Friday, March 16, 2012

The story behind my story

I've been thinking about my life three years ago, back when I started putting everything I had into my first novel.

I had just quit my job as an associate editor at an unethical, toxically-managed magazine publisher. I was stressed out, poor, scared. I was also free. Given the terrible working conditions I endured (my colleagues, too) and the breach of contract my boss was responsible for, I qualified for Employment Insurance. While I looked for a new full-time job, I filled my days by freelance writing for major newspapers and real, proper magazines. I felt like a real writer again, and I was excited for the future.

A few weeks later, my body went to hell. My right foot (and eventually my right leg) was suddenly a major source of pain. It felt like someone was stabbing it with a knife one minute and then searing it with heat (and then ice) the next. My foot and my leg were constantly changing colour -- from red to blue to purple -- and I was having all kinds of strange, neurological sensations: a feeling of rushing water up and down my leg and spine, extreme sensitivity to touch, a squishy feeling as though my feet were filled with sand and fluid. An athlete all of my life, I was terrified that I'd never even walk again.

And then my left foot started to mimic my right. My doctors were stumped. I saw dozens of them and underwent dozens of tests, many of them painful, but no one could get to the bottom of my condition. Worse still, few cared. I was shuffled out of offices and hospitals so many times with the phrase "I'm sorry, but I can't help you," that I lost all faith in the medical system. One time, at 3 am after a particularly miserable MRI, a drunk idiot threw a can of 7Up at my head. "Cripple bitch!" he yelled as I steadied myself on my crutches and hailed a cab.

If I'm going to be honest (and what's this blog for if not honesty), I thought I was going to die back then. And if I'm going to be really honest, a part of me kind of wanted to.

Being unable to walk on the bad days and terrified to try on the better days, I was trapped inside my apartment for months, sometimes having to crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom. I was alone all day long, documenting my symptoms for the next specialist, re-teaching myself Mandarin Chinese and waiting for my amazingly caring and comforting boyfriend (now my pre-husband) to come home from work. I was losing touch with the world and myself, and I only knew one way to get it all back.

I had an idea for a novel that was brewing for years, back when I was living across the street from a Kingdom Hall. I had written a few chapters at a time -- showing them to a co-worker who also dreamed of being a writer -- but I never molded them into anything cohesive. I needed time, I told myself and, struggling to start my career in magazine publishing as I was, time was a luxury that I did not have.

Unable to walk and unemployed as I soon became, however, time was now plentiful. There was far too much of it, as a matter of fact. So I sat at my desk, propped my rotten leg up and got to work. I was finally going to write my novel.

It was rough at the beginning, wrestling the pain into submission long enough to get work done, but I took the good days and made use of them and I tried my best with the bad. I was determined to write myself out of the mess I was in, at least mentally. And it worked. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have those ideas to turn into words, into pages, into chapters. It scares me to think of the possibilities.

That's why this novel means so much to me. It saved my life.

And that's why even though the odds are against me now, The Weather Inside WILL be in a bookstore someday. I don't care how many revisions it takes, how many lines have to be cut, or characters re-shaped. As long as it's still my story to tell, I will do whatever it takes to get it published.

I'm thinking about those days right now and writing about them here not because I want pity, but to remind myself of the shit I went through to get this far. (And there was a LOT more shit, too. Buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it.) And to remind myself that if I wrote my first book under all that duress, that today -- in the healthier, saner place I am now -- I can mostly certainly write my second.

17 comments:

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    1. Hey Franzine. The legs are much better thanks to time, drugs, and an amazing massage therapist. Not cured yet (and still no real diagnosis) but I can walk pretty well most days. I'm practically normal! :)

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  2. practically normal is about as normal as you want to be! but i think there is something to writers having chronic pain.

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    1. Yeah. Maybe we're just too damn sensitive.

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  3. maybe other people can't feel their pain!

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  4. Holy crap, Emily... I had no idea it was that bad. It just makes everything you've done that much more fulfilling and awesome. Really, it just means your book is already a success.

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    1. That's the nicest thing I've ever read on my blog, Matt. I guess now I have to forgive you for getting a job and leaving me all by my lonesome at Second Cup. (Coffee tastes all the more bitter now, btw.)

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  5. Incredible. I had no idea.

    But I'm not really sure you're right that the odds are against THE WEATHER INSIDE getting published. It's a funny thing, but excellent books do tend to find their way onto bookstore bookshelves, and THE WEATHER INSIDE is excellent. Don't let the waiting-to-hear-back part dishearten you.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. You're the best cheerleader/editor/agent/writer (what is it that you don't do exactly?) and I believe that you're right, I do. It's just these sneaky little doubts that creep in from time to time. They make me write melodramatic blog posts and demand bangs ("thicker, damn it!") at the hair salon.

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    2. P.S. This post will also help you out, Linda. Now, when I come to New York and you notice that my left buttock is ever so slightly perkier than my right, you won't be left wondering why.

      (You're welcome.)

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  6. Fascinating post. I love the story behind your story. This is the perfect example of how the universe sometimes steps in and tells you exactly what to do. My mom developed cancer just as I was starting to get serious about writing. Suddenly I was forced to spend hours in waiting rooms, chapels, and coffee shops instead of classrooms full of English learners. Just like you, I wrote. I can't wait to read "The Weather Inside"!

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  7. I'm so sorry, Tara. (I remember reading about your mother on your blog.) My fiancé got cancer while I was working on my novel, so I can relate a little bit to your experience. (Thankfully he's doing great now.) Writing was such a helpful way to deal with the stress, don't you think?

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  8. You are a brave one Em. Can wait to buy your book!

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    1. Thanks, JGM. I can't wait for you to be able to my book. Cross your fingers for me, will you? :)

      (I see you have a blog! Cool! I'll be reading.)

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    2. just found your blog through a search for 'squishy feet' - I've been having 'pulsing' sensations in my left foot for months and recently my right too, meanwhile the squishy feeling has recently appeared in my left foot - was kind of hoping you'd have a diagnosis in case it helped me! I recognise some of the feelings you mention and I'm glad to know that you're feeling much better now. I've found a good physio too and am hoping he can help me to a similar result!

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    3. Hey Neil -- that's too bad. It could be all kinds of things. No diagnosis unfortunatley, but it's definitely neurological. a few things have helped me:I've been taking Amytriptylene (sp) because it helps with neurological pain. But leave me your email address by posting another comment (I won't make it public) and I can send you more details about what's been helping me get better.

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