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Writer Waking Up - A Publication Blog

Launch Amid Life

The three launch events for my just-released memoir were marvelously fun--the result of weeks of planning, networking, and selfless giving by friends and writers. In the span of four weeks I read from and talked about my book amid colleagues and students in southern California at my job in a low-residency MFA program; in my hometown indie bookstore before 40 friends and a wine-and -cheese reception; and, most recently, under the cardboard cutout gaze of Southern iconic writer Thomas Wolfe at the memorial his mother's boarding house has become. At all three events I had my right knee wrapped in a big black Velcro brace. In each case it hurt a little to stand for the required hour or so. At all three events I chose my dress with care and put some effort into hair and makeup (something I seldom do, but for public appearances appearance has always been, for me, part of the program), all while admonishing myself not to care that the ugly brace spoiled the effect.

Three days after the last event and less than a week ago as I type this, I had outpatient surgery to repair a torn meniscus. My days since the surgery revolve around the slow and awkward mechanics of post-operative grooming and thrice-daily sets physical therapy exercises. I am certainly not complaining; I am thrilled that the knee that's pained me for years and lamed me for the past several months will, the surgeon says, give me more years of good use. I am unspeakably fortunate to have a fixable problem and the health insurance + savings to pay for the fix.

Our house has two floors with the bedroom and bath upstairs so I stay on the upper floor as much as possible. I live mostly on the bed. I am able to sit up--once the post-operative nausea passed--and type in front of french doors presenting me with the extreme green of our wooded back yard. My husband kindly brings trays of food and bags of ice and hauls away my trash while I answer emails and meet deadlines for the publicity and paid work I set up in another life, the one before the surgery. The now-life, the one on the bed with a view, is not a bad life. It's slow. It's contemplative. Ticking things off my big multi-part list, created before the surgery, creates a sensation of forward momentum even though I sometimes push everything off my lap and go to sleep.

The feeling that invites me to write this particular blog post is a kind of quiet marveling at the way the launch happened amid the knee problems and the knee surgery happened amid the launch effort, and these two very different sets of events--experienced by two seemingly very different Chrises--the sincere but carefully turned out writer and the grubby but generally cheerful convalescent--comprise one person living one life woven of two--or actually myriad-- threads.

I am, in the midst of all the tasks that need to be done, or that my list says should be done, contemplating the feel, the texture, of who I am and where I am now. The "not this" but also the "not that" state of my being. Ambiguity, in other words, about which life is my "real" life--the one that really matters.

Don't we often think (I know I do) that things--life, "I," what matters and what doesn't-- has to be this way or that way? That it's uncomfortable if not impossible for "things" to be both ways at once or some "way" we can't easily label?

Chögyam Trungpa, a now-deceased but very famous Buddhist teacher whose words often cause me to see things differently, says that when we are seeing clearly, there is "no confirmation, just ambiguity." We could, he suggests, "accept uncertainty as the working basis" of reality, and then work at relating to reality on those terms.

How would that be, what would that feel like, dancing with what happens and how we feel about it without labeling the parts as real and not-real according to a rubric of our will, our guilt, our anxiety? Chögyam Trungpa suggests we might still feel at a loss as to what to make of what's happening but we might also feel the paralysis of our confusion loosen up a bit.

In my next post, two or three weeks from now, I'll put aside public contemplation, set my author hat at a jaunty angle, and respond to the first part of a three-part interview by three writers who have recently read A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations.
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