Monday, June 23, 2014

What Write-a-thon 2014 Means to Me

I want to take a moment to share how precious my this Write-a-thon and my sponsors' and readers' belief in my writing ability is to me. It is one of the best gifts I have ever gotten. Writing and reading have always been my secret place, my safe place, my escape place. When I was five years old, my parents moved from our neighborhood where robberies were becoming commonplace and out into the suburbs. I was a quiet child and never minded being alone. My mother read to me all the time and when I learned to read and write and got my library card, a whole new world opened up to me. Suddenly, I was reading about mice riding motorcycles and taking trips in boats and other fantasies, which was a blessing because I was severely picked on in school. I was the shortest and the youngest AND the new kid with glasses AND asthma. And I also wasn't Jewish, like most of my classmates, so I couldn't go to all their celebrations. I never even got invited to one party. To make matters worse, I dressed like Punky Brewster and had half my hair long and the other half short. And I wore boyish clothes and was often teacher's pet because I was so well behaved. Girls did not dress like boys in the suburbs, as I soon learned from my classmates' teasing. Nor did they have hair like mine. And while I certainly wasn't as poor as kids in the inner city, I quickly realized something I never had before, I was the poor kid in the neighborhood now, wearing second hand clothes and hand me downs, eating the same cheap lunch every day, and never going on cruises or vacations over school breaks or getting expensive jewelry and toys as gifts or even twenty dollars or more allowance in the second grade! I didn't feel poor, but I was called poor and teased for being different. I retreated to my safe place, books. I loved the school library.

In the third grade I had the most wonderful teacher, Mrs. Krahn, whom I give credit to setting me on the path of becoming a writer, as this was the first time in class I was ever given the opportunity to create my own stories as homework. From the first day of creative writing, I knew I wanted to be a  writer and nothing else. Writing became the way I expressed myself.

By sixth grade, the teasing had gotten so bad, I didn't want to go to school any more. My mother would have to pry me from my sheets and I screamed and cried and begged her not to make me go. I discovered the trick of holding a thermometer to a light bulb to fake a fever, which was the only way mom would let me stay home. She told me I couldn't watch television or play and I had to promise to stay in bed. That was fine by me. I spent the entire day safe, reading and reading and reading. I even used to sneak out of bed at night and sit in the hallway where there was light to read, when I should have been sleeping. Sometimes my mother caught me, sometimes not. I unwisely used to hide my books under my bed, where she always found them.

The bullying made me so sad; I told my mother I wanted to die. I didn't know the word suicide in the sixth grade, but that's exactly what I meant. I used to skip my gym class, where I was often bullied because of my severe asthma, glasses, and small stature. I escaped to the library. I think my gym teacher and the librarian knew what I was doing and took pity on me because I always got good grades and never got in trouble. My mother pulled me out of that school the end of that year and sent me to counseling. And then I got to go to Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, where I majored in drama and art, and found my self esteem.

And that's where I also found Mr. Silver, my eighth grade English teacher. Mr. Silver had long silver hair and a puffy biker beard. He was a leftover relic from the 60s, a rebel, the cool teacher everyone loved. And he introduced me to interpreting literature, symbolism and hidden meanings. I couldn't get enough of that class!

I took this inspiration with me into my freshman year of high school, beginning to write poetry, most of it the angst-filled, cliché teenage writing you would expect, but I enjoyed myself so much. I still read all the time too. I was never without a book. And when I was just sixteen, I had my first poem published. I remember how it felt to get that acceptance letter in the mail. I was invincible! I was a published writer! And I'd been bitten by the writing bug.

In college, I majored in Creative Writing and English. And I graduated with honors in May of 1998. I never gave up on my dream of being published with the big dogs. I remember writing at my desk in my cubicle during my lunch hour, getting up early before work to write, at night, working on the work laptop my boss generously let me take home, in front of Law and Order, on the couch with my family. That writing bug was still in blood. I also read more than I slept and I didn't mind being tired when I got up for work at 5am.

Then in 2003, after being laid off in the recession of 2000, I became severely ill. The pain was unbearable, as were the tests the doctors performed. I couldn't dry myself off from the shower, I couldn't drive, I could hardly walk. I cried and cried, consumed by a fiery pain that baffled doctors. I  finally saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, a very severe case. I didn't even know what this disease was, hardly anybody did in the early 2000s. All I knew was my life had changed forever and after two years of living with this disease and going through thirty different medications, I finally accepted fibromyalgia and filed for disability in 2005.

Since 2008, I've had ten operations, survived a tornado, been hospitalized for a colon perforation, which resulted in an iliostomy bag temporarily and the removal of my colon. I've had multiple pulmonary embolisms from an undiscovered blood clot in my left leg, due to a broken foot in a cast, gotten diagnosed with a blood clot disorder, discovered I have extra ribs connected to my collar bone, which resulted in two of those six surgeries, and survived a semi truck totaling the car I was a passenger in, resulting in an entire year of therapy and more procedures for herniated discs. I got the swine flu in 2008, a severe case that landed me in the hospital in isolation. Between 2012 and the middle of  2013, I spent four months in the hospital, thanks to the blood clots and the colon operation and reconstruction on my small intestine, so I could digest food and use the bathroom again without my intestine sticking out of my stomach, covered by a bag of shit pasted to my side.

And then I left my abusive husband last year, after eight years of marriage. I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD from the emotional and mental and physical abuse I suffered. I learned that physical abuse included more than just being punched, which thankfully, I left before that started happening. I moved back home at 36, almost 37 years of age, and am living with my pets in my parents' living room for now.

But through it all, my one pleasure that could not be taken from me is the gift of story. When I laid in my hospital room late at night not sleeping or I've laid in my bed now, feeling sorry for myself, I stop and think about my writing I want to work on or the book I'm reading.

I still read voraciously. Sadly, I haven't really written much since 2008, when my run of illnesses began. Before that I had just begun getting my stories published online and in print. And I was blogging regularly. Then everything came to a halt. Until, one day, I read about the Write-a-thon online. And I decided that now was the time for me to get off my butt to enter the world of publishing again. Because damn it, if a tornado could blow right by my block, leaving my place undamaged, and I could survive without a colon and live through a severe case of swine flu and multiple pulmonary embolisms and all the other crap, and could find the strength and courage to leave an abusive marriage with no job, on disability, with no savings, and my good credit ruined, then I could certainly sign up for this fundraiser and get writing again!

I'm still struggling with health issues and learning to live with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, but I have hope because I'm at this keyboard again, writing to you, my faithful readers and generous sponsors. I'm going to live up to the goals I've set for myself because this is all I've ever wanted. I may be having another back surgery soon, but I'm feeling pretty good about signing up for the Write-a-thon. And I've enjoyed getting back to my blog. And I'm looking forward to the future and the opportunity to share with you all the stories I have inside my head. And to be honest, I'm looking forward to that high of seeing my name in print and getting another writing contract to sign. But most of all, I'm looking forward to finding myself again through this experience because I've been lost for a long time.

So thank you, my readers and sponsors. Thank you for believing in me. For cheering me on and always having my back.

And if you haven't sponsored me and would like to, I'd really be happy to get your donation. 100% of your donation goes to Clarion West to keep their foundation running, so they can continue to offer quality speculative fiction workshops. And if you can't sponsor me, but would like to follow me on this six week journey, you can read about my progress here and on my sponsor page.

As always, happy writing and happy reading!

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