A LETTER FROM ME TO ME, ON THE DAY I ALMOST GAVE UP ON MY DESTINY(ALL YOU PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT GIVING UP ON YOUR DREAMS OUT THERE, THIS MIGHT BE YOUR STORY IF YOU DON’T. . .)

Today, this came up on Timehop as a post I had made on Facebook four years ago today.  I was struck by how much a life can change in four years. I remember the despair I felt as I wrote those five words: “What if I never publish?”
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I had been working for decades to publish a novel, beating my head against a brick wall that never seemed to budge.  I’d done everything I knew to do to make my dream happen.  I’d gotten an MFA, graduating with distinction.  I’d submitted everything I’d written (four novels and six jillion short pieces) hundreds of times.  I’d published in newspapers, journals, anthologies, and magazines. I’d won a major contest with one of my novels, got it agented, and been rejected by every publisher in America.  Which was demoralizing, to say the least.
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And then, in an act of epic self-sabotage I have never spoken about publicly before, and I still don’t fully understand, I had been on the verge of signing my rock-n-roll novel with a big New York agent.  He loved it and me.  Long story short, I had what therapists described as a seven-day-panic-attack, but what felt like a nervous breakdown or psychotic break to me. I had always thought of myself as someone with a powerful mind, but I had absolutely no control over what was happening to me.  In the middle of this hell, which I will write about in depth someday, I wrote the agent and fired him.  After which I realized something was very wrong, after which I went to a hospital, after which I was prescribed medication for acute panic disorder, after which I felt way better about signing with the agent, after which he wasn’t so excited about me anymore.  (I have no idea why.)
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I’ve always been so humiliated about the acts of gross self-sabotage I committed during those seven days, I’ve never spoken about them publicly to anyone.  (Don’t worry.  Firing the agent was the worst thing.  Nothing but my career was harmed in the making of my meltdown.)
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But I guess I’m ready to talk, because I’m betting I’m not the only girl who’s ever struggled with that kind of mental illness before.  It was the scariest thing that had ever happened to me. To know my own brain could betray me like that made me feel less safe than anything ever had.  (For reference, I’ve had psychotic men look into my eyes and say, “I love you so much, I’m going to cut your head off,” and mean it.  But psycho-boys, you got nothin’ on panic disorder.  Sorry.) And having come so close to my dream, and having sabotaged it myself, almost made me give up on my dream.  (I’ve wrestled the panic disorder into submission.  I no longer take medication, and I no longer have panic attacks.  But it took a long time to learn to control it.)
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I thought it would take me another 20 years to get my foot back in the door.  And I wrote these words on Facebook, as a tiny glimpse into the despair I was feeling.  And I signed with the most wonderful agent in the world a few months later.  Even my wacky, mid-panic attack actions seemed to work for my good, because I still don’t know another writer who has an agent who cares so deeply and personally about her work as my agent, Andy Ross, does. At the darkest moment of my life, light was right around the corner.  I know that now.
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I am in San Miguel de Allende as we speak, having just spoken on a panel, taught a workshop, read from my books, conducted signings, and performed in front of 1,000 people at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference.  I’m a real writer now.
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If only the Tawni that made that hopeless post could know what I know now.  So I told her.  And I told you, because I bet tons of you writers out there are feeling the way I did that day, for different reasons.  Don’t give up.  You might be about to fly.
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EXILE: (A MAGDELENE POEM)

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Mary Magdalene in the Cave, by Joseph Lefebvre

Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite mythical figures.  I write from her perspective often.  According to legend, after Christ was crucified, her life was danger, so she fled to a cave in France. Last year, I was invited to stay in a friend’s unoccupied home in a small village in France for a few months. I started dreaming Magdalene while I was there, so I ran a Google search and found out I was about an hour away from her cave.

I often find myself “accidentally” visiting the places associated with the mythological figures I write about.  For instance, I just finished teaching in Sicily, the place from which Persephone was said to have been kidnapped by Hades. (I write about Persephone often as well.)  I didn’t plan the trip there.  Rather, a college I often teach for invited me to teach for a study abroad trip.  I feel lucky that my life is riddled with such serendipities.

I’ve been invited to return to the French village this summer.  Maybe that’s why Magdalene has been on my mind.  This is written from her perspective, while she was hiding in that cave. It will be included in the book of prose poems I am working on, called So Speak the Stars.  (Both images used in this blog are by Joseph Lefebvre, a French artist who lived in the 19th century.  His images of the Magdalene are my favorites of all time.  If you ever want to know what to buy me for a Christmas, a print of either of these will do the trick.)

EXILE

Tonight the moon is hollow, hanging as it does a million miles away, like you. It is an empty egg, speckled with dark holes, drained of its light, like me, staring at the vastness of a night blistered by boiling stars, shredded by the never-ending specter of no-you.

My love, I have been stronger than you know.  I have fallen under wave after wave of moonlessness, ripped myself up from wretched ground, found another ounce of hope lingering in my bones, thrown it against the face of the unflinching sky, watched it ricochet back to me, screaming:

Tonight, I will not die. 
Not without him. 
Not without his eyes. 

The lines on your hands were my maps to truth. I followed them here to this hallowed place, where I have been sacrificed, unfaced, my human mask replaced with newborn god flesh. Tender, unused to cold wind and lightlessness, it wails in the night.

Our crosses stand stark,
denting the horizon.

The wrecked land has given birth to monsters and madness.  In my dreams you whispered we would have to leave one another for a while, as if we hadn’t already been banished to separate sides of the world, our flesh torn apart by dogs, our meat swallowed by crows.

In visions, I see in you in the cave where they have caged you.  Your eyes call me.

Come.
Come.
Come.

And if I could, I would hobble to you on shattered legs, sink into the rocky soil at your feet, kiss your Jesus toes, wash them with my hair, stare unwavering into your eyes, as you did on that night that has saved me a million times, unrelenting, repenting the prison that kept you from me. Your eyes whispered.

I know.
I know.
I know.

In dreams, you promise it is almost over. “Leave me once more, for one minute, and next time, we will go together,” you say, and I grab onto your words, wrestle them to the ground, mount them, ride them to heaven, hound God to return you to me this second, or else.  But what can I threaten? All I have belongs to her already.

Your eyes.
Your eyes.
Your eyes.

haunt me, eat me alive. I was always going to die. What a glorious death, to be dissolved in the relentless rain of the love of you.

Every minute without you is a thousand years. I hear your voice in the thunder. It plunders my massacred mind.  “Find me,” it says.  “Where?” I ask. “Tell me, and I will go.” My ears do not yet know the language in which you whisper the directions.

Liber numquam.
Numquam ibi.

This is how the story of resurrection goes. First comes the death. My bones love you and shudder to rise from windswept soil.  When they do, my skeleton will walk the world, find you, and fall into your grave. We will save one another. Together, we will rise at dawn.

I know what the butcherers did to me, they did to you ten times. Their crimes were seen by the God who stands just beyond that sagging moon, her hands raised, ready to save, poised to flood the world with light.

Beloved son of the rising sun, I pray only this.

Mercy.
Mercy.
Mercy.

When the day-waves come, may they wash me back to you.

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El dolor de Maria Magdalena, by Joseph Lefebvre