So if you didn’t notice I ran away from home, I’m a-ok with it. You have a beautiful, messy life of your own to live, and no doubt, it is throwing you curve balls, because that’s what life does best, I mean, besides giving us love and flowers and carrot cake and the occasional flu. But I did indeed go into hiding for a bit, sometime around July.
I’m not gonna lie. I did it because life had been super hard, and I was on the verge of breaking. My momma got stage three breast cancer. I lived with her during the treatment, and I will tell you, watching her suffer like that was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I will never, ever get over watching her cry as the nurses wheeled her into surgery. We all think our parents are gods, or at least many of us do, but my mother’s cancer showed me the vulnerable child in her, a child I desperately wanted to protect and couldn’t. It was a great gift, but it was also very, very painful. As if that weren’t enough, in the middle of my mother’s cancer treatment, my brother, who is one of my best friends, had a massive heart attack, which killed him twice. He was dead for four minutes. They were able to revive him, thank God, but all of this, and other more personal suffering, left me feeling like a husk.
Truth be told, I was also having a hard time adjusting to being in the public eye much of the time. Not that I’m anywhere near famous, but when I started selling books, I went from invisible to fairly visible overnight, and the constant output of emotional energy was hard for me. As laughy and dancy as I can be in public, I’m truly a loner at heart. I wasn’t taking the time I needed to recharge, and I was about to wither up and blow away. So I told my dear friend, Beth Kephart, how I was feeling, and she gave me the courage to go off the grid and hide in a cabin in Colorado for as long as it took to get back on my feet. I spent tons of time praying in that cabin. Lots of time meditating. And most of all, I wrote.
The truth is, in addition to feeling overwhelmed, I’d also lost touch with the passion that brought me to writing in the first place. It was starting to feel like a job with no point, a full on mid-career crisis I talk about at length in an essay that will be coming out in Hippocampus Magazine in February.
At the beginning of my hideaway time, I read Beth’s novel, Wild Blues. It utterly changed my life. As my eyes danced over her exquisite prose, I remembered why I started writing—the passion, the joy, the love affair with words. Beth is one of the few people I know who hasn’t lost an ounce of that after becoming a writer who publishes regularly. Even after publishing 23 books and being a finalist for the National Book Award, she has managed to keep her eyes on the prize. And no, the prize isn’t the National Book Award, or any other accolade. The prize is the words themselves, the glorious, heartbreaking, mysterious process of bringing art into the world. Her words are always wild and blue, which to me is a sacred color, the color of Krishna, the color I see in my dreams when I visit heavenly realms. Reading Beth’s work brought me back to my own words.
I started working on two books—a poetry collection called So Speak the Stars and a memoir with the working title of Butterfly Fucking, though I think my publisher will likely change it when the time comes to bring it into the world, what with the big bad F word being fairly unacceptable in most circles. After my time in Colorado, my mother and I took a month long trip to Europe to celebrate my birthday and the end of her cancer treatment. Our time together, in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, was revolutionary and beautiful.
When the time came to leave, I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. I stayed in Prague, the city that had most captured my heart as I traveled with my mother, to finish writing that memoir.
I have been waking up every day this week feeling true joy and contentment, emotions I hadn’t fully experienced in for a long time. I know the magic time away has worked. I am me again, only better.
And this week, I got some wonderful news. My poetry book, So Speak the Stars, was accepted for publication by Texture Press in Philadelphia. We will be launching in March. My gorgeous daughter, Desiree Wade, who happens to be a brilliant artist, will be creating the cover image and internal graphic content.
In this book, I reconnected with my heart. I didn’t write this book to sell it. I wrote it to dance with words again, to paint my heart in big sloppy colors all over the page. I wanted to break rules. I wasn’t even sure what genre I was writing in. Half the poems think they are prose, so there’s that. In other news, I was told by a poetry teacher early on that I shouldn’t use the word “love” in poems, that I shouldn’t, in fact, write about love, because it was cliché. Fuck that noise. At least half of these poems are unabashed love poems. It’s what I want to write. I’m sick of writing for an imaginary panel of old white male intellectuals, or for a mysterious, mythical beast called the publishing industry. If I can’t write my heart, I don’t want to write. I’d rather be a barista.
Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would want my wild, from-the-heart book. But someone did. The editors at Texture Press fell in love with it, and now, I feel as if I have fully returned to the passion I felt for writing before I started publishing. Writing isn’t about money, or big audiences at readings, or prestige. It’s about art and passion and love. That’s all I ever want it to be about again. I want my words to forever be wild and blue. I don’t care how big my book advances are. I don’t care how many people show up at my readings. I don’t care if the publishing industry thinks my words are “unmarketable.” I’m not here to be marketable. I’m here to fill the air around me with magic blue.
So thank you, Beth, for giving my words back to me. Thank you Valerie Fox at Texture Press for championing my manuscript. Thank you to my baby Desi for collaborating with your momma on this piece of her heart.
It’s a good day. I’m back.