12/13/2011

Necessary Magics

"For me, the art of language, the heft and pull of literature, the act of attempting to craft something elegant and large are intrinsically tied to a conviction in something transcendent. When I stopped believing that this kind of beauty could exist, I could no longer work on my novel." - Lisa Jennifer Selzman 
I often feel guilty about the Hawaii Project: guilt for having taken so long to write it, guilt for taking the time away from my family to write it, guilt for even entertaining the notion that writing about postpartum depression is 'appropriate' material. These guilts come in little phrases like "It's been 14 years, how could you think it's timely?" and "You've got kids and a job. You should be taking care of them and not writing." Not to mention "Don't air your dirty laundry in public."   
 
Lisa Jennifer Selzman's column in the November/December 2011 issue of Poets and Writers,
Why We Write - A Necessary Magic, reflected what I feel every time I step up to the keyboard - writing while mothering a child in a hospital is nearly impossible; finding the strength to write when your child is home again takes recovery, not just from the trauma but from essentially a loss of faith. 
"Words, always until then my solace, were feeble. They meant nothing to me. They might as well have been black checkers on the page, or pennies, or cough drops." 
What does a writer do when that magic is gone for all the right reasons? Feelings of loss are doubled - your child is in danger: she no longer lives the happy, healthy life you hoped for. Your child is in danger: there is no time to do anything but exactly what needs to be done to keep her alive. Losing your writing seems a small price to pay for the chance your child will survive. 
"It wasn't so much that I didn't have time to write, although that was certainly an issue. It's true that I was drained, functioning for months without deep sleep...Plain and simple, I stopped writing because I didn't see the point." 
But the sacrifice takes a toll. The artist unable to express their experiences is like a person who has lost connection to their senses. Blindness. Numbness. Loss of hearing the music of words so long familiar before your child has become ill. 
"With her sick, I moved encased in a scrim that muddied colors, turned food chalky, shortened sound...The most dramatic adjectives -- words like desolation, agony, and torment, straight out of a fourteenth-century epic--suddenly become relevant and authentic."
Sometimes, no, often I struggle to dampen those impulses to write with words with Epic Proportions. Tell it simple, I'm directed, tell it straight. Let the moment speak for itself. But sometimes the abstraction pops up because the memory of all those details are just too hard to bear remembering again. The scent of disinfectant that cramps your stomach in fear. The sight of an examination light you shy away from, remembering a time when you could not look away. The certain smoothness of surfaces that remind you of hospital equipment. Cracking those abstractions open requires a trust that reopening those memories is worth the pain. 
"I hovered two inches above collapse, getting everything done...this is the world without art. This is the real world." 
Before Hawaii, I was a fiction writer too, and I hope to write fiction again once this memoir is completed. The Hawaii Project though is a story I am compelled to write and is the sole reason why I've thrown myself into learning how to write memoir these past few years. I want to tell the story right, to have both the art and the reality sit right next to each other just like they sit next to each other in my heart. 
"I wish I could say I had an epiphany, a moment of intensified certainty, but the way back to writing was subtle...I have to breathe. I have to write." 
Being a writing mother isn't easy, but it's who I am. So, it took me a while to get here, but that's because I was being the mom. Now I'm easing into being the writer who is also a mom. And having the faith to tell the tale.