Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing, A Solitary Process?

Writers who have a basic process always amaze me, especially those whose process doesn’t vary all that much. Of course, most of the writers whom I hear talk about how they approach writing are best selling authors, so who am I to question them? I have so many ways to write that I don’t even try to count them. The one I used most recently was writing most of the piece in my head before actually getting anything down on paper. On my last trip to my hometown to visit my parents I started writing an essay in my head on Saturday night. I didn’t get the piece into the computer until Wednesday afternoon at my desk during my lunch hour. For me, writing is not necessarily solitary. I was so into the process that I bordered on being rude to my co-workers; it felt all-consuming. Writing this way has produced some of the pieces I’m most proud of, but it only seems to work when the subject is extremely personal. I would like to share the essay that I wrote in my head with all of you.

Whistling in the Dark

It is 7:45 on a Saturday night and I’m hurtling through the night with my dad at the wheel. I look over at the dashboard to see how much over 100 he’s going, but the speedometer is only registering 35mph. I feel like I’m on the nose of a rocket heading through the darkness of outer space. Maybe it feels out of control because he seems so casual and oblivious to the other cars for someone who’s 90 and doesn’t see well after dark. He’s making that little whistling noise he’s always used as a stress reliever. It helps. I do that too.
We have just left the Lincoln Center Rehabilitation Wing where my stepmother has been admitted to help her get back on her feet after a fall that broke her C-3 vertebrae this summer. She hasn’t been the same since. Her neck has healed, but her personality did a 180: she’s grouchy, confused, argumentative and weak as a kitten -­ no muscle tone, just slack skin hanging on her long frame. Dad and I are worried that she has the beginnings of dementia caused by the trauma of her fall, that she won’t ever be her sweet self again. Life is out of control.
Dad pulls into Wendy’s parking lot and I take my foot off the imaginary brake. Ok. We made it half –way home. We’ll eat dinner and then just a few more blocks to safety. We order salads after bickering over who’s going to buy. I let him win. He needs a victory right now, even a small one. We sit across from each other and it’s like eating in front of a mirror. We pick at our salads the same way. Hunting and pecking, eating the “good stuff” first, wiping our mouths and taking sips of our drinks in unison. We organize the trash on our trays exactly the same, folding and smoothing crumpled napkins, folding up the paper off our straws into one-inch rectangles, making everything neat and orderly, even our trash, controlling the things we can control.
An acquaintance of Dad’s comes over to our table to chat. Dad jokes with him, asking him if he comes here often. Mr. Doyle replies that since his wife died he’s there every day. Then he says he’d better get home, doesn’t want to be late falling asleep in front of the TV. He and Dad chuckle half-heartedly; Mr. Doyle facing the reality of his life and Dad envisioning what his is becoming. We say goodbye to Mr. Doyle and head out the door. I brace myself for another Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but it’s mostly uneventful, just one little bobble to the right, plowing through his neighbor’s leaves piled at the edge of the street.
Inside the house it feels safe and WAY too warm. Old People Warm. But we’re in the beautiful home that my stepmother so tastefully decorated, and it makes my stomach hurt to think she may never get to live there again, surrounded by beauty and Dad’s love for her.
I go to my room to change my clothes and when I come back to the kitchen, Dad is standing on a chair in front of the refrigerator taking the clock off the wall to change the time. It’s another thing I can’t control, my wobbly dad standing on a wobbly chair because he wants to do everything for himself.
Just as we sit down in the family room the phone jangles and it’s my stepmother crying and saying she’s scared because she can’t find her call button. She wants Dad to call the nurse’s station and tell them she needs to go to the bathroom and could he have me come over and sit with her for awhile. That I can do, sit with her and try to calm her fears, at least for tonight. Make a safe space for her like she did for me when my own mother disowned me. Dad says he’ll stay by the phone so I can call and let him know how she is.
I head back to the rehab facility. This time I’m driving, but it still feels like I’m racing through the darkness toward unknown dangers and the ugliness of getting old.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse


  1. Interesting process, and wonderful product! MKP

  2. Beck,

    This piece really touched me. I heard the truth of it and the pain and the sadness. I also heard the love you have for your dad and helpless sorrow you feel at his pain. It was beautifully and simple told. I loved the fact that you pointed out the likeness of you and your dad and the ease you find in each others company.

  3. I love these piece, and I identify completely with the process. I have no "process" - it's whenever the muse strikes. However, I do try to keep a voice recorder with me so I can voice ideas while I'm driving.

  4. Thanks Rebekah...I love writing in my head and I love it even more when words like these make it to paper.

    Mr. Doyle made me sad.

    Well done.

  5. I write in my head too. Sometimes I even remember it later!

    This is very, very touching and touches so many of us, I'm sure. Thank you for sharing it.