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If I were dying.

6 March 2009

Someone asked me today how I would feel if I were told I was dying. Actually, I’d welcome it. Not that I’m feeling suicidal. I’m just worn down and worn out. Have been for years, I think. Nothing major is wrong, unless it’s wrong to be a dreamer stuck in reality. I’ve never cared much for reality, but no matter how much one tries to avoid it, it’s always Right Here.

I’ll turn 50 this December. When I was 20, I had dreams of becoming a published writer. A few of those dreams came true with the small press publication of 25+ fanzines and even a professional novelization of a teleplay in A Fandom That Shall Remain Nameless And Is Dead Anyway.

In my 30s, my writing partner and I submitted and sold – in one try – a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I’ve been told this was nothing short of a miracle – that the old goat was infamously difficult to sell to. There was so much you couldn’t write about if you were sending it in for her consideration (not to mention her minions that you had to get past before a mss even got to her), it was hard to find something to write about.

I met MZB at one of her convention appearances, but I much preferred Anne McCaffrey. She greeted fans as if they were friends and understood their attachment to her characters – she was attached to them too. She told the best stories of her home in Ireland and its horses, and was someone you felt as if you already knew the moment you met.

Unfortunately, MZB didn’t quite make the same impression. She sat at her panel table on high, coughing and hacking overtop the other panel members, constantly sipping water and appearing as though she was on her death bed (at least 10 years before she died). I wasn’t impressed, but She Had The Power, and so we submitted work to The Egotistical, Eternally Opinionated Old Bat Residing In California.) At the time, it was an exercise in, “Let’s send this in and see what happens.” Much to our surprise, it got us something like $300. Not bad. I only wish we had kept going.

In my 30s, my writing partner and I were building a good foundation. We had talent. We were selling. And then my partner stopped writing. Our work was much better together than it was individually, and so I waited.

Thirteen years later, I’m still waiting. And mourning what might have been. What good is that? Common sense said move on without her. My heart said I couldn’t. Stupid heart.

So. Dying.

I haven’t a deathwish. I’m forging ahead, learning to write in new genres after having wasted so much time – literally years – believing and then hoping my partner would once again settle before a keyboard.

I know I can do the writing by myself. I’m even pretty sure it would sell. Because I’m the one who marketed those zines and yeah, they sold. For five years, they sold. I’m the one who outlined everything and write the first drafts and edited the final drafts. I’m the one who has the Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Writing Emphasis – I know what I’m doing.

I only wish I’d done it earlier.

So yeah, I can do it. But my heart’s not in it.

Oh, my heart’s still in writing – I can’t not write – but something has died on the submitting, the hoping, the waiting. My energy, my competitive soul has been squashed flat somewhere along the line. And not just as it comes to submissions. It seems to have filled my entire life.

Some people would call this depression. If so, I’m too tired inside to get help. I don’t want to die, per se. I would like to have a life before death and don’t know how to get off the hamster wheel. After this long, I just stay on it and keep paying the bills.

I’m only one person alone, after all. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t do writers’ groups – too many egos, too many politics. And I had enough master classes in college, I really don’t want critiques over tea…or to face the egotistical local writer who began the group because he wants to pontificate about technique.

So, if I were told I was dying, I wouldn’t mind very much. Because all I see in front of me are twenty more years of slogging through an 8:30-5:00 job, five days a week, 49 weeks a year. Living for those three weeks of vacation where I can sleep in. Waiting until Social Security kicks in and I can begin withdrawing from whatever IRA or 401K still has pennies in it. If the world doesn’t end by black hole, meteor, volcano, nuclear winter, famine, whatever before January 2030.

I haven’t a husband. No children or grand-children. I’ll leave behind no hostages to fate when I go. No one to worry about. My property, in total, is left to that same writing partner if she survives me. If she doesn’t, it all goes to the local Tibetan Monastery. The spoils of my life are small: a house that will be paid off two years after I retire, a grandfather clock, 200+ biographies on Oscar Wilde, 2000+ other books, my Sherlock Holmes collection, a harp, and whatever cat I have at the time.

I’m glad to leave no one behind. No one to worry if they’ll be okay the rest of their life.

So no, I wouldn’t mind dying. I’m not a morning person – or a mourning person – and I think it would be restful to finally close my eyes, to exhale and just…not…inhale…again. No one would miss me. Oh, perhaps my writing partner would, a little bit. But if my parents were already gone…no one would miss me.

At 50, I have no illusions that I’ve ever belonged in this world, or to it either. So why would I want to stay? If I had money and the option to travel – to see London again, to immerse myself in the British Library Reading Room, to properly tour the British Museum, or tour the Cotswolds or settle in a tiny village in Wales…to have the luxury of time to actually have a life, then I’d feel differently.

But this is no life. This is surviving. Millions do it every day.

But only yesterday five more people were laid off at work (this looks to be a semi-annual occurrence in September and March until things improve). The rest of us remain behind to keep our heads down, attempt to not attract the local equivalent of the Eye of Sauron, and continue to do our jobs…and those of the laid off as well. Next week will be the same as last week, which will be the same as next month, and next year if my employer is still in existence. And if they are not?…

Then I will submit manuscripts to a certain publisher who will probably buy them. And I will write more. But I will not make enough to see London or Stonehenge again. I won’t have the luxury of learning proper calligraphy in a university class (the nearest university is 100 miles away), or the proper way to create an illuminated manuscript until I am dead.

I suppose I could join the local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism – their members know how to illuminate – but can you see a 50-year-old saying, “I want to play in your pseudo-medieval world”? Select a persona, dress up as a nun, and kowtow to the local lords and ladies while I earn my place among those who began playing the SCA game in college, and now are raising their children/grandchildren in it? Who wants to watch someone like me make a modern fool of themselves?

A monsignor once assured me that, in heaven, one can study and learn anything one likes. If you fancy painting, you can learn at [pick an artist]’s elbow. I hope he was right, and that there are medieval monks from ancient monasteries willing to teach a girl how to draw magnificent letters and designs.

I’m also told if I would convert to Catholicism, I could become a nun and create such manuscripts now. Alas…I have experienced one failed marriage already; I think it would break my heart to marry God and have it end in divorce as well.

So. Dying. The ultimate end or the ultimate in creative freedom. Either way, I will be much happier than I am now.

So, while I am not suicidal, if Azrael came to call tonight, I wouldn’t hesitate to take his hand. I would so dearly love to go home and, finally, have a life. Even if that life were after death.

Security vs. Keep Trying

3 March 2009

There are times I wonder why I can’t simply be contented with where I am. Why I can’t put the dreams of writing aside and settle into the mundane security of being a graphic designer?

Instead, I struggle to learn a new writing genre. To silence the voices within that say, “Why bother? You’re too old, too tired, too ignorant.”

When and why did ‘just writing’ stop being fun? And how do I get that back again?