Monday, January 4, 2010

The Obligatory End of Year/Decade Reflections Blog

I was going to write up one of these reflecting on the old year/goals for the new year blogs last week, but what started out as a lazy holiday week turned somewhat chaotic when my littlest kitty Lars came down with a stomach ailment. My cats are my children so when something is wrong with them it turns my world upside down. And whatever Lars had spread to Kaspar and Sid so we are starting out 2010 medicating all 3 cats, which is just about the most torturous thing on earth for the whole household. *Sigh* But I refuse to take this as a bad omen for 2010. It was just 2009 getting the last of the ickiness out... kind of literally....

So I'm behind on blogging, but really were you paying much attention to blogging last week anyway? I mean, it was the last of party time and now it's back to work which means back to reading blogs while you procrastinate work... at least that is how I operate. I did manage to meet my group blogging deadlines, so in case you missed those posts you can learn all about the kind of writing I did as a teenager (complete with pics of me as a teen) on the MTV Books blog here and you can read about my very mortifying first experience with introducing a boyfriend to my family on Teen Fiction Cafe here. And I also posted the last in my Women Who Rock For A Cause interview series, which means your chance to get in on the big contest (prize being signed copies of both of my books and your choice of the charity I donate to) ends on Wednesday, so please check it out here and enter!

Now, on to the task at hand, that whole obligatory reflecting on the end of the year thing. I realized just last week that apparently it wasn't just a year ending but an entire decade. That felt weird to me. Personally I feel like the decade shouldn't count as over until the end of 2010, but apparently that isn't how decades work. And maybe I'm just reluctant to admit that the 2000s are over because that makes me feel really freakin' old. Technically I've seen the end of 4 decades now. (Though I really don't feel like the 70s should count. I was like 5 months old when they ended.) Also I *still* don't feel like the 90s are over. I think I'm just holding on because the early 90s were totally my golden years (if you can't tell by my books.... but the books I'm working on now are set in the 00s, woo hoo, progress!). I mean, what band did I choose to start out the New Year listening to? The same band I've been listening to for... shit... almost 19 years now: Nirvana. I still needed to hear them first to feel like I would have a good year.

Anyway, enough of that rambling, whether I like or not, a decade has ended. And it's bizarre because while culturally things like Nirvana and grunge ruling the airwaves doesn't seem that far in the past to me, the person I was at the end of 1999/beginning of 2000... that seems like another lifetime ago. I hardly remember that girl, but then again that girl worked pretty hard to blot out all consciousness and memories.

I spent the end of 1999 having a quiet evening with my mom and brother at my mom's house. This was very unlike me at the time and I only did it because I was a little freaked about Y2K. Actually I was a little freaked and little hopeful that Y2K would wipe us out in some way-- kill us all or give us a fresh slate. I was okay with either option. I needed a fresh slate badly though I wasn't fully admitting that yet. I was twenty years old and living in Madison, Wisconsin with a guy who'd been causing me nothing but heartache for almost three years, but for some reason I was addicted to him. I was addicted to bad love. I was an alcoholic even though I couldn't even legally drink yet. I spent what little money I made from my shitty job doing telesurveys and data entry on cheap wine and going to one of the two goth clubs three times a week and getting completely smashed and occasionally high on cocaine and usually coming home to fight with my boyfriend and take sleeping pills. I could barely afford my rent. I charged groceries on a credit card because drinking was more important. Oh and even though I'd dropped out of college two years ago to focus on my writing, I'd written only a handful of shitty poems and a few short stories that were as uninspired as me.

Yep, ten years ago that was my life. I'm a little fuzzy on the details but mostly I remember the clothes, the make-up, the long black hair and the spinning spinning spinning drunk and high to dark trancey music. Oh and I hated myself. I knew I could do better though I kind of felt like I deserved what I'd gotten. I hadn't dealt with the fallout from the end of my teen years, I just drowned it in booze, pills, powders, and razor blades. This is me. Lost Soul. A life of plastic and cobwebs:

But by the end of the year 2000, I was on a path to something different. My mother, smart woman that she is, had set a deadline for me when I dropped out of college. If I chose to go back, she said she would help me financially per the agreement we had in high school (in high school, my parents agreed to pay for a certain portion of college), but only if I did so before I turned 21. So, right before my 21st birthday, I applied and was accepted to Columbia College Chicago and made plans to move back to Chicago in Fall of 2000. Of course, I hadn't shaken all the vestiges of my old life-- the boyfriend came with me. But once I was in school, my life calmed down considerably. The program at Columbia was so inspiring that I was writing constantly and I drank a lot less as a result. I wanted my head on straight to write; creativity was a much better drug-- no hangovers. I also started seeing a therapist again and talking through the pain I'd been running from for so long (talking is a real solution unlike running--a lesson hard learned by me, hence it shows up as a theme in much of what I write).

2005 was the year everything changed for me. Maybe you've heard about the Saturn Return, that astrological period in your late twenties when life shifts and you are forced to take stock of who you are and where you are going. 2005, the year I turned 26 was my Saturn Return. That March I met my agent, Caren Johnson Estesen, at a literary festival at Columbia College. She read the first chapter of a novel that I was three-quarters of the way finished with. At the time it was called The Black Notebooks. The chapter she read was called "Rock Gods." When I met with her she said, "I want this. When can you be finished." Then she took me out to lunch. I promised to visit her in New York in September and bring her a finished draft of the novel. I had less than six months to finish and polish my manuscript.

I realized then that writing was the most important thing to me, far more important than the alcoholic boyfriend of 8 years who was still partying like it was 1999 and he was still 23, the age he'd been when I met him. I'd actually known I'd wanted to break up with him for about a year, but I wasn't good at quitting things (except when I was wasted and decided to drop out of college at 18). However, since I'd become so focused on my writing, I became boring and no fun to him and in May, he broke up with me. Over voicemail. I cried for a couple hours that night, but in the morning I called my lawyer and asked him to draw up papers to remove my ex's name from the title of *my* house which he had never paid a dime toward. In 1999/2000, I thought I would have died of heartbreak if I ever lost that boy. In May 2005, I learned that losing him wasn't true heartbreak. True heartbreak came in the form of a phone call I got in October of 2007 telling me that one of my good college friends was dead. I'd get two more phone calls like that in the next six months. So yeah, I learned about heartbreak this decade. It wasn't what I expected. But I survived it.

After the break-up, the last vestiges of the bad late 90s were finally gone (except for the sleeping pill addiction, but that was kicked successfully in 2009). Doors opened. I finished that book. That agent took me on. Writing was my life. Writing and my friends and family. And then New Years Day 2006 there was a boy. The first good boy I've ever dated (besides my friend Tom who doesn't really count because we only dated for a month when I was 15). That boy was the second person I called (after my mom of course) when I got the word on April 17, 2007 that my first book had sold. That boy was the one I married on October 3, 2009. And this is me now:

That's me: published author of two books, wife, cat-mom, homeowner, and generally well-adjusted human being (though sometimes moody as we creative types can be). I really never could have predicted this ten years ago and I'm incredibly grateful for the life I have. My wedding day was hands-down the best moment of 2009 and of the decade for me. The runner-up for best moment of 2009 was the release of my book Ballads of Suburbia, and the runner-up for the best moment of the decade was getting The Call that my first book had sold. Both career-wise and personally, this decade has definitely been a winner and it has made me eager to see what the next decade holds--a nice change of pace for the girl who, ten years ago, couldn't see life past the age of 21.

I spent New Years Eve of 2009 at the bar where I work to support my writing habit. I kissed my husband at midnight. I hugged my friends. I was glad there were no bugs in computer coding to potentially cause chaos or wipe us out because I have a lot that I still want to do. More on that tomorrow when I post those obligatory goals and resolutions for the New Year....


Steph Su said...

It has definitely been an eventful decade for you, and thank you for writing about it, and showing us how much can change in 10 years. I wish you a happy 2010!

little miss gnomide said...

Congrats on the amazing year you've had.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for the congrats, Gwen.

Steph, I totally felt like I may have overshared here but you saw exactly why I wrote such a personal blog, I did want to show how much can change if you are determined to make changes. And I wish you a happy 2010 too!