Six months.

It’s been six months since my wife left. And while I’ve tried to deal with my feelings about it outside of social media–as much as a social media addict like me can manage–I keep landing on this same concept again and again, and it bears writing.

Relationships are like antidepressants.

I don’t mean this in the hyper-saccharine sense of “they make people happy.” So let me explain.

I used to take antidepressants. Lexapro, to be precise. My mind was a mess in high school (as I imagine most seventeen-year-old, newly gay girls’ minds would be), so I went to therapy. Therapy was great. My psychologist was just the kind I needed: straightforward, tenacious, didn’t take my shitty, cop-out answers and made me dig deeper. As we dug and pieced me together again, or maybe for the first time, she suggested I take a low dose of an SSRI like Lexapro to give me a little more brain-space, a little more balance, until I found my footing.

At first, the drug was just what I needed. For years, I had been split open over and over by the extremes of my emotions: intense happiness, intense sadness, intense anger, intense love. When the drug kicked in, it was as if someone had seen me twirling faster and faster, stepped in, and grabbed me by the shoulders. My mind went quiet; the world stopped spinning. I could think, and work, and sleep.

I kept going for my regular check-ups, and the psychiatrist kept jotting off the script, certain I still needed them and they were still doing the trick. I don’t know when the drug stopped working; it was habit to take it. And the change was so gradual that it wasn’t until I could barely get out of bed that I noticed anything was different. I was lethargic. I was numb. Everything felt the same: like nothing at all. So I stopped taking them.

That “nothing” was good, at first. I needed a breath from the soaring highs and desperate lows. But after a while, you realize that it all kind of feels the same in the middle. And you start to miss the crazy a little.

Relationships are this middle for my heart, the way Lexapro was the middle for my brain.

This is something I can see only now that I have been alone for half a year. Before that, I was in a serious relationship from the time I was twenty. I thought I knew what happiness was; I thought I knew what sadness was. But nothing I felt during those seven-and-a-half years compares to the death-defying climbs and plummets I’ve taken since October. I feel exhilarated by the freedom, and devastated by the loneliness. I feel full-up from the love that comes from all corners, and profoundly empty from the yearning for something as simple as a slow dance. I miss her, and I hate her. And this is all before getting out of bed.

I can honestly say I haven’t felt this good or this bad before in my adult life. Relationships buff out the extremes and leave measured, predictable happiness and sadness. Is a life of more-manageable despair worth the loss of the highest highs? My answer changes with the wind.

It’s six months later, and I’m still trying to find center without the drug of a relationship. So if you ask “how are you?” and I say “I’m good,” it’s simply because by the time you finish asking, I have felt all the things and don’t rightly know how to respond.

Brand new website for writers!

It’s official: I am incapable of keeping any kind of New Year’s resolution.

However, I have been insanely productive in pretty much every other way in the past three months. The most exciting thing that’s happened, the reason I’m back to blogging here, is that my friends and I have started a new website for writers! It’s called It’s Just Brunch, and we just went live today! 

The point of It’s Just Brunch is to give writers a space to talk in a laid-back kind of atmosphere…like brunch! During the week, we post blogs about different aspects of the writing life; the three of us come from different places and have different interests, so you can expect a pretty wide variety of stuff! And every Sunday, it’s brunch: a short video from the three of us, chatting about writing and other ridiculousness over mimosas. We’ll have special guests dropping in and guest bloggers, too!

I’m so excited to share this new project with you guys. If you like what you see here on my blog, you’re going to LOVE It’s Just Brunch. And if you’ve got requests for a blog or brunch topic that we can cover, let me know in the comments and we will put them on the menu! (Get it?)

Thanks for reading,

~Kate

2014 Book Challenge: The final cut.

books

Here it is: my year-long literary gauntlet. Are you up to the challenge? 

I tried my best to make each month well rounded with short stories/essays, novels, and poetry in the hopes that I won’t feel ridiculously overwhelmed by February and quit. There are a couple “themes” (excited for October!) through which I will filter my reviews. Other themes may emerge more organically. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Not all of the books made the cut. I think a book a week is as lofty a goal as I should set myself. If you see that I’ve slashed a great one from the list, let me know and I’ll find a way to fit it in.

If there is anyone crazy enough to read along with me, even if it’s one or two books each month, leave a comment below. Would love to have some guest reviewers help me talk about all of this new literature.

Whatever your reading and writing plans in 2014, I hope you make the best of them. Happy New Year!

In case you missed why the heck I’m doing this to myself, here’s the original post.

2014 BOOK CHALLENGE SCHEDULE- Read along with me!

January

EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: THE CONCUBINE WHO LAUNCHED MODERN CHINA. By Jung Chang (Not on the NY Times list; a choice for my personal book club with a friend.)

THE FARAWAY NEARBY. By Rebecca Solnit.

A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: Stories. By Ramona Ausubel.

WOKE UP LONELY. By Fiona Maazel.

February – Black History Month

THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers.

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE. By Ayana Mathis.

THE GOOD LORD BIRD. By James McBride.

AMERICANAH. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

March – Women’s History Month

THE LOWLAND. By Jhumpa Lahiri.

THE COLOR MASTER: Stories. By Aimee Bender.

SOMEONE. By Alice McDermott.

MISS ANNE IN HARLEM: The White Women of the Black Renaissance. By Carla Kaplan.

April

SCHRODER. By Amity Gaige.

DIRTY LOVE (stories). By Andre Dubus III.

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat.

THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING. By Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

May

OUR ANDROMEDA: poems. By Brenda Shaughnessy.

THE SON. By Philipp Meyer.

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS. By Claire Messud.

A MARKER TO MEASURE DRIFT. By Alexander Maksik.

June

THE END OF THE POINT. By Elizabeth Graver.

A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. By Anthony Marra.

ALL THAT IS. By James Salter.

CHILDREN ARE DIAMONDS: An African Apocalypse. By Edward Hoagland.

July

THE LUMINARIES. By Eleanor Catton.

METAPHYSICAL DOG (poems). By Frank Bidart.

TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories. By George Saunders.

MADNESS, RACK, AND HONEY: Collected Lectures. By Mary Ruefle.

August

DISSIDENT GARDENS. By Jonathan Lethem.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. By Karen Joy Fowler.

THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT. By Amy Tan.

THE FLAMETHROWERS. By Rachel Kushner.

September

WE NEED NEW NAMES. By NoViolet Bulawayo.

SUBMERGENCE. By J. M. Ledgard.

BLEEDING EDGE. By Thomas Pynchon.

DUPLEX. By Kathryn Davis.

October – Spooky stuff

DOCTOR SLEEP. By Stephen King.

THE ACCURSED. By Joyce Carol Oates.

THE DINNER. By Herman Koch.

SUBTLE BODIES. By Norman Rush.

November

THE GOLDFINCH. By Donna Tartt.

I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: Stories. By Jamie Quatro.

LIFE AFTER LIFE. By Kate Atkinson.

LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH. By David Rakoff.

December

WAVE. By Sonali Deraniyagala.

HALF THE KINGDOM. By Lore Segal.

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS. By Andrew Sean Greer.

LOCAL SOULS: Novellas. By Allan Gurganus.

On freedom.

I got my mind soundly blown yesterday.

It was Alumni Day for my MFA program, a day for graduates like me to invade the residency in progress and get our semiannual fix of high-level literary exchange (and cheap wine and friends).

I almost didn’t  go. I was driving north on 95, toward the little island where the residencies take place, and I almost just kept driving: out of Connecticut, into Rhode Island, and back to the dark silence of my apartment, now cat- and wife-free. It had been a long week for me, and so much of me just wanted to collapse in on myself and not think, or talk, for a while. The thought of having to tell a new audience how “okay” I was in spite of everything, after doing that non-stop with friends and family over the holidays, drained me before I even took the exit.

But I had to go. Because Baron Wormser was going to talk about Emerson.

(If you don’t know Baron Wormser, you’re doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean reading, and living in general. His creative works are rich and introspective and fresh and can be so damn funny. He reads a passage of poetry or prose aloud and a new, deeper meaning slides into place. I had seen him give a seminar in the past on James Baldwin and ran out and bought Notes of a Native Son. In short: read everything Wormser has written, and then see him in person if you can.)

I can’t capture everything Wormser said about Emerson and put it here for you; even if I could, I wouldn’t. But what I can tell you is that I am still thinking about the seminar twenty-four hours later. I am still thinking about freedom.

In the passages of Emerson that Wormser presented and analyzed, the idea of freedom was always in the foreground: the freedom to know one’s true self, the freedom that comes with genius, the freedom of writing what others are scared to say. In America, the word freedom has been manipulated commercialized to the point where it’s hard to know what it means to be truly free anymore. But to Emerson, it was simple: freedom is the opposite of security. Freedom is fear.

We’ve put a premium on security. We surround ourselves with stuff: tangible, material goods that make us feel prosperous, important, safe. Feel real. But if Emerson is right, and I think he is, all this stuff that we touch and hold is a wall we build between us and the knowledge that reality lies in the intangible and the abstract. And that’s scary.

Maybe I’m way off. Maybe this isn’t what Emerson meant at all. But as Baron read his words aloud and as people around me weighed in, I sat quietly and wrote only this, because it buzzed in my head and wouldn’t stop until it was down: what you fear most is the only thing you can know for sure.

I am afraid of many things right now. Nothing is stable; nothing is certain. But in Emersonian fashion, I’m letting myself feel the fear and the instability. Security rushed out, and I’m not filling the vacuum with stuff or meaningless relationships; not this time. I’m sitting with the uncertainty, and with my fear.  I am face-to-face with this very human terror, but it’s as if I am outside of myself, above myself, able to acknowledge that I am scared, able to experience the fear, but it doesn’t consume me. I am leaving the void open, and rushing into it is a deeper understanding of not only myself but also the nature of fear. And I am freer than ever before.

The terror we feel about the unknown is more real than anything we can hold in our hands. Security is an illusion that shackles, stunts, suffocates life and creativity. Embrace fear, embrace the void, and you are free.