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How We’re Really Doing

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Hey. Are you doing okay?

I wanted to give some space here to talk about the loss of Gabe Hudson, who was a friend and inspiration to so many of us. If you were a listener to Gabe’s podcast, Kurt Vonnegut Radio, you know how positive and generous he was to other writers. He was always reaching out to check in with people, and so it was a real shock to learn he’d taken his own life.

If you’ve read my debut novel, you know I have a book’s worth of feelings about suicide. And writers, it seems, can be especially vulnerable to feeling as if they’re always failing, collecting rejections, and trying to explain to others why they’re not finished with their latest project. Add war, politics, holidays, and the stress can feel overwhelming. So I wanted to check in with you.

How are you managing? Are you doing okay?

I pulled myself off of social media a while back and it’s caused me to pay more attention to people in the real world. Rather than talking online to everyone all at once, I’m meeting with friends face-to-face, one person at a time. It’s amazing how different it feels to just have a cup of soup with a friend. Just the undivided attention and how there’s space for silence, for breath, for all the non-verbal ways we communicate. I don’t know why it matters so much but those little things, like trying to get a waiter’s attention or wind blowing a napkin off the table or a bird preening nearby, turn out to be important. And if your friend’s not doing well, it’s easier to see that or to make space for them to say so when you’re hanging out in person.

A little over a month ago, my family and I were invited to Carnegie Mellon to support the new, endowed fellowship in my dad’s name. It was a very sweet event, attended by his friends and colleagues, who shared their memories him. Imagine having to speak after a number of Turing Award winners and pioneers in speech recognition, artificial intelligence, robotics, and the internet. Very humbling!

Anyway, I mention all of this because writing that speech for my dad reminded me of a lot of the simple things in life we used to do together. Simple things I’m trying to consciously make more space for and hold with as much importance as my career. My dad, despite whatever fancy business he was working on, stopped and took joy from the free things we could enjoy any time. He loved long and mostly silent walks. He loved when I tagged along to mail a letter. He loved to cook soup together or check out the farmer’s market. There was always time to play fetch with a dog or snip something in the vegetable garden. And while I work on my book every day, I’m careful not to lose sight of these important little things.

We’ve been taking friends and family to see live soccer games. And I’ve been trying to limit how much news I watch and replace any TV time with some good fiction. We’re loving the series, Reservation Dogs. And we watched a great, low-budget zombie comedy with the kids last time they were home. It’s written and directed by Shin’ichirō Ueda, and this is the link to the trailer, but it’s better to watch it not knowing a thing about it.

And I’m happy I got some time with the newest little ones in our family tree.

I had two mini writer retreats lately—one with my friend, Jessica Keener. We crashed at her brother’s for a long weekend and it was beautiful and quiet and we wrote and walked and I read her chapters from her beautiful novel so she could hear her writing as I do.

And I spent a second long weekend with Georgia Clark and company in the Catskills. I work so much in isolation, so it’s a real gift to see how everything about the work changes when you have company. Some of us talked about having Zoom work sessions, not to talk but just to hold each other accountable for how we’re spending our time.

If you ask me how the book’s going, I can say I love this book. It’s going at its own pace and it’s got magical bits in it and I have no idea when I’ll think it’s done or what it will look like in the end. But I’m enjoying the process, and that’s different for me.

I’m trying to remember—both for myself and my friends—that this is not a race. That life is not on pause while we toil away on a book. And before we’re writers or teachers or students or whatever, we’re humans. So, today, check in with a friend and check in with yourself… just as a human.

As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post:

Ann Napolitano, Hello Beautiful

Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners

Kiese Laymon, Heavy

Maria Dahvana Headley, The Mere Wife

Hernan Diaz, Trust

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

Jill Bialosky, Asylum

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Elizabeth Crane, This Story Will Change

Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage

GennaRose Nethercott, Thistlefoot

Elana Ferrante, Troubling Love

Emma Cline, The Girls

Josh Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

Percival Everett, So Much Blue

Laura Dave, Hello, Sunshine

Bryony Gordon, Mad Girl

Amy Kurzweil, The Flying Couch

Tara Conklin, The Last Romantics

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird

Karen Joy Fowler, What I Didn’t See

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Trauma Stewardship

Diana Goetsch, This Body I Wore

Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie

Sara Gran, Come Closer

Bassey Ikpi, I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays

Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven

Maggie Smith, You Could Make This Place Beautiful

Anthony Ray Hinton, The Sun Does Shine

Allison Larkin, The People We Keep

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Isabel Allende, A Long Petal of the Sea

Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

Jonathan Rosen, The Best Minds

McCracken, Elizabeth, The Giant’s House: A Romance

Sarah Audsley, Landlock X

Dennis Lehane, Small Mercies

Dennis Lehane, Since We Fell

Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers

Jonathan Escoffery, If I Survive You

Tess Gunty, The Rabbit Hutch

Zain Khalid, Brother Alive

Maud Newton, Ancestor Trouble

Morgan Talty, Night of the Living Rez

Vauhini Vara, The Immortal King Rao

R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Jennifer Baker, Forgive Me Not

A.S. King, Dig

Robin Benway, Far from the Tree

Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies

Elizabeth Strout, Oh, William!

Matt Bell, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods

Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here

Rachel Cantor, Half-Life of a Stolen Sister

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene, Innards

Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

Ali Smith, Autumn

Mona Awad, Bunny

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Rene Denfeld, The Enchanted

Colleen Hoover, Heart Bones

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables

Julia Heaberlin, We Are All the Same in the Dark

Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings

Damon Young, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker

Rebecca Makkai, I Have Some Questions for You

Ann Patchett, Tom Lake

 

And a few re-reads (usually this means I’m studying something—POV, pace, transitions, prologues, magic):

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street 

 

Comments are open, and I’d like to hear from you. Tell me what you’re up to, what struggles or joys you want to share—big or small. And if you have any wisdom about bringing balance to your day or making headway on a long project, I’m all ears. Mostly, hi and thanks for being here.

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10 Comments
  • Susan Henderson
    December 13, 2023

    The other day I was reading John Koenig’s made-up words to describe the obscure sorrows of being human that we haven’t found words for, and my first thought was, I wonder if Gabe’s read this yet? https://www.thedictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/concept/ozurie And this: https://www.thedictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/concept/maru-mori Because it seemed like something he’d love.

  • Sarah Bain
    December 14, 2023

    Just finished reading Covenant of Water and it’s in my top 25 favorites. So so good. Other favorites that surprised me this year include: Ministry for the Future; The Colony; The Yield; and Birman Wood.

    Mostly spending time thinking about how to design the empty nest years. In the fall Sawyer will go to college and I find myself reflecting on the past 26 years as a parent—what it means, what I could have done better, what I did well—and what in the world next year looks like. There’s an emptiness there and a hopefulness. Both. Side by side. Terry and I have switched: I work from home and he’s gone all day so the house has already become mine again but it feels bogged down still on children’s’ things. Games no one plays, art projects, discarded clothes, a poster still hung, children’s books, a Harry Potter wand no one wants mailed to them but not yet ready to get rid of, glue sticks dried up, a broken handmade mug by a child, the list goes on and on. Does one just rid themselves of all of that? Two decades worth of reminders that they were here? Sometimes it feels exciting. Other times utterly exhausting.

    • Susan Henderson
      December 14, 2023

      Ooh, many books to add to my list!

      So much respect for the bigness of the impending empty nest years and the emotional process of decluttering and remaking your space. I found the idea of photographing cherished objects made the process so much easier. Some things I’ll never get rid of. But others, the old macaroni necklace, and so on makes a nice photo and then it’s heaven to let it go.

      My never-ending book has become very much about all those reflections you mentioned. Sort of surprised me when it went hard in that direction, and I just went with it.

      Big hugs to you and Terry!

    • Susan Henderson
      December 15, 2023

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      I’m hoping this picture comes through, Sarah. This was my child’s time machine and I loved it to pieces. But now I have a picture of it so we don’t have to continue to make room for it on a shelf in the laundry room. 🙂

      (Aww, so I can’t post photos in the comments, I guess. But imagine a Rolling Rock beer box, decorated with tape, string, pipe cleaners, and pantyhose.)

  • Ric Marion
    December 15, 2023

    Susan,
    So nice to see you back. I had to forage through the past to find where I left off. I did receive my Uncle’s Purple Heart. The United States Coast Guard made a really big deal out the presentation, which was held at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron. https://thecountypress.mihomepaper.com/articles/brown-city-mans-purple-heart-awarded-posthumously/
    It is now framed in a shadow box to be passed on to my son.

    I do agree with Sarah the joys and heartache when the last child moves out. The wife and I are slowly remodeling the house to suit us. (What we are actually doing is messing the house up so badly that this kids will have trouble selling it…) My In-laws, when everyone left, bought a king size bed and tore down walls to make it fit. We had to put the walls back up in order to sell the house.

    Writers Circle is still going strong – a whole new generation of very good young writers. Starting out now is drastically different, so keeping up with the latest trends keeps my on my toes. Not sure if I’ve been doing this 30 years or not. Time, it seems, passes differently for folks as they get older. What you thought was five years ago was actually fifteen. Curious as to why that happens?

    Here, along the river, the seasons change. Last Christmas, as the family gathered in, a bald eagle hung out in the tree outside the kitchen window. This year has brought bluebirds – I really must get some nests set up for them, so pretty. A flock of some 16 wild turkeys come through the yard daily. Deer are everywhere. And, yet, the neighborhood is changing. Hammers can be heard as early morning construction crews build new houses. Traffic ceases only in the wee hours of the night. Still, as we wrap gifts to place under the tree, and plan the next trip, the next adventure, the next book to be revealed by ripping away colorful paper, the family close enough to hug, we realize this place we have come to, this place we decided to call home some forty years ago now, this place is really home. and – movie quote – “there’s no place like home.”

    • Susan Henderson
      December 15, 2023

      So glad, after all your hard work, you were able to get that Purple Heart! Glyone Mahaffy… what a gorgeous name. Didn’t know that was also your middle name till I read the article! 

      I laughed so hard at your description of the home remodeling! And I agree that time moves differently now. I wonder if a physicist or biologist would find that there’s a physical explanation that’s not only due to perspective?

      Love hearing about all your wildlife. We’re having weird weather (again) on Long Island. It warmed up for a few days and everything started sprouting like it was spring. One of my dogs has a dog play group on Fridays, so I take my other dog to the wetland area, where everything smells exciting to him, and we see lots of swans and sand crabs. 

      I’m thinking about your uncle’s story, how astonishing that he survived, and what a great book or movie it would make. 

      • Ric Marion
        December 15, 2023

        Our family has always had a mystery over the origin of the name Glyone. My Grandparent’s never divulged where they got the name from. As far as I know, and Social Security agrees, there was only one person in the United States with the name Glyone – and that was my Uncle. My middle name is Glyone and my oldest son’s middle name is Glyone (we were tempted to make it his first name, but resisted). He, of course, embraces it – driving the countryside here in his BMW with a personalized Michigan License plate that simply reads GLYONE. He also has a Jeep with the plate reading GLY – 1.
        Don’t stay away so long, Susan. I miss your warm thoughts and lovely insights.

        • Susan Henderson
          December 16, 2023

          Great story! And thank you. Appreciate you.

  • Nathalie (@spacedlaw)
    December 15, 2023

    Hi, Susan.
    It’s lovely to read you again.
    Strangely enough, I was thinking about you and the Litpark community about a week ago, and how I missed that.
    I guess too much turmoil and undertow and I went under, drifting away.

    • Susan Henderson
      December 15, 2023

      Nathalie, hi! I’m glad you’re here, and the undertow is a good word for what it can feel like some days. How are you? How’s your photography, your writing, all those cats you look after?

Susan Henderson