On writing with an infant

Eighteen weeks ago, I became a mom for the first time.

Scant hours before my baby was born, I hit “send” on an email to my agent containing a completed manuscript draft. I felt the relief that comes with the culmination of a project (and just in the nick of time!) but also the knowledge that soon a new one would take its place. In this case, that new project would not just be revising my manuscript and starting a new book, but starting it as a new mom.


I had no idea what that would mean, other than change. And, sure enough, when I held Alek in my arms, the whole world and everything in it shifted into a new kind of focus. Nothing would ever be the same again (yes, new parents always say this and I always used to roll my eyes at it…BUT IT IS TRUE).

My days are now filled with diapers and bottles, but also with the joy of watching an entirely new person emerge and discover the world around him. Each development–a smile, a giggle, a leg kick, the first grab at a toy, the way his eyes light with recognition when he sees me–seems like magic. I write about magic in my books sometimes, but I never truly understood what it was until now.

So, yes, with all this to occupy me, my life as a writer has changed. I knew it would and, honestly, I feared that change. I imagined a life where I no longer had time to write, in which the identity of “mom” would supersede all others and cause the writer in me to shrivel up and blow away.

Very melodramatic!

The reality wasn’t so fraught with peril, of course, but it was an adjustment, primarily in my process.

I am fortunate (SO fortunate) in that we have a caregiver who comes three days a week to hang out with Alek for a bit, allowing me to slip away and work. Aside from unpredictable snatches of time during naps, that means I have to be much more regimented in my writing.

Before Alek was born, I had a very flexible schedule and my process reflected that. I used to sit down in the morning, drink tea and write a bit, wander off, think, do dishes, go for a walk, think, write some more, surf the web “researching”, think…etc. Now, knowing babysitting time will be over soon, or Alek may wake at any moment, I sit in front of my laptop and I type. No second-guessing, no dithering. Fingers on keys. Write.

Initially, I hated this new way of working. These structured session felt like a cold, fragmented, and unsatisfying way to create. I missed the wandering off. I missed the time for leisurely thinking. Eventually, though, all that necessary processing time began to happen on its own, often outside of dedicated writing time. Now, my hands might be changing diapers, but a small part of my mind is off with my characters, and when writing time comes, I’m ready.

It’s interesting, but I guess not surprising, how adaptable we are. We get set in our ways and habits and imagine that a change to our lifestyle will be world-ending. Instead, it is transformative.

So, thanks Alek! Not only have you filled my life with more love and joy than I ever imagined possible, but you’ve also helped me evolve into a more productive and focused person. My identity as a writer has not been subsumed by becoming a mom. It has been expanded–just like my heart.

Starting 2018 with a story

2017. what is there to really say?

For many of us, myself included, it was a terrible year. The world caught fire. Ugly things came out of the darkness. Progress many of us believed made was shown to be as ephemeral as the wind.

For many of us, though, myself included, 2017 was also an amazing year. I beat cancer. I become a mom. I wrote some of my best work.

All we can hope is that 2018 is going to bring more of the latter and less of the former. In fact, “hope” is not the right word. Instead, let me say, we will MAKE the change we need. If 2017 has shown us anything, it is that we can’t be complacent anymore.

So, a few things to mention in the I’LL BE SEEING YOU AGAIN IN 2018 column:

I sold two short stories, one of which is available right now from Abyss and Apex Magazine. It’s got runaways, hitchhikers, desperation, space ships, and redemption. Go read it! The other story will appear in an anthology on abandoned places later this year.

I also revised one book and wrote another. That sentence looks short and unassuming, but both projects were a lot of work, especially while fighting cancer and preparing for a new baby!

Perhaps my most rewarding project of 2017, though, was this one: Alek Marcus Suri.

He’s cute, right? No matter what 2018 brings, it’s going to have this guy in it, and that’s all I can ask.


And then there was none

…and by none, I mean no more cancer cells trying to kill me! That’s right, 11 months after being diagnosed with not one, but two, cancers, I got my CT scan results and they came back clean. I am officially cancer free!

I actually got this news via phone seconds before take-off on a flight home Monday night. I spent the first half of the flight sobbing uncontrollably. Fortunately this did not cause the flight attendants to beat me up and throw me off the plane (I wasn’t flying United, thank goodness 😉 and instead led them to give my husband and I complimentary wine to toast the great news.

The first thing I blurted to my husband after the crying died down was, rather stupidly, “WE’RE GETTING DOUG BACK!”, a line from a pretty inane film (the Hangover) but one I always think of when I get that rush of delirious joy as a bad day, week, month (or in this case, year) starts to turn the corner.

I will, of course, being undergoing follow up scans on a regular basis for years to come, and, of course, the cancer could return. But, honestly, that’s a chance that all of us face whether we’ve had cancer before or not. It is a stupidly cruel and random disease and I don’t want to live my life (which I get to keep living!!!) being afraid of it. So, hopefully for the last time ever, I say this: FUCK YOU CANCER. I PUNCHED YOU IN THE FACE AND YOU DIED. COME BACK AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Thanks again to everyone who has supported me, both from near and far and in big ways and small, during this most difficult of years. I know who you are and I won’t ever forget it.

Cancer Battle Royale, Part II

Tomorrow I go in for surgery, in what I hope will be the knockout round of my cancer battle royale.

I’ll be having a partial thyroidectomy and if all goes well and the pathology comes back as the surgeon expects, I shouldn’t have to follow up with any radiation. Once I’ve recovered from the surgery, I’ll be able to have my next CT scan to (hopefully) confirm that there’s been no recurrence from the lymphoma and I’m 100% cancer free. Once that happens, I’ll (hopefully) be able to get my mediport removed, which will feel like a huge victory. I hate that damn thing, as it’s uncomfortable and a constant reminder of the possibility of recurrence.

So, thinking positively, I could be taking giant steps toward returning to “normal” life within the next two months. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’m carrying on as best I can.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rest of my life and about survival and what that means for me. Survival really is a funny thing, because of course you’re beyond grateful to have survived but now you’ve got this steep mountain to climb on your way back to being healthy. Once you’re out of active treatment, most people assume and expect that you’re “fine”, when in fact a new struggle is just beginning. Your perception of your body, as well as its ability to function in the way you want, will never be the same again. You don’t want to complain, because – hey – you survived and it seems churlish to complain. But, honestly, it’s hard.

I went back to work in February and the experience has perfectly encapsulated the difficulty of recovery. It is wonderful to be back in the classroom, to interact with the students and my colleagues, and to feel useful and productive. The toll it is taking on my body, though, is fairly incredible. I don’t want to give my students a substandard experience, so I put my all into class, thus most days I end up staggering home to the subway barely able to stay upright. I’m exhausted the majority of the time. My favorite activity is resting. But, of course, this is actually progress, because I’m able to go to work, and it’s also evidence I must be “fine”…because I’m able to work. (hahahaha…*weeps*).

Still, it gets better, a little, every week, and one advantage of getting surgery is that you get carte blanche to rest a little bit. I plan to take full advantage of that later this week.

First, though, I’ve got to marshal my strength for one more cancer facepunch. And you know, no matter how tired I might be, only one of us coming out the other side of this battle, and it sure as hell won’t be the cancer.

Wish me luck!

New Story Out and an Update

Checking in with a quick update today, as I have a new short story out in Issue 6 of Mothership Zeta. Yay for new fiction released into the world!

In other news, I am humming along in my recovery from Hodgkins Lymphoma. Well, really it is recovery from the effects of chemotheraphy, as I never even felt sick from the cancer, just the cure 😉

I’ve started back to work at Queens College and am so happy and grateful to be in the classroom again. Some days it is a struggle, as my energy and health continue to fight their way back, but I love having a semblance of normality in my life, especially since I have, unfortunately, been diagnosed with a second cancer.

That sounds dire, I know, but I promise it isn’t! The scans I received while having my lymphoma treatment turned up evidence of cancer in my thyroid. It’s likely I’ve had thyroid cancer for years and might not ever have known if not for the lymphoma. It’s a very slow growing cancer and not always fatal, even if untreated. Still, I’m going to have my thyroid surgically removed over Spring Break, just to be on the safe side. Once that’s finished, I will be able to begin my long term follow-up and get another scan to confirm that the lymphoma has not returned. So, that’s what is going on with that.

Life goes on. I continue to write and knit and try and enjoy each day as much as I can, even when I’m tired or feeling down that the cancer journey continues. After all, even the bad days are ones I might not have gotten to have.

Also, we adopted a new cat! Her name is Riley and she’s completely adorable. Hard to believe someone would have abandoned her, but I’m happy to say she’s settled right in and is bringing a lot of joy into our lives.

So, that’s the update. Solider on, friends…and read my story in Mothership Zeta!


An update of the best kind

In my last post I announced that I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Today I am happy to report that I have successfully completed the first phase of my treatment (chemotherapy) and have received a clean PET scan!

This means I’m essentially cancer-free and ready to move on to the final stage of treatment, which will be a couple of weeks of low-dose radiation. The radiation is designed to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells not eliminated by the chemo. So, I still have a bit to go, but treatment is moving in a very positive direction.

It has been about 3 months since I first found out something was wrong and in some ways it feels like 3 years and in others like just a few weeks. One thing is for sure, though: my life has been changed forever.

Finding out you have cancer is like realizing the foundation you’ve been standing on, previously believing to be solid and enduring, is suddenly riddled with holes, precarious and uncertain. Everything shifts, but most especially your perspective on life changes in a profound way.

In fact, one of the gifts of cancer is gaining a true understanding that you must no longer take anything for granted. When I found out I was sick, I started living more fully in the present and thinking about what things were most essential to me. I came to understand the importance of seizing ahold of what truly mattered and letting the rest go.

After all, the rest is just static.

For me, the list of critical things was surprisingly short. At the top: friends and family. In the end, what else really matters more than the people who love you? Nothing. The outpouring of support and encouragement I’ve received has humbled and inspired me; it has made me want to be a better friend and family member.

Next on the list: lifestyle. Am I living the life I truly want, day in and day out? When I look back at the end (whenever that comes), will I be glad of my choices? Of how and where I spent my time? These questions have prompted a lot of soul-searching for me. The final item on the list: writing. Even on my sickest days, in the midst of the chemo, I thought about writing, felt compelled to tell stories. It is an essential part of me.

I’m getting better, and I am very lucky in that I should soon move on from this (as much as one can ever truly move on from cancer), but the experience has changed me. I suspect it will continue to change me for a long time to come.

Sick or well, cancer or no cancer, at least now I know what matters to me. And for that I am grateful.