Surgery done. Went well. Home now. On drugs. Blog later.
Surgery done. Went well. Home now. On drugs. Blog later.
Just a quick update: My hysterectomy is tomorrow, Wednesday Oct. 24. The plan is for me to come home that same day, but there’s a chance I’ll need to stay in the hospital overnight.
I’ll do my best to post at least a short post letting y’all know that I’m through the surgery. But I don’t know when exactly that will be. Again, I’m not totally sure when I’ll be home, and I may be pretty out of it right afterwards. I’ll do it as soon as I can. Thanks.
So I was heading home today from a couple of pre-surgery errands. (Yes, I know, I have friends who will run errands for me right now… but I wanted the exercise and the outside time, especially since I have a stretch of house-bound boredom and cabin-fever ahead of me.) I was feeling tired and worried, sad and shut down, wanting nothing more than to be home on my sofa watching bad TV and turning off my brain.
And I saw this.
And I thought: I get to see this.
I get to be alive.
It sucks that I have cancer. It completely sucks that I got diagnosed with cancer two weeks after my father died. And it’s okay for me to feel shitty, to feel tired and sad and like I need to take a brain-break from everything.
But I get to be alive, here, and now.
And I get more than to be alive. I get to be alive in this neighborhood: so alive and so freaky and so very much a neighborhood. I get to be alive in this city, where art like this is welcomed and celebrated and has a home. I get to be alive in this century, when I have have a life expectancy of 80 and not 35, when endometrial cancer can be caught early and doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
Richard Dawkins said it really well:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
I get to be alive. No, I don’t get to be alive forever: this cancer is very treatable and will be behind me pretty soon, but mortality is going to catch up with me eventually. But I get to be alive. And I get to see huge, expansive art that is entirely made of joy.
Wow, wow, wow.
The fundraiser has been a thumping success. It has exceeded all my expectations. I will be able to comfortably cover my mortgage and other expenses for a few months, while I recover my health and get my writing and speaking career revved up again afterwards. No further donations or spreading of the word are necessary: I’ve actually gotten somewhat more than I really need, and I’m seriously contemplating donating the overflow — probably to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk via the Foundation Beyond Belief, and/or to Camp Quest. (I feel okay about asking my readers for financial help, but I feel weird taking more than I really need.)
I hadn’t realized how much of my stress and anxiety about this situation was focused on my financial worries, until I didn’t have those worries anymore. It is a huge, huge weight off my shoulders: I can now go ahead with the surgery, and with my recovery afterwards, with all my focus on my health. And I won’t feel pressed by financial worries into rushing back to work sooner than I’m ready to.
And possibly more importantly: I am deeply loving the atheist community right now. Atheism really came through for me on this one. I am feeling deeply loved and valued by this community right now. And I’m feeling excited and happy and energized to get back into working with it when I recover… in a way that I haven’t in a while.
Huge thanks to everyone who donated, with any amount. Some people have been commenting or emailing to say things like, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t donate more”: y’all need to knock it off. As someone who’s often on the broke side herself, I am intensely touched by people who are short on cash but who felt moved to make a small donation to help out anyway. And the small donations have been adding up, and are a big part of what’s made this a success. Huge thanks also to everyone who blogged about this fundraiser, Tweeted it, Facebooked it, Reddited it, or otherwise spread the word about it. Huge thanks for folks who have been buying my book, or encouraging other people to buy it. Huge thanks for all the suggestions for books and movies and TV shows: thanks to you, I am going to be the best-entertained cancer recovery patient in history. And huge thanks to everyone who simply sent me kind words. The kind words have been an enormous part of what’s making me feel loved and valued and re-energized.
This last few weeks have been an unbelievable shitstorm. But yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a while. Thank you all for making it happen.
UPDATE: No further donations or spreading of the word are necessary. This fundraiser has been a success: I’ve raised enough to comfortably cover my mortgage and other expenses for a few months, while I recover my health and get my writing and speaking career revved up again afterwards. Effusive, gushing, heartfelt thanks can be read here. If you just heard about this fundraiser and are moved to make a donation, please make one to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk via the Foundation Beyond Belief, or to Camp Quest. Thanks.
I have some more news of the crappy variety. It’s not as alarming as it’s going to sound: it’s probably going to be fine in the long run, and even in the medium run. So even though your first reaction may be alarm, try to not go there if you can avoid it. But I want to fill you in. And I’m going to ask you for some help.
The bad news is that I was just diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I got the initial biopsy results Saturday, and met with the oncologist Tuesday.
The good news about the bad news: To the degree that there is a “good” kind of cancer, this is the good kind: well-differentiated cells, Class 1, in a body part that I have no great need of and am fine with having removed. But it’s still, you know, cancer. Right now, the oncologist is pretty sure that it’s totally treatable with hysterectomy — “totally treatable” meaning “after the hysterectomy I really won’t have cancer any more” — and he’s pretty sure I won’t need chemotherapy or radiation. There is, however, a slight but not trivial chance that it’s actually Class 2, in which case I would need chemo and/or radiation. They’ll know that for sure after I’ve had the surgery and they’ve analyzed the tumor. I’m having the surgery Wednesday, October 24.
And yes, I am aware of the ridiculously horrible timing of getting this news not even two weeks after my father died. Ingrid is referring to it as “emotional whiplash.” I kind of can’t think about that right now. Right now, at this point I’m mostly just hugely relieved that the cancer isn’t worse, and am just wanting to move forward and take care of business and my health.
The bad news again, and the part where I’m going to ask for help: This situation is going to seriously interfere with my ability to work for a little while. I’m going to be weak and doped up on pain meds for at least a couple of weeks after the surgery — possibly longer — and travel will be inadvisable for six weeks after the surgery. And all that’s assuming the best-case scenario of “no chemo or radiation”… which, again, is the most likely scenario, but not the only one. I’ve had to cancel my appearance at Skepticon, as well as all my other speaking gigs for the next couple of months — and I already had to cancel several speaking gigs when my dad died. Speaking gigs are a significant part of my income, both for the honoraria and the book sales. I also won’t be able to do much writing or other work for a little while, including paid writing gigs, book promotion, work on my next books, etc. This, after my immediate and obvious health concerns, is my biggest worry right now. As regular readers know, I only just a few months ago quit my day job and switched to writing and speaking full-time. I’m fortunate enough to have good insurance — but being self-employed means no sick leave or paid time off, and I haven’t yet had time to build up any sort of financial cushion. My financial plans for switching to full-time freelance writing and speaking did not include being sidelined for several weeks with cancer and a death in the family.
Which brings me to the part where you can help.
If I could not worry about money for the weeks while I’m recovering, it would take a big, big load off my mind. So I’m swallowing my pride, and am doing a fundraiser/ pledge drive. I’d hoped not to do any more of these after my book came out, but these are extraordinary circumstances, and I am sucking it up.
Even small donations would be very much appreciated: they do add up. You can use a credit card if you don’t have a PayPal account, or you can use your PayPal account if you do. And if you don’t want to use the PayPal system at all, you can send a check or money order to:
PO Box 40844
San Francisco, CA 94140-0844
If you can’t or don’t want to donate money, but you still want to help, other helpful things would be:
Help spread the word about this fundraiser: on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, your own blog, any other reasonable means that you have access to.
Buy my book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and/or encourage other people to buy it and publicize it.
Give me suggestions for books and DVDs to keep me occupied during my recovery. I’m looking for books, movies, and TV shows that are engaging and entertaining, but not heavy or serious, and that don’t take too much brainpower to follow.
Send kind words. They help, more than I can say.
And if you do want to donate or subscribe, here are those numbers again:
Thanks so much. I’ll be back to blogging as soon as I can.
The thing I’ve been having a hard time with in the last couple of days: The fact that grief feels horrible — and there’s pretty much nothing I can do about it.
I’m very used to tackling my problems. I’m used to trying to fix the bad things in my life, or at least taking action to alleviate them. And I can’t do that now. There is a basic, unfixable problem in my life, which is that my dad is dead. There is another basic, unfixable problem in my life, which is that grief happens, and takes time. And the only thing I can really do is to slog through it. There are a handful of things I can do that sometimes make me feel better, or at least that don’t make me feel worse: exercise, time outdoors, socializing, chocolate, making plans and having things to look forward to. But basically, all I can do is ride it out, sit and wait for time to pass. There’s a line from the movie “Tootsie” that Ingrid keeps reminding me of: “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”
And I. Fucking. Hate. That. I’m a control queen. I hate just sitting around waiting for days and weeks and months to pass, so I can feel better. This helplessness itself is just one more fucking thing that feels bad, just one more shitty layer of meta piled on to the core of the grief itself.
I’m also realizing that I’m feeling cut off — voluntarily, but still cut off — from one of my usual avenues of connection and expression and participation in the world… namely, the ongoing conflicts and debates in atheism. I’ve always been someone who’s relatively unafraid of conflict, who’s willing to speak her mind even if it gets blowback. I pride myself on that, and to a great extent I’ve carved it out as a major part of my career niche. But right now, I just don’t have it in me.
And that’s very frustrating. There’s a whole host of pieces I’ve been writing in my head, pieces where I think I have a valuable and unique perspective that could make a real difference in some of these conflicts… and I’m not writing them. I don’t have it in me right now to moderate a flamey, 200+ comment thread about feminism, or sex work, or Atheism+. Even the fairly small or private conflicts I’ve been participating in have been upsetting me and depressing me and freaking me out, all out of proportion. I wake up to a couple of mildly angry emails, and it fucks me up for hours. I know that holding off on these fights for now is the right choice, the best thing I can do to take care of myself. But that sense of being cut off… it’s yet another shitty layer of meta. On top of the 23,452 ways that I feel uncomfortable and restless and like nothing feels right, I have the profoundly uncomfortable sensation of keeping my mouth shut when I normally would be speaking. Keeping my mouth shut does not come naturally to me. Not saying things, solely because I’m afraid that people will be mean to me and I can’t handle it, does not come naturally to me. I fucking hate it.
(A few hours later)
On the other hand — damn. Going to the gym. I really have to remember going to the gym. Made it to the gym tonight — absolutely did not want to go, was not in the mood to go, seriously considered being a bad angel and trying to talk Ingrid out of going and into hanging out with me at the cafe instead, had to pull together all my fortitude and inner resources to force myself to go — and was so very glad I did. Went to the gym, and afterwards we picked up take-out burgers and took them home and ate them in front of “Project Runway” and read Tom and Lorenzo and watched South Korean pop videos on YouTube and let cats crawl all over us… and it felt great. It didn’t feel ecstatic or mind-blowing or anything. It just felt like a Friday night. It felt like myself, enjoying my life and my home and my marriage. Yet another note to self: Go to the fucking gym, as often as you possibly can. Do not keep telling yourself, “I don’t have time.” Your productivity is for shit right now. You are spending hours every day staring blankly at a computer screen and re-checking Twitter for the fiftieth time. Your productivity will be vastly improved if you wake the fuck up. Going to the gym wakes you the fuck up. And besides, you just like it. So go.
My father died on October 1, 2012, at the age of 79.
My dad, like me, was an atheist. And when you’re an atheist and a non-believer, and the people you love die, you don’t get to tell yourself that they aren’t really dead. You don’t get to tell yourself that you’re going to see them again someday, in some hypothetical post-death existence that somehow both is and is not life. You have to accept that death is really permanent, and really final.
This may be surprising to many believers… but atheist ways of dealing with death and grief are not actually dire, or hopeless, or without consolation. I’ve been surprised, in fact, at how comforting my humanism and my naturalism have been during my grief. And one of the many consolations in a humanist view of death is the idea that people who have died live on: not literally in a supernatural afterlife, but metaphorically, in the ways they’ve changed the world. The people are gone, but like the water in a pond when a rock is tossed in, the ripples continue to radiate out, even after the stone has sunk to the bottom. My dad is dead, he is gone finally and forever… but the world is different, and I am different, because he was alive.
I want to talk about that today. I want to talk about some of the ways that my father lives on in me, and in the world.
My father had this loud, booming laugh: so loud it made people turn and stare, so loud it embarrassed the rest of the family at movies and plays and other public places. I now have an absurdly loud laugh that makes people in crowds turn and stare. It’s different from my father’s — my dad’s laugh was a deep, booming, Santa-Claus-on-laughing-gas “ho ho ho,” while mine is a high-pitched harpy shriek that I’ve learned to cover with my hand so people won’t think I’m being murdered. But I have my father’s noisy laughter. And I have my father’s priorities: his valuing of laughter and joy over not embarrassing yourself. The degree to which I don’t give a shit about making an ass of myself in public is the degree to which I am my father’s daughter.
My father used to read to us — me and my brother — from fun, brainy books for kids: The Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland. His copy of Alice, the Annotated Alice with annotations by Martin Gardner, is the version I fell in love with, the version I still think of as the classic. I learned the poem “Jabberwocky” by heart when I was in third grade. I got the Jabberwock tattooed on my arm when Ingrid gave me a tattoo for my wedding present. And I didn’t just get my dad’s love of Alice. I got his love of ideas. Not a refined, high-falutin’ version of the “life of the mind,” but a delighted, silly, deeply joyful life of the mind: a sense of the playfulness in ideas, a sense of ideas as toys or puzzles or games, a sense of the deep pleasure and straight-up goofy fun that could be found in just tossing ideas around and seeing where they landed.
My father was a math teacher. He never taught me, not in school anyway — he was always careful to never have me in one of his classes — but I knew other kids who had him as a teacher. And the word I got was that he was one of the fun teachers. He was one of the teachers that kids were glad they got. His love of math, his love of the puzzle-and-game aspect of it… it was infectious. There are people in the world now who enjoy math, and aren’t scared of it, because they had my dad as a teacher. And my dad had a love, not just of math, but of the act of teaching itself. He understood that unique pleasure of conveying ideas to other people, the unique pleasure of sharing not only the ideas but the love and the fun of them, the unique pleasure of watching other people not only catch your ideas but run with them in their own direction. I’m not a teacher… but that pleasure is a big part of what motivates me as a writer. And it comes from my dad.
My father was a union organizer at his school: one of the two chief organizers, in fact. I remember once when I was a kid, I found a piece of paper with a list of teachers on it, and I asked my dad, “Why are only some teachers on this list? Why is Mr. Abernathy on the list, but not Mr. Mason?” My dad got very, very serious — not like him at all — and said gravely, almost in a panic, “You can never tell anyone that you saw that list. If you do, I could lose my job.” I’d had a vague understanding before then of this union business… but at that moment, it fell into sharp focus. And I got that my dad was willing to take a risk — a real risk, a risk not only to himself but to his livelihood and his family — to do what he thought was right, and to take a chance on making life better, not only for us, but for the other teachers and their families as well. I got that the administration relied on that “I can’t endanger my family” instinct as a way of intimidating teachers who might otherwise have supported the union. I got how much this scared my father… and I got that he was willing to fight for the union anyway. I got, at that moment, that sometimes you have to go out on a limb. I got that people in power rely on fear to keep their power in place — and that you sometimes have to do things that scare you, things that put you at real risk, in order to make change in the world. I got that courage doesn’t mean not being afraid: it means being afraid, and taking action anyway. I treasure all of that, and do my best to live up to it.
(And yes, the union won. As far as I know, there is still a teacher’s union at the University of Chicago Laboratory School today… and it’s there, in large part, because of my dad.)
My father was always proud to have a smart daughter. I remember the summer he taught me BASIC. I remember the time he mentioned, quite casually, that he knew I was smarter than he was. I remember his delight whenever I picked up a tricky idea, or stumped him in an argument. My ease and confidence with my intelligence, my sense that of course women can be smart, that it’s entirely natural and desirable for women to be smart, that there is no contradiction between being a woman and being smart and anyone who says so is a dolt… I owe that, in large part, to both my mom and my dad.
My father and I got into many arguments, heated ones even: not about personal family stuff so much, but about politics and history and science. And as heated as those arguments sometimes got, he never once tried to discourage me from arguing with him. He never once pulled the “I’m your father, don’t argue with me, treat me with respect” card. No matter how deeply he disagreed with me, he always respected my right to argue, and engaged with my arguments seriously, and valued my ability to make my case. If I am stubborn and fearless about making an argument, and unconcerned with offending people in authority and power when I do… that’s my dad.
My father used to make up silly songs ad hoc. I remember the summer that he grew pole beans on the balcony of our apartment, marking every day’s growth on the string with a pencil, and making up endless ridiculous twelve-bar blues songs about feeding pole beans to turkeys and rabbits. He had a love of absurdity for absurdity’s own sweet, stupid sake… a love that I carry with me.
My father cursed like a longshoreman. He didn’t try to curb his cursing around his kids… or maybe he did, maybe that was the dialed-back version we were exposed to all those years. When I see a shitty dumbfuck douchebag and call them a shitty dumbfuck douchebag, when I celebrate Blasphemy Day by saying “Fuck God in all sixty of his non-existent assholes,” I am my father’s daughter.
And did I mention that my father was an atheist? My father was an atheist long before I was. My father was an atheist, and an out atheist, in the 1950s. My father talked his younger brother into being an atheist… when he was in high school. My father figured out that there was no God, pretty much on his own: without atheist billboards, without the atheist blogosphere, without a local atheist support group, without a dozen atheist books on the best-seller list, without anything but Bertrand Russell and his own fearless, “fuck authority,” razor-sharp mind. And he did it when he was a teenager. I hope I don’t have to explain how that particular ripple has rippled out into my life. And now, into yours.
There was bad stuff, too. A lot of it. Not all the ripples have been good ones. My father shaped me in wonderful ways that I treasure, but he also shaped me in fucked-up ways that I struggle with, ways I’ve spent years trying to dig out and throw away, ways that make my life harder every day. And I’m not going to pretend that that isn’t true. Ours is a family that speaks its mind and values the truth: we don’t cover bullshit with sprinkles and pretend it’s a cupcake, and I’m not going to disrespect my dad by doing that now. My father was often a difficult person, and a difficult person to love. And that became more true, not less, as the years went on. I’ll probably be talking about that more in the coming days and weeks and months.
But not today.
My dad is dead. He is gone, finally and forever. But the world is different, and I am different, because he was alive. And for much of that — not all of it, but much of it — I am grateful.
I’m co-hosting an event this November at the Center for Sex and Culture, with David Fitzgerald and Chris Hall — the Godless Perverts Story Hour!
The Godless Perverts Story Hour is an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. With fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and performances from Maggie Mayhem, Victor Harris, Greta Christina, David Fitzgerald, Chris Hall, Dana Fredsti, Anthony O’Con, and Simon Sheppard, we’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural.
We’ve only got one life — what better way to spend it than an evening of sexy godless fun?
DATE: November 17, 2012
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St, San Francisco, CA (near Civic Center BART)
COST: $10-$20 sliding scale. No-one turned away for lack of funds. Event to benefit the Center for Sex and Culture.
RSVP on Facebook or Fetlife
GRETA CHRISTINA has been writing professionally since 1989, on topics including atheism, sexuality and sex-positivity, LGBT issues, politics, culture, and whatever crosses her mind. She is on the speakers bureaus of the Secular Student Alliance and the Center for Inquiry. She is editor of the Best Erotic Comics anthology series, and of Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients. Her writing has appeared in multiple magazines and newspapers, including Ms., Penthouse, Chicago Sun-Times, On Our Backs, Skeptical Inquirer, and numerous anthologies, including Everything You Know About God is Wrong and three volumes of Best American Erotica. Her most recent book is Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, Ingrid. You can email her at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com, and follow her on Twitter at @GretaChristina.
DAVID FITZGERALD is a writer and historical researcher who has been actively investigating the Historical Jesus question for over ten years. He has a degree in History and was an associate member of CSER, the former Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. David serves on the boards of San Francisco Atheists and Center For Inquiry-SF, and is founder and director of both the world’s first Atheist Film Festival and Evolutionpalooza, San Francisco’s oldest Darwin Day celebration. He lectures around the country at universities and national secular events and is best known for his popular multimedia presentations “The Ten Thousand Christs and the Evaporating Jesus” and “The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion.” His newest book is “NAILED: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All.”
DANA FREDSTI is an ex B-movie actress with a background in theatrical swordfighting. Through her volunteer work at the Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center, Dana’s had a full-grown leopard sit on her feet, and been kissed by tigers and licked by jaguars. She’s written numerous published articles, essays, short stories, screenplays, and two non-fiction books with Cynthia Gentry. Plague Town, the first in a three-book zombie/paranormal romance series with Titan Books, was released April 2012,with its sequel due out in April 2013, and she has a sequel in the works to her mystery, Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon (Rock Publishing, 2007). She writes erotica under the nom de plume Inara LaVey, and has five stories and three novels published by Ravenous Romance.
MISS MAGGIE MAYHEM is a queer porn performer and producer whose roots are in HIV Prevention. Between 2003-2010 she worked as an HIV test counselor, clinic coordinator, grant recipient for field care in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, and HIV Senior Specialist at Larkin Street Youth Services. She has debated porn with Gail Dines at Yale University and choreographs sexy velicoraptor dances for the stage. Her blog is just as likely to depict hardcore XXX content as it is philosophy, theology, futurism, solar design, silent films, and sheer speculation. Her claim to fame was being banned by VISA for sacrilegious use of a rosary. You can find her on the web at MissMaggieMayhem.Com.
ANTHONY O’CON is a Veteran, Poet, Paralegal and Activist with Causa Justa (Just Cause). When not at work on his first Haiku collection inspired by the Haiku of Richard Wright, he is designing his future NGO. He is a proud early supporter of Atheism+ and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a strong advocate of decentralized power and housing, best exemplified by the Earthship. He is originally from Oakland and lives in South San Francisco.
SIMON SHEPPARD is the damned-to-Hell author and editor of nine books about sex, including Kinkorama, Sodomy!, Homosex, The Dirty Boys’ Club, and the forthcoming Man on Man: The Best of Simon Sheppard. Winner of the Lambda Literary Award and the Erotic Authors Association Award, he’s also published work in over 300 anthologies and periodicals, and he’s the curator and co-host of the notorious Perverts Put Out! performance series.
More performer bios as they come down the pike. Hope to see you there!
Today is National Coming Out Day. So:
I’m bisexual. I’m an atheist. I’m kinky. I suffer from situational depression.
I think y’all already knew all that. But just in case.
A better day today. Took yesterday off from, you know, pretty much everything. I was having some female trouble, so I made that my excuse to do what I’ve been desperately wanting to do and have been afraid to for fear that it would push me deeper into my depression: namely, just check the fuck out. Lie on the sofa in my pajamas and nap and eat chocolate and watch TV for twelve hours. In this case, curled up around a hot water bottle. The kitties loved the hot water bottle, so of course they were visiting me off and on all day. I was really worried that a check-out day would make my depression worse, but at least this time it doesn’t seem to have done that. It wasn’t a great day or anything; but it seems to have actually re-charged my batteries a bit. At least, it didn’t make things worse.
And today I had some good stretches. Got caught up on some of the emails that had been piling up over the last few days: got started moving forward on taking care of a little business, scheduling some new speaking engagements and re-scheduling some ones that I had to cancel when Dad died. I’m feeling a little apprehensive about the speaking gigs: my moods are still so unpredictable, I’m still being fairly functional one hour and then shambling around like a zombie the next, without any warning, and I have no way of knowing whether I’ll be more on the “reliably functional” side of that balance in a month or so when I start doing speaking tours again. I suspect I’ll be doing better by the time those gigs come around, but I don’t know for sure. But I can’t keep putting my life on hold forever, just because I might or might not feel up to it in a month. And being engaged with my life and my future, making plans for the work that I love to do, does make me feel better.
I also think I’m getting a little better at figuring out when I’m reaching my limits. Spent about two, maybe three hours catching up on emails… and then realized I was starting to fade, the fog was starting to settle in, and I needed to shift gears. I felt bad, there was some important business that I had to leave unattended… but I heard the voices of every one of my friends and family, the voices of all my blog readers and colleagues and everyone in the Grief Beyond Belief group, all saying, “It’s okay. Give yourself a break. You don’t have to get back to work full-swing right away. Grief is exhausting. It’s okay to take some time.” And I put away the computer, and picked up my Kindle, and just read for a bit. It is funny, though. I had to first convince myself that reading counts as work for me, before I was able to feel fully okay with it. I’m glad I’ve learned enough self-discipline to be able to be self-employed as a full-time writer: I’m glad I have the instinct to want to actually work when I’m at home during the day, and not just fuck off and read books or watch TV. But it makes it harder to let go and give myself a break when it’s appropriate.
Speaking of which: All of this grieving shit is making me realize a big downside to being self-employed: I pretty much have to work if I want to pay the mortgage. And I can’t phone it in, either. I have to actually work… and I have to be self-motivated about it. If I had a day job right now, all I’d have to do is muster the self-discipline to drag my ass to the office. I could clock in for eight hours and wander around like a zombie and not get fuck-all done, and still bring home a paycheck. For a while, anyway. But I can’t do that now. I feel like a jackass, complaining about the downside of being a full-time self-employed writer when 98% of all writers would give their eyeteeth to be where I am in my career. But it is a downside, one I hadn’t thought about, and it’s making the grief harder to manage.
The main thing I’m wrestling with today: the unpredictability of my moods. I feel like I could manage my shifting moods better if I had some sense of when they were coming, and what sets them off. But I have literally no idea. Reading might make me calm and happy one day, twitchy and restless and unable to focus the next. Surfing the net and reading blogs might make me feel engaged and connected with my work and my community one day, irritated and enervated the next. One day I’ll wake up from a long night’s sleep feeling rested and refreshed; the next day, I’ll wake up from the same amount of sleep feeling groggy and like I just want to sleep for four more hours.
Part of the issue, I think, is that depression and grief aren’t the same thing, and I’m still struggling to learn the difference. If some experience cuts through the fog of my depression, if it wakes me up and lets me connect with what I’m feeling… well, the feeling underneath the fog could be anything. So even positive, engaging, depression-cutting experiences could make me feel crummy… because they get me to feel what I’m feeling. And a lot of what I’m feeling these days totally sucks. Cutting through the depression is like scratching off the gray schmutz on a lottery ticket: I don’t know whether what’s underneath is a thousand bucks or a “Sorry — better luck next time.”
Oh, I’m realizing a flip side of the whole “letting other people help me as a form of compassion” thing that I was writing about the other day: Listening to other people, getting engaged in their problems and their lives, is a way of taking care of myself. Hung out with my friend Rebecca tonight, and of course we talked about my dad and how I was doing, which was good and which I dearly wanted to do. But we also talked about her life, her work and her wife and her friends, and we talked about Ingrid, and we talked about stuff and people we had in common… and it helped, just as much as gassing on about my own grief did. Maybe even more. I want to let my friends support me and listen to me… but I don’t want to get so wrapped up in my own grief that it becomes a bubble, isolating me from the world. Listening to other people forges a connection, builds a bridge to the world outside the bubble. And it’s… I don’t know how to put this. It’s what I do, what I would do in my normal life. That’s really important right now.
Of course, the other thing I would do in my normal life is to quit writing because “The Player” just came on TV. So I’m going to go do that now.