It’s been a long exasperating life I’ve lead for the past few weeks.
Chronic illness has really kicked my butt. There are days I can hardly move, but most days amount to just enough energy to get my work done and then come home and collapse. It’s been really frustrating for me, as I’ve really seen big improvement on the quality of ‘normal’ I live. To have ‘normal’ downgraded, well it’s been discouraging to say the least.
This time of struggling with chronic illness has coincided with a discouraging time professionally. I got asked to write an article on Flint recently, and I agreed. It was a complete thrill, I’ve long tried to break into the paid writing world. This would be a nice easy step. It wouldn’t be a difficult article. It wouldn’t be theoretical or making an argument. Just a short essay that explained the latest updates on the Flint water crisis for people who knew of situation but weren’t deeply involved. Easy peasy.
Easy peasy. Except–after I wrote my very best article and got the edits back, every single solitary thing I wrote except the opening paragraph was struck out.
I am very proud of myself for not sobbing, giving up, or moving on right at that point. Writers are a sensitive lot. Which is a really bad thing when the industry of writing is built on rejection. Most writers can pull out big files of rejection letters and have horror stories of sitting through workshops built on deconstructing everything about their writing. To be a successful writer, you must spend time thickening up your flaky pie crust skin into heavily calloused leather.
So I’ve done a lot of work on on myself. On handling ‘rejection’ in a way that doesn’t completely tear myself down. On taking ‘critique’ and turning it into my next fantastic essay. I was proud of myself when I didn’t break down or freak out or even complain to my W* after getting that heavily edited article back. I went out for a walk and came back feeling refreshed and relaxed. And I got right back to it. Rewriting, reworking, researching. Edit edit edit. Snip, tuck, move, insert.
Then I got another email. After consideration, it was decided the header needed to go too. I felt the doubt trying to find a crack to slip in through, but I pushed it aside and kept writing. Writing my very best. And after a few days, I felt happy with what I had and sent a clean shiny completely new article back in.
I got the edits back a few hours later–and this time, the entire article was struck through. Even the replaced opening paragraph was virtually unreadable under the dark red strikethrough.
This time, I cried. I may or may not have even helplessly fallen on the bed with my swoon handkerchief. I am a writer. I have a Master’s degree in writing. I tweet entire articles about Flint in an hour. I’ve been writing for decades. And yet, here I am, not able to even able to write a simple article giving simple updates about a city I love in a state I adore.
To make matters even worse? This write/send in/get back full strike through article cycle kept going for another week. Finally it was the due date and I couldn’t see straight and I sent in my final copy. I felt a sense of relief that it was finally done and completely convinced that I had worked so hard and so well that I surely would finally get the article/byline that I deserved.
But when I got the final copy, I didn’t even recognize my article. It had virtually been rewritten by editors. All that work, worthless. All that work, just not good enough.
In the middle of this completely demoralizing nonsense, tax season rolled around. My other job, the one that supports me, is contract work. Which means that I have a lot of freedom to do my work, and it’s work that I love. But it’s been one tribulation after another. First, because of bureaucracy, I didn’t get paid for over a year. Then, when I finally did get paid, I was so far behind on things, I prioritized keeping the lights on over paying taxes. A stupid mistake. Because sitting in the middle of chronic illness flare up, completely demoralized as a writer–I found out that I owe thousands in taxes. Thankfully, I was able to set up payments. But I’ll be paying for three years for this simple, stupid mistake that I pretty much didn’t really have a choice but to make.
And then the cherry on the pie of injustice–I’ll be paying for decades for making the simple stupid mistake of going to university. And I know this because yes, during all this drama, the school loan people caught me. And set me up on payments that will last well into my social security years. Which they informed me that if I don’t pay, they will garnish my social security.
****long protracted sigh****
I could say a whole bunch about what it means to be a woman of color business owner that doesn’t come from money, what it means to be chronically ill and dealing with guaranteed money stress for the next 30 years at least, or just being an experienced writer that can’t manage a 500 word ‘update’ article.
But at this point, the whole thing is just so ridiculous, all I can do is laugh. I am an experienced enough writer that I now have a pretty decent rejection story to tell. I didn’t just get my rejection letter like everybody else–I got the same article rejected by the same people countless times. And then they didn’t even print the final copy, but rejected it again and just wrote their own article. Top that one, my writer friends.
The good news is that I’ve been practicing a lot of herbalism during this time as well. Herbalism is the one thing that has helped with my chronic illness when nothing else has. Knowing that there are herbs that can help, that have helped eons of people in before me, makes me feel connected to humanity even if I’m stuck at home in bed. Other people have struggled with what I struggle with. On bad days, I send them prayers. And it helps, it really does.
I’ve also done a lot of reading. Including a fascinating book recommended to me about ‘whiteness’–The History of White People. I am working on an article about white people…an effort to continue developing my decade of work on the subject. I also have an article that I finished a long time ago, but I’ve since revisited and am in the middle of editing. I will make the original article available shortly.
And of course, there’s Prince. And everything I want to say about the artist that had one of the biggest influences on my life.
I am in the upswing. Life hits hard, and then life releases. And you get just a few moments to recover. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get a few days or even weeks. I am getting better at recovering more quickly.
And I am happy to finally see that this is all I can ask of myself.
See you all on the other side.