I haven’t been writing much here, but I have definitely been writing.
What I’m working on has turned into a fantasy series with (likely?) 4-5 installments. I’ve finished the first book (although… I’m already thinking a prequel to that book would be nice to write later on) and I’m approaching the climax of the second book.
I’ve been slowly chiseling away at this monster of a second book on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 2-7 a.m. (Yeah, you read that right.) I’m not very exciting on Friday and Saturday nights, but the benefit is that I’m rarely, if ever, interrupted early Saturday and Sunday morning. Everyone is asleep. Because everyone else is sane.
I understand this.
It’s a price that I’m willing to pay to bring this story to light. It’s a story that just won’t go away.
Some themes that are central to this series of books:
How humanity understands and interacts with the Divine
The relationship between pain, growth, healing, and death
Healing that causes harm and harm that causes healing
The cyclical nature of creation and destruction: Creation as destruction and destruction as creation
Some questions that the series explores:
Who deserves to be saved or healed? Does everyone deserve a second chance?
When should healers withdraw their healing and leave a person to their pain/fate?
When should the needs of the group take precedence over the needs of the individual?
Where is the line between pain leading to growth and pain crushing someone’s soul?
How do the dead continue to influence the living?
I’ve been inspired by When God was a Woman, a book about the transition in human history from primarily polytheistic worship of a female goddess of creation to a monotheistic worship of a male god of creation. If that sounds interesting, please check out my previous post, “God, the Mother.” I’m also combining bits of history and mythology from Turkey and Serbia.
I’m not going to lie: Writing this second book has been a slog.
In April, I had a few very bad weeks and almost abandoned the book completely. I was in that “murkey middle” part of the book and things were just getting very unwieldy. I struggled to keep in mind what the motivations for my characters were and what they would want to do in certain situations. It’s very hard to write alone, in the dark, sitting on a pile of words that no one else reads, for weeks at a time.
What got me through this part was sharing parts of what I was working with others. Just getting some general feedback of, “I like this character” or “I want to know more about that” gave me the motivation to keep going.
Some people say that quitting is easy.
It has never been easy for me to quit.
Once I start something that I believe is worth the effort of my creativity and persistence, I will nurture whatever I’m doing until it grows into what I think it can become.
So the next time you’re up at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, drink a cup for me.
Stay with me as I take you through some things that I’ve been thinking about.
It has been seven years since I saw that message from Mom.
Call me as soon as you can.
And I just knew. Before I pressed Call, I knew that at the end of the conversation, I would know that you were gone. I remember looking at that button on my phone thinking, Just one more moment before I know for sure. I need one more moment of not knowing. Just one more moment before I know and I can never not know again. I need just one more moment.
This is not happening.
But it is.
I sat at the top of the stairs and I pressed, Call.
I heard the words and they rattled inside my mind like marbles in a jar. Away. Passed. Unable. Last night. Nurses. Dad.Breathing. They were all words that I knew and understood, individually, until they were forced to be in the same sentence. I had the context to expect these words. You had not been doing well for weeks after you fell. I was expecting this.
My mind understood. But my heart did not.
The reality of losing someone who has seen your hand grow from the clenched fist of a newborn to the open palm of an adult. Someone whose memory populates the entire landscape of your childhood and teenage years.
It should not be possible to lose someone as important as you were to me.
And yet it does.
All the time.
The first time that Felicity asked seriously about death was shortly after the pandemic broke out, no doubt fueled by the never-ending news updates about the virus. She was six years old. We were watching Hook, specifically the scene when Rufio dies. When the movie ended, she was sobbing.
I had never seen her cry like this before. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “What happened to Rufio?”
“Well, he died,” I said.
“But what happened to him? Where did he go?”
I could feel my heart seizing in my chest. This was an important moment and I literally had no words. I almost wished that I was still 19 years old, certain of the destination of souls depending on who was right and who was wrong.
So I did what all smart parents do.
I stalled. And then I put the question back to her.
“Where do you think he went?”
“I don’t know!” she sobbed harder.
I panicked. Like I said, I had never seen her like this before. This moment was crushing her and she was seeking out my comfort and certainty.
Say something! I chided myself.
“No one knows for sure what happens when we die,” I began. “But I think that we go to be with God.”
She sobbed even harder.
And I instantly knew that it was the wrong thing to say.
“I don’t want to be with God! I want to be with you and Daddy!”
“You’re not going to die, Kermit. You’re going to be fine. This virus mostly hurts people who are older.”
“But what if it does?”
I swallowed the growing knot in my throat, pushing it deep into my stomach and straightened myself. She wasn’t saying it–but I knew what she was getting at.
“Is that what you’re afraid of? That me and Daddy will die?”
“YES!” she continued to sob.
At this point, three-year-old Henry walked into the room and saw Felicity crying. He walked over to her and put his arms around his sister and said, “S’ok, Ficity.” She hugged him back.
And in that moment, my three-year-old had given more comfort to her than I had.
Of course telling her that she would “go to be with God” was a terrifying concept. Who was God to her? Some large, unknowable entity who lived up in the clouds. Although she had learned in church that “God is Love,” her six-year-old brain understood love as a packed lunch, a hug when you’re sad, and the voice that says “good night” before the light goes out.
I pulled her into my arms and held her while she sobbed.
And then I told her the truth.
“You will never be alone. Daddy and I have surrounded you with friends and family so that this will never happen. Even if you lose me and Daddy, there will be someone to take care of you. You don’t ever have to worry about who will take care of you and Henry.”
“Who will take care of me?”
And then we spent the next five minutes listing, in order, the people that would take care of her. I started with those we had designated as her legal guardians should such a situation arise. Then, I kept going. I named every friend that we had incorporated into our lives, one by one, holding a finger up for each person who loved her and cared about her. When I ran out of fingers, I made her hold one of her fingers up for the names that I was still listing.
When we got to twenty names, we looked at our fingers and then I held her hands in mine.
“You will never, ever be left alone. Ever.”
The day after you died, I got a bouquet of flowers from my friends.
Our friendships are special.
I understand this more now that I’m approaching 40. To continue to share weekly dinners and breakfasts with a group of friends throughout your 20s and 30s is not typical. We’ve taken vacations together, both long and short. We’ve stayed after parties and helped each other clean up. We’ve made each meals when we were sick. We’ve supported each other through the stuff that we don’t talk about with just anyone. We’ve come together to support each other as we’ve lost parents. Six times over now.
And when the pandemic came, we moved our dinners to Zoom and suffered through the constant, Wait, what did you say? Go ahead. Wait, me?, just so we could stay connected.
After 15 months of separation, we had our first in-person dinner a few weeks ago. When I hugged my friend, Ben, I said, “I’m not letting go first.”
He said, “Okay.”
And we just stayed like that for a full minute.
What is a word stronger than “grateful”? If there is one, that’s how I feel toward my friends.
I wish you had a friend group like this when you were alive.
Does time make it easier?
It’s not so hard when I’m remembering the things about you that make me laugh and smile. All the ways that you were completely unique and unforgettable. Whenever I see someone dressed oddly, I remember that one time we were at the gas station together. I took stock of what you were wearing on a hot July afternoon through the driver’s side window of your sedan. You were so tall that all I could see was your belly, covered by a blue and maroon striped dress shirt, tucked into teal and black swimming trunks. When you got back in the car, I laughed at your bare feet, shoved into brown loafers. You grabbed a McDonald’s napkin from your glove compartment and mopped at the sweat underneath your baseball cap.
It’s also not so hard when I’m remembering things you used to say. Whenever situational context pulls something you would say out of the depths of my memory, it makes me smile. You lack motivation, but not know-how, you used to say our border collie, Gator. Down at the Old Country Buffer, you would say to talk about the restaurant, Old Country Buffet. It’s the Boss! You know they call him the Boss?, you would ask me every time Bruce Springsteen came on the radio in the car.
But then sometimes, no, time does not make losing you easier.
It hasn’t been easy to hear How Great Thou Art or Amazing Grace. I miss the way you would lower your head and mutter the words. Not sing. You weren’t a huge singer. But mutter, yes. You were a soulful mutterer. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.
It’s not easy when Felicity reads a story to Henry, cover and to cover, and he asks her what the difference is between a My Little Pony storybook and a My Little Pony comic, and she comes up with a perfect child-appropriate answer. You never got to see them like this. I wish you had.
And the squeezing of my heart when I look at Henry’s school pictures and I think, He has my eyes. Which means he has Dad’s eyes.
Those are the times when it is not easier.
After seven years of life without you, I understand a few things better now than I did in the immediate days after you passed.
First, the times when I’ve felt your loss the most were the times when I built the walls high and kept everyone at arm’s length.
These were times when I was perpetually stressed by the endless juggling of work and care-taking when the kids were small(er). To be honest, I was afraid of running out. Running out of what? Everything. Energy. Time. Love. Everyone wanted something from me and so I gave and gave and gave–almost as if I were trying to beat life to the punch. Ha-ha. You can’t take away when I’m readily giving and giving and giving. And that’s what I did.
Until I had nothing left except numbness.
And in that quiet numbness, the feeling of loss would rear its ugly head at surprising and unpredictable times. And I was shocked by it. I thought I was fine. I had been getting everything done for everyone else, hadn’t I? But in all that business, my heart called out for me to acknowledge what I had lost.
Dwell on it? No. But acknowledge? Yes.
I don’t fully understand why the acknowledgment matters so much. But something within the human heart calls out for remembrance. It’s why we have namesakes and statues and days of remembrance. Perhaps we sense on a primal level that the worst horror of death is in the Forgetting.
Maybe it’s why no matter how far I meander here and there throughout the year and throughout my writing, my steps and my words always bring me back to this sacred space of remembering you around this time of year.
Second, after seven years of life without you, I can say for sure that the one thing that has helped the most is this:
My commitment to keep my heart open to Love.
To welcome new friends into my life.
To share my house and food, conversation and laughter.
To sacrifice for those I love, even when I’m not sure of the outcome.
To listen and believe and comfort.
To give and hold.
Every act of love and care that I’ve given someone else in the time since your death has healed me.
Because every act of love proves I have not surrendered to the pain of loss.
Because every act of love is an act of Courage.
People who have lost understand this more acutely than those who have not. Because after someone you love dies, you have the evidence that the act of loving can feel like a painful, reckless act.
Because the more people you love, the more you have to lose.
And so to continue to love after you have lost proves, once and for all, your tremendous bravery.
You understand this, Dad, especially because of your experience as a father. That first child that enters your arms opens a giant hole to your heart that remains exposed forevermore. The more children you have, the more vulnerable you are to the ways they can hurt you.
And you were a father of five.
To love deeply is the definition of courage. So much can go wrong. But it is the act of loving that gives us the greatest joy, the greatest reason to not only live, but thrive.
When I want to remember you the clearest, I always find myself in the passenger seat, you in the driver seat, hand on the wheel. I don’t know why, but we are headed south on route 127, going toward Oxford, back to Miami for classes. We pull over for Croissan’wiches–sausage, egg, and cheese–and coffee from Burger King and we eat from fast food wrappers in the front seat. We talk past each other over and over again because the space of our common ground is shrinking now that I’m building my own life, replete with different interests and concerns. We both feel it, crumbling on all sides of us, accelerating now that the time we spend together is limited to school breaks and summers. It pushes us closer together for the moment even as the edge approaches fast.
But I couldn’t see that.
I was looking somewhere else.
Somewhere off into the distance.
Somewhere where you were not.
I was falling in love, making new friends, traveling, taking class after class after class, and redefining my beliefs. I was growing up, reaching out, moving on.
And you were standing there.
Is this the terrible pain of parenthood that they don’t tell you about?
That as you are standing there, the circle where you stand with your kids gradually and imperceptibly shrinks over the years? Until you realize that everything around you has changed and your shared common ground has dwindled to only your shared moments from the past?
Maybe it is.
And maybe your wisdom to me now would be to say,
Stop looking off into the distance. Stop looking for the approaching edge. It will get here soon enough. Just stand with me. For now.
For one more moment.
Just one more moment before everything changes.
Just one more moment.
Love this moment.
Write it on your heart.
And when it’s time to let go, remember that they can be loved by others, just as much as they were loved by you.
Find comfort in that. Because I know it’s true for you.
I remember staring out the window at the laughing children, sliding around on the giant 80′ Slip N’ Slide that my husband had constructed for Felicity’s sixth birthday. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, 85 degrees, the smell of a freshly cut lawn, the sound of laughter, and a tub of beers and soda, already half gone.
I was holding back tears.
Not thirty minutes earlier, my mother was telling me in her it’s-not-a-big-deal voice that her cancer was back.
And it had spread.
And it was not good.
I stopped cutting the corn cobs, afraid the knife would go straight through my hand. When I looked at her, she was on the verge of tears.
My mom does not cry easily. And almost never in front of her kids.
It’s nothing to worry about. Don’t even give it a second thought.
These are things she has said over and over again since the first diagnosis in 1998. It was a blood cancer, something that would circulate in her blood, basically forevermore, emerging in locations like her intestines and her liver.
Neverthless, It’s nothing to worry about and Don’t even give it a second thought, were how she lived her life. Even when we didn’t believe her.
But shockingly, that advice has held up for time. Even after my father passed away, she kept on swimming. And if she felt sadness of anxiety, she never let it show.
And so to see her eyes filled with tears like that… That shook me.
I could hear “Young Blood” playing over the outdoor speakers as my husband pulled a long rope, held by a dozen tiny hands as they squealed in delight. I envisioned cancerous cells circulating in my mother’s blood and taking residence wherever they damn well pleased.
And all I could think was, There is never enough time, and I’m not ready, and but how much time do we have? and maybe we can start visiting every weekend, and Will there even be one more summer for Felicity to spend with her?
Through the window, I could see my two-and-a-half-year-old son, toddling through the giant bubbles of Dawn detergent until he fell backwards with glee. Tiny legs and arms sliding down the river of bubbles and water.
My sister came in through the back door and I fought my feelings with every shield that I had. Nothing’s wrong. Just don’t look at her. Talk about it later. You can’t talk about it right now. You have thirty people at your house. This is a fun event. It’s Felicity’s birthday. Don’t talk about it.
But when something this massive moves into your life, there isn’t enough armor to save you from feeling the full force of its crushing weight.
Our eyes met. And then we just walked toward each other, tears streaming down both of our faces.
And all I could say was,
There is never enough time.
But what I prayed was,
Please, God, don’t keep her here for me.
Keep her here for my kids.
That was August 2019.
We managed to get in two visits before my mother’s radiation treatments started. They lasted six months, so she would finish by February 2020. When we passed that milestone, I breathed a slow sigh of relief. At least that was done. We wouldn’t know how effective the treatments had been for perhaps another year, but at least the treatments were over.
And then March 2020 came, and with it, a new reason to panic.
My mom was still like, Well, what are you gonna do?
In October 2020, she got COVID and was hospitalized.
And when that news came, I felt that familiar sinking feeling of, There is never enough time and I’m not ready. I prepared myself again for what might be coming. If a truck is going to hit me, I’m the kind of person that would prefer to see it as it approaches, even if it doesn’t change the outcome. I just want to know. I want a few moments to think, “So this is how it happens.” I want to be alone with my thoughts for just a moment to say, “Okay, I’m ready.”
And then she recovered.
And after she got vaccinated, she was making plans to have my daughter stay at her farm for two weeks this summer.
I was sitting at my desk, working, when I received the text from my mother.
The malignant tumors are gone.
The long-standing, stubborn tumors remain. The ones she has lived with for over ten years.
I read the text from my mother with the news over and over again, shock keeping the emotion at bay.
But as I started talking about it with my husband that night, the dam burst. I turned into a slow stream of disbelieving, but grateful tears.
She’s going to live. For now. For how long? Will it come back? Probably. But not now. Do I deserve this? No, I don’t. But Mom does. I don’t want to go through this again. But we probably will. But she’s here for now. And that was my prayer. That she would be here for the kids. As long as it’s possible.
I couldn’t say any of these thoughts. They were too heavy for an already-heavy moment. But my mind drifted back to that moment in the living room, my sister and I holding each other as we cried.
We’re only young and naive still We require certain skills The mood it changes like the wind Hard to control when it begins
The bittersweet between my teeth Trying to find the in-between Fall back in love eventually
My son was born four years ago, just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration. My life turned both inside-out and upside-down. Inside-out, as I struggled once again with bringing the life inside me into the outer world. Upside-down, as events that would once grab headlines for days, if not weeks, were now coming every few hours. The It’s-Not-a-Muslim-Ban Travel Ban. Michael Flynn. Betsy DeVos. I would put my son down for a nap, fall into a half-sleep for an hour, and then wake up to a new horrible reality of Things that Were Now Possible in the U.S..
I knew there was a reason that when I entered my classroom on the day after the 2016 election that I could barely keep from crying in front of my international students. My heart knew what was coming, even if they didn’t know it yet. I felt somewhere deep in my heart that the life that I had built teaching English and fostering intercultural understanding was now dangerously at risk of disappearing altogether.
It turns out my worry was completely founded and warranted. Because two years later, international student enrollment plummeted where I was teaching, just as it was everywhere else in the United States. I grieved the fact that I needed to seriously reconsider my career choice. It was a path that I pursued tirelessly just to be employed full-time.
Now here we are, four years later. I have left teaching, but I have managed to stay in the field of education. There are things that I miss about teaching (advising students, talking with families, joking before class, sharing snippets of American culture) and things I’m wholeheartedly grateful that I never have to do again (grade essays, sit in a faculty meeting that could have been an email, eat like a wolf at my desk while answering emails, just to name a few).
And miracle of miracles, we are saying good-bye to legitimately the Worst President in American History. I don’t feel that those words are too strong to use. And because I believe in supporting my opinions with reasons, here are just a few:
“They’re rapists. They’re murders. And some, I assume, are good people.” On the campaign trail, 2015
“There were fine people on both sides.” About the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, 2017
Separating children from their parents at the border. 2018.
“I would like you to do us a favor.” Asking the Ukrainian president for non-existent incriminating information about Biden, 2019
“No one saw this coming.” About the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020.
Suggesting that “disinfecting” the lungs by injection may help with treating coronavirus, 2020
There is so, so, so much more.
Before the pandemic, at some point in 2019, I remember talking with friends about how concerned I was about the end of this presidency. I believed that if Trump lost in 2020 and we were following his playbook, he would say the elected was rigged, that voting fraud was rampant, and he would refuse to concede. I really wondered if he would have to be dragged from the White House. We talked about at length about the limitations of what Trump could do to hold onto power. My friends reassured me that the military swears an oath to the Constitution, not to the President.
Some of those words were comforting.
And then January 6th came.
Just. What. The. Fuck.
I’m not exuberant about Biden being sworn into office. I’m hopeful. But honestly, at this point, I’m drained. Not only by the division between Americans that is visible at the national level, but also by the division between Americans in my own community.
One of our neighbors STILL has a yard full of Trump-related campaign signs decorating her lawn. All Lives Matter. Back the Blue. Lock Her Up (a fav from 2016). God Bless America. And then to string the whole mess together in a frightening display of cognitive dissonance, a “patriotic” Christian cross, lit with red, white, and blue lights.
In January, the Trump flags are still flying.
This is deeply unsettling to me.
I drove through a middle-class neighborhood a few weeks ago and everything about it felt familiar and cozy. American flags hung from the porch or next to the mailbox or from the awning of the house.
Then I saw something new.
How can I explain to you how this made me feel? To see this bizarre twist on an American flag, flying as high and next to American flags?
I had a stone in my stomach just looking at it.
I felt disbelief, anger, and frustration.
I felt cold.
What are we? What is the United States when we cannot even agree about which flag deserves to represent what we hold most dear? Are we really so divided that we’re putting aside the flag that brings us together and pledging allegiance to something else?
It’s not just a flag. People fly flags to identify themselves. And if you choose to fly a Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard–especially when it’s the ONLY flag in your yard–you are making a bold statement about what principles you follow and what values you hold.
That thin blue line on that flag is a clear divider.
The question stands: Who does it divide?
Who is on either side of that line? Is it police on one side? Community on the other? If it is, then I really don’t understand. Because I thought that the jobs of police officers were facilitated by working with the community, not fighting against it.
Or perhaps the flag is finally saying what we’ve all known to be true for a long time. I grew up on Cops. The theme of the show is very hard to miss. Poor people–almost always black–are criminals. Police keep us safe from them. I don’t recall a single episode where a tax evader or embezzler was dragged from his corporate office for defrauding a company for millions. But a coked-out dude running from the police? Every episode.
But we now live in a world where militarizing police departments is common in the U.S., so perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked that this is where we are, debating on the meaning of flying the Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard. My reflective self wonders if we are just on a slow slide into a police state. My gloom-and-doom self cries out that we’re already there. But my hopeful self remembers that we are not there. Yet.
Still from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
And there is a theme that I keep circling in different ways through different characters.
It’s this idea that people understand and anticipate things going wrong or falling apart or people failing them. Perhaps we prepare ourselves for this inevitability because we know that people are flawed and the world is imperfect. Whatever it is, we have created rituals and systems to deal with these imperfections. We have all kinds of rituals and systems set up to deal with tiny infractions (being caught in a lie) as well as with huge transgressions (sexual assault, murder).
But we are not prepared for grace.
These things are too much for the mind to accept–because we can be so married to the idea of our own unworthiness. Or perhaps we distrust the ability for others to be altruistic. Perhaps the framework that we’ve created for our world is such a meritocracy that conceiving of grace is impossible.
What I’m saying is that when healing or forgiveness or grace is extended, it’s not uncommon for the recipient to view it with mistrust–all the way to the point of refusing to accept it.
I see parallels in this time of pandemic. This idea that even if there were a vaccine that were 100% effective, today, not everyone would take it–simply because of a lack of trust.
Healing, forgiveness, and grace can be freely given. But they don’t have to be accepted.
Not bragging about that. I know how crazy that is. But, please, do remember that I’m utterly no fun at 7:00 p.m. I am yawning. I am so close to passing out.
Five days a week, Monday-Friday, I get up to exercise before the sun comes up, when I know no one will bother me.
My new addiction is waking up on the weekends to write.
At first, it was the same time frame: 4:00 – 7:00 a.m.
But then… things started to snowball.
I would find myself waking up at 2:00 a.m., 1:00 a.m., and sometimes even midnight, my mind working on overdrive. I would try to go back to sleep, but sometimes, once the train has left the station, it was best just to get on board and let it take me where we needed to go, consequences be damned.
It hasn’t been all bad.
I have written some amazing scenes during this time. I would discover a flaw in my character that would make him more interesting, or a hidden intention in another character that I didn’t originally see.
I have never had a writing experience like this before. There are a few pivotal climactic scenes that I know that I’m working toward, but this series of books is largely being written organically, step by step, following a somewhat planned outline. Still, so much of it seems to be discovered in the moment.
The other thing that makes is super unique is that I feel connected to the story in an almost supernatural way, like the story is fighting to get its way out of me. Like it has been living with me for far too long and wants its own air to breathe, its own space to stretch its wings and fly.
Instead of creating characters that I thought I would like, I’ve let my characters become who they want to be–and I’m finding that its giving them more depth and dimensions than I had planned. Sometimes, my characters irritate me. Sometimes, they downright piss me off. And sometimes, they break my heart with their blindness.
I am thoroughly enjoying this journey of following my characters and seeing where they lead me, even as I know that we are approaching a certain cataclysmic event that will change everything.
It seems ominous–this knowing of the changes that are to come for my characters, anticipating how it will change them and their lives, in devastating ways that will ultimately lead to their greatest growth.
I’m starting to understand how authors can actually grow to love their characters and empathize when they ratchet up the tension and the stakes.
Though it would be so much healthier were I able to do this at a reasonable time of day.
In January 2016, I had a great idea for a novel. I had some momentum and a lot of dynamite scenes that compelled me to sit down for a time and give it space to come to life.
But then I got pregnant. I had a baby. And then the Hamster Wheel of Life spun on ceaselessly for three years.
My inspiration and motivation drained as the questions that I had about the characters and the plot were so overwhelming that I boxed myself into a corner, unable to figure out how to get out of it.
Yes, it was a great idea. But quite frankly, it was not the right time. I worked a job that drained my creativity. My supervisors sucked my joy dry. I had diapers to change. A baby to feed. A kindergartner with a broken elbow. A toddler to follow all weekend long. A preschooler with poop in his underwear. Again.
I said so sorry to the idea and moved on.
But this past January, four years later, the idea floated to the forefront again.
It really was a great idea.
I sat on it more. I asked the questions. I thought of answers. I asked more questions. I wrote ideas down in a notebook. Some of the questions, I left unanswered. But this time, I had more answers. I had been thinking about the story on and off for the last four years, but now, things were starting to make sense.
Fuck it, I thought. Here we go.
I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen?
Here’s the worst that could happen: I could waste my time writing a book that no one wants to read but that I care deeply about.
I’m fine with that.
I didn’t sell thousands of copies of my last book.
And I’m fine with that. It is a success because I created something out of nothing and it moved people.
That’s success to me.
For me, it really is about the process. The fact that I feel better doing the work. The fact that writing these thoughts teaches me things about myself.
It heals me.
Last month, I took a casual online writing class. One of exercises that we did was creating a voice of our Inner Critic. Then, we were tasked with defacing our Inner Critic in whatever way we wanted. Here’s what I ended up with.
So, what is the book about?
This is not something I’ll be openly talking about online until much further on, especially since I know that it’s not just one book that I’m working on. This will likely be a four to five book series.
So for now, just know that I am filling notebooks with pieces of characters and plots. I am thinking of symbols and themes, lines of dialogue that won’t go away. I’m plotting them in tables and writing summaries. I’m crafting a Shitty First Draft, that is actually isn’t too shitty. And, People of the World, I am actually now nearly to the end of the Shitty First Draft phase and prepare to dig into my favorite part–the Revision Stage.
Creating makes me excited. It energizes me in a way that nothing else does.
We’d probably be arguing about whether or not fears of the COVID pandemic are warranted.
I would plead with him to either wear a mask, (I’m not wearing a mask, he would practically hiss) or to stop going to Wal-Mart altogether. (You know, they got a deal on russet potatoes this week? Five pounds for $2!)
He would blame the spread of the disease on protesters, (That’s what you get for protesting! No one is making them do it!) and we’d go back and forth about the right to protest, perhaps a whole two turns, before he’d digress into something like, You know, this country was also full of protests during Vietnam. To which I would say, Exactly! And he’d say, Lot of good that did them. And I would face palm myself. And then he’d say, It doesn’t even concern you. It’s right there in the phrase: Black Lives Matter.
At this point in the conversation, it would be time to turn our attention elsewhere–because neither of us was going to change each other’s mind.
We’d talk about the weather, the kids, my work, Doug’s work, and house repairs. If we veered too much into local and state pandemic policies, I’d guide it back to a good book that I’d read, and he’d remind me for the thousandth time that he really loved Louis L’Amour’s westerns. Have you ever read any of those?
At some point, we would eat something that Doug had cooked: fried chicken or steak with billowy garlic mashed potatoes and blanched green beans. Dad would say a murmured prayer that no one could hear, head bowed low, and then silently eat his whole meal before wiping his mouth and pronouncing, “Well, you done good, Sharon.”
And we would laugh.
If my dad were alive today, we would be having some tough conversations. I know that. For sure.
But I also know that I’d rather have him alive to talk about them than to not have him at all.
Weeks 1-2 were a mix of denial and anger, all set to rhythms of Survival Mode, acquiring food and necessities, making sense of pandemic life, and figuring out how to rearrange the landscape of life in a way that we can all live with in this house.
Weeks 3-4 have been, so far, my low point. Replete with the constant wishing things were different, feelings of helplessness, and depression.
Week 5 was my Saturation Point of News. Since then, I’ve only been able to stomach 20 minutes of NPR while I’m making dinner. It’s just enough for me to think, Yep, things are still awful and No, we still don’t have a handle on this.
By Week 6, the depression started to lift as we were faced with the news that we’d been expecting for weeks: Sorry, no more school for your kids this academic year.
And our President thought it would be a good idea to look into using disinfectant to “clean out the lungs.”
This week, Week 7, I feel mostly resigned to living life like this through the summer and well into fall. In my mind, I overestimate (I hope) that we’ll be doing this same type of life through Christmas.
In Week 7, I was able to see my mom in person, though from six feet away and with masks.
In Week 7, I learned that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease–it affects the whole body through blood clotting. And I read this ICU nurse’s account of the inconceivable situations and grief that she and other healthcare workers are facing right now.
In all this darkness, I want to make plenty of room for the things that are still bringing me light.
My partner–My rationality, my burden-bearer, my chef and gardener, accountant and engineer. The person I still love to watch TV with (although we rarely have time to do that anymore).
Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
Watching my kids grow closer together–This is both unexpected and welcome. They (generally) love being around each other. My daughter tucks my son in at night and tells hawks to “Stay away from her little brother.”
Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
Attending church services via YouTube. I was surprised by how much my nerves are calmed every week by just hearing familiar songs and the liturgy. When so much is changing, my mind craves the unchanging, the stable.
Re-watching the entire American Pie series. And then all of the Austin Powers movies. (Apparently, this is the extent of problem-solving and just the right level of dumb that I need in my life to balance out all the soul-crushing news.)
It is freeing if we learn to accept that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over to others. That is the kind of lesson we are taught when we are young, though it often remains on the level of a noble idea that we may opt into or out of depending on our mood. What all the many sufferings of adult life show us is that this idea is actually the high and unbending rule, and it governs our bodies and our relationships and everything else, without exception.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo
There will be no return to “normal” because we are all forced to face our own vulnerabilities now. And so the question put to us now is, How will we react to this vulnerability? What will we do?
9. Listening to Kate Tempest’s “People’s Faces.” But first, grab a box of tissues. You’ll need it.
Her poem hits all the right notes for this moment in time.
The uncertainty, the desperation, the frustration, and the sadness.