"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis
Friday, April 9, 2010
Tapping Into Our Emotions
As I read "The Anxious Writer" by Sue Anne, I was reminded of a time in my life when I sat in the hospital beside my baby son. I was asked to write an article about the incident for a newsletter not long after that time when I held his little hand. I never did write the article. In the process of failing at the assignment, I discovered something about myself. It’s difficult, embarrassing for me, to write emotional scenes. It’s as though I’m afraid someone will think I’m feeling sorry for myself, or dripping in sentimentality. This challenge has carried over into my fiction writing as well, because my characters are an extended part of me. I believe it’s a carry-over from when I cried when I was young. I was often told, “Don’t be so dramatic.” (Smile. I was probably such a drama queen at four, five and six). Or maybe it’s because the whole process just seems morbid to me.
Recently, I’ve realized that instead of letting this be a handicap, I can use it to enhance my writing. I can go back to sad times, remember what it felt like then, and use those feelings to strengthen the emotions in my novel.
I now have four healthy children. However, my third child, David, was born with Hylem Membrane Disease. When he was just a few days old, I sat in the hospital watching our pediatrician run the toe of his shoe over the pattern in the floor tile, staring at his foot because he couldn’t look at me as he told me of David‘s condition. I sat in the waiting room, too numb to feel, while they put my tiny little son into a machine that would help him breathe.
I stayed there with him for three days, holding his hand. My husband didn’t show up at the hospital. In fact, none of my extended family joined me either. I sat alone the whole time, staring at David’s chest, watching him labor for each breath – except on the midnight shift.
The first night, and each night while I was there, a volunteer (they called them Pink Ladies, named for the pink jackets they wore) came into the room, sat down next to me and held my free hand. She must have sensed that I didn’t want to talk because she never said a word. Now and then she’d squeeze my hand, just to let me know she was there for me.
On the third day, the doctor came into the room with good news. David was out of danger. He said, “You’ve been here for days. Go home, take a shower, get something nutritious to eat, and sleep in your own bed.” When I protested he said, “No really, go home and take a shower.” I laughed at his joke, more out of relief and happiness than humor, and agreed to go.
I entered an empty house and as I walked in the door, the phone was ringing. It was the doctor. “I have bad news,” he said. “Your baby passed away less than five minutes after you left.” My legs gave out from under me and I found myself on the floor, sobbing.
That happened many years ago. The pain I felt then has faded into a precious memory of my tiny boy. It was then that I learned that sorrow can be physically painful. It was then I learned that what doesn’t kill us really does make us stronger. And it was then I learned that grief can make your senses more alert.
Even now, when I close my eyes, I can hear the whir and beeping of the machines in the room, the nurse’s shoes squeaking on the floor when she walked past. I can smell the hospital odors, but I remember David’s sweet baby scent also. I feel the discomfort of sitting in that chair for hours at a time and the rough, calloused hand of the pink lady. And I wonder, who was that lady? Where is she now? She never told me her name, never even spoke, but to this day I don’t even have to close my eyes to relive the love and gratitude I felt toward her.
These memories can make my writing richer, stronger, if I can just get past the discomfort of sharing deeper emotions. My characters will show greater depth, experience more vivid love, express a fresher view of grief. Maybe today was a good start. I guess it wasn’t too difficult. As Ernest Hemingway said, “It is not difficult to write, all you have to do is to sit down at a typewriter and cut open a vein.”
Maxine is the author of a psychology book, "Reality For Parents of Teens." She has written numerous articles on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, how the brain works, and setting and accomplishing goals. She has authored lesson manuals for teaching classes on cognitive self-change. Maxine attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Idaho State University. She counseled for a women's program, Discovery House and for Road to Recovery, a men's and Women's drug rehabilitation program. She taught prison rider return classes for Probation and Parole in the state of Idaho, taught in the women's prison, and worked with Child Protection Services in Idaho as well. Maxine lives in Vancouver, Washington, and writes fiction novels.