I will do anything for the experience of having done it, because I am a firm believer that you don’t say something is bad if you’ve never eaten it…. and that statement has many transitive properties.
Most writers work for free while they’re doing something else for money, and everything I do for money feeds this web site in more ways than one. So whether I’m in Global Information Services or trying to be a cook, I’m still me. To really understand me, you’ll have to read “The Sol Majestic,” which explores the idea of ivory tower vs. hard work. I am both sides of the equation. I am blue collar and an academic because one feeds the other. I do not need a job that captures any more of my attention than is necessary to feed myself, because I don’t live on earth most of the time. My head is in the clouds, and I am constantly wandering for a foothold.
In the clouds, there are no footholds. Blue collar work is an anchor to keep me from flying too close to the sun. Brandon Sanderson says that if you want to be a writer, lay brick or similar, because you need something that your body can do independently of your mind. I agree, because you can get into a rhythm while at the same time giving your characters room to play. I only have two fiction projects in the works and trade off between them, and it’s slow going because I’m a blogger. It’s not that I’m a bad writer, it’s that I’m so inexperienced with style and structure.
At some point I will have to borrow structure from Jonna Mendez, former Chief of Disguise at CIA and in my opinion, the best non-fiction writer that ever lived tied with her husband. Here’s why. Jonna and Tony have the ability to capture what fiction does without writing it. Their books present like spy capers and you get lost in their movies, internal videos that play as you’re reading. I didn’t just read about trying not to get caught in Tehran and Moscow. For the length of the book, I lived it.
Then I met her in person and the books changed yet again, because not only could I picture her more completely in her stories, they were scarier because I really, really liked her. It’s one thing to read about strangers in peril… quite another when you have an emotional attachment to the story. It made me a bigger fan, though. I have two copies of each book by Team Mendez, autographed paper and Kindle.
If it seems weird that I have both, it’s that the Kindle versions came first and the autographs are keepsakes. Plus, I don’t like to write in the margins of my books and it’s not because I’m a purist and think writing in books is bad. It’s that if I want to make a note about something, I want data I can use. If I write a note by hand, I then have to type it. Wasted energy when I can just attach a keyboard to my tablet or Kindle (yes, Kindles support them). I wouldn’t have thought of this unless I’d reviewed so many books that it was necessary. So much easier to copy and paste text from my notes, and it syncs with Goodreads and a few other programs so I can access everything on every device I own.
I would like to say that I love reviewing books, but I don’t. I’m a voracious reader and therefore, my standards are extraordinarily high. I also don’t want to hurt any writer’s chance of making more money. Even if you’re a shitty writer, you still deserve to eat. It’s a different perspective for me because I am also a shitty writer who deserves to eat, so I probably empathize too much when I should be ruthless.
Speaking of which, I still owe Finn Bell a couple of reviews, because he’s one of my favorite writers in the entire world…. mostly because he writes characters and mysteries that you don’t want to end and there are too many questions running through my mind as to what happened after the story ended. I asked him about that, and he said he couldn’t tell me anything because he was keeping things tight for future stories.
I get it, and at the same time, “AAAAAAAAGH! WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PRIEST, FINN?!?!?!?!”
Speaking of priests, preaching is another job I’d do for free as long as I didn’t have to do anything else. It is ultimately the reason I changed my mind about starting a church. I realized that I was too immobilized by grief over my mother’s death to do things like pastoral care when I was the one that needed it so badly. You can become a wounded healer, but only up and to a point. It’s a balancing act of being empathetic and not getting your own crazy spatter all over your congregation. Don’t think it doesn’t happen. I have watched it on many an occasion and didn’t want that for myself.
It was hard enough coming unglued with no one watching except readers who weren’t in the room where I type. I could say what I liked and process “verbally” without feeling like I had a responsibility to keep it together for everyone else.
Here’s what you don’t know before your mother dies that you sure as hell know afterward. If you are the oldest, you are the new matriarch of the family and it might not be because your family wants or needs that. It’s your own mother lion protection mechanism because you were the one your mother trusted with “the rest of them.” You aren’t prepared for that kind of responsibility and if your siblings are also adults, they didn’t give it to you. You took it because that’s what you’ve always done… sacrificing self to take care of everyone that came behind you.
You feel alone in a way you never have, because now it’s all on you…. even when no one needs you and the responsibility is an illusion.
The phrase “even if no one needs you” is not wiping the blood off my cross or anything. It’s that at adult age, “need” is relative. For instance, I want people to want me, not fall apart because they think they can’t function without me. So many people confuse desire with need, and it ate my lunch for a while as I walked toward the new normal. The pace never accelerates. I have run toward nothing.
I’m not sure there’s ever been a sense of loss as great as continuing my own life afterward, because it was so painful. I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to live because who cares? That’s the other part no one will tell you. When the person who brought you into the world leaves, a huge part of your tether develops a rip and you aren’t carrying a needle and thread.
Of course this is magnified by my bipolar disorder, but I do know these feelings are also universal. Specificity is measured in tiny increments.
I’d be a grief counselor for free. Nothing fills my soul faster than a mutual stitch and bitch, because if you haven’t lost a parent, there’s no way to understand. I am not being pedantic. You just don’t even know until you get there. It will hit you like a head on collision where you’re driving a Trabant into an oncoming train, and this is true whether you liked said parent or not, because those two people made you. I am not speaking literally. Adopted kids go through the same stuff.
It’s that the core personality is set by six years old, according to Erik Erickson, and generally your parents are there for that. Even your facial expressions and mannerisms take on new meaning when you realize that you are indeed looking at your mother (in my case) and you aren’t offended that she’s staring back, because you’re not a copy anymore. You’re what’s left.
If you haven’t lost a parent, you can empathize with me, but don’t you dare say you know how I feel. I wouldn’t even say that to another person who lost a parent. Just because their parent died doesn’t mean they’re having the same experience.
The one thing we have in common is that “hell is other people.” They don’t know what to say and you can’t get mad because you know they mean well…. even though when they say “I would fall apart if my mother died” you want to scream “WELL IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOING THROUGH IT AND NOT YOU, JACKASS.” Don’t get me started. It isn’t helpful to get angry, just to say to people the best thing they *can* say to someone grieving is “I’m so sorry.” Don’t add anything. Let those words be humble and enough because they are….. and let me explain why.
When MY mother dies, it’s not your turn to have emotion. It will be your turn, but it is not in that instant. To focus on how you would feel if it happened to you is bullshit to someone to whom it has happened. It will come across as “God, I am so glad I’m not you.” It’s also frustrating for people to say that they don’t know what to say and avoid you when you are literally handing them a script with only two or three words.
When I was in the thick of it, just deep, deep grief, I needed people to do things for me. Two problems with that. I didn’t know what I needed and couldn’t ask for help because it was too much energy… both in the figuring it out and in the asking. I was alone in my room for months because no one is prepared to have their mom die. No one. At the same time, I wasn’t prepared in the slightest. It’s not like anyone could have predicted an embolism because the doctors didn’t know they needed to look for one. I can imagine the notes:
Patient is a 65 year old white female presenting with moderate pain and limited mobility in her left leg. Waiting for x-ray to confirm fractOH MY GOD SHE’S DEAD.
Speaking of “white female,” I’m laughing because one of the doctors I work with decided to create a macro in a word processor that would automatically change “if” into Indian female. Hilarity ensued. EVERYTHING in medicine depends on “if” and “it depends.”
My analogy for this is that all doctors are half programmer, half waitress. All of them. Doesn’t matter the specialty. It’s soft skills and “if, then.” So many medical problems are just spaghetti code (everything loops back around into a tangled mess).
And then you look at psychologists/licensed counselors and the spaghetti code analogy gets even stronger. People aren’t machines, and logic isn’t emotion.
It’s honestly why I’d cook for free, and I proved it when I was willing to do it for eight bucks an hour. I needed a logical job so that my emotions were a separate part of me. The place I kept to myself because I already had a place to vent and a partner to help carry the financial load (absolutely the most important reason to keep Dana in the back of my mind if and when I start making real money).
So if you ask me what I’ll do for free, I have touched on so many subjects that the answer is anything, as long as it serves a purpose. I think it’s good advice. You can have it.