Wednesday, May 9, 2012

News From The Front

Years ago, when I sent my agent, Joe Durepos, the first draft of the book The Invitation he phoned me and said, “Wow, writing for you must be like what going to war is for some men.”

Now of course, in some very real ways that matter- a lot- writing is nothing at all like going to war. But I knew what he meant metaphorically. I know men who have gone to war, and they’ve told me that their experience of knowing that everything was on the line made them feel very alive even as they were terrified of dying. Writing, for me, is a little like that- I am compelled to put everything I have into it, writing right past my fears or my desire to withhold or hedge or make myself (or someone else) look better than we were in the stories I am recounting, even knowing some parts of me will need to “die” in light of what I will learn from the process. And when this magic combination of letting go and forging ahead occurs, I feel deeply, ecstatically alive.

Last week, my work on a new book (The Choice) took me to a story about something that happened when I was a teenager- something I’d never forgotten but hadn’t thought about until a few years ago. Here’s the thing: I thought I’d remembered everything about the incident, which involved both of my parents. But when I wrote about it I “saw” something I had forgotten: I remembered the look on my father’s face, his embarrassment, his shame, his inability to look me in the eye. And, for the first time, I understood why I had done what I had, how I had moved instinctively without any thought of self-preservation. I’d been trying to protect him, to reassure him that I would be okay, that he didn’t need to feel badly about what was happening.

As this came out on the page, I could not help but think about sitting with my father recently, rubbing his back and stroking his arm. He is beyond comprehending words because of advanced Alzheimer’s. I looked into his eyes, held his gaze and silently willed him to know how sorry I am that I cannot save him from the disease that is taking his life from him one painful inch at a time. Despite knowing we cannot walk another’s path for them, the spontaneous thought arose, “I’m so sorry Dad. If I could take your place, I would.”

Each person has their own journey. We can only walk our own and love those around us through whatever they encounter. But I am deeply grateful to have been offered this sliver of new awareness about an earlier experience with my father. It gives me an insight into my largely unconscious but long-standing impulse to rescue and protect him. It helps me be with him and and with my own pain at not being able to do the impossible – to “save” him (or anyone else) from their own journey- with more understanding and compassion for us both.

That’s why I write- why any of us engage in the creative work or expression that calls to us- to discover what we did not already know, to deepen our understanding and experience in unexpected ways, to live more fully and deeply and compassionately present with what is within and around us.

And that’s this week’s news from the (writing) front.

Oriah (c) 2012


  1. The timing of this blog is uncanny. I said goodbye to my best friend on the weekend, I had nursed her through her cancer and was there with her, holding her tight, as she peacefully left this world. I'd have done anything to trade places with her and spare her the pain of her cancer. But, that was her journey and I have mine. Thank you for another very insightful piece.

  2. On occasion I've had the same thing happen, Oriah. I'll be writing about something from my childhood or earlier years, and I get a sliver of insight into what really happened. I seem to have forgotten a lot,or perhaps I've just buried a lot.I look forward to your new book.