It’s a bunch of itemized updates today, friends. In my own writing news:
The Sycamore Review asked me to judge the fiction finalists for their Wabash Prize, which just closed submissions. Their editors will give me a shortlist to arbitrate on later this fall. This was an interesting and, frankly, flattering thing to be approached for, but I wasn’t without my reservations. When they first reached out to me, I asked them if they would reconsider their use of submission fees. I’m against paying to sub in general, but I also told them that I would not be able to afford the original $20 paid entry if I were on the other side of this contest. We had a refreshingly productive conversation about literary finances, and they decided to switch to a sliding scale inclusive of full waivers. I do understand that a lot of very nice people come into management of magazines and journals that rely on fundamentally flawed funding systems, and sometimes options are limited especially with a volunteer staff, but I hope to see more publications try and square this circle.
As promoted in a previous newsletter here, I’ve been teaching a class for Catapult on “Reading Body Horror as Writers,” and I’ve been absolutely floored by how bright, curious, broad-minded, and sensitive literally all of my students are. I’m used to performing a much greater degree of facilitation in a group this large, and there’s nothing wrong with that either—that’s what a lot of arts teaching is—but even though we aren’t doing draft critiques, I’m genuinely eager to see what kind of writing each and every one of them gets out of our discussions. Dream team.
The Possum Creek Games expanded reissue of “Inscrutable Cities” is going to happen sometime in 2022 instead of this winter, since they have a ton going on (in a good way). This honestly works out fine for me, since not having a major pre-committed project in edits and proofs right now has freed up enough time for me to make a lot of progress on other schemes. More on that below.
Remember how I am always tired and there’s no reason “why”? As it turns out, my primary care doctor is very smart and observant and kind—a first in my entire life’s experience as a patient—and within a week after I wrote that little musing on being a natural sleepyhead, some of my, let’s say, related cognitive limitations had a shit and hit the fan and shit-fan-torpedoed my life in a fairly major way.
That I was not thrown into another full six months of instability and sub-functionality is entirely due to having the right medical and social supports in my life right now. Long story short, my friends are wonderful and my doctor was like “let’s try SNRIs.”
I was only vaguely aware of what those were or that they were different from SSRIs, which I’ve been explicitly avoiding my whole mopey life because of some family history stuff that made me worry SSRIs would make things worse for my personal biochemistry. As it turned out, my caution against SSRIs for my particular case was probably well founded, and I was right to avoid them! I also wish I knew about SNRIs a decade ago, because the particular one I am on works for me like it was made for me.
The med effectively short circuits a thing in my brain-body where, it turns out, performing many basic tasks sets off a physical response akin to knowing you’re about to be harmed, but being unable to prevent or accept it. It was like, getting in the car to run errands or answering email at work felt physically like taking myself somewhere to be slowly suffocated. Often, like I was already suffocating. Believe it or not, your brain parsing daily life as impending death every single day does things to your energy levels, among other side effects. I tried to kick and shove myself out of it. I tried time-management. I tried pep talks and healthy habits. I even tried being honest with those depending on me that I was struggling with something I didn’t fully understand how to manage yet. And though it was painful to learn this was not enough to justify my presence and involvement with some things that mattered to me deeply, I’m trying not to stew in any ill will about the bridges that had to burn before I was able to face that I have been in a the middle of an ongoing medical emergency for a number of years now.
It’s been the C-PTSD all along, baby!
The thing that I have to find funny to not find tragic is that some part of me knew—yes, all along—that the C-PTSD I had identified in myself long before doctors did (and therapists never could, I don’t know why; I don’t like talk therapy or therapists though, let’s leave it at that) was so “disruptive” to my life to pretty clearly present a serious Disability. I could have saved myself—and a lot of people who counted on me—a great deal of heartache and frustration and confusion were it not for that pesky, lingering internalized ableism that kept whispering “you’re overblowing it, you’re faking it, you’re just lazy and bad and a little stupid, and everyone is going to find out if you don’t get your shit together, living well is a choice you can make by simply snapping your fingers, you fuck up” on a low but constant loop.
Another part of why I didn’t always notice that loop playing is that my “self esteem” is, like, pretty good. It’s possible to be a fairly confident person and still have this broken record of irrational, subliminal doubt playing in your ear. These things are not a linear gradient from “hating” to “loving” yourself. The mind and the self are more like 4th dimensional color wheels in which both Heaven and Hell already co-exist.
I’m doing pretty okay right now, though. I’m working in a movie theater and catching up on movies I’ve missed. When it’s slow at work, I can read books I’ve been meaning to read and when it’s really slow I can bust out my laptop at the candy counter and even do some writing.
And I am writing. More fruitfully than I have in a long time. On January 1st, 2021, I started a novel that took me until the end of August to have about 8,000 words and a loose trajectory for. Right now, I’m in the middle of refining the first 25,000+ words of that project, and I have an increasingly strong and complicated vision (I hope) for the second half. I think I found the emotional crux of it, which wasn’t where I thought it would be, and that itself is a delightful process. I’m pretty sure there’s enough going on in this idea to sustain a book-length story, but I have also been able to pull myself back from wanting to fit my every passing idea into a single object. (I never truly kill darlings, though: I just save the seeds from them to germinate into other projects.)
I sent the seventh chapter out as a stand-alone short story, in order to reignite the habit of sending things out at all. I brushed off an unrelated thing I wrote last year and sent that out, too. I hope to be able to share both with you all in form of linking them in published forms someday soon, and if not, then some other day, less soon.
And also, if you’re a friend (defined here as: we have either spent mutually enjoyable time together in person before, or have had enough pleasant and candid conversation online that we would seek each other out in person), I will email you the first chapter. It’s rough around the edges— I often struggle with word choice and [place several options/in bracketed slash lists/like this/which might not be the easiest thing to read if you’re not me], but you don’t have to give me any real feedback. I just find it motivating to amuse the people I love.