How to deal with “Parting is such sweet sorrow”

Tragedy has struck in my life. True and horrible tragedy.

It hasn’t directly affected me but family whom I care deeply about. I couldn’t do anything for a while. Not write. Not clean. Not cook.

It wasn’t really from sorrow or shock as one might expect. Yes, I did feel sorry for the family affected of course. But I was more put into a stasis by the simple fact of I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.

I’ve never dealt with Death before. I was too young to have developed a relationship with any of my grandparents when they were alive and I haven’t made any elderly friends (or stupid drug addict friends or stunt devil friends) that would afford me the experience of feeling such a keen loss.

What do I do for them? Saying “I’m sorry” never seemed like a comfort to anybody. It made them cry harder in my limited scope of things. “How are you doing?” Is just a moot question and damnably tactless. I watched everyone else around me cry or get angry or be “efficient”; cooking, buying groceries, keeping an upbeat attitude, trying to distract with toys and games and movies.

What do I do? How should I feel? Feeling nothing makes me look like a soulless witch-monster. I can nod and smile with the best of them. I can offer shoulders to cry on and babysit to give relief. Those are actionable things that seem like “the right thing to do”. But it still doesn’t answer the question. How should I react to Death?

How should anybody?

Thinking about this I, naturally, applied it to my writing. (Come onnnnn you saw that coming! It’s always about writing up in the bakalove hizzzouuuuuuse!)

I’ve read about tragedy. I’ve cried over powerfully emotional scenes and the deaths of characters I grew fond of. Dumbledore’s death warranted a book thrown across the room at my door and denting the cover. The death of Prim in “Mockingjay” left me sobbing inconsolably until the end of the book. And eventually that was thrown as well. I still can’t read the end of “Where the Red Fern grows” without a box of tissues and a heaping bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

Is this how people are supposed to react to death? Ice cream binges, throwing things, and boxes of tissues? Is this how I was supposed to WRITE tragedy because it’s how I experienced it?

Somehow I think putting these reactions on paper would seem hollow and weak. (Unless we were talking about like, a teenage break up tragedy. Then it might seem apropos.) The simple truth is that I’ve never experienced true, heart-rending, soul sucking tragedy and I can only mimic the emotions until I do.

Not that I want to. I’m fortunate in some ways to have been able to mature as an adult before having to deal with Death’s cruel miasma. I’m sure I would be able to function as I should and keep it separate from my professional life. But not having this terrible experience denies me an important part of life. I can’t write the truth about something I’ve never felt. I can only echo it.

This is why going out and expanding your world is important, as a writer and as a human being. We need adventure and challenges and tragedy to fill us out and make us wiser beings. We need to soak it all in, to ruminate on it, to accept it within ourselves and then, for those of us that ARE writers, we need to pass it on. Tell the truth about it. Remember every cut of searing pain ripping through your rib cage and every gasping, panic-stricken sob. Remember the numbness and the vehement anger.

Write it down. Tell the truth, even if it hurts. The world and your readers need it.

Rational, Schmational! Hating the ones that have come before

Definition of Irrational (ir-ASH-in-AL): Not logical or reasonable.

This is a rant about about me being slightly juvenile. I’m not proud of it but I think a lot of people will legit understand where I’m coming from. It’s all about the journey and this is the exact reason this blog was started. So bear with me! I am still very much infantile in this realm of writing professionalism. 

Sometimes, humans are irrational. They have irrational fears, like thunder booming during a storm or fear of the dentist. (Although fear of pain is never irrational and I believe it to be healthy and logical!) We also have irrational happiness aka “Punch Drunk”. Like, WHYYYYYY is that Pepsi commercial so funny? I DON’T KNOW!! But I’m crying and wetting my pants because I can’t stop laughing!! And we also have irrational anger. Things we think about that creep on us that we know are ridiculous but can’t help being mad about. I had mine today.

So shameful.

Like, last night my husband watched a YouTube video about Common Core Math and I went berserk about it. I was completely irrational–okay not COMPLETELY, I really did have a valid reason to be upset about it. Building firm foundations and whatnot. Anyway, he wisely didn’t argue with me about it because he saw it was just raw frustration about the failing educational systems and not anything against the concept itself. Good on him.

Unfortunately and not surprising in the least, another irrational grievance cropped up, this time aimed at my favorite past-time. (Can you guess what it was?) I had decided to aim my horns at those lovely, accomplished and well-established millionaire novelists who have whole book cases dedicated to their prolific writing career. Yes, Nora Roberts and James Patterson, I’m talking about you.

SCREW YOU! And your millions too!

(I told you it was shameful. So juvenile…)

It’s NOT FAIR!! I railed, writing furiously in my notebook. Here I am, a nobody, struggling to even get ONE first draft done, to even wrap my head around this damn concept and these people are cranking out four and five books a YEAR! Do they even sleep? Do their editors even pause and READ their manuscripts before stamping “APPROVED” on the title page and sending it the publishers? They make MILLIONS a year off their books.

I gnashed my terrible teeth and roared my terrible irrational roar and kept writing. 

They probably got lucky, I wrote, venom spilling from my pen. They had connections already to smooth their way for them. A relative already in the industry or an editor friend that would “take a glance” when they had free time. Some smarmy English teacher who had a friend of a friend with a small time publishing firm that might be able to help out. It’s all about CONNECTIONS, dammit! Am I right? That’s how it usually goes. UGH! SO UNFAIR!! It was luck! Or chance! Or—

How about Hard Work? 

……………………………………

…………………………………………….

…………………………………………………..WHAT!??!

There was a new voice now amidst the gnashing and roaring. Small but resonant, it lanced through my thick ugly complaints like a hot knife through butter. I was utterly derailed by this magnificent voice of Truth. It was like an epiphany but less fluttery and exciting than those tend to be. More like a baseball bat to the head.

Get your head out of your ass and stop whining. Get some work done, slacker.

But…I’m mad!!

So? Start acting like an adult. Get back to work.

But those damn people! They got it so easy and it makes me so ANGRY I could —

They didn’t become famous by MAGIC. They did the work. But go ahead and be belligerent. See where it takes you. Go ahead. Kiss that writing career goodbye on a tantrum. 

I paused in my writing and waggled the pen in my fingers, contemplating. This voice was starting to sound like a more vulgar version of my husband. Who knew 15 years of partnership could give me a Peter Griffin tumor of my own? “I’m a tumor, I’m a  tumor!” …. Yeah okay, never mind.

The voice was right. I was an idiot for being mad at THEIR success. They did the leg work. Or finger work in this case. They reaped their fan base, they mastered the Golden Technique that got them numerous book deals, they figured out the pulse of the people. THEY found these along their journey to publishing

THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF OF EVERYDAY. You should too and this is what this blog was all about. Writing about the good, the bad and the ugly. You are not where you want to be in your writing career right now. But someday you WILL BE. I WILL BE. You will get mad and be irrational and that’s fine. So will I. All that frustration has got to go somewhere. Harness it. Use it to fuel your forward success. Everything is an experience than can be written into a story. It’s real and it’s yours.

The journey will take as long as it has to in order to produce a well-informed and terrific novelist. In the end, you’ll enjoy that you took the time to learn.