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5 posts from November 2013

On GriefNovember 19, 2013

I know, two posts in one week! Alert the media! (Wait. Am I part of the media? I might be, tangentially, now that I think of it. Okay, consider me alerted.) 

I had dental work today and I'm almost recovered from the meds I took this morning. I can't talk (ow) but it's raining and I'm drinking tea. I was supposed to record a podcast for TapGurlKnits, but it wouldn't be kind to anyone involved, including the listener. Holly Cole is playing on the stereo (tell me you love her, too) and I'm not being sad about Digit. 

That's the thing. 

I can't be sad about Digit. (See two posts below, if you're not sure what I mean.) 


Here I would be drawn to insert that standard, expected apologetic clause (I know, he was just a cat, not like a person, not my child, but it still hurts, etc.) but I don't have to apologize to YOU, darling reader, because you are smart enough to know that sometimes animals are more important than people. Period. 

That's not my point. 

My point is that I do a weird thing with grief that I've beaten myself up over in the past, and it's not only time for me to let it go, but it's normal and it's worth writing about, in case you or someone else you know does it, too. 

I go numb after someone I loves dies. 

Not a little bit numb. A lot numb. I've teared up a couple of times, but I haven't cried since the day Digit died. 

When my little mama died? I cried, yes, that day. I cried a lot that night. Then I went totally numb, and that terrifying feeling lasted for days. It broke at the funeral, and then it came back and lasted for not weeks but months.

It made me wonder if I'd actually loved her.

I thought I had. I thought I'd loved her more than anything. Why, then, could I talk about her death with nothing more in my heart than a vague unease? I made jokes. "My mother died, let me have the last piece of bacon." I could even think about her being dead, and I only felt a dull throb of cotton-padded nothing. 

But this: it's normal. It's part of grief. It just IS. That's what I didn't know then. 

The day after Digit died, Lala texted me to say she'd left a little treat for me in the freezer. I texted back, "IS IT DIGIT?" And I laughed about it (because come on, that's funny).

I laughed because I'd already moved firmly into the numbness. 

I've been happy to realize that he was the one peeing over the lip of the cat box, requiring me to clean up after it constantly. I don't have to do that now! I'm pleased we won't have to buy the expensive cat food that I've shelled out for for more than a decade. When my mom died, there was more than a little part of me relieved that I'd never have to see her in a nursing home. (What is THAT?) And now there's a strange amount of relief that after I get through this loss, I won't have to go through it again (good god, I've already grieved this cat once. It's already annoying I have to do it again.)

And that's the problem. I'm goal-oriented. I would like to feel the pain now and move through it. I can handle pain. I know what to do with it. This numbness, as normal as it is? It's dumb. I hate it. I want to cry and I can't, and that pisses me off, almost as much as Digit used to when he would climb the leg of my jeans to get to my egg plate. (This morning, I had a second of feeling sad when I ate my eggs without him, and I leaned into. Maybe I'll cry now! But nope. I had nothin'.) 

But hell. This is me accepting it. Accepting that I am NOT callous and mean and small-spirited and unable to love. Although it feels counterintuitive, this stubborn numbness is proof that I am the opposite. 

I loved that jerk. And he knew it. Tears don't prove anything, but even with all this said, I'm looking forward to when I find them again. 


2013 Night of Writing DangerouslyNovember 18, 2013

The Night of Writing Dangerously is Prom for writers. (And it funds the Youth Writing Program for NaNoWriMo, what could be better?) 


It really is. 

It's six HOURS of writing, fueled by: caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. If at any point you feel weak, change your consumption order and write some more. If your hands get tired, stretch your fingers and write some more. Just. Keep. Writing. 

Okay, that's what you SHOULD do, but I also tend to be a Flitter. I flit from bar to table to bathroom to photo area and back to table. Even with all the flitting I did, though, I still got two chapters written (3000 words), so huzzah for productivity! 

It is, literally, my favorite night of the year. It's heaven. And this year, some of my favorite people of ALL came. 


Veronica Wolff, sister Bethany, me, Kristin Miller, AJ Larrieu, Gigi Pandian, and Shannon Monroe


This is me and Bethany grinning at our fairy godmother, whoever she is. Thank you for giving this to us. I feel like I still have my wings on, and my glass slippers never even got too tight! (When I took them off at home? Ouch. Another matter.) 


I love this shot of Veronica. Seriously, she's as smokin' hot in light drag like this as she is in a little black dress. 


Bethany looks on approvingly as I selfie. 


Oh, my god, this. Every writer got a short story from a 4th grader. This was mine. It says, "A boy who got lost in the woods. He tumbles on a secret passage to another world. Then he has to fight a villan who is trying to hipnotize the bay area." 


Gigi's card, though? She had an amazing one. From memory, it said something very close to: "I don't know what I'm going to write. I don't know how it ends. I'm going to put in a lot of action." 

That's my current work-in-progress, summed up right there. 

I'm still kind of floating on air today. I'm the luckiest writer in the world, I really, really am. (And dearest Fairy Godmother, you might like to know that I heard through the NaNo grapevine that someone got wind of what you did and sent someone else who couldn't have gone otherwise, so your kindness to us is making ripples out there. xoxox.) 

Digit, Actually Dead This TimeNovember 8, 2013

Digit was the worst cat ever. He arrived as a tiny little jerk. 


Even in that picture, he’s probably about to scratch me.  

He fell in love with me, though, instantly. I was mama, since he was too young to leave his own who’d abandoned him under a house in San Francisco, but he was never my “fur baby.” I didn’t call him my son. No offense to those who call their pets that—it’s lovely. It just wasn’t the way we rolled. We were bachelors together in that little mother-in-law hovel that clung to the hill in east Oakland. We both went out at night and came back tore up. I’d have careless cigarette burns in my clothing, and he’d have foxtails and other cats’ claws stuck in his. 


We bunked together. Happily. He nuzzled under my chin and shoved his paw in mine, using his claws to get closer if he needed to. He attacked visitors with creativity and enthusiasm, clawing his way up their jeans and over their shoulders to the sound of their curses. He drew blood first and often. I told visitors, “Don’t touch the cat, I mean it.” Then if they did that silly, “Oh, all cats love me, watch,” I never felt sorry for them and handed out bandages. 

My neighbors, when we moved to a tonier section of Oakland, hated my emeffing cat. They demanded recompense for Digit chasing their cat into their house and beating the hell out of her—and I was about to pay their vet bill until I saw their cat beat the hell out of Digit in my yard, so we agreed to pay our own bills.  

Digit saw me through six relationships. He didn’t care for most of the people I dated, but he loved Lala. Hated her dogs, though. Hated. He spent years thinking about ways to decapitate Harriet in her sleep, but Harriet could hold her own. He also hated me for a while, for introducing such low-bred animals into my life. He forgave all, however, when we got Clementine, a pit bull of his very own. For at least the first year that Clementine lived with us, all Digit had to do was breathe to make Clementine cower. Digit loved it. Nothing was better than punching Clementine and making her cry. It was fucking Disneyland. 


He cost me at least fifteen thousand dollars over the years, and that’s not including the five thousand the knitters raised for his care after he returned from the dead (first, he died. Then, three months later, I got schmittens. Then he came back from the dead. After that, there was a raffle that put him back together again. If you haven't read that story here or in my memoir, I'll let you have a minute). 

Fourteen years ago, I had him de-manned entirely, removing his penis because of a life-threatening disease. Last year, a vet told me soberly that, in fact, the cat I thought was male was actually female. I laughed my way out and I remain impressed with the remarkable job the first vet did. 


Because that cat was all male. He stood up to pee, his beer farts were terrible, and when he lost at poker we had to eat ramen for weeks. And he was my guy. I was his girl. We were each other's. We’ve been each other's since the very first moment. It was love at first sight for both of us, and tonight, as I held his paw as he drifted off, there was no one else in the whole world but him. 

Today's decision to let him go was the right decision. It was a terrible day, deciding. Lala called me at work this morning, and I was able to take vacation for the rest of the day.

I spent almost seven hours in bed today holding him as he slept like this.


By the time we got to the vet, he was almost all the way checked out, not even able to purr. Strangely, it was a relief to let him go.  

He was a jerk. A real, complete asshole. And he was MINE. 

My face hurts and my head aches. My eyes are almost swollen shut. I miss the hell out of that beast already and it’s gonna get worse, I bet, before it gets better. We have a lot of animals, yes. We still have three dogs and two cats left. And you know what? I like them all. I even love them.  

But I loved no one and nothing like I loved Digit. We came as a package deal, and for the first time in seventeen years, he’s not yelling at me, and I’m not yelling back.  

Lala has said for a while that his first name is Fuck Off. This is because of how many times a day one or the other of us said, “Fuck off, Digit.” Because he was a ridiculous, demanding jerk who tried to eat the food off our plates constantly. But he’s dying, I’d joke. 

Not a joke, I guess. 

Tonight, after we said our goodbyes, before the vet pushed the needle, I said, “Fuck off, Digit.” 

Lala said, “Fuck right off.” 

As we left, we saw the vet petting his body. 


Some cat. Fucking love of my life. 

StarsNovember 7, 2013

Last night I went out with (as I think of her) my Young Writer friend. My favorite barista at my beloved but now defunct cafe, she has stars in her eyes about writing, and is applying to MFA programs all over the country. We ate sushi and talked about writing, and I remembered myself in her.

When I was 25--her age--I packed up my tiny Ford Festiva with its roller-skate wheels and headed to Mills for my MFA. I was going to light the world on fire with my prose. Or at least, I was going to write. And I lit a lot of things on fire, namely the cigarettes I was still smoking back then. I was giving myself two years in the ivory tower, two years to really focus on craft. 

Then, for those two years, I avoided writing as much as possible. I did the bare minimum, because that's what we do sometimes, when it comes to what we love most, right?

Artists don't draw. Musicians don't play. Writers don't write. If we write, we fail (because when we're learning something, DOING anything at all, we fail. Just part of the process). And as artists, we strive for perfection and failing is really not ideal. 

So we don't write. I managed my 150 pages of a terrible novel for my thesis. I took an amazing dialogue class in which we read a book famous for dialogue every week and then wrote a three page scene in the voice of that writer (that did more for my skill with dialogue than anything else). I took a poetry class which almost killed me. 

Then I graduated and spent the next ten years also avoiding failure by not writing. Not writing = safe! Not writing = dreaming about the perfect words you'd string together if you just had time.

What I didn't realize was this: 

Not writing was the biggest failure of all. 

No matter how spectacularly I screwed up in the writing itself (which I did! Still do! Spectacularly!), when I finally started to write everyday (thanks, NaNoWriMo 2006), I was succeeding! 

And seven years (JEESH!) later, I'm still writing, all the time. Every day. Even when I fail, I win.

The job has gotten harder the more I learn. A rank amateur says LOOK I WROTE A BOOK YOU SHOULD READ IT OMG -- a writer who's spent years actively learning how to craft emotion out of words says, Well, you don't have to read it. It's the best I could do but it's still not as good as Murakami. Maybe someday. *kicks rock* (Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.*)

I've been both of those people. (Admission: I've been both of those people this WEEK.) 

But I've changed my website a little bit because I want y'all to see that book up there to the left with its quotes and overview and all that because I'm proud of it and I'm excited for it.

Pack Up the Moon. It's literally the book of my heart, and it's available for preorder right now. I'll be releasing excerpts and reasons for you to preorder (gifts! prizes! kisses on the mouth if I see you IRL and you want one!) but the real truth is this: It's a good book. It will make you cry, and then--I hope--it will help heal you a little bit. 

I love the stars in my Young Writer friend's eyes. The funny thing is I still have them, too. 

* "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average . . . Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding."

Winner! And Book Recommendations!November 2, 2013

THANK YOU for the book reviews! I love that y'all like Cora's Heart as much as you do. The reviews and the emails are amazing and when I get one, I do a little spin in my chair. My chair is almost spun out, I'm telling you. Might need a new chair. 

Randomly drawn winner of $50 book certificate: Anna, who's been reading me for ages and is always the first person to ask me "When is it coming out in the UK?" (I love it when long-time readers win things. Don't forget to sign up for my mailing list to be on the random win list! Sometimes I just send a book I like to a random winner! I'll probably do that again next week!) 

What I've Been Reading:
Amazon links for convenience but check your local shop


The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty -  I'm about 70% done with this, and I love it. It hits all my buttons -- a slow, intent look at family life, a secret that blows up, and female characters fully explored and realized... I'm reading slowly to make this Australian gem last.



Love on Main Street - A bunch of people I know - It's possible that I and my friends made up a fictional mountain town called Snow Creek and wrote a whack of interconnected stories set at the holidays. It's also quite possible I chose to write about the yarn store owner. As I do. It turned out even more darling than I thought it would, and I had high hopes. I have talented friends, yo.



Human Remains - Elizabeth Haynes - You know that when I talk about books, I like to present a wide variety. This is nothing like anything above dark, and it's incredibly gory (I even had to skip over a section when I was eating a gyro, and I'm a dispatcher and not much grosses me out--I can listen to people vomiting while eating oatmeal). (Oh, my god, was that too much? Maybe. Okay, if it was too much, though, don't read this book. Otherwise:) and SO GOOD. If you like  Gillian Flynn (which I do, Gone Girl not as much as Sharp Objects), you'll like this British serial killer novel.