breakthrough.

Untitled

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Ten years ago, my novel, ONLY YOURS, got rejected by its last publisher.
I was drowning in debt and financial troubles.
I was a single mom, living in an apartment with the weirdest neighbors ever, and working in a job that was… hard. (The work was great, the co-workers were great, but the culture was challenging.)
My boyfriend (now poor husband) at the time was long distance.

My writing well was draining. I tried, and only produced crap. Well, there are a few good parts here and there, but for the most part? Nothing. No novels, not even short stories or poems. Just snippets and false starts and oh God, it was hopeless.

So I gave up on publishing.

That was ten years ago.

After I moved to Chicago, I decided to focus on “real” things. Things that made me money. It was hard at first. The job market in Chicago is tough. But somehow I found my way and now there are times I have to turn work away because I get so much. This is a blessing.

I worked in advertising agencies. Long, demanding hours. Six day workweeks. Plus freelance! I was making so much money but I was sick and unhealthy and stressed. I started getting grey hairs!

Lily Pads & Yellow Flower
 

I trained to be a yoga teacher. And while I will *never, ever* regret that year—really one of my happiest, most intense, and most amazing—I decided I didn’t want to teach yoga.

I was an extra in a movie, and decided I wanted to be an actress. That journey was one of the hardest things, and I don’t mean the trying to get famous or even book jobs part. I mean the research, the studying, the self-exploration, the creativity it takes to embody a whole new person and make that person real and whole and true. I liked acting, but friends, I just didn’t love it enough for the amount of hustle it entails. So I was content to work as an extra for a season, and hang out in the background, eating junk food and hanging out with my friends who were extras.

That last experience yanked me back to my writing roots. I’d been writing crap on and off this whole time, but often abandoned stories about five thousand words in. Then work got too demanding and I couldn’t write if I wanted to. But being on set? It’s like being IN a story. And I guess the combination of background work and acting classes woke up my creative mind. I also went back to my roots. I love writing love stories. The day I woke up and said “I’ll just write a love story,” things clicked. And the words began to flow.

I finished my first novel since 2006. It was a hot mess. It still needs work. But I did it. I DID THAT.

I started writing it without the intent of pursuing publication. I was rusty. I was out of the loop so I didn’t have critique partners or a writing community to guide me through. This story was meant to be fun. But then it kept growing and developing into something more. Something that someone else might want to read. So I changed my goal. And started working harder. I found critique partners. I began studying the craft again. I wrote and revised and wrote and revised… and there is STILL work to be done.

But it feels like home.

I often lament about the publishing journey. It’s hard, and the constant NOs and rejections and “go back and try agains” can really do a number on one’s self esteem and dreams. I tried to quit writing again last summer after a heartbreaking rejection. I moved all my documents to the recycle bin. I muted all my writing friends on twitter and facebook. And I grieved. and I can’t think of a time when I felt more WRONG in my life. I’m a writer. I have to write. So I decided, I can write, but I’m done with publishing. My manuscript was with agents and I was seriously considering pulling them off submission, and settling into my “real” life of freelance and contract editing, cleaning up cat poop and vomit, and trying to figure out where to put all my stuff. I have a lot of stuff.

But something kept giving me hope. My writing friends pulled me out and pushed me. They put things in perspective for me. They told me to send my work to them if I felt like deleting it again. (I did have to do that, quite a few times.) Those conversations often blew up into encouragement. And so I lived to fight another day.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

I had a few more close calls earlier this year. Not quitting writing, just publishing. But remember, I still had those manuscripts out with agents. Something told me *not* to pull them off submission. Instead, I focused on my recovery and brainstorming TWO new books (which is wild, because I was scared I had nothing else in me), watching Netflix, sleeping all the sleeps, and catching up on reading.

I’m glad I didn’t pull them. I’m glad I didn’t quit. I’m glad I saw a McDonald’s commercial with a little girl who reminded me so much of little me (with better hair), and a brown father. I’d NEVER seen that before. Ever, ever, ever. That commercial touched me so much and reminded me how much representation matters. I’m glad I kept going, and that I *will* keep going.

Because friends, I’m now repped by Caitie Flum of the Liza Dawson Associates, and I could not feel more excited to be working with her! I’m so thrilled that she gets me and my book, she is a fierce fighter, and looks out for her clients. I’m eager to see where this journey will take us.

I still have a long way to go to realize that NYT best-seller dream. A lot more work, a lot more angst. But now I have an advocate, someone who believes in me, even when I might not believe in myself. (That happens a lot in this industry.) In the meantime, I’m so happy to be part of #teamcaitie!

edging back to normal.

Sunshine girl!! #selfie #nofilter #lilrongal Happy Friday! 😊☀️

Hello all!

Just felt like making an update because that’s what you do, right?

I’m heading to the tail end of my recovery from surgery. I can still remember those first few weeks, when sneezing and coughing was torture, when I had to be so careful getting out of bed and walking, and when I had to take my narcotics and ibuprofen every 6 hours to keep the pain at bay.

These days, my sleeping schedule is still a hot mess. I’m slipping back into freelance work, but maintaining boundaries when it comes to that. I still spend a lot of time watching Netflix and YouTube, but that’s OK for now. Right?

Some stuff’s happened since I last posted. My emotions have stabilized; I’m no longer on the brink of tears for whatever reason (likely hormones). I’m still having the hot flashes though. That’s interesting, let me tell you. As I said, I’ve started doing some freelance work again. I’ve started going out. Not often. I go to my therapy appointment every week, and sometimes I go to get food or something. I had my first trip to Target early this week and it was fun! I found an entire aisle of face masks and I was like 😍!

Adam got into a car accident. He wasn’t at fault, but the other driver was unlicensed, uninsured, and he ran. The blue Prius was totalled. So now we have an orange Prius named BB-8. It’s cute. While at the dealership, I sat in an Alfa Romeo. Beautiful machine, but super uncomfortable to get in and out of for a shorty like me. Now the Fiat convertible was NICE. Super impractical, but I loved it.

I didn’t get it.

Obviously.

I had a write in with some of my ChiYA friends, and then Rena and I spent the rest of the day hanging out. I’m afraid I kept her up way too late, but she said it was worth it. I also went to Stephanie Garber’s book signing event at Anderson’s Bookshop and got to have lunch with bookish people beforehand. It was a nice, writing and book filled weekend, and I even got some words down! 👍🏼

The week after, I attended a bookish people reception at Becky Anderson’s (of Anderson Bookshps) home. I love going to those things. I love chatting with authors and booksellers and publishing professionals. I learn so much, and I often get to see old friends as well.

We had some unseasonably warm days, but winter is back full force. I suspect we’ll see some blizzards in April or something like that to make up for high 60s and low 70s in February.

Netflixing all the time. I’ve restarted Dance Academy twice! Now I am skipping to my favorite episodes. I started playing LEGO Harry Potter again. I’ve fallen behind on my reading because I keep rereading Harry Potter books. When I’m feeling funny about my own writing but really want to read, I dive in JK Rowling’s world because I know I’ll never come close to that.

I tried a marble black cherry gelato at Frost Gelato and now I’m craving it all the time. Too bad it’s so far away from where I live! I guess I’ll just have it again when I’m in Naperville next. It’s SOOO good. The perfect amount of sweet and cool and a touch of savory. It’s delicious.

I had lunch with my Humana boss and she seems excited for me to come back in April. The food was great, too. Berlitz contacted me about some work coming in at the end of March and lasting through May. I can see the road ahead and it’s a busy one, but I’m trying to focus only on the present and my recovery.

Honestly, this recovery and down time was VERY much needed. I’m excited to get the all-clears from my doctor so I can start yoga again, and barre and/or dance down the road. I haven’t had a bath in ages and I miss sitting and relaxing in the warm water. A too long shower still makes me feel faint these days. I’m eager for a spa day with a massage and a facial. I’m excited to travel to the writing workshop next month and I want to be clear so I can sit in the hot tubs!

But I’m also enjoying all the resting and relaxing. I mean honestly, the best time to be down from major surgery is during winter, right? Because it’s not like I’m going to many places anyway. I hope I’ll be up to a Disney World trip later this year (and I KNOW I still owe you pictures from my 2016 trip!), but I’ve also been so many times, and I take longer trips now, so I know I can take it easy and not push myself like I’ve done in the past.

I have mixed feelings about returning to real life though. Because that means cleaning the apartment. And putting away my laundry from several weeks ago. And going out more and being responsible and adulting and I don’t want to think about that yet!!!

But it’s coming. So I must be ready.

So yay, a boring life update. I know you love those. I just wanted you all to know I’m doing OK. And better every day.

Now if only the cats would USE THE LITTER BOXES instead of pooping anywhere and everywhere….. 😩

Till next time!

real or not real.

Grounds at Cawdor Castle

Dealing with a lot right now. Not only physically, although that’s quite enough. With my incision burning, my finicky appetite, random nausea, and general fatigue. At my post op appointment, my doctor told me all the stuff that went down. There was the endometriosis. But also endometrioma, which are ovarian cysts filled with blood from endometrial tissue. One of the ovaries was pretty much taken over by it. In addition, the endo had started burrowing into the muscle in my uterine wall. It was everywhere.

By the end of the year, I was exhausted and in pain almost all the time. But it felt manageable (with lots of ibuprofen) until moon time, when it got unbearable. I’m glad all that’s behind me. Even with feeling icky with recovery stuff, I am better than I was then.

Right now I feel run down and sore. I think I overdid it Friday; I sat up a long time playing video games. I spent all day Saturday in bed but I don’t know if that was enough. I’m still not feeling great. But that’s OK and expected. One step forward two steps back they say. It’s the mental and emotional stuff that’s really messing me up. This was something I’d read about happening, but I didn’t think it would affect me for the following reasons:

1. I’d been done having kids for a long time, so I’m not mourning the fact that I can no longer have children.
2. I was more than ready for the surgery. Years of painful, heavy periods and migraines made sure of that.

What I didn’t anticipate was the following:
1. Getting thrown off my antidepressant schedule because of my erratic sleeping. (I’m working on fixing that now.)
2. Feeling randomly emotional anyway. Constantly on the brink of tears the past few days.
3. The publishing journey hitting a lot harder than it should be, making me—once again—question if I have the strength to endure all the stuff that comes with it. And wondering if all the waiting and torment and self-doubt and work, work, work will ever be worth it.
3a. Here’s the thing about writing. I can’t just turn it off. It’s a part of me and I have to do it. I have to create. But the thought of teen girls like me never getting to see themselves represented because I worry I will never be good enough to get published for them? It hurts. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to think this way, but it’s there. And it leads to #4:
4. Feeling an overwhelming sense of failure. Feeling like I’m letting people down with my shitty writing. Feeling like I’ve wasted more than a year doing a bunch of work for nothing. If I keep going but it ends up being proven that I suck, then that’s a failure of my storytelling and skills. but if I quit, then an even bigger failure, right?
5. And switching gears: mourning the loss of some of the organs that were taken out during surgery, even though they caused me torment and pain for the last several years.

I don’t know which of these things are real or not. Which are legit emotions and concerns, or which are because of the flux in my hormones, my body doing its thing to repair and recover, all the drugs, my appetite being all weird, the state of the country and the world. I feel overwhelmed and I want to escape but I can’t exactly escape myself and my own brain right?

I’m trying not to think too much, trying to focus on recovery, but to be honest, I have a lot of downtime, which means my brain has a lot of time to turn against me. So that’s what it’s doing.

It sucks.

So yeah. That’s me right now. Just keeping it real, I guess.

post op.

Last week I had major surgery on 1/10. I was walking on 1/11 and they let me go home 1/12. The pic of me lying down is now 1/15. Recovering with my bear and relaxing. 😊 #lilrongal

I sit here in a haze of narcotics, which is probably a bad time to be blogging, but ever since I had my surgery, my night owl mode switched back on big time. I guess there’s no fighting what’s meant to be.

So yes. The surgery! Some of this entry might be TMI, so feel free to skip it if you don’t like reading medical stuff.

I had a TAH BSO—total abdominal hysterectomy bilateral salpingo oophorectomy—which is the removal of the entire uterus, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix. It was to get rid of fibroids and a cyst on my right ovary, and to alleviate what had become the norm for me: long, heavy periods with a lot of pain and migraine headaches.

The procedure took place Jan 10, and the lead up to it was interesting. I finished my last Berlitz assignment on Jan 4, finished Humana Jan 6 (just for 90 days), and that weekend I started cleaning and organizing my recovery area in the bedroom. A stack of books, notebooks, easy access to snacks and my computer. I made a pile of easy to wear clothes (soft leggings, big t-shirts, running pants, ALL the nightgowns). Jan 9 the hospital called with my arrival time (7am) and other instructions about where to go and park and stuff. I had a cleaner come and do the bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The cleaner was due to come at noon, which was the time I was to start the prep. Well, her car broke down and we couldn’t get a new one until 2. This was going to be kind of tricky because I also had to do my bowel prep that day. I had to start it at noon. A 4 litre jug with some sort of powder at the bottom. I filled it to the fill line and had Adam shake it up, and then I had to drink this stuff every ten minutes until it was all gone. IT TASTED LIKE A CUP OF WARM TEARS. Blech. I hope I never have to do that again!

Tuesday morning, I took a shower and then headed to the hospital. I was nervous about two things: the IV and waking up. But everyone was very nice and they all put me at ease with their soothing manner. Even getting the IV in wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, and the nurse explained why they used the needle they used and all the stuff she was doing. I had to give a urine sample and a blood sample, and I had to answer a lot of questions.

Eventually, the questions were done. Adam got escorted back to the waiting room. I felt a burn in my IV which surprised me, but they were like “You’ll be loving this really soon.” The mellowness of the drug kicked in fast. I remember turning a corner and going through a door—then waking up to a lot of pain and wondering if they were still operating on me! But no, turns out that I was actually waking up. I heard the glorious word “morphine” and somehow understood that I was to be given one of those lovely buttons. There was a lot of rushing around and me thinking “hook up the drugs already!” I clicked as often as I could until I finally started feeling relief. Then they took me to my room.

My initial room had a roommate—an old lady who wouldn’t listen to any directions. I remember thinking “well crap, I won’t be getting much sleep,” and also “I thought I was getting a private room?” I remember Adam coming in and sitting down at one point. But then she fell asleep and I fell asleep. But even under heavy drugs, I’m a light sleeper, so anytime someone came into the room, I came alert. But then there was good news: a private room had opened up for me. Hallelujah!

The first afternoon and night was a blur of nausea, pressing that magic morphine button, being REALLY thirsty but only allowed to use a sponge, loving the catheter, and these things that squeezed my legs all night to keep me from getting blood clots. My nurse was named Young and she was very good. A lot of tough love. I did come alert enough at one point for Adam to tell me:

1. What they thought were fibroids was actually an astonishing amount of endometriosis. There were fibroids there, and the cysts were there but the amount of endo was clearly unexpected and large.
2. There was so much that they called in the gyn-oncologist to make sure it was ONLY endo.
3. My appendix was also affected, and therefore removed.
4. The doctor said I was a “tough tough girl” and she didn’t know how I managed it for so long.
5. There were photos.

By the time night fell, I swear every machine in my room kept beeping. My night nurse Paul was very cool, as I had to keep calling him in to stop the beeping! He was also nice enough to dig out my earplugs and eye mask, which helped me finally get to sleep. I was so comfortable that I was able to sit up, which shocked him. The things on my legs felt like a massage, but then they started to itch.

Wednesday (1/11), I was allowed to have a clear liquid diet, but the nausea was like “nope not really.” Young got me up and walking and I walked a long time. My doctor showed up and told me all the stuff she’d told Adam, and then she showed me the pictures. Those things looked EVIL and I’m glad they’re out of me! I got upgraded to a full liquid diet but I was still feeling a bit nauseated, so I ordered clear for dinner. I slept through lunch!

Later, Young unhooked the IV which made going to the bathroom way easier! Once the morphine left my system, the nausea went away and my appetite was like HI! But the kitchen was closed by then so I had to make do with water.

I had a different night nurse, but she was also very kind. She asked if I was walking to the bathroom on my own and I told her yes. I was going every hour, 125ml every time. I think she wanted me to have someone with me but again, every single hour. The person next door to me was very high maintenance and very loud, and people were complaining about him. He was on speakerphone at 230am speaking very very loudly. And I was like “Can I not escape loud neighbors even in the hospital?” God he was entertaining though, when he wasn’t keeping me from sleeping.

Thursday morning (1/12) I was greeted with two bits of good news: I could possibly go home that day pending certain circumstances, and my diet was upgraded to general diet which made me really happy because I saw “wheat farina” (Cream of Wheat), applesauce, and bacon on the menu. Yum!

It turned out that I was allowed to go home, but not until later that afternoon. I had a hot dog and fries for lunch, then I had a nap. Adam left to take a walk and not long after, Young came in with all my discharge paperwork. I napped a bit until Adam got back, and then he drove me home. It was nice to change into my own nightgown and sleep in my own bed while he went to grab my medicines.

Now it’s 2 weeks post op. I spend a LOT of time in bed. Some days and nights are better than others. Sometimes I feel great and alert and good enough to sit up and type (like now). Others, I feel so sleepy and I get a bit sore. My incision, which is thankfully bikini cut, itches a lot sometimes. I have numb parts around my belly, and there are places that hurt if I push on them. I should probably not do that. My stomach is noticeably flatter. I sleep a lot—probably about 14–16 hours every day. I have to literally tell myself over and over that it’s OK for me to sleep so much, to rest so much, to take the narcotics, because my body just went through a major trauma and there is a lot of healing to be done. After working and grinding nonstop for months, it’s strange to lie here and sleep so much, or read, or scroll twitter. And when my brain gets tired, I shut it all down and sleep some more. I’m behind on emails, journaling, letter writing, my Self Love workbook, and brainstorming for my writing. However, I’m about 8 episodes from finishing Jane The Virgin on Netflix and I’ve read 7 new books this year and reread an old favorite already. I’m slowing down on social media posting, and taking my time responding to texts and chats. It feels weird to not jump on everything ASAP, but sometimes my brain just can’t deal right now. And it’s OK. It really is. I don’t believe it all the time, though. I have to tell myself, every single time I “save for later” or find sleep washing over me that it’s OK. It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. I don’t need to be working all the frick-frackin’ time.

My appetite runs hot and cold. Sometimes I’m so hungry I want to eat my own arm, and other times the thought of food makes my stomach flip. Sometimes I think I’m really hungry then I start eating and I’m like “nope, try again.” And speaking of hot and cold…see, once upon a time I used to wish that menopause would hurry so I could get hot flashes since I’m cold All The Time.

Welp.

Hot flashes are intense, man. But I figure if I have to deal with them, the middle of a Chicago winter is a good time, right? And I still get cold too, so yeah. I’m constantly fighting with my blanket(s). Right now, I am stable, but who knows how long that’ll last? I’m on HRT. I’m not sure if this is a lifetime thing I’ll need or if it’s just until things stabilize. I have my post op appointment with my doctor Wednesday (1/25). I need to write down a list of questions to ask her while I’m there.

Overall, I am very glad I got the surgery. I’m relieved it’s all over and grateful that I have the time to rest and recover. I’m excited to no longer experience visits from Red Sister, and look forward to seeing how my tummy looks when the post op swelling goes down! And I’m super glad I got it done before some laws or crap gets passed that would limit my reproductive freedom. Now I have ULTIMATE reproductive freedom and I Regret Nothing.

Getting sleepy now. At 535am. Typical.

Till next time!

2017: brave, bold, free

New year, new you!
New start!
New everything!

…wait what?

2017 is going to be a weird year for me. I already know this. And somehow I’m looking forward to it. Aidan heads back to Ohio on January 2, which always makes me sad. I enjoy having him here so much. He’s smart and funny and one of my favorite people in the world ever.

January 6 is my last day at Humana for 90 days. There are some rules with their contracts that means I need to take a 90 day break before I start my next contract with them, and frankly, I’m OK with it. As I said before, I’m burning out and I’m looking forward to the time off.

The most important thing, though, is that I’m having a major surgery on January 10 and will need the time for recovery. So really, the timing for the contract waiting period is perfect. I will get the surgery, use the time off to recover, and then enjoy a few extra weeks of downtime—hopefully deep into writing my next novel—before working 9–5 again. I’ve saved a lot of money, and one of my clients said they’d have work for me when I’m ready, so I’ll be OK.

Once I’m over that milestone and firmly on the road to recovery, I’m looking forward to the following in 2017:

Writing a new book. I’ve been brainstorming and making notes, and my character finally has a name I think… but I’m going to hold off until the story is ready to burst out of me and I’m in the position to really focus on it without dealing with too much pain and brain fog.

Writing more boldly and unapologetically. Taking risks. Trying new things. I really want to write beautiful books that hook readers and won’t let go of them, and I want to affect readers all over the world with my words. The only way to do that is to push through the fear, stop holding back, and write from my heart. It’s important.

Attending the Writing Cross-Culturally workshop, and learning more about the craft, spending time with my bestie Rena, and meeting and spending time with some of my most favorite authors ever. It’s going to be amazing and I’m so excited. (I will rest and recover and follow all directions so I can be up for the trip—it’s 7 weeks after my surgery.)

Traveling to visit friends. Jennifer has invited me to LA, and I have other friends out in LA who I want to visit and spend time with, so that is definitely on the docket for 2017. I’m still dreaming of visiting Ivy in Florida someday as well, and my friend S. Abdul has been trying to get me to MN for years now. Maybe 2017 will *finally* be the year it happens!

Working less, enjoying life more. I am forever grateful for all the work that comes to me. It’s given me the opportunity to do so many cool things and to be generous to those I love. I never want to lose that, and I definitely don’t want to repeat 2006–2007 financially. Ever. But I also know that I burned myself out, and I got frustrated and angry at all the working I did with barely taking time for me other than silly internet/iPhone games and Netflix. I need to figure out a better balance so I’m still doing well financially, but not out of my mind with exhaustion.

Reading more books! I have a huge stack in my TBR pile for while I am recovering and I’m so looking forward to getting my ‘read’ list back up there. I used to read more than 100 new books in a year, so this 26? I don’t like it one bit.

(Hopefully) visiting another country! The writing retreat this year is in Wales, so I might go there. Or I might go somewhere else. I do love the UK so much though, and there are friends at the retreat who I really want to see again. So we’ll see!

Getting back into shape. My doctor said that after my surgery, I will have a flat stomach. I hope she’s right! But at any rate, I really want to get back into my yoga practice, I miss barre a LOT (but the mere thought of barre makes me breathless right now), and I’d love to take a few dance classes. But I’ll start slow. I’m just ready to be back, you know?

More meaningful connection with those I love. I want to start sending handwritten letters again, sending surprise packages, and sending long emails to those very far away. Twitter is fun and all, but I want a more visceral connection. Which is tricky for this introvert who gets insecure all the time, but I need it. Maybe I’ll even *gulp* pick up the phone sometime. (But maybe just to text.)

More meaningful connection to me. This means less screen time and social media and more journaling, reflection, continuing therapy, working hard in my Self Love Workbook, and taking time to breathe and manifest good things in my life.

Working on my handwriting. I want pretty handwriting! Or at least funky, cute, and/or unique, but still legible. I know, such a weird thing to focus on but whatever. It’s fun. Also, I need to get used to writing longhand again. My wrists are so weak now and I need to fix it. Handwriting is visceral and helps me process things in a much different way than typing.

Being brave and bold with my writing, with my intentions, with my voice.

I have ~dreams~ for 2017 as well, but I’m not totally in control of those. All I can do is keep working hard and improving my craft and praying for the stars to align for me. So I will keep doing that.

Here’s to an amazing year!

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