Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Original title: I’ll Give You Something to Cry About

https://roarfeminist.org/2017/05/11/still-training-for-the-end-of-the-world/

In honor of Hillary Clinton’s book which comes out today, which I prefer to call “What the Fuck Happened,” which has already garnered tons of hysterical misogyny and controversy (even though it’s just out)…I am reposting a piece I published on ‘ROAR: Literature and Revolution by Feminist People’ last May.

We changed the title to “Still Training for the End of the World.” Although in retrospect, the original title feels so right, you know when you look back and think, wow, what was I bitching about then?????

Sometimes I like to stand in the very spot where I conceived of this piece back in 2016. And while the husband still sits in his same comfy chair, the TV has a very different message. And I am pissed. I am pissed that Bernie Sanders did not shut up and pivot quickly enough to help avert this disaster. I am disgusted with the so-called “Green” and “Libertarian” party egos who did not have enough sense, among other things, to step down and say, hey lets get behind her before something awful happens. 

Something awful happened. And I’m still screaming.

roarfeminist.org   (donate!)

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Action plan. Writing about health care.

photo-66For today can I just write a blog about writing a blog? Of course I can. I’m the boss of me. Except that I started writing another piece today, one I realize could be considered controversial and should only see the light of day under deep pseudonym in the AARP magazine backpages–so I feel less the mistress of my own freedom than any thinly veiled braggadocio might suggest. That piece, the one you will likely not read, is about the atrocities of getting old in the changing workplaces of an ageist society where you are unappreciated as a still fierce force to be reckoned with. Instead the piece reads more like a Human Resource reportable incident than a blog post and do we really want to go there? If you do, message me discreetly.

So anyway, in the spirit of positivity, let’s talk about a new project instead. This March I attended the annual conference “Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professionals” at Harvard. I admit it was daunting to spend time with two hundred medical experts and hearing their pitches for what could easily become the next medical blockbuster. We met with agents, editors and publicists and attended three days of lectures on such topics as “How to Get Your Message Out in Today’s Changing Media Environment,” “Narrative Writing in Healing: The Power of Stories,” and “Publishing is Changing the Way Medicine is Practiced.” Participants left the conference all charged up with action plans and brand new twitter accounts. I left geared up to do…something. During the workshops I made a pretend pitch to write a patient-centered handbook, titled something like So How Was Your Week?, which would explain, in a conversational Anne Lamott-y tone, what to expect from your psychiatric encounter. I practiced and pitched it and got good marks for my delivery to a panel of a dozen agents and editors and the aforementioned two hundred others. No agents swarmed me for a book deal, nor did I really want one. My handbook just didn’t have the punch of, say, revolutionary non-pharmacological ways to beat the common headache forever or how one surgeon brings the dead back to life or the slam dunk memoir potential of impoverished illegal immigrant cures blindness (maybe I embellished a bit here) What I really want to do anyway is find ways of talking about how we feel about doing health care, how do our stories matter in the schema of Obama-care and litigation and insurance insanity? I’ll never be an Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, I’m just a worker on the front lines. But what if stories like mine and those of my colleagues could shine a light on the complexities of today’s health care and create better communication with patients, families, colleagues, legislators? What if we could promote health care by making our process more transparent? What if we found words to support each other during this process? Working on the front lines can be a lonely and misunderstood endeavor. Our stories have great potential to heal and I want to talk about ways to do this.

So in the positive spirit of staying close to home and writing what you know, starting in May I’ll be working with the marketing and communication team at my local hospital to do some interviews and write some blogs and connect with my colleagues and patients to do the same. Stay tuned. In the meantime here are several collections with beautiful narrative, moving examples of the genre.

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris, Seal Press 2015.

Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, She Writes Press 2015.

Same Time next Week: True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness, edited by Lee Gutkind, InFact Books, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 


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Honing In, back from Iota Conference of Short Prose

 

Nina and two contributors to "Dumped" – Penny Guisinger and Judith Podell, on the porch of Prince Cottage, Campobello Island, IOTA Conference

Nina and two contributors to “Dumped” – Penny Guisinger and Judith Podell, on the porch of Prince Cottage, Campobello Island, IOTA Conference

 

The nine-hour drive back from the Iota Conference of Short Prose last night became more wearisome with each mile. Metaphors abounded – a mile is like a sentence, each small town a paragraph, each visual transition a small piece of prose. With each random thought becoming a brilliant brief essay in its own right. You probably know what I mean, trips home from excitement – the hospital after having a baby, driving home after a good job interview, dinner with friends, a gallery excursion, a hike, a shopping expedition – your brain fills with ideas and plans for the next big (or little) thing.

And then you are back, and slowly you fill with things of daily life, not so exciting. The things you forgot. The things you left undone. I always leave half my stuff in the car, looking like laziness on the surface, but actually another metaphor.

My manuscript for Dumped: Women Unfriending Women was left untouched and behind schedule. The days were filled with foggy views of the ubiquitous Atlantic Ocean, driving between New Brunswick’s Island of Campobello where the conference was being held, to Lubec, Maine, through the customs each time. Lubec, a movie set whose pastel and dilapidated buildings became paragraphs in themselves. And the conference where two of my anthology contributors – Penny Guisinger, organizer of the conference, and Judith Podell, became actual three-dimensional entities. Not just paper and screen anymore but flesh and voice.

Our faculty: Charles Coe whose poems about forgiving his parents escorted me back to childhood, Suzanne Strempek Shea whose tender enthusiasm made that child fantasize crawling into the backseat of her car and falling asleep, and then there was my faculty, Barbara Hurd, on whose mind I developed an unapologetic crush and threatened to make a photo of her into my screensaver. Like a stalker who wants to keep her with him always. It was funny in the moment. Now I wonder if I should delete that. Even the very private and elegant Hurd found it humorous after the first moment of terror…. but that’s what happens at these conferences. We are distilled into small working pods for that magical iota of time, wondering how we will go back home and write alone.

The days were filled with reading and workshopping our small pieces – after all, that is what “iota” means: a very small amount, bit, speck, mite, scrap, shred, ounce, scintilla, atom, jot, grain, whit, trace. It all became much bigger than that.

We wrote about the larger world in miniature, shifting the lens within a small frame from the personal and tiny meaning to the universal. Within the next breath. Paring word count. Stripping away excess. Might I be allowed to be corny and say that we lifted the fog on our words? Yes, it is my blog and I am still ever so slightly within the experience, and possibly well over word count.


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A PENANCE. A BLESSING. A DEADLINE. A guest blog on SHE WRITES PRESS.

[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] [SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] 20130418-105222.jpg
POSTED BY NINA GABY ON JULY 14, 2014 AT 5:30AMVIEW BLOG
In anticipation of writing this blog post for BEHIND THE BOOK, I immediately sat down and wrote a whole craft essay instead. More of a memoir, actually. About waitressing. It really did apply, at least to much of this process. I wrote about being “in the weeds,” an old restaurant workers’ term for being too busy to think about anything except for the rush, about just needing for it to be over and going home with your greasy pockets bulging with tips. And “In the Weeds” will make a great craft essay one day. But this needs to be more about today and this process with a hybrid publisher, this very first rodeo on my own, and the complicated experiences that pushed me towards editing and publishing Dumped: Women Unfriending Women.
As organisms, we tend to respond adversely to pain: it makes us wiggle around and eventually move in some different direction. The details of my own experiences with being dumped by friends over the years are the subject of my essay in the anthology. As I tried to make sense of this dynamic, I began to talk about it a lot, had begun to publish essays in a few anthologies myself, some articles and short stories (I had become a real writer), and everyone said, Wow what a great idea, do a book, yeah, call it “Dumped,” that’s so awesome. I was becoming impatient with where my life as a writer could go. I was about fifty-nine years old at the time, and on the precipice of old age. I had also written the first draft of a novel about the same experiences I was writing about in Dumped, but fictionalized (and funnier) and a collection of micro-prose. The writing had probably saved my life, as well as my opening a studio and doing some visual art, and having my career as a psychiatric nurse practitioner to fall back on when our life kind of went to pieces. A huge lesson in all of this becomes the contrast between who stands by you, who doesn’t, why, and what the lasting effects might be. In my case, I kept writing. And thinking about all the other women who had these stories to tell.
The comedian Jonathan Winters once said “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” I knew Brooke Warner from her days at Seal Press, where I had published a couple essays and had talked with her about another idea, a proposal I ultimately abandoned. I remembered her as skilled and enthusiastic. I hired her as a consultant/coach on Dumped. Through Brooke’s connection to another editor, I was introduced to an agent who was interested in my proposal. This was encouraging to me, a novice, and probably kept me going. But the agent needed famous writers as contributors to my collection if she was going to sell the idea. I was impatient. I had good writers–not famous, but really good. Then I got a couple of famous writers, but by this time, Brooke and I had the conversation about her press. At first I hadn’t understood how it worked (on some levels I’m still trying to figure it out), but it seemed like I was climbing up on the wave of publishing’s future.
As I wrote on my blog site: “Did I dream of the traditional route? Getting on the train to Manhattan to lunch with my agent and strike a big advance with a major publishing house? That image also has me in white gloves, nylons, and a tight-waisted suit, much like the one my mother would have worn when she accompanied my father to do just that when I was a little girl. And if I focus on that, I might just end up too old to even get on the train without serious help.” I signed on with She Writes.
In addition to renegotiating how we view publishing, I then had to renegotiate the “power” differential. I was now an editor. I posted a call for submissions to Dumped in Poets and Writers; I went to a conference on creative non-fiction in Oxford, MS and met several women who are contributing and one who has offered to write my foreword. A dear friend gave me a list of writers from her MFA program. I stalked a famous writer on a new book tour for permission to reprint one of my favorite essays of all time. I tried stalking a couple writers at AWP but the weather had grounded them elsewhere. I was disheartened by well-known women who would never get back to me. I was heartened by people who helped out in so many different ways. I got together with women who I thought had dumped me only to share our opposing perspectives. I stayed far away from others. And then I had to really be an editor and reject work. Yeah, I had to reject work. Me, the oft-times-rejected, had to reject. Me, dedicated to giving new writers their first chance. I’m a pro at my day job, setting boundaries all the time. But this is different and maybe the hardest part.
The hardest part except for time. We do not, but we should, anticipate the power outages, the cataract surgeries, the computer problems, the sudden injury leaving our back too twisted to sit at the computer. Problems at the day job that might require shopping for a new interview outfit. The death of a friend, then another, leaving us too breathless to focus. Enough time goes by and we will have to re-experience the holidays, throw in some Seasonal Affective Disorder, another ice storm. Terror. Lots of things get in the way. But to be so busy with something? A penance. A blessing. And now a deadline.
I take solace in the words of Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon who wrote in the May/June Poets and Writers about the birthing of an anthology, “Labor of Love”: “It’s just way more work than you can imagine. Even if you imagine a lot of work, it’s more.”
My focus today? I envision a beautiful book in a pile at AWP next March on the She Writes Press vendor table. Next March, the other side of the weeds.


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Charms on a bracelet, amulets on a string:

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I woke early this morning to review some drafts. Submissions for my collection DUMPED: WOMEN UNFRIENDING WOMEN. As I go deeper into the process of putting together a book that only has one of my pieces in it, (an essay I wrote almost a year ago at a self-imposed and glorious retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires, sitting, professionally edited, already six months,) I realize I have become an editor and business woman, maybe less a writer? Outside of reworking two lengthy essays and a blog piece for Brevity, what have I really done?

Yesterday, after a 38-hour-in-3-day stint of working my day job so I could justify a whole day off to write uninterrupted, I didn’t write. I did many other things instead. Things that involved typing but not writing. I had a volley of e-mails with my accountant about setting up an LLC before signing my publishing contract. (The LLC being somewhat like the malpractice insurance I keep for my day job.) That then required several attempts at downloading forms from the Secretary of State and then calling several times to ask questions about those forms. Then more e-mails with the accountant about those forms. And the frustration of trying to deal with a rural bank. They have set up two previous business accounts for me, but they have changed hands and I can’t remember what I had to do to set up accounts before and the only person who does it now works only a couple hours a day and the person at the customer care center in the next state over suggested I drive to an address that is actually only a drive-through window so I got huffy with her which prompted a whole Facebook rant. And then after several more phone calls I realized I was in the wrong (I need the state paperwork before I can get a new checking account which they might have told me last week when I actually went into the bank for advice) which then prompted a delete of the whole thread on Facebook and then I felt crazy and watched Judge Judy from the treadmill. After business hours I continued to dutifully read a memoir strung together by women’s’ friendships, wondering if Susanna Sonnenberg would write a blurb for me. Hell, maybe she’ll write a piece. But overall, even reading good stuff feels like homework.

Why am I bothering you with these increasingly run-on sentences? Because it wasn’t until this morning, so early that first light hadn’t even made up its mind, that I was able to quietly savor the actual pieces that writers are sending me. I laughed at Judith Podell’s essay notes. I marveled at Jessica Handler’s interplay of grief and attachment. I reviewed e-mails from famous and not so famous strangers and a promise from Carrie Kabak. Another from River Jordan. “Gems,” I thought to myself. “I’m stringing together gems.” Every downloaded form and unmet deadline, every psychiatric note and evaluation I do at my day job, they all serve as the jump rings which will glue together the final project. Like a charm bracelet. Like the amulets that my best friend in high school began stringing together for me, and now forty-five years later, a necklace I am still adding to. The magic imbued in each hamsah, scarab, evil eye, baby tooth. Making one for my daughter when she turned 16, one for a friend after her partner died. Graduation presents, tickets to safe places. Pieces of meaning and beauty and superstition. I do enjoy the metaphor for a moment before I pull the paperwork from my tote and start typing my documents for work, getting a start on the real day.


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Going Hybrid

I have decided to publish “Dumped: Women Unfriending Women” with SHE WRITES PRESS. SHE WRITES was co-founded by Brooke Warner, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. Brooke was the Acquisitions Editor for Seal Press (the first hot shot non-fiction folks who published my early essays) and she is also a bad girl (gave people wine from under her display table at the AWP conference last March even though the security guards told her to stop.) (She reminded me of me as a teenager.) (Only smarter. Taller.) More importantly, being a “bad girl” means that she was willing to leave behind the norms to create, with co-founder Kami Wycoff, a hybrid publishing model. “Hybrid” falls between the “still not ready for prime time” concept of self publishing and the traditional route which has begun to erode in our digitized and transitioning literary culture. Gutsy, professional and transparent, SHE WRITES may just be leading the way for a whole new deal in publishing.

Did I (do I) dream of the traditional route? Getting on the train to Manhattan to lunch with my agent and strike a big advance with a major publishing house? That image also has me in white gloves, nylons, and a tight waisted suit, much like the one my mother would have worn when she accompanied my father to do just that when I was a little girl. And if I focus on that, I might just end up too old to even get on the train without serious help. My initial forays into that world were pleasant enough, some generous assistance finding an interested agent, but for the Catch-22, the details of which I have already bemoaned adequately.

Brooke consulted on my non-fiction book proposal- a traditional thirty seven page “learning experience” which was likely more time consuming than the final product will be, and we suddenly asked ourselves why I didn’t publish with SHE WRITES? The vetting process a success, SHE WRITES has now accepted it for Fall 2014 publication.

Dumped will be a collection of essays written primarily by women about that awful moment when you are erased from a friendship more meaningful than even the basic romantic relationship. You expect romantic relationships to break up, the entertainment industry and a good part of literature revolves around that loss. You feel as though there should be an Adele song for you, but there isn’t.

My “pitch” goes like this:dumped cvr blog 1

“The essays in Dumped aren’t stories of friendship dying a mutually agreed upon death, like when you fall out of touch and a decade later find each other and you haven’t missed a beat. These are the stories about suddenly finding yourself erased, without context, possibly without worth, undefined. The stories that stay with you, maybe for a lifetime. I want textured, layered, messy, funny- with anger, sexual confusion, redemption, hopelessness and social context. What did it really mean to be deleted, discarded, deserted?” By the ones you most trusted?

I  have a number of essays I am reviewing from women all over the country, I have some works in progress by some outstanding writers- Jessica Handler, Alexis Paige, Judith Podell. A reprint promised by the well known Ann Hood. In conversation with a fabulous publicist I met at a conference this spring. A number of other writers who’ve made initial commitments.

But seriously? All I can envision is the not yet existing  “EVENT” button on my website, fast forward to the readings and signings and NPR interviews. And what I will be wearing and if I can lose 40 pounds. In the meantime I will update on the process of “going hybrid.”


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Blogger Block? Me?

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Valid excuses abound for my lack of follow through to my commitment of blogging twice a week to develop a presence. A “platform” as the new vernacular insists. How hard could that be for someone with boundless opinions on everything and insatiable energy for anything to do with the written word?

Yes me. Caught in a wash of the ennui that has always made me pity others. Me, of the “just do it” mentality. Legions of exhausted wordsmiths, I humbly join you. Hands folded, the laptop keyboard about as inviting as the treadmill in the corner that I am also avoiding. I can get mildly energized by the metaphor of laptop and treadmill, thinking I’m on to something, but it passes. I go get a yogurt, throw laundry in the washer. I have prepped for writing, I remind myself. I spent yesterday, a work day from home, writing up a pile of overdue psychiatric evaluations for my day job, got some discharge notes done, took a nap, and yes I will admit this to you, caught up on the Young and the Restless. All that so I could write today.

Or at least try to untangle the loop-de-loop that my anthology project has become. An interested agent needs me to include in my proposal some writers of household name stature before a publisher will even look at it. Household name writers don’t write on spec so I need a publisher. Generous women willing to help, waiting for more info. I wait for the universe to toss me some secret tool to unravel the loop or at least get more of my pleading emails answered.

I list all the reasons I can’t write today, all the reasons I am planning to go to a matinee with a friend instead. Why I spent last weekend eating fried seafood along the coast of Maine instead. A double sabotage, nothing pokes a hole in the energy reserve like overly oxidized trans fats. Actually I am doing a lot of stupid things to avoid how I feel about some really bad things that are going on, things I should be writing about. Like that my cat had to have her leg amputated this week. Like that a friend has been given two to seven days to live. Another friend has relapsed. Another friend’s dog died. A family member has had a serious exacerbation of a chronic illness. I’m worried about my daughter. I can’t keep up with the need for my services at work, and Obama-care isn’t helping with that. I cannot write about what’s important in mental health care right now because the state that I live in has an even broader interpretation of confidentiality laws than the feds. I have a sore throat. Headache for weeks. Cataracts. My house is a mess. Where does the list end, where does it cease to be valid? At any rate, I have to share the yogurt with the cat, it’s the only thing she’ll eat. And then I’ll post this, knowing you will understand.