Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Essay About Grief, Rejection, and Jock Strap Island

I've had some tough stuff go down in the last couple of years.  Major family illnesses, friends in a world of trouble and hurt, and some personal things that I'm not really ready to talk about too much, but that rhyme with "zinfertility."*

Some days it's nigh impossible to get out of bed. When so much trauma comes at you all at once, it can start to feel like nothing good will ever happen again. You just duck your head and pray for NOT BAD things, because believing in GOOD things seems, well, stupid. You see people succeeding all around you, their dreams coming true, their careers on a wondrous upward trajectory...but you just try to not step in the shit pile every day.  Well, the big shit piles. The small ones you shrug at.

Yesterday I experienced that thing that happens to all writers: rejection. Of something I was really excited about. It happens, especially when you're like me and writing some pretty unusual stuff for the genre you're in. And I can handle it, I can. Hell, I got rejected the morning after we found out we'd never have a baby. That one stung. It was kind of a mean note, too--insulting--but on that day, I remember thinking, Yeah, I got punched pretty hard yesterday. Try harder, editor--at least call me ugly or something!

Real grief can give you perspective. For sure, a rejection letter is nothing compared to hearing your mom has breast cancer (Which happened to me in the middle of trips to the zinfertility doctor. Fun!) But a rejection can compound what you're already going through, especially when writing is your one salvation, your last vestige of sanity-saving.

The more time that passes, the more I start to climb through the stages of grief, and the easier the little pitfalls get. But I still find it almost impossible to believe that good things can happen out of the blue, as opposed to horrid ones. Believing positively seems like an exercise in futility. And I'm a positive person! My level of self-delusion is high, folks, but it's taken some hard knocks in the last two years.

Something occurred to me yesterday, and it's the reason for this piece. Yes, I'm finally getting to the point, huzzah! I realized this: optimism is one of the bravest things a person can feel. Optimism says Hey, even though I'm buried in a pile of dirty jock straps and the way out is being guarded by a Dementor, I still believe that I will escape from Jock Strap Island and that all will be well.

Do you know how freaking difficult that is?  To keep going after being kicked in the face over and over and over again?  To lift yourself up and take to the computer again, to think to yourself Well, 643287642 bad things have happened, but I bet thing 643287643 will be great!  My grief tells me that all is terrible.  Hell, my PMS tells me that all is terrible.  But there's one, tiny corner of my brain that whispers...Keep going.  Things have to improve sooner or later.  It's been "later" for years now, but better is coming!

I'm not trying to be too "woe is me."  There is always worse in the world--always.  And I wrote a three-book series in the midst of my worst grief.  (Badass, party of one!)  But I do want to tell everyone out there that hope is a brave word.  A brave, brave, brave word.  Optimism is easy when everything you touch is gold.  It's a defiant act of aggression when everything you touch is rust--an act you should feel damn proud of.  That's not to say that when you or I feel hopeless we're doing something wrong.  At times, there's nothing else to do but sob and scream and beat up your couch pillows.  But if you can lift your face to the sun, even for one second, I'm proud of you.  I know how much that belief in good things costs you.  "Just cheer up!" "Just relax!" they parrot at you.  They have no idea, but I do.

You're amazing, and so am I.

So I wrote 3000 words yesterday after my rejection.  Emily Dickinson said that hope is a thing with feathers.  But hope is also a warrior woman in steel armor covered in the blood of her metaphorical enemies who picks herself off the battlefield and keeps on fighting.

*I'll say this as kindly as possible: I'm not looking for advice or uplifting stories or "have you tried...?" regarding our zinfertility. Also, yes, we've heard of that thing called zadoption, so we're good on that score. Thanks for your understanding.

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