Monday, May 11, 2015

JOURNEYING INTO THE UNDERWORLD WITH LIBERACE



 



As you may recall, I moved to New Mexico recently. Much of the reason I came here was to put a thousand-plus miles between myself and the shadow of grief, sadness, loss, chaos, and catastrophe that surrounded me in my small Maryland town.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d done a lot of happy living in the twenty-three years I spent there with a husband, a mother, two kids, three houses, several careers, lots of friends, and four dogs – all while I had two legs. But after my marriage was long over, my mother gone, my kids launched, and my leg chopped off, I was faced with a decision:  Should I stay? Did I even want to? Would it be better to start over in a place that didn’t remind me – every day and everywhere I turned – of everything I’d lost? After a great deal of thought, I decided to go for it. Yes, moving across the country would cost a fortune and I would miss having Arleen and my kids as an almost daily part of my life, but I knew I needed to start over. Now that I’ve been here a few months, I know without a doubt that I made the right call.

I came here to heal in every way a person can – physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally, financially, and spiritually. It’s been over three years since I got home from the hospital, and I suppose that seems like plenty of time for a person to get their shit together. But the truth is, I didn’t get a lot of healing done during that time. I never had the opportunity. I bounced from one emergency to the next during those three years. My mother died. My son dropped out of college. I ended a decade-long relationship with my publisher and had to find a new one. I had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. I lost my house. I had to move. I experienced PTSD. I did rehab, learned how to live with a disability, then experienced intense pain and another major surgery. The IRS came after me. My  former husband filed a court motion that led to ten months of legal fighting. It went on and on and on, giving me no room and no time for healing. All I could do was focus on surviving the current day so that I could wake up and try to survive whatever came next. By the time I left Maryland at the beginning of 2015, I was depleted on every level. I had nothing left for myself or anyone else.

New Mexico is bringing me back to life.

With just a few months of sunshine, peace, silence, and beauty, my creative juices are surging. I’m on fire with stories and art projects. After three years of doing battle with myself just to put one sentence at a time on the laptop screen, this rush of creative energy is an embarrassment of riches. But I’ll take it.

I’m getting physically stronger, too, and bouncing back emotionally enough that I’m not worried some horrible crisis is just around the corner. Eight months after my hip reconstruction, I am walking in public with my canes again, not paralyzed with fear that I will fall. It feels wonderful.

Money will begin flowing into my life again by the autumn, which will mean I can focus on growing my career and challenging myself creatively instead of merely surviving month to month.

And most interestingly, my instincts and intuition are off the chain these days. I am sensing and knowing things not supported by real-world evidence, and many of the things I “know” eventually show up right in front of me. The guidance I receive in dreams, during meditation, or by being still in nature can manifest in my life a few days later, surprising me with how accurate the connections are.  You may be wondering . . . has she always been this whackadoodle? No.  I used to think those who claimed to sense “energy” and “vibrations” were odd if not outright nut jobs. And yet here I am, plugged in to something I never used to believe in. Did almost dying somehow reset my brain, leaving me more sensitive? Hey, why not? All I know is my ability to receive information from the universe has expanded, and I didn’t even realize how much so until I found a little peace and quiet.

For those of you who have spent any time in New Mexico, you know I couldn’t have picked a better place to get my New Age on. (Shirley MacLaine owned a ranch not far from where I live.) And I certainly have found some kindred spirits here, especially among my classmates in a Native American “Shamanic Journey” course I’m taking. For those of you not familiar with the concept, it’s a nature-based spirituality of transformation and healing, an awareness of the sacred all around us. In a recent class, we participated in a lengthy guided meditation in which we met our animal spirit guides. (A subject for another blog entry.) This journey was designed to take us down to the “lower realms,” of our psyche, the home of our deeply buried issues and motivations.

Just as we were about to begin, our instructor gave us a heads up:  she was using a new iPod dock for the background music, and she hadn’t quite mastered all the bells and whistles, which would pose a challenge in the dark.  “So if you suddenly hear Liberace in the middle of the meditation, I apologize,” she said.

I spoke up. “I’m not sure I'm comfortable journeying into the underworld with Liberace.”

Everyone laughed.

Making people laugh: another sure sign I’m coming back to life.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

THE BEAST



You know that frustrating feeling when you're peddling away on your exercise bike and your leg falls off? You know how when the lip of your socket gets snagged on the edge of the bike seat, which breaks breaks the suction, which causes your leg to fall off? Know what I'm saying?

Unless you wear a prosthetic leg, you probably DO NOT know what I'm saying. You probably don't even know that this is a thing. But that's been my experience with exercise bikes: a few go-arounds and my leg falls off. And let me tell you, it's hard to get in a decent workout while a ten-pound fake leg falls out of your sweat pants and jams the gears.


My first recumbant bike 

My kids got me a bike the first Christmas after I got home from the hospital. It was a cute little thing, but I had a hell of a time trying to figure out a way to keep my leg from flying off when I used it. I tried taping extra padding to that side of the seat. I ordered this girdle thing from an online amputee store that fits over your leg, wraps around your waist, and is supposed to keep it in place. I had hit-and-miss success. After consulting my prosthetist and physical therapists, I had to face the truth:  due to the uneven shape of R.L. and the design of my prosthetic,  it was a problem I would likely always have when using eliptical-motion exercise machines.

That's when an intense and unholy craving entered my psyche. I kept thinking . . . if only I could own one of those giant-assed machines I got to use in physical therapy. The industrial-sized beast was butter-smooth in its motion, easy to get off and on, and easy to maintain contact between my prosthetic foot and the pedal.  But most importantly, because the motion was a linear back-and-forth instead of a round-and-round, my leg never fell off.

Oh, how I pined for one of those machines!

I am happy to report that after all this time, I just got myself one. She was delivered last weekend.  I call her THE BEAST and she sits in the corner of my bedroom where I can watch TV and ride. I swear, the first time I got on board I felt like I was climbing into a Cadillac Escalade while Trae's rap classic "Ridin' Dirty" pounded through the house: "They see me rollin';  they hatin';  patrolin' and trying to catch me ridin' dirty."

The Beast 


So twice a day I hop on my luxury SUV of exercise bikes and give her a go. I can barely describe the sense of freedom I feel with both my legs moving in concert, equal pressure on both sides, no worries about my leg falling off.  I am slowly building up my resistance and time. I keep a little notebook nearby where I can write down the details of each ride. I know that THE BEAST and I have only just met, but I'm looking forward to a long and healthy relationship.

I'm rollin'. Ridin' happy.




Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Enchanted Progress

Greetings from the Land of Enchantment!  Let's be clear about this: I'm enchanted by New Mexico. I love my new home and the beautifully peaceful surroundings. I already know I am going to get a lot of writing done in the next couple of years. I feel it!

I finally turned in my novel, MOONDANCE BEACH, which will be released in September. It is the third book in the Bayberry Island series, and my editor said it's the best thing I've written. (I'm not sure how that works. Is that like your mother telling you that you're the most beautiful and talented girl in the world? Hey, I'll take it.)

Book #1
Book #2 
Book #3


I have to say, these are the most stunning and cohesive book covers I've ever had, and I truly thank the people at Penguin/Random House for such excellent work.

And now the time has finally come for me to finish the books I was writing and plotting at the time I got sick.  It is embarrassing to admit that these books were due in 2012 and it's now 2015. I'm talking about UNWRAPPING TAFFY, the third novel in the Bigler, North Carolina series, and the follow-up to UNBOUND (also released as A COURTESAN'S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR MAN), which I'm writing with Celeste Bradley. The working title for that novel is BREATHLESS. So for all you fellow writers out there: the next time you fret about being late on a book deadline, this will help you keep your tardiness in perspective.  THREE YEARS!  THREE *&%@(@# YEARS! These novels will get done in the next few months and then I'll be on to my next project -- with a clean slate and a clean conscience. I may have some very exciting news to share this fall about the direction my career is taking. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'm living and working in peace and quiet. Celeste rents out the guest house on the property as her writing studio, and comes up here during the week to work on her novels. We usually meet up once a day to chat over a cup of coffee, either discussing our current solo books or  future co-written projects. Or, we just get together at the end of the work day, watch the mountain change colors in the sunset, and drink wine.

It's a good life.

I am beginning to believe that these last three years of darkness, struggle, setbacks, and pain are over, and I'm turning the corner. Keep your fingers crossed for me.






Saturday, February 28, 2015

House of Sand and Snow

I won't be posting lengthy musings for a while, since I'm frantically trying to finish a book. And what is a book if nothing but one, looooong, complex, exhausting, ultimately rewarding musing?

I am endlessly fascinated by my new home, and every day I get a sensory jolt that takes me back in time. I lived here when I was in my 20s, when I worked as a newspaper reporter at one of the many defunct newspapers I've had to pleasure to be part of.  (My presence is not completely to blame for these collapses.)

My New Mexico house sits on a ridge at the northern base of a the Sandias, and from my office window I can see the desert side of the mountain range and a bit of the high forest line. The mountain changes color from day to day and often many times within one day. If I get tired of the "Mountain Channel" as my friend Celeste Bradley calls it, then all I have to do is look out in another direction. I've got the mesa to the west,  the Rio Grande Valley below, the Jemez Mountains, the volcanic escarpment known as the Valle Cardera, and the Sangre de Cristos near Santa Fe and beyond. On clear days I can see the Rockies near Taos, and the White Mountains hundreds of miles to the west in Arizona.

We recently broke our weeks-long run of spring weather here, and it's been snowing the last few days. What an extraordinary sight that is -- the snowy desert. This morning, everything has a couple inches of fluffy white icing on it:  the adobe wall that encircles the house, the split-rail fence, the cacti and sage brush. One of the most striking things I see as I write this is the thick vigas (structural wood beams) jutting from the adobe roof, now frosted with snow. If that doesn't scream New Mexico I don't know what does.

I'm lucky enough to have traditional New Mexican fireplaces in my home, called kivas. I've been burning wood like crazy, because I just can't get enough of that scent -- pinon and cedar smoke rising into the cold desert air. I write a lot while sitting in in front of the kiva in the great room. I drag my dog's bed in there so he can sleep and dream next to the fire.

That's where I'm headed now. I'm going to get a roaring fire going, make myself a cup of tea, and sit in my comfy chair and write, write, write.

I'll touch base soon.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tripping On The Red Carpet

Today is the Library of Congress screening for the documentary Love Between The Covers.  I won't be there. I'm in my sunny house in New Mexico, hanging my framed book covers on my office wall and working at my desk by the sliding glass doors. I decided I couldn't do it -- I couldn't sit there and watch myself on the a huge movie screen and then mingle with industry people and fellow writers afterward. I'm not ready. So instead of being in Washington, D.C. at 6:30 PM today, I will be drinking green tea in the sunshine, throwing a toy for my dog.  It's all I'm strong enough to do right now. 

I have been known to be my worst enemy. I set impossible standards for my personal and professional achievements, and when I actually make them happen, I hardly pause to notice. I think, "Well, of course I did that. It's how I roll." And when people comment on how good I am at something or how strong I am for pushing through some obstacle or other, I shrug off the compliment. I think, "Well, yeah. No biggie." But when I don't meet those goals? Shhhhheeeeeiiiiiit. It becomes a Susan vs. Susan smack down, and there's a lot of hair pulling, name calling, and general self-torture.  It's a battle that takes place in private, in my own head, usually at night when I'm trying to sleep. Rarely do I allow my loved ones to watch the action. 

I've always focused on what I've failed to do instead of what I've done. It's the way I'm wired.

My health crisis and recovery has forced me to stop doing battle with myself as much as I used to. So if there's a blessing in all the darkness and loss, that might be it. My illness has taught me to be gentler to myself, and have more compassion for the fact that I'm just another slob on the bus . . . I stumble and fall.  A lot. And now that I have one leg instead of two, I do a shitload of stumbling and falling. Honestly, if I beat myself up every time I didn't meet my own expectations, that's all I'd ever do with the rest of my life -- self flagellation.  I wouldn't even have time to drink tea and play with my dog. 

By moving to New Mexico, I've given myself a clean start. It feels good to be here, living alone in a peaceful and beautiful setting. I am giving myself the space to heal and write, which is the opposite of beating myself up. I'm being kind to myself. And that's why I decided I can't go to the documentary screening. I'm not going to pretend to be in a different space than I really am. I am not all smiley and happy and resilient right now. I'm exhausted. I'm still peeling away layer after layer of trauma-related anxiety. I'm still  trying to understand my place in the world.  I'm not ready for prime time, and that's that.

Old habits die hard, of course, so you bet your ass I'm sitting in a desert 2,300 miles from Washington freaking out about the screening. What will people think? There I am, Susan Donovan, strutting my stuff in a documentary about the romance fiction industry while I'm late on one book and haven't finished two novels that were under contract when I got sick three years ago. It's embarrassing. I feel like an impostor. A failure. 

But I won't go twelve rounds with myself today over it.  I will stop the fight before it starts. I'll go sit in the sunshine, play with my dog, and remind myself that I'm making progress on all the books, that everything will eventually get finished. I will tell myself that I'm not an impostor or a failure, just a stumbler.











Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pardon The Interruption

I'm alive. In fact, the way I look at it, I've started a whole new life.

I've been quite busy since my last post -- writing, packing, opening a can of legal whup-ass on an ex-husband who decided he no longer wanted to abide by our divorce agreement, packing some more, throwing my brand new iPhone in the washer, packing even more, and driving cross-country to my new home.

(!!!!!!!!)

I am typing this update from my office in my new house in the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I would post pictures, but the only camera I own went through a permanent press cycle and remains inoperable.

Details are to come.  About my new home and my new life, not my broken phone. Unless that's something you'd enjoy hearing about.