Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writing in Shock Mode



My family and I are in shock mode right now. My granddaughter had major back surgery several days ago and is now in a world of pain – a world we inhabit with her in our own way.

At first I told myself I couldn’t write. It seemed almost insensitive to do the work that gives me satisfaction and makes me feel good. My darling girl was struggling. How could I do anything but grieve and pray?

I always carry a notebook with me now. A small flexible notebook from a 99 cent store that fits in my purse or pocket. It has a black and blue cover that seems appropriate at this time when we’re all feeling pretty bruised.

I used to have the notebook carrying habit. Actually I carried 5”x8” cards then. I took them everywhere and whenever I had a spare moment or two I would write. Then came a long hiatus from writing fiction and I forgot that good habit. Now it’s back.

So I was sitting in the hospital swallowing the tears I felt I shouldn’t shed in front of my already stunned family. Suddenly the black and blue notebook was in my hands and I was scribbling away with a pen I’d picked up somewhere.

I jumped straight into the next scene in my story. It was an emotionally fraught scene and that suited me fine. I was pretty emotionally fraught myself at the moment. I poured all of those feelings into that scene. Because – as I keep harping at here – strong stories are all about strong feelings.

When I got home later and started copying my notebook scribbles into my computer I was pleased but not surprised to see how raw that scene had turned out to be. My character was on her ragged edge just as I had been when I put her on the page struggling struggling struggling.

Our family crisis continues and I have kept on scribbling. I slip into a corner of my granddaughter’s hospital room while nurses and techs are bustling about and it’s best for me to be out of the way. I pull out the notebook and put my head down and write.

The hospital cafeteria is another writing haven. The loved ones of patients sit in near catatonia and stare into the middle distance. The medical pros actively avoid those stares. I eat whatever bad comfort food I’ve slapped on my tray and I write.

I drop onto the ground of the scene. I dig down into it. I bury myself there in these people born of my imagination and the terrifying trouble and wrenching choices I’ve created for them. I lose my own pain for a moment by crawling inside of their pain.

I understand that moments other may be coming when I won’t be able to manage the depth of focus that scene writing requires. I already know what I’ll do then. I will pull out the notebook and write what I am feeling myself.

I will describe the scene. What the cafeteria smells like. How the muted conversations strike my ear. The way the artificial air settles on my skin. The taste of the hockey puck cheeseburger I should have known better than to buy. The vista before me of devastated loved ones and nurses in comfortable shoes.

I will ask myself “What am I feeling right now?” Not just in my emotions but also in my body? Where is tension most taut? Is it in my ankles or my throat or the inch between my eyes? What can I compare this feeling to from my past history and from my imagination?

I will imagine one of these strangers walking up to me and saying “How are you?” I will hear myself blurting out the real answer to that absurd question. I will write down what I say in all its angry/shattered/dazed-but-lucid truth.

Meanwhile I wander in shock mode through this experience of personal torture. The kind of experience we unfortunately have all experienced and probably will experience again. I clutch my notebook to my pummeled heart. We are all still black and blue.



10 comments:

Janet Walters said...

Alice, Hope this your granddaughter has sime ease from the pain. I quite remember writing when facing a crisis situation. Years ago, my husband had an aortic aneurysm where the aorta leaves the heart. He had a 50-50 chance of survival. I sat in the surgical waiting room and wrote. Escaping into another world kept me from going crazy.

Janet Walters said...

Alice, Hope this your granddaughter has sime ease from the pain. I quite remember writing when facing a crisis situation. Years ago, my husband had an aortic aneurysm where the aorta leaves the heart. He had a 50-50 chance of survival. I sat in the surgical waiting room and wrote. Escaping into another world kept me from going crazy.

Carol Chaput ART said...

Thank you, dear Alice. I’ve been on both the praying and receiving end of the shock mode. You’ve captured the anguish and exhaustion, the hope and love around us.
Carol Chaput

Cris Anson said...

Beautifully said, Alice. I've been in hospitals, wretchedly watching others suffer, but never had the inspiration to write down my feelings at the time. Thank you.

Unknown said...

My heart goes out to you and your family dear Alice. Picture me holding you all in my arms. Her youth will speed her healing and our prayers will cover the rest. Best, Linda

Penelope Marzec said...

I am sorry to hear of your granddaughter's terrible pain. I'll pray for her. I've spent time with loved ones in hospitals but the best I could do was read--or look up the names of medications and other medical terms.

Spiritual Smart Aleck said...

Thanks for this, Alice. As you know I relate to so much of it. Last time I was the one in catatonia in the Swedish cafeteria was the day Rick died. Talk about shock mode. Still praying for you & Maya and family. Love always. Mary

Barbara Garro said...

When the going gets tough, the tough get writing. Good for you,Alice. Enjoyed thinking through what you wrote, your situation, your surroundings, but mostly your granddaughter, the object of major medical attention, in pain, at such a young age for such a terrible trauma. How she must be hoping whatever they did to her works and she will be running and dancing again soon.... From a young age, I learned that hospital beds are thinking places, remember at four thinking, "I do not want to die," as my grandfather prayed to the Blessed Mother to not let me die....

Krystol Diggs said...

It's good that you still got to jot down some things! Hope your baby girl feels better soon.

Mark Giles said...

Alice, sent some prayers her way via your Facebook page. Right now I'm reading Raymond Chandler's The High Window. As always, he is careful to set the scene, just as you have in the cafeteria--I could feel the weariness such a place gives, and the closeness to pain. Paint it in mute colors, with somber, guarded conversations at the other tables. Food that tastes like ashes, because that's where all the senses go in such a moment and place. We can attach these cues to the emotions we wish to express. I always go back to Chandler (Lee Child has said the same) because he put that lapidarian streak of his into word poems. You do that too, Alice. So hang in there. As a recovering back sufferer, my heart goes out to you all.