshop, to come soon. And as always, thank you for sticking by me. It’s never the destination, it’s all about the journey.
I don’t like to brag, but I’m really good at NaNoWriMo-ing. Like, really good. I have participated in many NaNos since 2012, and I have always completed my goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. I have also participated in the Camp NaNoWriMos, in that time, often pulling out 50,000 words in April or July, in any of the years I chose to participate. And then came this year.
In April, I already knew I was competing with a crazier schedule, and set my goal of Camp Nano (the version of this challenge that has changeable goals) to 30,000 words in the month. I managed to make that goal. In July, I did the same, hoping to finish out a decent chunk of the book I had started in April. By a week into the month, I could already see that I wasn’t going to get to 30,000. I cut my word count to 15,000.
You see, there was this scene. Or worse, there was this book. And it slowed everything to a stop.
When I started work on a new book while waiting for notes back from my edit-partner for my last completed first draft, Never Say Never, I intended to work on a light-hearted superhero tale. Often, to get myself into telling a story, I will first write my first draft of the book blurb, a teaser description to tell myself what’s at stake and who my main character is. I do this prior to outlining, just so I can get into the proper frame of mind. When I set out to do this, my simple superhero book became a dystopian novel about two teens living off the streets of a derelict city until they choose to fight for better. With zero superheroes. And I don’t know how. I often scoff at people who say the characters took control of the story, or who claim they need their muse, but this was definitely some kind of whacked out magic at work. I hadn’t had this idea before I set out. This was not the book I was looking for.
But perhaps it was the book I needed. For one, writing it scared the shit out of me. It required a level of worldbuilding I’d never done before. It required a set of research I’d never considered. Worse, as I started plotting out the outline, I began to discover the story was meant to be in third person, which I almost never write.
I went to a book signing a few weeks before, for one of my favorite authors–Patrick Ness. He said he always likes to scare himself with his book ideas. He said he didn’t want to write anything that didn’t scare him–it was part of the adventure of writing. So when this strange story sprang from my head, I went with it–I did the scary thing. I started outlining this story. I started doing the research. And perhaps, I jumped into writing the thing too quickly.
That was my excuse when I cut the word count in April.
But then, my life was changing. I started work with Craft Quest, continued working with The Inkwell Council, and started taking on occasional freelance editing jobs. I dove into a new fandom (I haven’t been part of a fandom in awhile), which was time-wasting, but also reminded me why it’s so damn fun to be a geek, and saved me from dealing with a lot of this next part–as I mentioned earlier this year, I recently was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. My symptoms had been growing steadily worse for the entire year before I figured out what was wrong, and have now continued cropping up in new and interesting ways. My husband and son got into a car accident, ending up in the middle of a seven-car bumper-to-bumper on the highway–they were fine, but the car was decidedly not. We frantically struggled to replace it. There was an awful slew of bullying at our son’s summer camp that was impacting him directly. And I got stuck, horribly stuck, on one scene in the story that I just couldn’t figure out. I crashed. HARD. I never made it to 15,000 words. That has never happened to me before.
From the end of July to now, I have written four pages. That’s it, folks. Four whole pages. And anybody who follows this blog regularly knows that’s a joke. It wasn’t even like I was editing Never Say Never. I got the edits, got stuck on the first thing that was said, and pushed that aside as well. I just didn’t know how to handle any of it, so I didn’t touch it. I put it all away.
I celebrated my son’s birthday. I handled that damn summer camp. I celebrated my best friend’s pregnancy, my sister-in-law’s new apartment, my other best friend’s journey through Thailand and Japan. I sat beside another dear friend as she struggled to (successfully, thank goodness) battle breast cancer. I got to work on another project close to my heart that I can’t discuss yet, but is arts-based and local, and should it take off, would touch on a long-standing dream of mine. I swam around in my new favorite fandom and made some new friends there. I lived my dang life. I took a break.
And I feel better. I feel clearer. I think this needed to happen to remind me I couldn’t do everything at once. I need to crash to remind myself that despite my protestations to the contrary, this illness has given me new limitations. I needed to crash to remind myself I had other priorities in life. I needed to crash to remind myself to have a little fun. I needed to crash because I don’t need to hit my goals every single time. Sometimes I’m allowed to miss them. I needed to crash to remind myself I didn’t need to get this story right on the first draft. That I could completely screw it up, go back in and rewrite it like I was bound to do anyway a few times, once I figured out what I was trying to say and how it was going to work. I needed to crash to remind myself that the work of sculpting doesn’t get done until the clay is on the damn table.
I needed to crash. I needed to fail. I needed that to learn how to take care of myself so that next time, I may succeed.
Tl;dr: I’m back, folks. How was your summer vacation?
“I like this restaurant,” my eight-year-old son politely explained as we ate dinner with friends. “The other one was loud. It didn’t help my anxiety.” He then went on to discuss how much more sense his thoughts make now that he’s on medication. When he left with my husband to use the bathroom, my friend took the opportunity to scoot a little closer to me and ask a question I could see rolling around in her head the minute my son started talking. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to speak so openly about what’s wrong with him?”
This isn’t usually the type of blog I write, but every now and then, I do journey into the personal instead of the professional, and I’ve decided this is a good time to do that.
There’s a lot of mental illness hanging around in my family. I suffer from depression and anxiety and ADHD, and I’m just discovering now, I may have some sensory processing issues. My son inherited pretty much all of this from me and my husband. I also suffer from scoliosis and migraines, and have mild asthma. And just like I wouldn’t hide that from people who know me, I don’t hide the other stuff either.
It’s odd how we seem to have no problem openly discussing physical issues. “I’m sorry, I can’t come out today. I have a migraine,” rolls off the tongue a lot easier than, “Sorry, I can’t come out today. My anxiety is on high and I don’t really think I could handle being around a lot of people.” People don’t accept both in the same way.
But truly, they are the same. There are some things we can’t control. Mental illnesses are caused by chemicals in our brains. So, while they don’t present themselves as physical illnesses, they are actually caused by traceable physical issues.
So, let’s talk about the question my friend asked. I get her asking it. Some people are just uninformed about this sort of thing, and I’m grateful she didn’t ask in front of my son. She seemed to truly understand when I explained it to her (or she humored me REALLY well), so this isn’t some kind of sub-blog hate post or anything. We’re cool.
What it is, however, is me realizing there may be a question worth answering, a question many people may also be asking.
I’m really straightforward with my son about what he’s going through. Not “wrong with” because that’s the wrong word. There’s nothing wrong with my son. But I explain to him the physical reasons he sometimes becomes overwhelmed, or has trouble dealing with his emotions. I’ll try to help give him the words to describe what he’s feeling, or what bothers him. I’ll help him narrow down the things he can tolerate or the things he struggles with.
I want him to accept that this is his reality, rather than trying to hide from it. I want him to learn to live with it, to cope with it. I don’t want him to be in his thirties and wondering why he sees the world differently from others.
It’s the fact that we feel like we can’t talk about these things that feeds the misinformation, the stigma, surrounding mental health. While other people have armchair psychology mental health reform debates from a safe and comfortable distance, my family struggles with such issues from our very living room.
If this country is determined to claim a need for mental health reform, frankly, something needs to be done about it. And that begins with the actual sufferers of mental illness being open about our needs, being open about how our illnesses make us feel and not being scared to discuss exactly who we are. If this is in some way unsafe or uncomfortable for the sufferer, of course they shouldn’t.
For my Logan, he is completely safe to be exactly who he is–that adorable and snarky 3rd grader who struggles with distress from loud noises, trouble focusing, a need to be perfect despite his relatively laidback parents, and a really weird vomit response to pickles. And we will do everything to help his lovable awesome self and keep him happy and safe to be exactly as he is.