Writing: Oh, 2020…

It is hard to know where to begin. The year started out with a trip to Arizona just as the pandemic was starting to be more than a whisper in China and Europe. I saw my brother for the first time in twenty years. I spent time with family and time in contemplation.

I changed jobs just as the pandemic started to hit locally going from being an ER nurse for nearly 14 years to going back to the medical floor. It felt like both an insane and a sane thing to do. Switching gears from critical care back to non-critical care felt like going backward, but what I have learned is that my critical knowledge can save people in that space too. Everyone has the potential to take a turn for the worse. The work has been just as hard or harder. The deaths of patients hit much deeper when you have spent weeks caring for them rather than minutes. Not that each death I have ever witnessed hasn’t take a piece of my soul. I’m learning that I like to take care of old folks more than young folks. They are appreciative and have good stories. They make me laugh and cry.

Being an introvert (possibly a ambivert), I thought I would have it made in the shade when they closed down practically everything in my town in New York, but I was wrong. I realized just how many places I went in a day, how much public I soaked up by just being in close proximity. Forced isolation has a much different feeling than when it is freely chosen. I did what I always do and that is find a way around it. Much of the year was spent playing disc golf and walking… so much walking. I found new places to explore in my town and found peace in nature like I had not before. I played my first tournaments in disc golf and got an official PDGA number. I even placed 3rd in one event.

In April, after spending a month writing poems from tandem prompts, I fell in love. I had really settled on being alone for the rest of my life. A string of bad relationships makes you feel like it is hard to trust and I had trust issues in the background already. The pandemic had me looking for friendship and I found that along with love. Sometimes I don’t feel like I deserve all the kindness this man wants to shower me with. I feel broken and selfish and a bit closed off when I shouldn’t. But he is always there waiting to offer solution and patience. From a distance (we live 8 hours apart), we have built a beautiful friendship and have worked diligently around every corner to be present in our own individual traumas while being there for each other. Our holiday plans were foiled by Covid, but not for much longer.

This year I finished writing the first draft of my first novel. My writer’s group at the library was a great influence in getting me back into finishing this book and my dear friends Mattea and Jerry pushed me across the finish line. It was no where near what I wanted it to be and it is currently on its third draft. In the spring, I set the first novel down to start an idea for the second one. Seven chapters into that one and I went back to the first. The foundation is laid. Yesterday, the book cover for the second book came to me while in deep rest during acupuncture. It is going to be an exciting new year.

This fall I was diagnosed with Melanoma and had a huge chunk excised off the side of my face which I promptly named Edgar Allen Mole. It started as a way to cope with this disfigurement and the fear of dying. The skin is the body’s largest organ and the most exposed. The potential for more cancer is always in the back of your mind. I was never a big sunbather, but I do enjoy the outdoors and disc golf and hiking. I only wore sunscreen if I were going to a beach with “wide open sun.” Life is different now. Hats all the time. Sunscreen all the time. No activity (if I can help it) with a UV index over 4. The hardest part was watching my kid silently unravel with the thought of losing me. That made me determined to kick some ass. Since the first excision, I have had four more biopsies with negative results. My eyes are free of melanoma as well. This year may find me having another ten biopsies, but I will cross that bridge when I get there.

An opportunity opened itself in December for me to sell all the things I make. I’m a crafter and artist. It is my meditation. It is what I do instead of take anxiety medication. I had always wanted to know if the things I made were of interest to anyone else. I took the plunge when a local store opened up that sells only handmade items from locals. Happily, I have sold enough this month to cover the rent of my spot for two more months plus some cash in my pocket. It was a goal I had for myself and I was happy to have achieved it in a pandemic situation.

Now for the fun stuff! Here is a list of books that I was able to read or listen to this year:

Poetry:
Like a Begger by Ellen Bass
Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatahil
Under the Influence of Nothingness by Dan Provost
Human Hours by Catherine Barnett
Heroin Love Songs X
Blisters on My Soul by Jack Henry

Non-Fiction:
Guest Book by Leanne Shapton
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
Girl Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Songbook by Nick Hornby
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Fiction:
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Salt Dancers by Ursula Hegi
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Oryx and Crake by Margarat Atwood
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Lanny by Max Porter
The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Weather by Jenny Offill
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Graphic Novels:
Redlands
Black Magik
Regression

Buddhist Text:
Journey Without Goal by Chogyam Trungpa

Writing: Taking Pause

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

I’ve been gone a month. A lot can happen with one doctor’s visit. It changes the landscape of an entire life. The end of August I got a new doctor, one that was local and in walking distance. During a basic exam she noted the large number of moles on my back and briefly scanned them, then asked if I had any more.

On the right side of my face between my ear and eye there has been a mole that I thought may have changed size. She immediately sat down and made me an appointment to see plastic surgery about this mole. I went and had a punch biopsy which returned positive for melanoma in situ. If you have to have cancer, this is the best one to have.

Yesterday, I had a wide excision of this mole that left a quarter size crater in the side of my face that they did not want to fully close in case they needed to remove more. Then we talked about skin grafting. Then I sat in my car alone and cried. The hope is the cancer is removed from that spot, but then there are the hundred other moles on my back that now need scrutiny.

I am not a sun worshiper. I do love the outdoors and have for many years sported a “farmer’s tan” from playing disc golf, hiking, walking and mowing the lawn. I never stay out in the sun for more than a few hours and wasn’t a big fan of hats or sunscreen. I wasn’t opposed to them, but I never thought they were necessary. Where I live, most of the population lacks sufficient vitamin D levels and I used the summer sun as a bolster to that. I never considered that I would get melanoma.

The last month has been full of not knowing. Questioning whether it was cancer or just a wayward mole. There was a lot of hoping for the best, but deep inside I knew what the answer would be. I’m a realist at heart. I know too much not to be. What I have learned is how surrounded by loving people I am. My friends have been uplifting even when I didn’t seem receptive to this. Knowing they are out there wishing the best has been helpful.

I’ve had to do a lot of pausing due to biopsy and surgery and in this I found the proper beginning to the novel I had finished in March. There has been a revitalization to my writing and maybe this comes with the fear that life is fleeting. Don’t waste time on thinking you’ll get to things later. Get to them now. Live robustly…but with sunscreen. #SPF100 for life

Writing: When you can’t write, edit.

A month ago I took a step back from producing fresh work on my novels. It has been a hard block of weeks and I wish I could say that my coffers were brimming with words, but they aren’t.

This week my two best writing friends had some exciting news. One agent took her whole book, the other had a few chapters requested. This is big news. This is years of hard work on both of their parts. This is motivation.

They have both been writing fiction much longer than I have, but it doesn’t take away that sense of feeling like I’m tagging along behind older siblings (though one of them is younger than I am). If I’m honest I have been sitting around feeling sorry for myself the last month which isn’t something I’m prone to doing. It needs to stop. Today.

I went back to the gym today and I know this bite of information seems incongruent to writing, but it isn’t. When I feel strong in my body, I feel more clarity in my mind. Though I have been active with disc golf, it hasn’t been enough to really given me the same feeling as lifting weights. A persistent foot injury because of increased outdoor activity has also made it harder to get out and play as much as I want.

Today at the gym, I got that old feeling back–the one that helps me push limits and reach for more. I started editing The Secrets of Womanhood again this morning, amid the kitten circus, but with headphones on. Sometimes I need to get out of my own way. I’m hoping to have the complete manuscript edited by November so I can have it ready for my next outside beta reader. This is my goal. Bigger muscles and bigger dreams.

Thanks for reading.

Writing: Knowing When to Step Back

This is my note wall which houses editing ideas for my first novel, The Secrets of Womanhood. It also has filled in with ideas for my second novel, The Hunted & The Hidden. What you can’t see to the right is another wall full of sticky notes for all the other projects I currently have my fingers in.

Let’s just say it is all a bit overwhelming.

I finished the first draft of my novel The Secrets of Womanhood on March 31, 2020. This novel was over ten years in the making. It was something I pulled out every year, added a few lines, felt discouraged and put away. Last year when I started going to a writer’s group, I began working on it in earnest. The problem with this novel was that in its first draft is more fictionalized autobiography than fiction. The story arc isn’t where it should be. The characters under developed because of one personal issue or another.

By the time I started the second draft, I was no more sure of what I needed to do to make it better. The pandemic was in full swing and I used this time to write a collection of poetry with a friend, I took poetry workshops online, and I proposed a fresh novel idea to my small writing group. The proposal went well, and it fell into a brainstorming session that set me on fire.

For seven weeks, I wrote a chapter a week. Sometimes a chapter in two days if that was all the time I had with a busy summer schedule of work, new kittens, and disc golf. This week I hit a plateau in my desire to produce anything. I think my over productive tendencies have finally caught up with me in the worst way. I spread myself too thin, and now I lack the momentum to get going again.

Much of the problem comes from not wanting to be a disappointment. I love my small writing group because they elevate my writing and they are two tough cookies with editing. They don’t let me get away with anything. We are brutal with each other and then also caring and tender.

(Shhhhh, don’t tell Jerry I said that. He hates feelings.)

Another part is I think the pandemic is finally taking its toll on me. I can do more social things, but not the social things I want to do. It has taken me a long time to curate friendships and I miss the human connection and the freedom to connect that we had before all of this started. We are all staying safe, but it makes me feel lonely sometimes. I find it very difficult to produce enjoyable work when this happens.

Today, I passed out on the couch for an afternoon nap. I rarely allow myself to “waste” free time, but the air was cool in front of the fan and I had a kitten curled up behind my knees. The sky was brilliant blue with cotton candy clouds. The recipe was right for recharging. It is hard to recognize in this age of instant gratification, perfection, over-production that we all need to slow down and take a break. Re-cooperation is what drives meaningful work. Go ahead, give yourself a free pass. You deserve it.

Ideas: The Untapped Potential of Dreams

Photograph by Aleathia Drehmer

I have had a lifetime of powerful dreams. Many of these I can still remember in detail from twenty or more years ago. There was a time in my life where this ability was heightened and my recall fantastic. If I look back on these times it is usually when I am under great emotional duress.

Recently, I have not been under such stress and the dreams fade away without being remembered. The ones I do remember I interpret as I believe our own minds do try to tell us things. This isn’t a post about dream interpretation though, it’s about how some of those fantastical things can be turned into short stories! Think of the potential.

I’m going to share a dream from June of 2017 which was a very hard time for me. This will eventually become a short story along with the others. Maybe it will be a book of short stories. The world is wide open.

The Dream (6-8-2017)

In the dream I am standing in a parking lot without cars in the company of unknown people and I look around for someone I know. I don’t see anyone so I go to the side of the lot and start to do yoga. I feel like I am waiting for someone. The parking lot is near the ocean and I can see the sand. I stop doing yoga and go over to the beach and feel the sand under my bare feet. I can see a storm coming in the distance. The sky is dark and grey. I am standing alone. I hear people screaming and feel wind on my back. I turn around to see a tornado coming. People are running. I run from the beach to a long wooden bridge like a boardwalk or dock towards a group of houses. I am running with other people to warn others about the tornado. We run to the end of the boardwalk and there is a house. There are several people who tell me to go down into the basement via a ladder. They tell me when I get down there to move the ice around to make feathers. In the basement, it is a small room like a bunker with a chair and a bed that is made. I move the soft ice around with my foot and make patterns. It is not cold on my bare feet. We stood there for a while with no one talking. There is a dim light in the corner. Someone opens the hatch again and says we can come out. I do not remember climbing the ladder out.

When I am out of the basement, the storm is still going on and I can see two tornadoes. I walk down the boardwalk this time in no hurry. There is a car there which has my clothes in it and I am only half dressed after coming out of the basement bunker so I grab some clothes. I look tattered and disheveled. When we are walking I see a large wooden fence to my right and hear the wind loudly. I feel the wind pushing me from behind and I am watching green trees sway in the wind. We keep walking and on the boardwalk a man who is next to me wants to buy food from a man on the side of the boardwalk. The seller is standing under a white tent. I crouch down to look at what he is selling and it is hot dogs and some other meat. The man next to me grabs handfuls of meat and gives the man money. I buy nothing. I stand up and watch the man walk away with the meat.

Writing: Impostor Syndrome

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

Last night I attended an online workshop put on by the local library, which featured a writer who was also once a literary agent in NYC. This was a grand opportunity to learn some upcoming steps I will have to make to shop the first novel I completed this year.

The business end of traditional publishing is overwhelming and I can understand why many people take the time to write novels but never publish them. Or how they never quite finish their novel so they don’t have to think about the process.

During the session, the audio messed up when it came time for me to explain what I was working on and this started my frustration and anxiety. I never really got another chance to get the same attention the rest of the writer’s received, so I felt let down. Technology is not always our friends.

This workshop has two parts, and she assigned us the task of finding five current writers (within the last five years) who we feel have some relationship to the novel we are working on whether it is style, subject, journey etc. Trying to figure out where your work would fit among those already published is hard enough. Then to ask you to compare your raw, unpublished work with those who have sold millions of copies is daunting.

If I’m honest, I never thought I’d finish the novel, anyway. I had started it ten years ago and would take it out every few years, add a few paragraphs and put it back. It was something I attempted but failed in my mind. My background has always been heavy in poetry and I have been writing since I was ten years old. My father was a poet, and I spent my life trying to capture every beautiful moment I saw to connect us in our estranged relationship.

When I started publishing poetry in the small press, both online and in print, I met other writers and began dabbling in flash fiction, short fiction, and micro fiction. These always felt like extensions of poetry to me and I didn’t consider myself a fiction writer until I attempted the novel. Because of this, I never thought about finding an agent or ever moving beyond the small press.

Having my work published was satisfying if one person told me they experienced something from the piece. This has always been the basis of my desire to publish. I want the reader to feel something for a moment… to pause or look at the world in a unique light even if it doesn’t change them profoundly.

Somehow, I lost grasp of this last night. Being vulnerable and rejected repeatedly for a novel I’ve worked so hard to complete put me over the edge. I had a sudden wave of imposter syndrome which made me want to give it all up. The thought of doing all the business side truly makes me not want to write anymore. This is sad because writing is all I have ever known. It saved my life on so many occasions and has brought me to the dearest people in my life.

After the workshop, I locked myself in my room and cried while crocheting. My best girlfriend talked me off the ledge with her kind, matter-of-fact positivity. My boyfriend asked me a series of questions to tease out the genuine reason for my fear. Together then brought me back to center. Things always feel impossible until you begin them. The thought of what it will cost you emotionally and mentally are often less than the high price tag you place on them. 

I have spent a life overcoming impossible odds. Now is not the time to give up trying. For all of you folks out there feeling down or that you are the biggest impostor in the world, just know we are all there with you. Be kind to yourself. Dig a little deeper. Work a little harder. You’ve got this.

Flash Fiction: Stitched Together

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

Stitched Together

“Do you ever have those days when you feel so disconnected you aren’t sure you exist?” asked Sound.

“But you do exist, because I see you sitting there. I hear your voice. I can reach out and smack your pouty mouth if I want to,” said Fury.

Sound sighed. “I know I exist, you asshole… I’m just saying that sensation of utter despair and complete invisibility gives the impression of non-existence.”

“How do you know you exist?” Fury asked.  

He challenged her to explain the things in the world that couldn’t be captured. He made her furious for sure and smiled knowing he was aptly named.

“Didn’t you just confirm my existence a few minutes ago?  Why do I have to prove it to you if you have already proved it to yourself?”

The space between them filled with an electric and violent silence. The conversation went nowhere fast. Each of them lived their lives as separate sides of a coin. Neither of their faces could be seen at the same time unless the universe stood on its head.  

Sound loved her brother just as much as she hated him. She knew Fury felt the same about her, but what were twins supposed to do with that indelible mark? That gossamer seam stitched them together whether they liked it or not.

“You have to prove it because I know you love the musicality of your own voice.  Why do you think we are having this conversation in the first place?”

“Fury, you ask too many questions.”

“Sound, you always reply.”

Collaboration: Poem: Generation of Guns (with Brad Burjan/2010)

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

It’s strange, but as a child I was not into collaboration. I feel like this is when we would be at our most viable to handle it. Our egos don’t get in the way. But as I have gotten older, the more I love to collaborate in some way. It pulls the mind open. It gets uncomfortable and this is where your craft grows. In 2010, I did a fair bit of poetry crafting with my friend Brad Burjan. Many of the poems we created together were published.

I would later go on to work on short fiction in a collaborative setting with people I had never met before and learning to trust where they were taking the story. It is an exercise that allows you to play and take chances you otherwise may not have taken. I started using conversations with other people to create characters for stories. Things began to have lives of their own.

Collaboration has so many levels of sharing. It can be in your face construction of a piece of writing or art. It can be subtle in the sense that another person’s presence in the room or the sound of their voice lends to creation. Often we take collaboration to be this big undertaking but it is truly about interaction with another person who has their own unique picture of the world. Never be afraid to try something that makes you feel on the edge of your comfort zone. You’ll come back happier than when you started.

Please enjoy this poem from 2010 by Brad Burjan and myself:

Generation of Guns

Sometimes these bones
are strangers, touching
each other in the night
like blind/deaf lovers.
They call each other
by name, their words 
Morse code vibrating 
into fresh cells.

Like frightened armies
cut off at the river,
they move together 
in the trenches, faces
smeared with mud,
limbs articulated
with their sentences
hovering
in the open mouth
of the air…searching.

Legions of men rise
and fall in this mist,
this place of stopped
time and stolen history,
exhaling the exposed
wounds we’d rather
not carry.

All that dried blood
of reality pools
and hardens in 
cold chambers—
in a generation of guns
now frozen in the memory’s 
trigger and I’d rather shoot 
the teeth out of love 
than admit defeat or truth.

So
I’ll just sit here
choking on every syllable
that weighs down
my throat, and cease
to resist destiny.

Aleathia Drehmer/Brad Burjan

What This Pandemic Has Taught Me About Life and Writing

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

This new website was created to be less about personal life and more about a writer’s life. But yesterday I realized that these cannot be separated. Not if you are doing it right. Yesterday I was able to participate in a workshop put on by Shuffle Collective during their Weekend of Words. This has been a free event of poetry and writing. It is something to connect us in this time when we all feel physically and mentally disconnected from our surroundings. Allie Rigby spoke about writing from a sense of place, from the environment that you belong in, and it started me thinking (more than I had already been).

This pandemic has affected me in more positive ways than negative, and I consider myself lucky. It has taken out all the busyness of my life and pared it down to what matters the most. There has been time to start a new job, to complete projects, and to finish my novel. I have had the opportunity to get closer to my child in a meaningful, more adult way. This mother’s day I was treated to an insightful letter from my eighteen year old. I’m amazed at how far they have come in the world.

In this time, I have become closer with my two good girlfriends. This has always been a challenge for me. Women have continually stabbed me in the back my whole life. But these women have given me pause. They accept me with my array of faults and eccentric behaviors. They don’t mind that I’m a forgetful hummingbird most of the time. They lift me up when I can’t see myself in the mirror and let me know that the warped image I might see is not real.

For poetry month, I did something different. I jumped on an acquaintance’s prompt train because I was determined not to write a month of death poems for my mother. Not this year. Not ever again. He has always been a poet that I admired and one that I published when I was in that capacity years ago. Every night for a month, we wrote poems as a call and response. I had never done this before. I had always gotten a prompt and had to dig up, sometimes painfully, a poem that I only 40% liked.

This was different. Everyday, I collected random lines from the world. Things from nature or memories that floated into my head. The worries about pandemic and fragile loved ones. The grief of losing a way of life I didn’t realize I had established. At the end of the night, I would take his prompt and construct a poem from what I collected. It was an organic feeling. It was beautiful. What a gift to be able to see something new about yourself and your craft. I’m forever grateful to him for this. Along the way, we found a friendship too that is more deep and centered than I might have expected. 

I’m not sure I have ever felt more whole in my entire life. All the years of grief and death. All the losses and terrible endings. All that suffering feels washed away with spring rain. This pandemic will change us all. Some in good ways and others not so much, but I think perspective means everything. This is a time when nature and universe has given every living being the opportunity to look inside themselves and see what they are made of. You owe it to yourself to do this instead of grasping at what was or what should have been.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women I know who are loving their kids, other people’s kids, fur babies, and lifting other mothers with their compassion. It’s a great day to be alive.

A Walk in the Sunshine (thoughts on the pandemic)

At the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. I was working in a rural Emergency Room with a large international presence in the community due to several universities. I had a deep and terrible feeling months previous to this pandemic and had started looking for nursing work in different areas. I had started interviewing in November.

I had worked in Emergency Services since 2006. Fourteen years is a long string of being in fight or flight mode for twelve hour shifts, most of which I spent on the night shift. My life was shortening. I was feeling like I was getting more sick all the time. My ability to maintain relationships was getting weaker. Simply put, working in emergency areas can give you PTSD that you don’t even realize you have. Front line workers shrug it off and keep going because that is what expected of us.

This morning, before getting out of bed, I read an article at The Atlantic which my friend in Alaska had posted which talked realistically about what this pandemic means for America and how it won’t be over in a few weeks. This recovery and even stabilization will take more than a year. Economically we can’t afford to have everyone lock down. People will starve, but it will be hard to determine how to bring services back without creating areas that breed infection.

These are all things you know if you’ve been on your phone or computer and at least reading non-hype postings. This pandemic is something that our generations have never experienced before and I think we never prepared for because we, as Americans, have a false sense of invincibility. When things get fixed we have a tendency to smooth them over and forget they happened. We move on. In some cases this is what makes our country great, but in others, it leaves us looking ignorant of the truth.

I’ve been thinking about how to live my life in this age of pandemic and isolation. I am not feeling too bad as I started out an introvert, but this forced isolation made me realize, despite whether I socialize with people or not, I spend a lot of time out in my community watching life move. As a writer, I am a natural born observer. It is a comfortable place for me. The shelter in place order made me a little insane the first week because I was thinking of all the things I was missing instead of all the things I had gained.

I have plenty of time to write, finish art projects, read books, cook beautiful, healthy meals for me and my child, to make my house look nice, and to spend more time reaching out to people than I would if I weren’t in this situation. What I have learned is that I had taken my little world for granted. A walk in the sunshine feels so much different than it ever did before.

In order to survive the next year to eighteen months, you will have to shift your perspective to look at the things you could gain. Can you find free online courses through Coursera? Can you be a citizen scientist over at Zooniverse? Can you start that novel you always wanted to write? This is the time to fill your life with creativity and reduce your concentration on fear based tactics in the media.

I’m still in healthcare. My child is also an essential worker and all we can do is take the proper precautions and stay positive. I hope all of you are doing your best. You are doing enough. Take care.