Monday, November 14, 2011

Being Grateful in Tough Times (Stephanie Kuehnert)

The past two years have been hard for me. Really hard. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. A lot of you may be struggling to make ends meet, frustrated with your job or situation at school, feeling like you aren't good enough to do what you love, worried about loved ones who are sick or in really bad situations of their own, having either major or minor spats with friends, significant others, family members. You might tell yourself like I always have "Well, bad things happen in threes," but then have a spell like I did over this summer where bad things were happening in nines and twelves and eighteens. If like me, you've struggled with depression, the darkness may begin to swallow you whole. You may be pissed and sad all the time and begin to lose yourself to pessimism. This has definitely happened to me both when I was a teenager and recently. The end of August through the end of September made me more hopeless than I have been for years. Everything that could go wrong did, especially in terms of my writing career. Some things that I never imagined would go wrong did, like I found myself worrying over the family member that had always been my stable rock and a friend of mine died--the fourth in four years, not something you expect when you are in your early thirties.

But when those last two terrible things happened, it put all of the other stuff into perspective. I took a step back, thought about what was most important to me, and remembered that if I could survive the scary stuff I'd just survived, I could do anything. Then I decided to focus on the good things in hope that more good would follow. Interestingly enough it did. Is everything roses, butterflies, and fresh-baked cookies now? No. But it's not all grief and fear either and the more I focus on that, the better I feel.

Now, I'm not saying that you should *force* yourself to be positive. I tried that over the summer. It only made me feel worse. Fortunately I had some wise friends and family members who told me that pretending things were hunky-dory, acting like the strong, stoic one and taking more on in the process was only making things worse for me. I also am lucky and extremely grateful that I have some truly amazing friends who will be there when I need to break, who will not turn away because it's inconvenient or turn around and talk about what a downer I am behind my back. I had two total breakdowns where I cried my heart out to two of my closest friends. One stayed up all night with me on the last night of our vacation together. A month later, when the really bad shit happened, my best friend put her very busy life aside and talked to me on the phone as long as I needed it. Then I had other friends who via email, Skype or in person, who helped me talk through my ideas to get myself back on the right track. You see after I purged all the bad emotions, I could start to see the good, starting with the faces and voices of the people who were there for me and even though life is still rather stressful and insanely busy, I've been trying to focus on the good in my life to draw strength and energy.

I like April's post about writing down three things she's grateful for every day. So I'd like to take this opportunity to write down the things I'm most grateful for right now, so that on a really rough day, I can take solace in them. These are in no particular order because they are all very important to me.

1. As discussed above, I have amazing friends. I'm lucky enough to have some that I've known since I was a teenager or even earlier, who I've been through hell and back with. In some cases, we've fought, lost our way for a while, but found our way back and gotten know each other again with great appreciation and admiration as adults. I also have newer friends. The girl I was on vacation with who stayed up all night with me, she and I met when I was in my mid-twenties, but she's become like the little sister I've always wished for.

2. I also have brilliant writer friends. When I get stuck on my story, I have multiple people I can hash it out with. When I get down about myself about my career, I have multiple people who know exactly what I'm going through and will help me get perspective and find my way again. In fact one of them helped me do this:

3. I recently signed with a great agent who really gets and believes in my work. This is probably a whole blog post in itself, but to summarize, over the past year, my career has been in a huge transition. The huge transition was kind of like starting all over. It was terrifying. But it ended well because

4. I finally finished revising and tweaking that book that I was cursing last year at this time. Yes, the damned "Bartender Book" was given a final polish late last month and thanks to the advice of the brilliant new agent and brilliant writer friends, I was totally proud, pleased, and in love. It's out on submission now and hopefully an editor will fall in love too. This of course is a very scary stage, but I think I'll be okay thanks to the last three things I mentioned and this next thing:

5. I have an incredibly supportive family. My mom and my husband are probably the two people I'm most grateful for in my life. My mom has never stopped encouraging me since I was the little book loving girl who dressed up like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also since she is a nurse and an avid reader herself, she doesn't mind me calling her up and saying things like "So someone has been pulled out of a pool after drowning. What happens when the EMTs arrive?" Or "I want my character to have a twin who is either stillborn or died in the womb, here's my scenario, what do you think..." My husband also listens to endless plot talk and puts up with the many incidents like this:
At five to 8, Stephanie pads out of office and says, "Honey, we will have to watch The Walking Dead when it reairs at 9 because I'm not done editing yet."
At five to 9, Stephanie pads out of office, looking guilty. "Still not done, 10:30?"
And then you guessed it, Stephanie pads out of office looking really really guilty at 10:15. "We'll have to record it and watch it tomorrow, I don't think I'll be done until midnight."
And then I'm not done until 2 am and he's already sound asleep. In other words, due to my hectic writing and work schedule, he gets neglected a lot, but still he does awesome things like repainting the cozier room in our house and moving all of my writing stuff in there so...

6. I have the coolest new office ever. Instead of just being a room where I jammed in all of my crap along with my dresser and other random stuff, it's a space that is specifically devoted to me being creative and is being decorated with images and tchotchkes that draw out my muse. It's not totally done yet and when it is I will certainly post a big blog entry about it on my blog, comparing it to my old office, but for now, here is a sneak peek:


The color, not captured perfectly in this photo, is this gorgeous blue green that reminds me of my favorite place on earth, the Pacific Northwest. It's also inspired by the art piece above the desk that Holly Cupala gave me and another painting (which is not picture) that my friend Kasia did. As you can see I also surround myself with images of my dearest friends and family. And since I really want to move to Seattle but can't yet, I've got the Seattle skyline above my window so I can at least pretend I'm there--and I can keep working on that new book that I hope will make me enough money so I can move ;)

7. The office is the perfect place to work on my new book idea. Yes, I have one. It's YA (unlike the bartender book) and I'm starting to get really excited about it.

8. Also keeping me busy in the office is ROOKIE magazine. I started working for this new online magazine for teenage girls that pretty much fulfills the dream I've had since I was a teenager making 'zines. I write a couple things a month for it, but the energy of the other women (and 2 guys!) that I work with has been so inspiring and it has taught me all sorts of things. Working with people more visual than me has added a visual aspect to way I think about my books, which has been really helpful. But it's also just a great feeling to be involved in something so cool that I think will really reach a lot of teens. I dunno quite how to explain it (but I imagine I will try to do so at length on my blog at some point), but it's basically as exciting to me as when I first sold a book because writing fiction and writing these kinds of pieces for 'zine with a big audience are dual dreams for me.

9. Last but not least on my gratitude list is my readers. I'm so grateful for each any every one of you who take the time to read what I write whether it is on ROOKIE, on blogs, or in my books. I can't say how much it means to me every time I hear from readers or they find new ways to spread the word about my writing. There is a group of bloggers spotlighting contemporary YA fiction this month, which is really awesome and one of them, Ashley, was kind enough to blog about both of my books BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. She did an interview with me where she asked some of the best questions I've been asked and therefore got some very honest and in depth answers. Check it out here if you are interested. You can also enter there to win your choice of either of my books.

What are you grateful for?

12 comments:

  1. I've had a rough year myself. We lost our first son after only 3 days.

    But there are still so many things I am grateful to have. My friends, who rallied around us. My book deal. The fact my wife and I can still try to have more children.

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  2. What a great post. We all have ups and downs (and total meltdowns) and acknowledging that, sharing the experience with others, actually not only helps to clear the gray but can also help others gain perspective. I think this post is an example of something I'm grateful for in spades - honesty. People who are able to be honest about their feelings and their life are such a gift in this day and age of spin, positioning, and hype. Thanks for your post.

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  3. Mmmm... cookies. :)

    Cookies, aside, however, as much as you had people holding your hand, you did all of this yourself. There are those of us who provided the occasional nudge, but if you hadn't had a core belief in yourself and your abilities, very little we said would have mattered.

    As for what I'm grateful for? Not too different from what you said. The people with whom I'm surrounded who give me the much needed kick in the pants.

    Now, get your butt out here already!

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  4. I can particularly relate to what you said about feeling like you're not good enough to do what you love. I love teaching, and I think that I've gotten better at it since I first started teaching years ago. But there have been a few students who have told me or who have criticized me on those terrible rate your professor websites that they know more about literature and writing than I do (I beg to differ) and that they don't think I do my job well enough. If I let them get me down, I would have given up on teaching a long time ago. But I've learned to stand up for myself more, and I'm thankful that teaching has toughened me up (in a good way).

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  5. Wow, very moving post. I am uplifted just reading your grateful list. There is much to be grateful for and having friends who emotionally support you is a major one!

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  6. What an awesome post and an awesome idea. I am terribly sorry that you've had such a tough year, but am happy that things have started looking up for you and that you have a lot to be grateful for. A large support system is a wonderful thing!

    Also, I'm crazy excited that the 'Bartender Book' is doing well and hope it comes out soon! :D I need me another awesome Stephanie book!

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  7. Paul, I am so sorry for your loss, but glad you still have so much to be grateful for. Congrats on your book deal!

    Jenny, I agree, I am really grateful for honesty too and it helps me a ton when people are honest about their struggles. So I wrote this in hopes to pay those folks back.

    Barb, thank you for reminding me of that. And I will do my damndest to get out there so we can be the kind of friends we are both grateful for in person!

    Neurotic Workaholic, Ugh those rating type sites can be so hard to handle (this is why I never go on Goodreads), I am glad you feel your skin getting thicker though and have learned to take what you can and leave the negativity behind. I am still working on that.

    Vicky, yes it really, really is.

    Ashley, thank you so much for your support. I hope the Bartender Book sells so you can read it :)

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  8. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing it. I really needed to read it. *hugs*

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  9. Yes, Stephanie--GREAT post. Thanks so much for your honesty. When I was working toward my first book deal, I used to think the struggle would end there. Now I realize that's just the end of the FIRST struggle. A writer's career is pretty much a WIP, too. I'm so glad you're on an upswing. Your new agent's lucky to have you, and I can't wait to hear of the sale of the Bartender Book!

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  10. Thanks Holly! And you totally nailed it. A Writer's Career is a WIP. I'm writing that down so I remember it when I need to!

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  11. Steph, you are amazing and an inspiration! I consider myself lucky to be among your friends. Your office (and your guest room/office I worked in last week) have inspired me to start thinking about updating my own workspace. It was great in 2005, several books ago. Now, not so much, LOL.

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  12. A post I needed to read today, Steph. Thank you. And yes, some days the worst is when you doubt your ability to do the thing you love. But you do. I do. We all do. So cheers to the new office, to doing what you love, to celebrating all the good stuff that luckily keeps sneaking in there with the bad.

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