tumblr tracker

Slices of Life

A writer writes. That’s one of the rules. It’s also one of the ways we keep going when the storytelling or blogging or essaying well runs dry.

In the immediate wake of my father’s death last month, I published this on my Facebook page:

My father, Henk Schmidt, passed away Sunday night. Many of you did not know him, but if you know me or my family you know something of who he was.

We (my two brothers and sister and I, as well as my mother) were all with him at the end. Though the final week was very difficult, his passing was peaceful and I am grateful that we were able to be with him.

He was a wonderful, dynamic, charismatic, giving, stubborn, difficult, funny, talented, creative, liberal, loving, hard-working, passionate, generous and outgoing man who adored his wife and family. All of that. He was not perfect. He was human. But he was a magnificent human being, a lion of a man, and we will miss him very much.

It was the journalist in me, I supposed, who emerged to make that declaration. I also wrote an obituary for Dad, again playing the journalist.

The writer –the novelist, essayist, even the blogger — has been more silent. And this has surprised me. After all, I wrote about the death of a parent in my first novel, Useful Fools. I would not have expected to find it so difficult to write about Dad’s death, and yet I have. Even in my handwritten, ultraprivate “morning pages,” I’ve had nothing to say about this most important loss. A sort of writer’s block, I guess.

When I was in college, I had a grand passion for Wordsworth.Tintern Abbeycould make me swoon.  And Wordsworth’s definition of poetry–“emotion recollected in tranquility”–has remained with me all my life, though I sort of outgrew Wordsworth. And maybe Wordsworth is right. Maybe I need to wait for tranquility before I can really write about Dad’s death.

What worries me is that I may never find that kind of tranquility.

Because the tranquility I need is not the calm after a storm. It’s a faith in the integrity of my own writing. Honestly. What I’m afraid of is what I’ve always been afraid of about writing. That there may be something fundamentally dishonest about the writing process.  That we delude ourselves when we think we can capture life in words. Because we can’t. We just can’t. Not a single life, let alone life in its multitudes, can be rendered truthfully in words. Which is why my Facebook post may have been the best I can do. A series of adjectives, not all of them laudatory. A statement of loss. No attempt at the fiction that I was telling anyone the “truth” about my Dad. Just an impressionistic flow of facts and feelings. The best I could or can do.

And yet.

A few days ago a friend asked me why I didn’t speak at Dad’s funeral. I told her that I build my monuments in the written word. And it is true that Dad will emerge periodically in my fiction. Slices of him. But they’ll be fictionalized. They won’t be a real attempt to portray Dad. And I want, I really want, to write my monument to Dad. Maybe to use that impressionistic, initial overflow of feelings. One word at a time, I want to build Dad that monument.

Because my dad was a writer, too. Of fiction. Of poetry. Of amazing letters and sermons and eulogies. Unpublished, all of them. But he wrote. And though, in the wake of his death, I have questioned, over and over, whether I should keep writing at all, when there are so many other good and valuable ways to spend my time, ways that would honor my father’s life, I think that I want to write because that’s part of what he gave to me, part of who he made me, part of how he’ll live on in me.

Speak Your Mind