Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Being Ready to Write About Death

Salud!  I’m back after a summer of great discontent marked essentially by the sickness and death of my older sister, Alice, whose unsuccessful bout with uterine cancer, abetted by a host of other challenges, caused me to learn a number of things about writing.

I’ve said it many times before but WRITE EVERY DAY; that is, write lots, practice your craft.  Do not wait for inspiration.  Be ready for it.  Indeed, learn to create it.  By being in practice, by learning to write under any circumstance, you can be ready to write and write well even when most emotional and this is when you have the most to say because it is when you feel the most.

There is a problem at the juncture of deep emotion and the desire to write, especially if you are not prepared to write while under stress.  As poets we are trying to say what cannot be said and that challenge becomes greater the greater the emotion.  It ain’t for sissies, goddamit!  And you will lose the depth, the passion, if your craft is insufficient.

I was rewarded by having been in practice when Alice went into the hospital, when I first discovered she was gravely ill.  I started writing immediately and wrote daily just as I spoke with her daily until she could no longer speak.  Then I spoke with her husband.  As I wrote I realized that the stuff I was writing was pretty good.

I tracked the daily changes, tests and results, the fluctuations in my mood, her mood, the prospects of survival, the likelihood of death at various future intervals, the deep emotions that accompanied the fact that I was losing my eldest sibling, the first of us (five) to die.  When it got to the end I was able to write about her final hour, the first hour afterward.  Some of it was dour stuff but there were times of humor, joy and release as well.

The point is that I could write, distance myself enough from what was going on to reflect and (to cite Wordsworth) recollect in relative tranquility and to summon enough ready craft to do justice to the material.  I could not have done so had I not been in practice.

Next time, look for comments on fact vs truth.

So long for now.

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