“What are we but our stories?” James Patterson
Back in the days when I was in high school, we had a history teacher who, on the first day of class after introducing himself to us, asked us to write a story about a significant event (a sort of turning point) in our life and how it changed us.
As the years went by I had many such turning points in my life. But none compared to that particular day at the hospital when I realized for the first time that I was going to lose my husband and feeling what it would be like and hating it. I felt so alone that day at the hospital and I thought my husband is going to die soon and there is nothing I could do about it. Every time I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t help thinking what a senseless, dreadful waste it was that he was going to die. He had so many unfulfilled dreams and duties. There were so many things he still wanted to do. And I thought what a messed up world we were living in. I felt this excruciating pain in my chest.
The pain is still there and on most days I hurt so much that I don’t know who I am anymore. I look back at those days and months and wonder how in the world I could have functioned then when I find it so hard to go on now. Was I on some sort of automatic pilot back then? How can I go on as if everything was right with the world, instead of terribly, terribly wrong?
“What are we but our stories?” His story and mine. Our story. And my stories are nothing now but sad and painful. And to think that it was not even a year ago when I wrote:
“I force myself to write. And I write and write and write.” Elie Wiesel
Has this ever happened to you? For some personal reason, you have to stop or quit writing for a while, but then you find it very difficult to come back to. You are doing fine, writing every day, sticking to the schedule you set for yourself but then something happens, something that you have no control over and you are obliged to give up your writing. Something like a medical emergency or family obligation. And then when your crisis is over (if it is over), and you want to somehow continue your routine of writing, you find it hard to do so. You are happy, you want to write so badly that you’re aching, but no matter what you do or how hard you try you cannot write even a single sentence.
Unfortunately, I have been through this more than once. Each time I was able to come out of the crisis and continue from where I had left off, but it was not easy. I temporarily stopped writing at a couple of times during my life, for all sorts of reasons. The last time I stopped and interrupted the flow, it took me years to bounce back to my desk.
When I write everyday, like most of you do, I become so lost in the process that I even forget my surroundings. It’s like I live in a dream. A dream of my own making, in which everything in and around me changes, creating magic. As E. L. Doctorow put it:
“One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. The invention of books comes as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As I mentioned, on more than one occasion I left this magical world of writing in pursuit of other more realistic professions in order to help support my family. I abandoned the one and only one thing that really mattered to me and which I loved to do most. I did so with such heartache. In the beginning I tried to scribble down a few words and phrases every day, but after a long day of teaching full time, taking care of two little children and on some days even tutoring after school, I would be too exhausted to even sit on a chair. And of course not a day would pass without me thinking about my writing, without me feeling guilty about not finding the time or place to do so.
Then finally, after a long absence, when it was time again for me to sit at my desk I didn’t know where to start. I had all these ideas, all these stories and plots and images and characters playing in my mind that I didn’t know what to do about. I had trouble concentrating, yet I felt that I had to do something. I had to force myself to write, and write and write. And as the late Ray Bradbury said:
“If you write a hundred short stories and they’re all bad, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You fail only if you stop.”