Don’t expect me to rip the bandage off any dark secrets in this year’s #HoldOntoTheLight essay. No, I’m not blowing off the campaign. Yes, there’s a blog ahead. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m snuffling through the infamous Post Dragon-Con Crud (tm), and I lack the functional brain cells necessary for any kind of depth.
Which is the whole point. There are times even those of us blessed with a psychiatric nurse/expert Jungian for a mother and a personality default of Mean Girl can’t work up the energy for self-examination, much less meaningful social, political or emotional action.
And that’s okay.
Repeat those words. Say them to yourself and own them, because it’s not only okay, it’s important to your body and your soul to accept there are times when you need to be nice to yourself.
I won’t argue that disasters big and small crater the landscape—devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, political chaos, bigotry, war, famine, plagues, the fall of cultural icons and personal heartache. I also believe we need to throw our shoulders to wheel and do everything we can to address the problems we face. But not 24/7. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak, and trust me, the flesh will do everything in its power to drag the spirit down to its level. When that happens, you do whatever you need to keep yourself going, no matter how silly or frivolous it might appear.
2006 and 2007 were two of the worst years of my life. My dear friend and cowriter Teri Smith suffered a fatal embolism in 2006, and my mother died the following year. To. The. Day. I got through it thanks to three things: my husband, my dearest and oldest friend Cath, and Duzie, the cat Teri and I rescued from the halls of her apartment building a few weeks before she died.
Duzie was my first cat. A better teacher in the ways of cat could not be found. He was gentle and tolerant, allowing me to cry into his soft fur as long as I wanted. But he had very definite views on his place in the food chain (at the top) and in the house (wherever he damn well pleased).
But he was also an old cat. He died in the spring of 2012 after a three-month decline. For those of you who don’t have pets, it may seem strange, but those three months were a nightmare flashback to the worst days of Teri’s and my mom’s death, with an added load of guilt, because I didn’t know what was happening, much less how to make it better. I should’ve been able to make it better. I was an educated human being, with all the advantages of 21st century veterinary medicine. Why couldn’t I help one small cat? And worse, the fear that whispered in the dark of night: Were my efforts to save him adding to his pain?
I quickly lost the ability to write. I expected that. It happened before when my mom went on hospice care. So I knew the desire and ability would return once the worst of the grief had passed.
What I didn’t expect was losing the will to read. Oh, I could still make sense of words on a page. My comprehension was fine. But I lost all pleasure in the act. The lifeboat that had carried me through the worst of bad times was gone. Why? Because my emotional skin was too thin to suffer the conflict inherent in all good stories.
It took me a full two weeks after Duzie’s death to find something I could bear to read—Discount Armageddon, the first book in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and the happiest, fluffiest novel she had published to date. I knew going in that everything would turn out okay. Along the way there was ballroom dancing, a found family of delightful oddballs, redemptive romance and, best of all, a colony of Aeslin Mice interrupting the action at the funniest moments to sing the oddest praises of the Price family.
Reading got easier after Discount Armageddon, but only because I didn’t push. I read for pleasure, not to impress anybody. If I felt like reading cozy mysteries or category romances, I did. Their formulaic structure was more than part of their charm; it was actively healing.
By the time Naomi Kritzer’s joyous short story, “Cat Pictures Please", began collecting award nominations I was more than ready to vote for it. I had internalized the oversized truth contained in its small word count: it’s the little kindnesses that make us whole. Share cat pictures or dog pictures or gifs of hamsters in hats, and you could ease someone’s (or something’s) pain just enough to save the world.
The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Life is a lot like airplane turbulence. You need to be sure you can keep breathing before you can take care of anyone else.
So cut yourself some slack. Pamper yourself with ice cream, cat pictures, Aeslin Mice or whatever soothes your soul. A little break won’t turn a mountain of problems into a molehill, but a little kindness just might make that mountain easier to scale.
You’re welcome. No need to thank me. As the lady and the AI said, payment is in cat pictures.
About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK),SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheL