My Safe Place

My Safe Place

I’ve got a sore, lumpy knot of grief stuck in the back of my throat. I feel it lodged there in my neck every time I try to swallow. It showed up when I first heard the news that there was an active shooter situation in Pittsburgh. In a synagogue.

I am not Jewish, not by birth or faith, but I feel Jewish sometimes. Like Judaism and its people adopted me. For almost three years, I worked in a synagogue in Indianapolis.  I was an administrative assistant, helping the religious school director, the early childhood center director, and the cantor. This was during a pretty rough time in my life (second only to my cancer diagnosis and treatment in terms of the wreck it made of my body and mind).

I was divorcing my first husband, a dedicated manipulator and compulsive liar who, as it turned out, refused to leave my home for months—even after our divorce had been finalized by the courts. And then when my ex did leave, he used his position at his job to target me for online harassment. The situation was abusive, though not physically so.

My ex is not the point though. I only bring him up so you can get an inkling of my state during the time I was working for Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. The important thing is not what I went through, it’s how I got through it: by going to work every day in a place filled with people dedicated to making the world better for other people. How many of us can say we got paid to go to our safe space?

I was so lucky to have had that job.

I’ll never forget my orientation when I was hired. No cheesy sexual harassment videos from the ’90s to watch. Just one of my bosses giving me his estimation of things. “You’ll find there are some strong personalities here,” he said. “And we’re not completely immune to office drama and interpersonal conflict, but I wake up every day knowing that anyone here would take a bullet for me and I’d do the same for them.”

That memory is playing so vividly in my mind today.

When I read the names of the victims at Congregation Tree of Life this morning, the words “take a bullet” started playing in a loop. And I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what if. What if yesterday’s murderer hadn’t been in Pittsburgh.

I know antisemitism isn’t new. But the stories have been more frequent and hitting closer to home lately. A University of Illinois student vandalized the menorah outside the Illini Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Champaign. Nazi flags and Iron Crosses were spray-painted on brick walls at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, Indiana.

In a statement from Beth-El, I read that they are working with law enforcement to reinforce security for the synagogue and religious school. And that’s when my heart broke a second time. Because the people that make up the safest place I can think of—safer than my own home, or the church I grew up in—are being robbed of that same sense of security they gave me, the security everyone deserves.

Dan Gets a Copy of the Manuscript

Dan Gets a Copy of the Manuscript

I packed up the memoir in a neat little Scrivener file and emailed it to Dan. It was much harder to do than I thought it would be. I know that in its current state it’s awful. It’s a first draft. I keep telling myself that. It’s a first draft. But I also know that without Dan to help me make sense of the chaos, I won’t get beyond first draft. I am well and truly stuck, incapable of even opening the file right now. (The last time I tried to take a look at it, I only got a few sentences into the first scene and cringed so hard I was practically paralyzed.)

So, yeah. Being 100 percent honest about the whole situation, I’m a little nervous Dan’s going to look over the existing manuscript and be like, “Em, this is not salvageable.” Even though my rational mind knows he wouldn’t say that even if he really did think it.

It’s weird, because I thought I was over getting apprehensive about my writing years ago. But this is different somehow. I mean, it’s not any more personal than a lot of my blog posts, and I seem to have no trouble hitting publish on these puppies! But it’s big, and it’s important, and I actually kind of need this thing to work because I’m relying on the income.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a first attempt at a book, and I know it’s not really fair to the project or to me. But, well, here we are anyway.

I’m not sure when Dan will have a chance to look at the file. I kind of sent it at a time when I knew he’d be busy with getting-us-ready-for-winter projects. I’ll post an update after he’s had a chance to look at it though.

The Memoir is on Pause

The Memoir is on Pause

I hit the the 50,000 word threshold on the memoir last week, and then I put the manuscript away. It’s very nearly ready to hand off to Dan for structuring feedback. However, there are a few reasons I’m waiting:

  • My postcard writing for the Midterm Election has been moved to the front burner. (I’ve written nearly 240 to date with address to write at least 100 more.)
  • I’m not “feeling it” at the moment, and pushing forward before I’m ready will only result in wasted effort. (Ask me how I know.)
  • I want to print the manuscript, because I need a tangible thing to craft at this stage. But my printer’s out of ink, and it’ll cost about $25 to print the current MS at Staples or Kinko’s. So, next paycheck.

While the memoir is on hold, I’m working at making videos for my YouTube channel.

Sometimes I can’t tell if things are genuinely hard (and would be for anyone) or if my brain is slower because of the cancer and treatment. For example, it took me three long, crank-filled days to figure out why my phone kept forcing videos to record in portrait mode instead of landscape.

Anyway, if you’re interested in looking at the progression of my work, watch my videos on coloring and Zentangling. They’re going to get better, I promise!

Let Me Introduce You to My Workspace

Let Me Introduce You to My Workspace

This is a picture of the end table next to me right now. It’s a little chaotic, I’ll admit. It’s maybe not how I’d keep things if I were perfectly healthy. But maybe it is. I don’t really know. I’m not the most organized person in the world. Anyway, this is the current state of things.

  1. Mountain Dew goes really well with weed. (See #6.)
  2. My phone case/wallet. It’s a really ugly imitation of suede. It’s hideous, but it’s functional.
  3. My only prescription med right now, and it has nothing to do with cancer. (I know, that’s amazing, right?)
  4. The earrings Dan picked up for me three days ago at Meijer “just because”. The are cats wearing witch hats.
  5. The double-sided Sharpie I use to write postcards to voters. One side is fine point. The other side is ultra-fine point.
  6. My MMJ vape. The changes in weather got me all like “OUCH!” I try to remember to take it every day just in case it feels like shrinking my brain tumor. But some days I forget.
  7. Vitamin D capsules. The doctor wants me to keep my levels up, and I just don’t spend a whole lot of time outside.
  8. The Sibley Guide to Birds. If you look closely, you can actually see the bird feeder out there in the back yard.
  9. An almost empty basket of Halloween candy. It only contained a partial bag of treats, but still. I’ve consumed way too much sugar in the last couple of days. (See #6.)
  10. Windex electronics wipes for cleaning my laptop and cell phone screen.
  11. Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. I’m using it as a desk reference while I continue writing my memoir.
  12. The Sassy Bottle™. Izzy likes to be a little jerk and scratch at the furniture. Turns out she likes being sprayed with water too, though. So now it’s a game and we’ve taught her to claw the upholstery for attention. Cats, man.
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In May I reach the end of my 24-month, long-term disability claim (SSDI is not going away). Meaning we will lose $900 a month in household income.

That’s a lot of money for two chronically ill people to lose, guys.

In an attempt to hold on for dear life, I’m writing a memoir and hoping the manuscript sells, creating content through Patreon, and working harder to promote referral connections.

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Our Rolling Death Trap

Our Rolling Death Trap

What day was it? Thursday, I think. Whatever day was National Taco Day. I put on my taco socks and told Dan to take me to Taco Bell for lunch.

Before we left the house, I double-checked that my auto insurance cards were up to date. See, the last time we went to Taco Bell, Dan got pulled over on the way home for speeding. And I didn’t have my phone or my wallet with me and couldn’t prove we had insurance on the Corolla.

The officer wrote Dan a ticket for speeding, but not for failing to show proof of insurance. He could’ve nailed us for both, and god only knows how big the fine would’ve been.

Anyway, even with the officer giving us a break, that freaking trip to get cheap-ass “tacos” cost us $147. So now every time I even think about Taco Bell, I wonder if my auto insurance papers are tucked away in the glove box.

Back to this past Thursday, though. All the insurance stuff was fine (I double checked before we pulled out of the driveway) so Dan drove me to Taco Bell for one of those ridiculous $5 box deals, which I would share with him. This time on the way home, the car started stalling at lights. It sputtered and shook as we rolled down a pretty busy street.

“Gah.” Dan tensed up. He threw it in neutral at every stop and had to give it extra gas as he put it back in drive just to get it rolling when it was time to go again. “Just get us home,” he patted the dash. “At least get us off this busy road.” He turned the hazards on, and cars whizzed past us in the left lane.

“Let’s never go to Taco Bell ever again,” I said. “Once is a fluke, twice is a fucking curse. Also, I’m too young to die.”

“Deal. Taco Bell can suck it.”

We did manage to get the Corolla back home and in the garage before it completely gave up the ghost. Dan lifted the hood, checked the oil, and inspected the battery we’d just replaced. “Whatever is wrong with it isn’t obvious to me,” Dan said. Lowering the hood to almost closed and then letting it drop the rest of the way with a loud thud.

We tried to eat our tacos while we watched GOP senators morph into rape apologists on live TV, only taking a few bites before pushing the taco remains away. We were mad about Kavanaugh. Our nerves were shot from the scary ride home in a failing car. And we were stressing over the financial implications. We didn’t even have the $113 to shell out for the battery last week. No telling how much more it would cost to get the thing running again.

Our appetites were gone.

Friday morning I called roadside assistance and had the car towed to the shop.  For the first time since we’d been forced to downgrade to a single-car home, we were without a car. We had errands to do, so we walked to the bodega-ish shop a couple of blocks away to get Dan’s smokes, and then I ordered groceries from Shipt for the first time ever.

I’m going to long-story-short this sucker, because I’m almost to 500 words already.

A friend of mine from the glorious interwebs, saw my distressed tweets about the car troubles on Twitter and DMed me. She said not to worry about the car, she would help. And she did. She called the mechanic and paid upfront for the repairs. No only did she have them fix what was preventing the car from running (bad spark plugs and a shot number three ignition coil) but she got us new tires too. (The tread rating on two of them was in the red and the mechanic previously given us the concerned parent lecture about riding around with bald tires while we entertained him with stories about blood and turnips.) Not long after that, a second friend offered to cover the expenses. I was speechless at the generosity.

Over the weekend I was emotionally all over the place. On the one hand, people were wonderful and kind and full of goodwill. And on the other hand, people were belittling one of the bravest women my eyes ever beheld while making excuses for a power-hungry, entitled, beer-swilling basket case. I couldn’t reel in my feelings there for a while.

Now that the dust has settled, I’m writing postcards to encourage people to vote. These midterms are so incredibly important. And I’m looking at my next MRI and checkup with the oncologist on the calendar with a little less angst. It’s coming up in about three weeks, and now, thanks to the kindness of someone I’ve never even met in real life, we’re all set to make the 175-mile trip to Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis in a car that isn’t a rolling death trap.

Emily’s Cancer Calendar: September

After this week, I’m feeling kind of weird about my Cancer Calendar series. I said as much to Dan. “What?” he asked, looking over my entries. “Where’s your workout with Tobin, PJ and Squi?”

I tend to save my political screeds for Twitter threads and retweets, but I can’t say enough how unworthy of the position of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is. We can and should find a better nominee. He is horribly unfit to be a judge of any kind if he’s willing to scream about Soros and the Clintons–IN A PREPARED STATEMENT IN FRONT OF THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE BEING BROADCAST TO THE PUBLIC LIVE–for his current predicament. And that’s just one of a couple dozen reasons I think he’s a terrible choice. The man isn’t qualified for the job he currently holds let alone a fucking lifetime appointment to SCOTUS.

Anyway, if you want to know more about how I feel about it, you can follow me on Twitter @EmilySuess.

As I predicted, my FitDesk minutes/miles significantly dropped off this month. To remind myself the biggest reason for that was a really good one (I’ve been working hard on the book), I started noting days when I made significant progress on the memoir. This past Wednesday I reached 40,000 words!!!

On the 18th, I leveled up and increased the tension setting on the FitDesk, so even though I’m putting in less time on the stationary bike, my legs are still getting stronger.

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