Just Another Blog

my random ramblings about crafts, writing, books and kids

Archive for the tag “grief”

What does it mean to “write what you know?”

Over at Kristen Lamb’s Blog, she made a very heart-wrenching post about writing what you know: “Write What You Know” and What That Means.

Writing what you know doesn’t mean writing about knitting or golf or how much the pick up line at your school sucks. Sure you might work that into your plot but if your entire novel is about that no one’s going to read it.

Writing what you know is writing about emotional experiences you’ve had, digging deep, extending them out into character to create living, breathing people the reader can relate to. You know, while they knit or golf or bitch about their school insane safety procedures.

She told the story of how her father died in 1999. On his birthday while she was planning his party. Heartbreaking. But those are emotions that she knows, that she can funnel into a character.

Her story reminded me of my own family tragedy that happened just a year after hers. Except in my case it was my mom. In August 2000, my mom, who was 51 at the time, went into the hospital to clear an artery in her neck that had caused 2 mini strokes over the previous five or so years. It was explained as fairly routine and she’d be out of the hospital in a few days.

I woke late that morning to find them already walking out the door because her surgery time had been moved up. I let her hold my newborn baby because my mom just adored her and then I told her I’d see her later because I didn’t plan to go to the hospital until the next day whens he was fully out of recovery.

Those were the last words I ever said to her, the last time I saw her alive. Two days later she was declared brain dead, the result of a massive stroke on the operating table and then another that night.

The last picture of my mom alive, with her sister who was her best friend. I named my youngest daughter after both of them.

The last picture of my mom alive, with her sister who was her best friend. I named my youngest daughter after both of them.

Devastation is an emotion I’m familiar with. But when I think back I never really deal with many of the emotions like I should have. I kind of skipped right to acceptance because I didn’t have time to go through the other stages. I had a new baby to take care of, a husband looking for a job, my dad and brother who were a mess, my mom’s two cats who were also lost and confused and needy, relatives stopping by, people asking about how my dad was, keeping the house clean and cooking for everyone. I was suddenly the mom of the house and there was no time to grieve. People needed taking care of.

I guess I kind of resent that. And I still really haven’t dealt with all the emotions from that time. Eventually they spurt to the surface usually in a huge blow up… a volcano of pain and grief that just can’t be contained.

Last time was on Thanksgiving a few years ago, which happened to fall on Mom’s birthday. I wanted everything perfect, just like I remembered it when she cooked. But everything was going wrong and it hit me all of a sudden that she was gone (nine years by then) and nothing was ever going to be right again. I just walked out of the kitchen, curled into bed and cried myself to sleep–everything left cooking on the stove. I woke to find my husband and dad finishing stuff up but I couldn’t eat that night.

Thinking back to what Kristen wrote about tapping into those emotions made me realize I need to be more honest when I write. I can’t hold those feelings back if I want my characters to feel real. But it’s a hard process. It’s gruesome therapy that is scary and uncomfortable and painful. But it needs to be done if I want to write what I know. I know about pain–deep, soul-crushing emotional pain. That’s what I should be writing about.

Has anyone else figured out how to tap into those emotions without having a complete mental breakdown themselves? I’d love to hear about how you use personal experiences to shape your stories or characters.

crying over TV

I admit I’m a TV junkie.  I like good TV, though.  I want a show that sucks me in and makes me really care for the characters.  I want to feel what they are feeling.

Very few shows really pull me that far into their world.  Most I fall in love with for various reasons and I like the show because it’s funny or has memorable lines and the characters are interesting and silly or whatever but certain shows just really get me.

A couple weeks ago I was watching Lost and I got to the episode where the freighter blows up taking Gin with it.  I actually screamed (well, not a full scream because it was the middle of the night and I didn’t want to wake people, more like a very loud gasp) and then I burst into tears.  I cried for several minutes.

I cried during the season finale of House in the spring, too.  Watching the characters deal with Amber’s death was heart-wrenching.  Same with Bones.  I teared up when Zack admitted he was the killer and couldn’t bare to watch that episode again for weeks.  It was just too painful.

Now another show sucked me in: One Tree Hill.  It’s not really the kind of show I watch normally.  I kind of outgrew the major teen dramas in college (besides Veronica Mars) but after watching Lost I needed to find something different to watch.

A friend of mine really likes the show and I know it is popular so I checked it out.  After watching the 1st season I was interested.  I was starting to like the characters and really loathing some of them (because that is what you are supposed to do).

Well I’m half way through season 3 and I’m devestated.  I haven’t cried this hard in months, not since my seperation.  If you’ve seen the show you probably know I’m talking about Keith’s death.  That whole episode was sad and I didn’t cry only when Keith died.  I cried through most of it.  The kid that went on the rampage…that was so sad.  I was that kid.  I was the invisible kid in school, just skating by–happy to be ignored most of the time.

I was the kid that went home and cried myself to sleep because I couldn’t understand why people disliked me so much or cared so little. I was the kid that had to learn not to care, to be flippant and uninterested in other people.  “Whatever” became my catch phrase because I didn’t want to care any more.  It was the only way to survive.

And I did survive.  There was a little speech in one of the scenes about how the point of high school is to just survive and go on with your life.  I think I figured that out back then, sometime mid-sophomore year.  One more day over was one less day I had to spend in school.  And now as an adult looking back, it doesn’t seem so bad.  All the things teens find important usually don’t matter in the end.

Anyway, I watched that episode and the next with a heavy heart.  I cried and cried and felt all the pain the characters were feeling.  I graduated high school 13 years ago and that one episode brought back a lot of old feelings and pain.  Watching characters deal with a death of a loved one brought back all the hurt and confusion of losing my mom 8 years ago.  Then there was the pain I felt being seperated from my husband.  That was the freshest pain of all.  He might not have been dead but the stages you go through when you grieve are the same.

The denial, the anger, the guilt, the depression…they are all the same.  I felt them all in the 6 weeks he was gone.  Right down to the acceptance.  The only difference between a seperation and a death is with the seperation there is a chance to make ammends.  Just days after accepting that things were over and he wasn’t coming home, that I would have to live my life without him–he called and begged to come home.

Six weeks doesn’t sound like much now but it was an eternity back then.  I didn’t think I was strong enough to go on, but I did.  Just like I didn’t think I was strong enough to go on after my mom died, but I did.  Just like I didn’t think I was strong enough to get through high school and junior high (which was 10 times worse then high school), but I did.

Makes me worry about my kids.  In just 6 years my oldest will be off to high school.  Two years after that my son will join her and the year after that my middle daughter will be a freshman.  I’ll have 3 kids trying to navigate the insanity.  That’s a scary thought.

Okay, I’m rambling yet again.  All this silly nostalgia over a TV show.  All the tears over a TV show.  All the memories…

Now that’s good TV.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: