And What of Your Heart?

Last year, in all of 2018, I finished one short story. One.

(Granted, I wrote a lot of words on other things. Game design, mostly, because that's my day job, and because deadlines (especially Kickstarter-promised deadlines) don't wait for nobody.).

But fiction is my everything. The beat of it lives inside me like a second heart. And I've never had a year in which I wrote so little of what keeps me alive. Looking back, it was for all the reasons that many of us are struggling with: personal trauma, world trauma, the press of time and social media and deadlines, health issues, family issues, so much more. It was like 2018 (with 2017 rolling up in a close second) was the year in which all of the monsters came alive, toyed with us for six or eight or twelve months, and then ate us.

So there's a part of me that is so grateful that I finished even one story.

And a part of me that is so damn sad and angry that I let so many things take my heart away. It's why I gave a talk on creative resilience last year, and why I'm putting together a book on it. Because for creative people, making things is a form of self care and it often goes right out the window when things get bad. When we figure out how to hold onto it, to create despite everything, we should share it with others, lift them to the light and say, "look, it's still there."

I'm going to talk more about setting (and reaching for) goals later, but for now, I'll just say that after last year's awfulness, this year I have plans for making lots of things. This Patreon was one (and your support is another—because self-care is easier when others help you along the way). The stories and novels I'm working on are others. I'm trying my hand at singing and drawing (I am bad at both, but the goal is to practice for practice's sake, for immersion's sake, not because there's a skill level that I hope to reach). I am taking more photos. And baking is my new (renewed) passion for the moment (this is largely the fault of Tasty, which shows the best baking videos).

But back to the one story that I wrote last year. It's a story that came out of my sadness and pain at everything happening in the world, but particularly out all of the school shootings and street shootings, all of the young people we were losing much too early. I lent the story my voice, my siren-song of anguish, and "Salted Bone and Silent Sea," was born.

I'm so proud to say that it was just accepted for the fantastic anthology, "Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance." And I'm really delighted to share a table of contents with some of my favorite authors, including Brooke Bolander, Cassandra Khaw, Seanan McGuire, Catherynne M. Valente, and Fran Wilde.

It feels good to write a thing that feels powerful to your own process, that makes your heart come alive as you make it, that begins to heal you even in the tiniest of ways. It also feels good to know that others feel some of what you put into the story, and that it touches their heart too, and maybe helps them heal a tiny bit too.

Here's a short except from the opening: 

After our son died, I locked my voice in a box. The kind of box doesn’t matter. Neither does the lock. What matters is box and locked. Said together, like that. Throw the key away into the surf. Think better of it just before the sea claims it as its own, and grab it from the white foam, hide it somewhere warmer, quieter, more dangerous. 

I was trying so hard not to be the monster that I knew I was.

My
husband, Evan, wanted to know what I wanted for dinner.  

“Do you want—?” he asked from where his top half was submerged inside the fridge. I could hear him moving things around inside, and I knew what was in there: greens gone wet and brown, jars of liquid skimmed in algae, crumbs of bread nibbled from all sides. “Pasta or potatoes?”

I sat at the kitchen table and watched my husband’s scissored legs be cut off at the waist by a steel box and thought how none of those words made sense anymore. All those p sounds, like something small and round you’d squish with your fingers and their insides would pop out and you’d be grossed out and try to wipe them on your shirt when no one could see. But you’d still feel it and feel it, even in the shower. Even in the moments you’d forgotten about the something small and round, you’d still feel what was left upon your skin. 

My husband is a good man. Everyone says that about their husbands, I guess, but sometimes someone says it and it’s true. He’s not perfect, but he holds me up the way water holds up oil.   

Evan didn’t wait for me to respond about what I wanted, knew better than to hope for an answer. He spread too-cold butter over too-soft bread and slid it across the counter until it rested near my elbow. Nonchalant. Like nothing. He didn’t look at me. Didn’t move toward me. He’d seen these days how I startled, sometimes, like a wild animal, from so much as an implication of kindness. After he backed up so far he was nearly out of the kitchen, like a home movie played in reverse, I stuck a finger through the bread then lifted it and looked at him through the baby-shaped hole.  

I couldn’t eat anything. The key was stuck in my throat, a long bone of white ache that hurt when I tried to swallow. Or speak. Or breathe.  

***

As I was writing this, I learned that one of my favorite poets passed away today. Mary Oliver was one of the main reasons I became a poet, her work has made me a better person a hundred times over, and these lines (from her poem, "When Death Comes,") have driven me ever forward. 

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

—Mary Oliver


Everything she was as a human and a poet is everything I long to be. I want to be a bride married to amazement. I want to make something real of my life. I want to end up having lived and loved deeply in this world, in this body, in this creative space.  

Don't wait to start becoming who you will be. You already are.  

Doing the words,
Shanna