Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark

I had such good intentions. I made it one week into 2018 sticking to my promise that I’d regularly write something, somewhere that at least some other people could read it.

Then the flu was a plague upon our house, then it was awards season, in between a furious mix of work and travel and suddenly it’s mid-March and this is the first full weekend I’ve been healthy and home since MLK Day.

I’m resisting the urge to abandon the hard-won resolutions I’d made my around to by the end of 2017. We’ll just call this an early Spring reboot. I’m trying every day, every week, to think about what I am doing to care for my body, my mind, and my future.

In between rounds of the flu, we did yoga while watching whales leap through the ocean off the coast of Mexico during a short trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate 10 years since our first date.

I read a lot, from a Marcia Clark-penned mystery novel I found by the pool at the hotel, to a YA novel that had been on my list for a while, the amazing Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, to a very un-me fantasy-history novel, The Philosopher’s Flight.

By far the most influential thing I inhaled while spending a lot of time in bed was a recommendation from my friend Annika, Rachael Herron’s Fast-Draft Your Memoir. Annika wrote in her TinyLetter that she’d finally pushed way into a long-contemplated writing project thanks to Rachael’s advice.

My formal education as a writer is a little all over the place—journalism school broke my ability to form short, declarative sentences into crumbs and then helped me rebuild that skill, one excruciating class at a time, which for all that I tend to shrug off the value of a Medill degree is in retrospect fairly invaluable. I took a series of MediaBistro screenwriting classes shortly after moving to LA, which I snobbily liked in large part because they were for working writers, mostly journalists, rather than casual hobbyists. It was more focused on how to tackle a new format than a reassuring or nurturing support group. Other writer friends contributed their own story-breaking best-practices from the various camps/cults/classes they’d paid for. I learned a lot from blogs Jane Espenson and John August faithfully updated, often daily, through the mid-2000s. I have a dog-chewed and dog-eared copy of How to Write a Romantic Comedy that more than fulfilled its title promise.

Mostly, I wrote. I wrote thousands of essays and blog posts, both on my own and for work at Popnography, dozens if not hundreds of feature and cover stories for magazines, a short film and three (four?) screenplays, one of which I revised and rewrote seriously for the better part of maybe five years, parts of a half-dozen other short story collections or novels. In my bones and heart I’m a writer, even if in this phase of my career I rarely do it for my day job.

So one night, only sort of high on cold meds, I bought Fast-Draft Your Memoir for six bucks on Kindle and figured, especially with Annika’s recommendation, that at the least I might find something that would help me advance the almost-ready-to-be-written book I finally found myself on the cusp of tackling. Then, as Jessica joked, I did a very typical Shana thing and speed-read a book about how to speed-write a book. Two hours later I’d highlighted and annotated my way through Herron’s advice and even begrudgingly hauled out a notebook to follow her instructions to write an outline.

I have, I am pretty sure, two big books in me that I need to write before I die, and for the last three or four months or so I’ve been inching my way toward being ready to finally tackle the first. I’d thought maybe it should be a novel. Narratively neater, more easily compacted, free of the hurt that still stings in recalling a very precise and largely awful time in my life.

This book changed my mind, if only because for the first time it was actually simple to outline what parts of the story needed to be told and which could be skipped. (Herron’s perhaps obvious but important advice: a memoir is not an unabridged autobiography. It’s a story.)

Just before the flu struck, the first lay-on-the-floor yoga class of the year included the option to draw a card from a deck of intentions. I’d been agitated through the first part of the session, more distracted than usual due to some work drama that just wouldn’t fade from the front of my mind.

Instead of trying to find some elusive clear consciousness, eventually, I’d prompted myself to consider the tiny spark of the book idea I’d been trying to tease into more, and in a blissed-out haze of long-held horizontal poses and calming chimes, I felt my mind unspool across the entirety of a story. I could see the beginning, middle and end. I knew what to title it. I understood how, though the story had started 16 years before, I was only just now ready to assemble it properly.

I rose from my mat at the end of the class feeling light, buzzing with a calm certitude. Then I drew a card from the deck the teacher had left on her mat at the head of the room.

CREATE, the oracle said, and I may not be one who often asks the universe what to do but I’m also not one to ignore when I’m given such a clear answer.

Annika’s already made her way through a first draft, which is amazing and so exciting and inspiring. I’m just now finding my way into something resembling a regular writing schedule and I’m sure around some unforeseen corner I will hit a wall, hard, like always happens.

But for now it still feels absurdly easy. I lived this story a long time ago, and I’ve spent some part of probably every day since trying to make sense of it, telling myself over and over how I survived. That I survived. Now it’s time to write it down for real.

Meet Little Miss End of the World

Tomorrow I will go to work.

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Tomorrow I will. I’ll do my best to avoid the TVs playing CNN throughout the office, though it’s possible there will be so much other, newer, awful news to show over and over that anniversary coverage will barely make air. (The producer in me calls bullshit: anniversary packages have been cut and dammit they will be run!)

This year might be different. Not tomorrow specifically, which will likely be hard and harrowing especially because this whole year has been hard and harrowing.

But this year I tried something different. Yes, there is a story there. No, I’m not ready to write about it, not yet. It’s not some miracle. It’s no cure, not a clean slate. A new intent, maybe. A new map.

Really it’s about trying a whole series of things that are different. Soaking silently for hours in a teak boxes of mineral water. Lying on the floor in the near-dark and meditating in long-held slow stretches. I didn’t know before I was capable of such stillness. I wasn’t, I guess. I couldn’t hold that quiet calm through the fear and worry and unknown places my mind might wander. Now I find myself reaching out to those edges.

I have been searching and searching through my memories and my old hard drives to find a tiny scrawl I made in late 2001. I have probably made that search before but if so I left terrible breadcrumbs for myself.

Finally: I found her.

Meet Little Miss End of the World:

October 2, 2001.

I was at my parents’ house in Reno, in limbo between New York and San Francisco. I was drowning every day, every night. Barely keeping my head above water in the middle of that hot dry autumn desert. Drenched in guilt that even though I’d planned to move west on September 15 now somehow I was abandoning the survival we needed to do together as a city. Far too traumatized to do anything and yet carrying on every day.

I wrote this:

living alone means you get to decide what kind of person you are, i said when i first moved [to new york]. it means, do you go to the movies today or read a book? cook a meal or walk down to a restaurant? fuck around or make something useful of yourself? no one’s there in that crowded house to tell you where to go or what to do, not even when the sky is falling.

so i was alone. i stood alone on the edge of the apocalypse and spun in circles and choked on ash and remembered no one was there to lead me home if i didn’t find it myself. good thing i’ve been trusting no one but myself this whole time, i thought, because that’s who i’m left with. and i found my way, followed, asked, soldiered on.

and maybe i spent too much of those days after alone, too, because when i close my eyes i see her, my little stick figure on an empty half planet. no buildings, even. no people. no smoke. no flat white light. this is what the end of the world looks like, except i know now that it will be worse than what we’ve been able to imagine. i’m officially making her my friend, little miss end of the world, this self of myself that i see when i try to sleep. maybe if i know she’s just a little digital picture i can manipulate and resize and put where i want i’ll remember where i am, why i’m leaving this time.

I survived. I’ve survived. I was 24 and it changed everything except that the world continued on, good and bad and better and worse.

This year has been worse. Today, so far, is okay. Tonight I’ll go curl up on a hardwood floor in some semi-fetal position and reach out for those calm wisps at the edges of my consciousness. I won’t be alone. I’m not alone.

I wasn’t alone then, either, but now I know at least that much so deep in my bones it doesn’t ever let go. I’ve learned better language, precise and clinical but also elusive and intuitive, for understanding and accepting what trauma does to your brain and body and what will or won’t or might not or just might ever heal the way you’re expecting and in many ways you hadn’t.

I am not alone at the end of the world. And neither are you. Maybe I still needed that little scrawled drawing to remind me. Or maybe you do.

Originally published on September 10, 2017, at