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The most important thing for aspiring writers is for them to give themselves permission to be brave on the page, to write in the presence of fear, to go to those places that you think you can’t write – really that’s exactly what you need to write.

Advice to aspiring writers from the inimitable Cheryl Strayed, brains and heart behind the infinitely wonderful Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

Pair with the collected wisdom of great authors and more advice specific to aspiring writers from John GreenErnest HemingwayH.P. Lovecraft, and Neil Gaiman.

(via explore-blog)

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I didn’t know Conor or Ava before they married.  By the time we met they were inseparable. Madly in love, creating and reveling in a bubble of passion and delight. I’ve gotten to know them better, separately and together over time. Witnessed their struggles, felt the pain they shared, and always, always the love. Over time our acquaintance became friendship—one of brunches that often turned in to all-day visits, including nail appointments, and sometimes on into the longer hours, another meal, (more) cocktails, and lazy evenings. The last time I saw Conor was on Christmas eve, at Ava’s place. Tree-trimming and drinking eggnog, laughing, tense. My final frame of him was lying in a friend’s arms on Ava’s new sectional, her rubbing his temples, him grimacing, seeking relief from the pain of a headache.

There’s a part of me that feels like an interloper in grieving his death.
I’m not a partier, not a hacker, I’m kind of a social dilettante. I don’t have years of history with Conor, but I did share a deep affinity with him. I never partied with him and piles of other people, ours was mostly a daylight friendship. Maybe I felt the darkness nipping at his heels and needed the support of the actual sun to give me courage to befriend him. We may not have been the closest or longest of friends, but when we spent time together, we did look one another in the eyes, and sometimes we shared moments of acknowledgement of the darkness. I admit that, on that fateful thursday night filled with his tweets that can only be seen now as a swansong, to have dismissed his request for company as too much. I couldn’t offer anything that night. What if I had called? One of millions of questions we are asking ourselves in the wake of his death.

Ava texted me on Friday morning to ask me to come to the hospital. She was there because of a searing, blinding headache. (Empathetic much?) At the request, my heart sank. She told me Conor was unreachable, and she had the baby with her; Jen was there, but had to go to work. Could I help? I couldn’t go to her; I had a meeting to run in SF and had to go. I said I’d get in touch as soon as I returned. A feather of knowing blew across my mind, and I dismissed it in an instant: Not today. My busy afternoon blurred right into my evening’s plans, and after the movie, at the bar, I exclaimed OH, I totally forgot to check on my friend, she was at the hospital with a terrible headache this morning. Crap. My friend next to me said, oh yeah- something happened on twitter today, but I couldn’t tell what, or to whom. My gut churned as I raced to check my phone. I’d been distracted, away from it all day. I saw a RT from Amanda Palmer, ‘my friend Conor killed himself this morning’. I’d had no notification yet; My number isn’t an obvious one on the list that doesn’t exist, of ‘who to call when Conor shoots himself’. I don’t blame anyone. This is just the tale of what happened.

 24 hours after he ended his life, I found myself standing in the doorway of his bedroom, holding the hand of a stranger, staring at the scene he left behind. I don’t want to go into much detail of what I saw here. I will say that I believe our blood holds our stories, our secrets, and I now know more of Conor’s secrets than maybe he even meant to tell, ever. Shameless. 48 hours after Conor put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, I found myself drunkenly shopping for moving boxes and primer, spackle. The tools of the triage team, volunteering to neutralize the structural damage as expeditiously as possible. Pack up his new apartment, get the details tended, whitewash the trauma. As I reached up, teetering on a milk crate on the remains of the bed frame- putty knife in hand, loaded with the first load of filler, I faced the hole left by the bullet that killed my friend. Shaking, with my new battle-bonded friend Whitney holding my legs to steady me, I filled it in.

I’m a person who knows loss. I keep a cool head under pressure, and I’m on many people’s ‘oh shit’ crew. I’m early response of many stripes, from high desert storms to bayou hurricanes, to now, suicides. Conor’s is the twenty-somethingth suicide in my friends circle in 30 years; Maybe ten of those were actual day to day friends. I minimize it because it’s hard for me to sit with, even though I have a list and I know it’s true. Death is something that’s never far from my mind, informs all of my relationships. I’ve never had to face a murder scene though, and that he did this to himself, and to us who came after him, sent me reeling.

We got his place packed up and retreated to Ava’s now-overstuffed apartment to pick at plates of takeout and stare at each other blankly. Shocking to see how swiftly a person’s whole material life can be dispatched by a team of motivated people. 56 hours prior to this, Conor was alive and interacting with his stuff, and now the trappings of his life were all in boxes, save a few items snagged by friends desperate to keep a piece of him with us. I took a small seashell he’d kept in his bedroom. Later, I threw that shell out the window on the freeway. As if to tell him, you can’t haunt me. lies. I did keep two new pairs of socks from the piles two weeks later. Evidently he’d bought a bunch of them for holiday presents, maybe? For whom, we’ll never know. Every time I look at the knee-high robots or 8-bit skulls, I’ll think of him. They had his sentiment attached, but none of his history. Good enough. It’s not like I was going to forget him, anyway. I wonder where sentimental old me went?

I spent the next three days in abject shock. A part of me could see what was happening, and was rallying all the resources she could to help the me that was disassociated and traumatized. It was so hollow and terrifying that I don’t have many words about it, other than to say I’m glad it’s over. Un-metabolized trauma is a motherfucker, something I’ve been lucky enough to avoid for the last few years. Familiar enough in its characteristics to exhume past experiences, and I was awash in deep shock. I learned in that time that, over time I have assembled a great team, and wonderful people around me who care, and are competent enough to help me through such an experience. I learned that I have grown enough to allow help. Well, then. Isn’t that nice to know.

When Arlette asked me to be her eulogy proxy and to use a puppet,  I agreed. When the moment came, and I found myself standing at the top of a rocky crag on the water, next to an urn that contains the cremains of my friend, looking up at what, 150 or so of Conor’s closest friends, I panicked. My puppet hand shook, while my other hand held the phone with the eulogy and I blubbered and snotted through the speech, blinded by tears. Not my most beautiful moment, I’m sure. I am grateful to have been able to look into all the grieving faces and find mine in there, too. That sort of mirroring blows a breeze of sanity across a crazy grief-stricken landscape.
  I’m grateful too, to have had a Cyrano, or to have played Arlette’s Neuvillette, whatever the simile, I’m glad to have had words put in my mouth for the occasion. Until today, I was mute. I’m still not sure I want this experience Out There for all to see, but what have I got to lose?

When Daed and Whitney stood to sing, and lead all of us in singing Hallelujah, I didn’t think I could take it. My own voice stopped hard in choking sobs through the song, but I managed to squeak out most of the lyrics. When I got truly tongue tied, I just turned around and listened. I listened to the other sad voices, singing hallelujah for our friend, to wish him well, hoping that he found the relief he needed, hoping, all of us, to find some of our own.  I’m tempted to slip into the trite, to suggest that the chorus is an example of how we can hold each other in times of sorrow, and sometimes we can. But the cold reality of grief is that each of us has to do it alone. Doing it in tandem with others does help ease some of the misery, smooth off some of the roughest edges, but those edges are only the edges, and the core is solid and solitary.

This morning when I woke up and looked at the internet for the first time today, I learned that another friend nearly succumbed to the darkness overnight. Luckily, it appears that she’s stable for now. I hope she remains so. I saw this friend at the wake on Saturday, a quick distracted hug in the midst of long-growing shadows. I hope that she, that we all, manage to carry enough light into the dark to find our way back. Conor did not, and while I am white-hot angry at him for so many things, I am so very saddened that he wasn’t able to see his way back. I want to offer a candle, a headlamp, a strike-anywhere match, maybe. We all need it sometimes. Maybe this will help, as I can’t think of any other way to end this: There are hotlines. I’ve called them myself, countless times. When you can’t reach anyone else, call strangers. Don’t put a gun in your mouth or too many pills, or a rope from your neck, or whatever. Here’s a small list of strangers to call, but if you just put ‘crisis hotline’ into a search engine, you’ll find a ton of people who will listen. Thanks for listening to me tonight. I do feel a little better for putting it all out here. <3

1-800-SUICIDE
http://www.crisissupport.org
800-273-8255
www.psychcentral.com/lib/common-hotline-phone-numbers/0001302


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One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not. We who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs, or seem to seek them. Who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors. We are not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.
Sometimes I feel like I had a happy childhood, and other times I feel like I had a miserable one. I think I had a regular childhood. I can very much relate to these words.

(Source: fecalface.com, via foxtongue)