It’s been a month of dislocation—moving into my new apartment, adjusting to working on campus again, seeing someone new, and literal dislocations throughout my body courtesy of my faulty connective tissue.
I moved into my new place at the beginning of August, and I honestly could not be happier. From the laminate floors to the walk-in closet to the kitchen that I can actually use, this place feels like home in a way that my last apartment never did. I’ve begun cooking again, experimenting with new recipes. In this way, my life feels back on track.
COVID and the College Campus
As many of you know, my day job involves working for a university. Working for a university in this COVID era has presented unique challenges, and I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about it that I don’t feel comfortable articulating in this format. Suffice to say, the transition to fully in-person from fully remote has been an interesting one, full of nuance and complications, and I am curious to see how the rest of this semester will proceed.
Living My Best Queer Life
I am writing this on Sept. 5, 2021, the one year anniversary of my coming out to my ex-husband and effectively blowing up both of our lives. While so much has happened in the last year, I think the most remarkable thing to me is that I am living the life I never imagined possible for myself—out, dating, openly queer with friends and (most of my) family. I didn’t think I would ever be “allowed” this life, so the fact that it is mine now regularly blows my mind.
Bodies Are Useless
Well, specifically mine, and specifically my joints. In the last month, I have dislocated my left knee at least twice, dislocated my left big toe, and messed up my left hip (though I am not sure if it was a dislocation/subluxation). My right shoulder continues to give me problems, as does my right ankle (which I sprained when I moved into my last apartment in October 2020). At this point, I am losing faith in my joints and their ability to hold my body together. Such is the life of a medical zebra.
Now that things are starting to settle, I’m hoping to get back on a writing schedule. You should be able to expect these newsletters more regularly! I also need to complete my PhD applications, have some major reading goals to meet before the end of the year, and want to get back on a submitting cycle for journals/presses.
I hope you are all doing well amidst the chaos that is this life.
I have been open—perhaps uncomfortably open—about the fact that the last year has been A Lot.
In September 2020, I came out as a lesbian to my then-husband; we immediately separated, and I moved into a roach-infested shit-hole of an apartment in October; on New Year’s Day 2021, my mother elected to go on hospice after nearly two years of aggressive, painful cancer, and by the end of January, she was gone at the age of 52; in March, my divorce was final; and now, in July, I am preparing for a second pandemic move and reflecting on how the hell I am still here.
Writers gonna write
To say “I’ve always been a writer” would be an understatement. As we discussed in my last post, I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years, but even before that, I had been writing in many other forms. I started journaling at age 6, and wrote my first “novel” that same year. For years, I wrote short stories and “novels” and journaled like I would die if I didn’t log every thought in my series of composition notebooks. At age 14, I started writing poetry with a fervor.
But even with all this documentation, there are huge gaps in my personal history—things I couldn’t or wouldn’t write down, things I didn’t find important, or things documented so cryptically that I can’t decipher it now, decades later.
The fallibility of the memory
In my journals’ gaps, I return to my once reliable memory. However, between the passing of time, the brain fog that accompanies chronic pain, and the nature of trauma, I have begun to wonder if I can trust myself to write about this journey with any accuracy, even just the events of the last few years.
How do you write a memoir when you feel like your memory is failing you? How do you share your story when you aren’t sure what your story is anymore?
Turning to mentors for guidance
In her essential work Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway…”
Lamott also says:
“Remember that you own what happened to you…If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says, “Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make it so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, or drop a jar of applesauce.”
Goldberg also says, “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
Sandra Cisneros says, “Writing is like sewing together what I call these ‘buttons,’ these bits and pieces.”
bell hooks says, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.”
I turn to Lamott and Goldberg and Cisneros and hooks and so many more when I need guidance or support while writing. Their works, especially those that contend with the writing or art-making process, are woven into the foundation of my creative life, the giants’ shoulders I am kindly allowed to stand upon. They speak directly to these queries about memory and authenticity in memoir—how to tell the truth when you struggle to know what the truth is.
Memoir makes few promises
Something I am still struggling to accept at this point is how a memoir only promises to tell a version of the story—my truth, not the truth—and that because of that, as long as I am committed to being as honest and genuine as I can be, my memoir will do what it promises to do.
To be honest, writing a memoir—and admitting that I am writing a memoir—makes me really uncomfortable, more so than any other admission I’ve made in the last year. I think this is because to admit that you want to tell your story, that you think your story deserves to be remembered, means you have to admit that you value your life. This is something I have had to learn how to do through years of therapy, and goes against the dominant narrative that we are all just cogs in a greater machine, perhaps worth something to our immediate loved ones but mostly nobodies. And to consider yourself otherwise is a profound arrogance, especially at age 31.
Learning not to care
The thing is, I have to learn not to care. That is the crux of so many of my problems over the years—learning not to care what others might think if I admitted I was gay. Learning not to care what others might think if I admitted I wanted to go back to school. Learning not to care what extended family would think of my politics. For a decade, I just wanted to keep the peace most of the time—and what did that get me, in the end?
Now, I need to learn not to care if I don’t remember everything perfectly, and don’t have documentation for what I can’t remember. I need to learn not to care if someone finds me sharing this story to be arrogant or narcissistic, mostly because I don’t totally disagree—I just think doing so could also do a lot of good.
If I had had a story like mine when I was growing up, maybe things would have been different for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have stayed in the closet so long. Maybe I would have pushed harder as a teen to figure out why I was in so much physical pain. Maybe I could have done more for my mam.
I’ll never know what could have been for myself. But I can find out the good that could come from sharing my story with others now. And that’s reason enough to keep writing.
Following six weeks of regularly sharing my experiences as a disabled late-blooming lesbian who recently lost my mother to cancer on Instagram, I decided it was time to assess whether IG was the best platform to share my written work.
I have consistently hit the character-count barrier on IG with this project—and true, I could have continued my post(s) in the comments, or shared my story across multiple posts as I did in my recent series featuring the panorama of the stone circles at Hunn. But this generally doesn’t make for a good reader experience for long-form writing, especially if you didn’t hit the posts in the right order. (I mean, can anyone predict the IG algorithm at this point?)
With all this in mind, I took some time over the last week to consider: is there a better way to share my work with those who want to read it?
Once a blogger, always a blogger
If you’ve known me for long, you know I’ve been blogging in some form or fashion since 2002. From my first Xanga account, which was called “The Writer Just Trying to Be the Artistic” (or something similarly nonsensical), to the WordPress site that I’ve had since 2011, I’ve been writing online like my life depended on it since I was a young teenager.
In all that time, the blogosphere has changed tremendously (thankfully—as nostalgic as I am for the days of LiveJournal, it wasn’t the most user-friendly). Instead of a community of bloggers reading each other’s work and talking to one another, writers are building communities around their work that extend beyond whatever platform they are using to share their writing. Frankly, that’s always happened, but I say this to highlight a shift I’ve seen from organic communities I used to see on LJ, Tumblr, and WordPress to cultivated followings linked to individual creators.
In the last few years, I have also seen a shift from readers seeking out their favorite writers on their websites to receiving content via newsletters sent to their inbox or even shared links on social media. And while blogs like WordPress offer features like this, I have seen an increase in users of platforms like MailChimp, TinyLetter, and Substack that offer more opportunities for control, analytics, and monetization.
All this to say…
I’ve decided to try my hand at this. This newsletter is free, weekly, and will feature similar content to my Instagram: details of my late-to-lesbian journey, meditations on life as a disabled person (including details of my specific experiences over on “Disabled Journey”), and glimpses of grief over my mother’s untimely death.
While that might sound, in a word, bleak—I can promise that it won’t be. Even after everything this last year has been, somehow, I still have hope and joy and a sense of humor. Hopefully all of that—all of me—will come through here.
Thank you to Christopher González for inspiring this move. Make sure you subscribe to his Substack, whether or not you sub to mine.