I’m a hardcore sugar addict. My addiction waxes and wanes, depending on the level of self-control I’m able to muster. When my addiction is under control, I’ll indulge in a sweet treat once every week or so, or not at all. But I don’t believe in deprivation. I have sugar in my morning coffee, and I employ what I call the two-bite rule. This rule allows me to eat two average-size bites of anything sweet. So if there’s a birthday cake at work, I’ll have two bites of it. Two bites don’t seem to trigger sugar cravings and I always feel as if I’ve indulged just a little. When I can implement the two-bite rule, it works well, and I don’t feel deprived. When I jettison the two-bite rule, I’m always striving to return to it.
It’s hard for me to imagine being as young and stupid as I was in college. But at least I had an older brother, Charlie, to help me with the profound as well as the mundane. I went to school in Olympia, Washington, a place well known for near constant drizzle. Before I began my freshman year, Charlie helped me buy a small umbrella. So when I opened his gift for my twentieth birthday, sophomore year, and saw he’d given me a huge red stadium umbrella, I was confused. I thought, doesn’t he remember I already have an umbrella? He was there when I bought it!
At the time, I didn’t understand that umbrellas are not usually possessions that last a lifetime. They wear out and break easily. Less than two years older than me, Charlie seemed to know this fact. I don’t remember what happened to either of my college umbrellas, but they’re long gone. Thank goodness for my smart big brother, who knew I’d need at least two to see me through my college years.
When my father died suddenly after a four-day illness, my brother Charles expressed my feelings best when he observed, “We used to have parents. Where’d they go?” I felt exactly the same way. We had parents, and with Dad’s death, suddenly we didn’t. It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling.
Many people who supported me after Dad died confirmed that the world never feels the same after your parents die. I’ve had other sudden deaths in my life. My mother died of pneumonia when she was forty-nine, and my ex-husband, with no forewarning, killed himself in 2013. The latter left me traumatized, but I didn’t miss him the way I miss Dad. I’ve never missed anyone so intensely, and frankly, I want him back. I know this won’t happen, but it’s a primal desire I can’t control.
Every phase of life has its unexpected challenges and joys. My fifties have been wonderful in numerous ways I never could have anticipated. Despite my longings to have Dad back, I know I’ll get used to his absence. I just need to give myself time.
This article was first published on the San Francisco Book Review on May 30, 2018.
Getting a first book published at age fifty-five could make a person so happy, she’d do her Snoopy dance all the time and in inappropriate places: on line in the grocery store, while cleaning the litter box, and even a few paces in front of her house of worship. I experienced this level of joy when my first book, Living Well with Chronic Illness (MSI Press, 2015) was published. After receiving good news about my book, I felt as though I’d taken the most fabulous happy pill. I was joyous the day my book was accepted for publication, thrilled beyond measure on its release date, and ecstatic when I discovered it was a number one hot new release in its small category on Amazon.
I also experienced many other unexpected, difficult emotions. For example, I upset my publisher by making a mistake and reacted so badly that I hibernated on my couch for three months. I wasn’t depressed. I know what that feels like. I simply didn’t want to feel anything, so I binge-watched the first ten seasons of Grey’s Anatomy every evening after work.
I began to understand why people who create for a living are prone to relationship instability, emotional liability, and addictions. Those issues seemed like perfectly reasonable responses to the vicissitudes of the creative process. The highs don’t negate or alleviate the lows, at least not for very long. I live alone and usually don’t speak to anyone I’m close to more than once a week. When my first book was published, many people supported me during my transformation to becoming an author, but no one served as a steady sounding board to help me through the low points or rejoice with me during the high ones. It was an acutely lonely process.
My pathway to becoming an author was speedy and uneventful. I found a publisher for my book three months after beginning the search. As a result, I didn’t know what other authors learn as they strive to become competent writers. Often they join writing groups and guilds, take classes and go to conferences where they meet other aspiring writers, and become knowledgeable about the business of publishing along the way. I didn’t do any of those things. I had no sense of what were reasonable expectations. Learning on the job was overwhelming and exhausting.
In addition to the steep learning curve and enervation, I’d decided to spend every dollar not locked down in retirement funds on book promotion. I had no disposable money, as a safety net, for the first time since I was twenty-eight years old. I chose to go for broke, and I didn’t expect to recoup my investment in sales. I simply wanted to give the book my best effort.
Nevertheless, I agonized over the money, fervently hoping that my car, my home, my cats, and I would not have any emergency that incurred a large, unexpected expense as I rebuilt my savings. When I told a colleague, he said he couldn’t believe I did this because it was so out of character. I agreed but explained that as a cinephile, I’d read about countless independent film directors who’d made the same decision. Most of their stories involved maxing out a series of credit cards. I’d learned over four decades from these artists that when you engage in a creative endeavor, you give it your all. But I worried constantly about money and spent many Sunday mornings crunching numbers to ensure that all my bills would be paid.
Then one Saturday, as I was leaving to get my hair and makeup done for a book signing at Barnes & Noble, a neighbor informed me that another neighbor, Greg, had been taken away in an ambulance that morning. Seven hours later, after returning from the book event, I ran into two different neighbors who told me Greg had died of a heart attack. I’d been friendly enough with Greg to invite him to my book launch. He attended yoga class several times a week and often rode his bicycle in the neighborhood. I never could have imagined him suddenly dropping dead.
This neighbor’s death convinced me I’d made the right choice to go for broke with my book, both financially and emotionally. I’m not worried about having a heart attack, but life can change swiftly without warning. No matter what happens next in my life, I’m pleased knowing I maximized my experience as a new author and gave my book the best start possible. In the process, I developed a deep appreciation for my publisher and became close to my editor and publicist. I learned about publishing, what I needed to do as a new author, and how to manage expectations. With hard work and my editor’s guidance, I became a competent writer.
My second book will be published in April 2018. It’s my second baby. I’m calm this time around. I rely on the guidance of three skilled professionals during this process: my publisher, my editor, and my publicist. As the highs and lows begin again, I know I’m back on the roller coaster of book production. The first time, the roller coaster was too fast and too intense. This time I know what I’m doing. I’ll hang on, hair flying, eyes wide open, and a smile on my face. I’m practicing my happy dance again.
My new book, 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness (MSI Press, April, 2018), just received a great review from Library Journal. I’m thrilled. Take a look.
Charnas, Joanna J. 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness. MSI. Apr. 2018. 98p. ISBN 9781942891932. pap. $12.95. HEALTH/SELF-HELP
Unrelenting in her fight against chronic fatigue syndrome, Charnas (Living Well with Chronic Illness) offers an incisive supplement to her previous book with 100 tips composed of ten chapters, each containing a common theme of encouragement. The author’s advice focuses on those managing chronic illness; however, the timely affirmations serve a much wider audience seeking positive resolutions to daily life pressures. A recurring thread throughout emphasizes the importance of living in the moment and finding creative solutions in challenging circumstances (“When outside forces change, I have to change, too. Maximizing my health not only requires planning, but it also demands flexibility”). Verdict An excellent resource worthy of multiple reads. For those with a determined spirit during discouraging times.—Angela Dixon, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Clarkston