I’ve been taking a holiday from writing of late. It all started with my knee surgery and recovery – then my life was so focused on pain management (knee replacements are not for the shy of pain, and two at once made it quite an intensive focus for a time) and then the resultant MS flare-up afterwards that I couldn’t think in a straight line. Everything was pointed toward getting my knees better.
I’ve missed writing. I haven’t been able to do it, and it is like a missing tooth, an empty space that my tongue goes to again and again. But trying to pull words out of my head via my increasingly untrustworthy fingers was impossible.
But I long for it. I went to New York City, feasted my eyes on characters who wanted a story, from the sad Italian guard at St. Patrick’s with the too long pants, to the bejewelled lady on the bus who insisted I “must” go to the Frick, to the surly waiter at McSorley’s who shouted “It’s your lucky day!” Everywhere I went, I spoke to people, driving my travel companion mad, no doubt. But everyone had a story, or conjured up stories in my head. Even the sculptures in the Met spoke to me, told me of the lives of the sculptors or the models, murmured tales of strength and suffering.
All inspiring, but my longing for writing hit me when I got back from my trip and ran flat against tragedy. Horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy of a life gone awry, of people damaged beyond belief through the great evil of one man and the world around them. World damaging disasters that crushed many in their wake hit, too, wars, poverty, despair.
You see, in a story writ by me, I can create the characters. I can make them flawed and I can make them suffer. I can wreak revenge. I can offer hope. For better or worse, my characters often misbehave and I have to adjust the story to fit that bit of personality or experience they kept hidden from me. But overall, if I find the situation unbearable, I can “bearable” it. I can add heroism in tales of darkness. Or I can toss the story in a bin, let it go without a backward glance.
In life, though, we have no control over the narrative. We watch other’s stories, feel their pain, are inadequate to the task of changing anything. We can rewrite our own story, yes, but bits of the past are left sticking out like burrs or sticky left-over pieces of chewed gum clinging to our hair. We toss our heads in the breeze, feeling our thoughts blow away, only to find our hands are enwebbed in our hair, trapped.
So when I meet tragedy (and oh golly there’s a lot of it these days), I yearn for the comfort and safety of the page, where I can step safely into a pretend world, either by reading it or writing it. That world can be stopped as easily as closing the computer or shutting the cover of the book. Would that we could stop real tragedies so easily.