My life has been crazy recently. We bought a new house, painted almost every room, did other repairs, packed, moved out of the rental and into the new house, cleaned the rental, and unpacked. (Not that we’re done!) A new house always requires some “editing.” That’s not in the right place; that doesn’t fit well. Sometimes it needs additions: a shelf here, some hooks there. Other items are removed. There are adjustments. It’s a Work-in-Progress with still more unpacking, fixing and painting to do.
My writing, of course, is affected by my life. When things get so busy, less writing gets done. Current projects get put on hold. Blogging definitely goes by the wayside. Unfortunately, I get out of the habit of writing. But not like many other habits–flossing my teeth–when things in my life quiet down, something in me starts bugging me: “Write. Write something. What about the work-in-progress? What’s that character going to do next? Write something for your blog. Recommend another good book. Write!” And I’m thankful for those nudges.
However, there are benefits to being away from my writing for a while. I get filled up with new experiences. Some experiences I’d rather not have, I’ll admit. My most recent one was a broken ankle requiring surgery. It’s too soon to know whether that will directly go into a book or story, but I have learned some things that will definitely affect my outlook and my life and, I’m sure at some point, my writing.
I’ve learned that handicapped access is not always so accessible. Have you ever thought there were “too many” handicapped parking spaces in a parking lot? I have. But not anymore. I haven’t been able to walk for 3 weeks now and have another 3 and a half before there’s a possibility to walk. I’ve been fortunate to have a knee walker to use, which is way better than crutches, but it is still exhausting. I have a temporary parking permit to use handicapped spots. I don’t go out much, but I’m finding handicapped spots aren’t always where they are needed. Or they are filled. And when we do go out and get a parking spot, those little wheels on the knee walker jar or stick at every bump and crack in the asphalt or pavement. Going up a ramp is work. Going down a ramp is scary. (What if I get going too fast and lose control and fall?!) My handicap will be over soon. But many people don’t get a “you’ll be free of it” time. I hope when I’m back on my two feet, I’ll be more empathetic.
I’ve been on the receiving end of stares. I’m old enough it doesn’t really bother me, but I know some people it would. Borrowing a mall wheelchair to do some Christmas shopping, my husband was pushing me through an area and a woman told her little kids, “Don’t stare.” If she hadn’t been whipping by so fast, I would have liked to explain to the kids why I was in a wheelchair. Not for me, but for them and their understanding. I hope she explained more later.
But here again is where writing comes in. I want my words to do more than entertain. I want them to be useful in some way. Maybe readers through my characters’ experiences will learn something new, or learn empathy, or be encouraged because others have had similar experiences. And I’ve just had more experiences to throw into my personal resource file.
So, all that said, I can’t complain about a crazy life. Well, I shouldn’t complain.
But didn’t I say I was a “Work-in-Progress?”
Three years ago I got to hear Kate DiCamillo speak in Kansas City. Recently I came across my notes and thought I’d share them here.
At the beginning of her presentation, Kate said she had a speech that would take 18-20 minutes depending how nervous she was and then sheʼd let the audience of almost 500 ask questions. (400 more seats were set up with TV monitors in another room.) Kate began by reading part of a long list of why writers write from Margaret Atwoodʼs book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Then she went on to tell why she writes.
When Kate was 9 she was given a Humpty Dumpty magazine subscription. She thought the magazine smelled of paper, ink and possibilities. A story about a witch spoke to her so much that she wrote it out in her own handwriting. Kate liked it even better in her own handwriting.
She showed it to her mother. Her mother asked if sheʼd written the story. Kate said yes, since sheʼd written it out. Her mother showed the story to a neighbor, and Kate realized thereʼd been a misunderstanding. I want to say something; I need to say something, Kate thought. But she didnʼt.
Her mother showed the story to Kateʼs teacher who, impressed with it, showed it to the principal. Her mother told Kateʼs father who lived in another state.
The snowball was growing.
Kate wanted what everyone believed to be true to be true. Her father traveled to see her because of the story. “I learned, story is power. If I wrote a story, I could become the center of the universe. If I wrote a story, I could make my longed for father come.”
Of course, Kateʼs teacher read the story again. In Humpty Dumpty. Kate had to make the rounds and apologize for lying. Her brother told her she was more than a liar, she was a plagiarist.
But she never forgot how writing a story made her feel.
“Story,” Kate says, “is the most practical, accessible, frivolous and necessary of all the arts.” She believes we need story to survive! Story is the agonized cry of how we wished the world could be.
She remembers how after 9/11, writing stories seemed worthless. She was apologetic about what she did to a man sitting beside her on a flight. She told him that what she did, didnʼt really matter. Later at baggage claim, the man came up and said, “Maybe stories do matter.”
Kate came to realize that “stories can save the listener and the teller, too.” She said, “We tell stories to keep ourselves alive.”
Don’t YOU forget the power of story.