The Blind Can See, and Other Miracles

Health shall live free, and sickness freely die.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.


Wow, what a difference a couple of days makes. Since my life is a perpetual chemistry experiment, I figured out that a lot of my anxiety was coming from a new pill that I’m now coming off of. And then, just in time for me to start feeling like the world isn’t such a terrifying place, we get news that bad writing doesn’t mean everyone will lose their health insurance AND people who don’t think any two consenting adults should have the right to get married can suck it up or move to Russia. (Yes, all you liberals out there, the world is such a crazy place, we can now tell right-wing ideologues that Russia is the place for them.)

Even Mighty Tiny Bill is celebrating.

“Scalia, thou’rt a villain. And a beef-witted, barren-spirited villain at that.”

 I personally would like to hold on to this feeling of amazement and wonder at the world for as long as it lasts. So here’s yet another antidote to sliding back into Internet Outrage too quickly (or wallowing too deeply in Internet Schadenfreude): the podcast Invisibilia aired an episode that explores how blind people can learn to see through–get ready, Fickle Readers–echolocation. I swear this is completely true. I listened to the program on my way back and forth from one of my many doctor’s appointments, part of the medical structure keeping me alive, moving forward, and sane, and I kid you not, I started thinking differently about my whole life. An absolute Must Listen To for anyone who feels like the world is entirely populated by stop signs, roadblocks, and sadistic, greedy monsters.

Thanks, Alix and Lulu, for your wonderful insight into what humans can be, instead of all the things they can’t.

And thanks to the God of Stories for making this week one for the record books.

My Life on Lupus: I Fear

The past 24 hours or so have been really shitty. That’s what I get for trying to have a life. My oldest and dearest friend Donna and I went to see Paul McCartney on Sunday. We spent major bucks to get a seat on the floor, and it was 100% worth it. Now, though, I’m barely functional. And whenever that happens, the fear starts creeping in:

I’m all alone. I’m going to die. I have to take care of myself, my son, my house, and there’s no one around to help me.

It doesn’t make matters better that I’m terrible at asking for help. I’m a bona-fide loner and always have been. I hate the fact that I can’t earn a living like everyone else. I hate the fact that my husband has to be the sole breadwinner. I hate the fact that when I’m laid out, my husband has to do everything after a long day of work. I hate the fact that death happens and separates us all from each other. And I really, REALLY hate the fact that what should have been a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime experience sitting twenty rows away from Paul McCartney has to wind up with me lying on my back wondering what it’s going to be like when I’m completely debilitated and my entire family is dead. (Okay, yeah, that’s not really going to happen. That’s the lupus sinking its teeth into my psyche. Still, it’s hard to talk myself out of this sort of thinking when it really gets going, and the juices of depression and fear just won’t let go.)

Anyway, today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m posting one of my creative pieces on my site. I wrote this about fifteen years ago. It never got picked up by any of the literary journals I sent it to, probably because it’s too long and rambly and sometimes it’s a little too cute as well, the humor a wee bit forced. I want to post it here, though, because I can’t submit it anymore, I can’t work on it anymore, yet I still want it to be out there. We lupies don’t really have a pool of literature, and we need one, if only to make people understand how confusing and lonely lupus can make you feel. Also, I don’t want to feel like I contributed nothing, have no written legacy anywhere, except for a few poems and essays and a little tiny chapbook that only sold 100 or so copies. For a self-absorbed writer like me, that completely sucks donkey balls.

The essay is under Miss Fickle’s Lupus Story now. Please read if you’re interested.

The Goddamned Writing Life: Submitting to Contests When You Know You’re Going to Lose

Ah, the submissions game! That nasty sport that comes with a double-edged sword. If you’re a writer and you want to have something resembling a career, you have to participate, but you also have to be secure enough with the knowledge that you will be hacked to pieces over and over again for each chance you get to win. It’s a messy business. Usually, the more you submit, the easier it gets to take all those impersonal rejections, but then again, the process itself forces you to be vulnerable. Here is my manuscript, you say as you bend the knee to an editor, agent, or slush-pile reader. It is the best work I’ve got. I submit for your judgment and approval.

I submit, I submit.

Even when publishers and other receivers of written work are as nice as they can be about the system, the submission of a manuscript and the submission to authority are still intertwined in an uncomfortable way. And when it comes to writing contests, that discomfort increases a hundred fold–at least if you’re me.

See, I don’t like to lose. I REALLY don’t like to lose. I was one of those little kids that accumulated ribbons and certificates and teacherly praise. That was my identity in school–the winner!–and if there was no way in hell I could win (say, in P.E. class, where I was flubby and slow and didn’t like having things thrown at my face), I let other people compete and hovered near the sidelines in the hopes no one would see me.

I don’t like having to do that with my writing. I really REALLY don’t like the idea that I have to compete with hundreds of other writers–some with well-established careers and several books to their names–to get a chance to, say, publish a book of poetry, or even a chapbook. That seems patently unfair to me. I realize it’s the system, but it also seems like the reverse of vanity publishing: instead of paying a fee to get your work published, you’re paying to get someone else’s work published.

Of course, you might win the contest. You might also win the lottery or get into Harvard Medical School–your odds are roughly the same, or maybe slightly worse. Most small publishers are looking for maybe a handful of titles per year. Some are looking for only one. One out of a pool of hundreds of manuscripts–500, 750, maybe even more like a thousand. And you have to pay for the opportunity to lose big time. Christ. Why am I even thinking about going through this humiliating process again?

Well, because I have a chapbook manuscript to send out. Actually, I have two. One is arguably better than the other, but it would be nice to get something published again. And yes, I did beat the system once. Several years ago, I got published by Finishing Line Press, a small press based in Kentucky. It was a wonderful feeling to say, yes, I have a book out–a little, tiny book, but something that’s all my work. Finishing Line publishes a long list of titles per year. They have a contest, but they also choose titles (like mine) that don’t make the cut but that the editors still think are worthwhile. They are not gatekeepers and have given many writers a chance to get their work out into the world. I’m thoroughly humbled and grateful that they gave me my first break. I’m not so sure how I would have fared otherwise.

So why am I shopping more manuscripts around again, when the same clunky, resource-eating, soul-crushing contest system is still in place? Well, I guess part of it’s my eternal optimism. (Hah!) Part is understanding that, at the very least, the contest fees I submit help the publications and presses that I want to support. Just this weekend, I sent one of my manuscripts to a contest, and I know I’m going to lose. No, really, I KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that I will NOT be taking home the prize, nor will I get a mention on the list of notable entries, either. Still, I like the press, and I like the editor who runs it. So I decided to take a chance, because it’s always possible that lightning could strike, and because it’s nice to help out a good organization.

In this day and age, I don’t know if that makes me a Pollyanna-style idealist or a chump. But that’s what I did, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do until I get lucky again or run out of stamina or disposable income. That is the news from my writing world that I submit to you, Fickle Readers. Wish me luck.

Let’s Look at Pictures! Inaugural Edition

What a crappy, crappy week. Screwed up meds. New diagnoses to deal with. Scrambled brains that leave me with the concentration of a 3-year-old. Not to mention the fact that our universities are turning out liars at the graduate level, Wisconsin is trying to kill the tenure system, and the Duggar child abuse scandal keeps getting worse and worse. (If you’re interested in commentary about the situation without all the salacious details, try this article from Sometimes the world just seems like a shit platter, and when that happens day in and day out for months and months, it takes its toll. So instead of stoking the flames of my Inner Outrage by ranting until I’m ready to start gnawing throats out with my teeth like some Internet-addicted cyberzombie, I decided to post some pictures.

Ah, that’s much better, isn’t it? I developed a vast appreciation for snails after reading Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s fabulous memoir The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Not only does it delve into details about a snail’s existence that I never would have thought to wonder about, it’s also a profound and accurate account of the way catastrophic illness sweeps into your life and upends everything.

So now I’ve just sent my brain on a mini-expedition to consider the simplicity of a snail’s world and to remember a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I feel more emotionally stable already!

Let’s try something else. Ever google your own name?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. I google both my real name and my fickle name constantly. A couple of days ago, because I was feeling adventurous, I decided to google-search for images and not just web pages. And what a treasure trove of amazing mish-mashery I found! Most of the hits had absolutely (and refreshingly) nothing to do with me, but sometimes–like a Tarot reading–they seemed to be speaking to issues burbling around under the surface of my awareness.

Take this post on Pandora’s box by blogger Tabatha Yeatts. We  all know the story of Pandora: first woman in the world opens a box and releases all the world’s evils. Usually, the story is interpreted as yet another in the long line of myths trying to justify why women are treated as inferiors. Yeatts, however, doesn’t focus on the story as much as she gives us a collection of Pandoras–women of many times, traditions, and attitudes. (All very European, however, and all with the usual Caucasian belief that the universe was forged around their concerns.)

What I love about looking at Yeatts’s visual list is that the women remind me of me: pale, pathetic, bedraggled me. Me in my blue nightgown sitting at my laptop, thinking I can just check my four email accounts and maybe my Twitter feed, and then off to bed I’ll go!

when really I know I’m going to stay up all night and imbibe from the stream of electric horrors rushing by, even as I keep telling myself I need to stop,

until eventually I’m hunched over my box of infinite outrage and won’t let anyone else keep me from it.

Yup, this is me, all right. Quite apropos, Google. I should have realized you’d know me so well, since we’ve spent so many hours of my life together.

Also apropos that you (and Yeatts) would know the perfect way to soothe the indignation-weary soul in the digital age.

Thanks, universe. I absolutely needed that.

How Not to Submit Your Writing: Beatles Edition

Had to share this wonderful and absolutely accurate tweet, created by Jennie Goloboy and riffed on by Lars Doucet. Writers, take note:

Of course, for the sake of editorial nitpickery and Beatle fanatacism, I have to say that the author of this query letter ought to be J.P. McCartney. But in my own mind, I fan-wank this oversight by noting that, as the letter’s author seems terribly insecure, it’s possible that he signed his literary friend’s name to try to increase his chances of getting his query looked at. (John did write a couple of books, after all.)