In 2002, my younger brother died suddenly. He had been a secret alcoholic and, without anyone knowing, he destroyed his liver. I talked to him one Monday night, when his neck ached so much he couldn’t turn his head. By Thursday, he had died of liver failure.
I was 38. I don’t remember a time before I had a brother. It felt like I’d lost an arm, like an actual part of my body had been chopped off. I developed a goiter that felt as if it was choking me.
My dad had his first heart attack in 1992. The fall after my brother died, Dad was back in the hospital for more heart surgery. It was like the universe was sending me a clear message: if I wanted my child to know her family, I had to get busy. After a miserable pregnancy during which something in my body irreversibly broke, my daughter was born 7-1/2 weeks early.
Through it all, I continued to put out Morbid Curiosity. One issue’s editorial was about my brother’s death. The next was about my daughter’s birth. By issue #10, I was feeling the pressure to focus on my health, my work, and my family. I no longer had the patience to deal with the author who demanded more payment than anyone else was receiving for me to reprint her story that was already published on the web. When one of the new authors wanted to rewrite her essay as the magazine was going to the printer — then wanted to buy up published copies so she could slice her story from it rather than have people read it — I knew I’d made the right decision. I no longer had the emotional reserves to deal with the contributors.
Seven years later, there are things I still miss. There’s no pleasure like opening up a box of newly printed magazines and seeing them real and complete and black as can be. I miss sitting in the audience and hearing a story I’ve edited come to life in its author’s voice. I miss the letters from readers. I miss people cornering me to confess the morbid things they’ve done. I miss working with the authors to shape their essays into pieces that will stick in their readers’ minds and create an alchemy never before seen.
I don’t miss the drama that occurred constantly behind the scenes as I assembled each issue. I’ve long understood that if you ask people to tell you their deepest, darkest memories, you will get more than the words in their submission. I loved my contributors and still honor their experiences, but I lost my taste for the counseling and hand-holding that some of them needed from me. I was getting my drama at home.
I do miss editing, though. Putting together The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two whetted my appetite. I’ve been thinking about assembling a project next year, but I have a few more books of my own to get out of the way first. Luckily, Nanowrimo is coming up fast.
Sometimes one can take on too much grief from others. Grief fatigue, perhaps?
I think grief fatigue is a very real thing and I wouldn’t want to compare my feelings to that. In this case, it was more like drama fatigue. I finally got clear on the difference between crisis and drama, but I couldn’t get everyone to play along. It was better I stopped the magazine before I said something I couldn’t take back.