Sunday, May 13, 2012

From the Smoke and Ash

Don't expect this to be a morose post, because it won't be. Three years out from the greatest loss of my life, I am doing alright. In fact, I seem to be emerging from the smoke and ash like NYC did after Ground Zero had been stripped clean. I'm going to be okay, and life is going on.

I just spent four days with my son, so that helped my mood tremendously. But I also know that I'm okay for other reasons.

Some of the urge to write is coming back, even though I often have to make myself sit down to write. Being a technical writer seems to have dried up my writing to the point at which it no longer felt like my own, but I make my living as a technical writer. Stephen King, in "On Writing" eschewed the profession of technical writing for a creative writer, pretty much saying that if you can't discipline yourself to sit down and write that novel, that memoir, that poetry, then you might as well get a job as a technical writer. Ouch.

The way I see it, being a technical writer is to being a creative writer as being a lawyer is to being a political activist. Two similar minds, two different hearts.

So can I survive as a technical writer for the rest of my career or until I sell that big book? Will I ever sell that big book if I'm so exhausted from being on the computer all day that I can't type one more word?

I don't know. I'm trying.

What I've tried to do is to collect those little insights when they hit me -- right then! If I don't, they are gone, washed away in the stream of consciousness and busyness that is our everyday world. The result is that I have a collection of notes in my iPhone on the Notes app. This may be the first memoir that is assembled from notes in an iPhone. It isn't that I don't already have a ton of material written and in some kind of order, but it's those insights that will make a lot of content into a coherent, meaningful memoir.

Many parents lose their children, but only some write about it (or get a published book out of it). I feel there are some things that make a good memoir. Like any good book, it needs a hook. Like any good book, it needs a story arc and characters you will never forget.

Take "Choosing to See" for example. After the death of their little adopted daughter, Maria, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth were shattered. Their son (who accidentally ran over Maria) was on a suicide watch for awhile, because he was so broken about it all. Mary Beth nearly lost herself in the grief. But in the end, she turned her grief into healing for herself, her family, and orphanages in China, helping to get Chinese orphans into loving families in the United States. Her foundation helps defray the expenses associated with those adoptions and helps other families navigate the system they went through to adopt Maria and another child.

That is a good story. That is a meaningful memoir, though the story of their loss is, of course,  enormously sad. I can only hope that my book has the kind of inspiration in it that hers does. Hers a very deserving book to read, if you have the time.

Meanwhile, I'll keep pecking away at the notes, the table of contents, the structure that will make mine into a story that someday you might see out there on your Kindle or Nook or iPad (or iPhone, if you like to read in the doctor's office).

I think what I'm trying to say is that on this Mother's Day, three years out from losing my child, I am doing alright. I'm starting to get back little bits and pieces of myself. I may end up looking more like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing than like a photograph, but you'll be able to recognize me. I'll be the one who looks a little wizened by life but at peace.




"Two similar minds, two different hearts."

It's a very good metaphor. There is an ocean of difference between technical and creative writing. One always works in a boundary, another one plays in a limitless horizons.

I read your blog because I feel good reading it. It's simple, honest and yet deep at certain extent. At a personal level I also admire your grit and approach to life.

the walking man said...

One has to eat and if the creative portion of you has to wait for a time when you're less busy then wait it will. I doubt that Stephen King is the last word on writing...mayhaps Dickens would have had something to say about King's ability.

A picture or a puzzle with a piece missing is not an incomplete thing it is simply different than what was intended when you started to put it together.

Being at peace is a good thing.

Syd said...

Doris, reading about your feelings of peace and acceptance is good. The moments of sorrow are still there, I'm sure. But it's good that you are thinking about writing and a book about loss and surviving it.