The State of the Cushing
I saw that the President gave his annual State of the Union address last night. Maybe I’m just a veteran of far too many self-help support groups, but I can’t help but see that as a cue to start going around the circle and “checking in”. So, today for your reading pleasure, I give you…
“The State of the Cushing”.
The State of the Cushing is…well…which Cushing are we talking about? The personal life or the professional life? Because the answer I give you is going to vary according to which one you choose. What’s that? You say you want to hear about both?
Okay. On the personal front, the last year has been — well — damned rotten. Last March, I lost a dear friend to a particularly-aggressive form of breast cancer. In April, my dad had a pulmonary embolism. In July, my three-year-old cat started showing the first signs of a freak heart disease that would ultimately lead to him needing to be euthanized in November. The months in-between were filled with a roller coaster of false hope and heartache (the condition was initially misdiagnosed as pneumonia). On Christmas Eve, we put my mother-in-law in hospice care. Two hours after meeting with the hospice folks, I got a call from my mom — telling me that my dad had a stroke. He spent a little over a month in the hospital and is now in a nursing facility. A little over a month ago, my mother-in-law died. Oh, and in early January one of the members of a writers group I used to attend — the sort of friend I’d chat with now and then at conventions and on Facebook — died, too (quite suddenly, of a heart attack).
On the professional front, the last year has been — well — the best in my brief writing career. Just taking a guess, I think I made at least ten short story sales during the year (including two that should ultimately be counted as pro sales). I sold a novella (Children of No One) to DarkFuse. That novella was blurbed by my literary hero Thomas Ligotti, and has resulted in many opportunities to talk about my work to interviewers. Horror World just gave the book an outstanding review — likening its originality to that of Books of Blood-era Clive Barker. My short story “The Orchard of Hanging Trees” was quite well-received among listeners of Pseudopod. (And just yesterday the blog Diabolical Plots gave it an Honorable Mention when listing their top Pseudopod stories of the year). Oh, and last — but certainly not least — my short story “A Catechism for Aspiring Amnesiacs” was placed on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award. (I’ll find out later this month if it makes the cut for the final ballot).
In regard to all the catastrophes in my personal life — well, I’m not the kind of person who thinks there’s any rhyme or reason to all of this. Any time we let people or pets into our lives, it means we’re vulnerable to loss. And I believe that these events are relatively random in nature. Flip a coin twenty times and you may get “heads” five times in a row. That doesn’t mean there was any predestined pattern set in motion by The Force, it means that true randomness is often uneven and streaky.
I happen to know lots of people, and so that means I’m going to lose lots of people. Sometimes all at the same time. The only way out of that is to start retreating into isolation, to become a hermit. And while I can often be an introvert, I know that becoming an absolute hermit wouldn’t be good for me. I’m a member of a species of social primates. I’m hardwired to need to be around others. Navel-gazing is for sloths, who have the time and limberness to do that for hours on end up in trees. We humans are built to gaze not at ourselves, but at our fellows. And throughout all the personal turmoil of the last year, I’ve tried (sometimes with success, sometimes not) to focus on directing my attention outward.
I’m not someone who believes in the literal effectiveness of prayer. I’m not the kind of person who believes that there’s an Invisible Someone who listens to them. But I do believe that prayers have a certain poetry about them, and that they can express fine notions of how to behave. Take, for example, the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis (“Lord, let me be an instrument of Thy peace.”) That’s about as strong a statement as you’re going to find about how to cope with calamity.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
In regard to all the good news in my professional life –well, that’s the result of spending 20+ hours each week working on stories, the result of reading every night, the result of being prepared whenever opportunity knocked. Take the DarkFuse book for example. I hadn’t really even planned to write a novella last year. I’d planned to continue my focus on short stories. But, over time, I began to see my short work get longer and longer and longer. And before you knew it, I had a novella. And just as I was finishing that novella, I saw DarkFuses’s novella editor (Dave Thomas) soliciting manuscripts on Twitter. That was shear luck. What wasn‘t shear luck was that when the opportunity came, I was prepared. I already had a novella written and had just started working on revisions.
Things happen, in our lives, in our careers, good and bad and in-between. Some of these things we have control over, many we do not. Our job is to simply bring our best possible selves to both success and to troubles (and to avoid getting lost in self-reflection about either one).