Freshman year of college I walked into Brooke Anderson's Communication's class incredibly unsure of...well everything actually. Brooke was patient, full of joy, and hilarious. Our conversations swirled around crocheting wedding dresses, our shared dislike of hiking (she has since changed her tune), and our love of all things chocolate. It was with her influence that I decided to major in Communication. It has been a blessing to be able to keep in touch throughout college and beyond—seeing her pursue her diverse range of dreams (from communication, to science, to writing). When I found out Brooke had taken a huge leap of faith and written a Novella, I knew I had to feature her on the blog. I hope her post encourages you to live big, real, messy lives in the midst of the beautiful and the painful. (Oh and today's the last day you can support her Novella on Kickstarter, so now's your chance!)
I didn’t exactly mean to be a fiction writer. If my undergrad creative writing professor were still alive, I’m pretty sure she’d be raising her eyebrows at this unexpected turn of events. But in the many years since I sat in her class, if I have learned one thing, it is that life is unexpected if it is anything at all.
I also didn’t exactly mean to write this book. I would open my computer and close my eyes, and then I’d be there in the middle of the lives of my characters, feeling their hurt, laughing at their funny moments, breathing in the air that settled around them, and writing their lives.
A month after I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to work in a nursing home. Between having an English degree and graduating in December there were not exactly a flood of job options. That brief time in my life was perhaps one of the most defining I have ever known. It was in the moments spent caring for people who could no longer care for themselves that I came face to face with life as it wraps up—the final act. I cared for a woman who no longer spoke, a man who trudged through dialysis, a young man there because he was sick, not elderly, a woman full of stories of her exotic life that seemed very far away from the dingy cream colored walls that now defined her days and my evenings. I learned in that experience that these moments, so often unseen, are just as much life as the ones when we dance through our days.
But these moments of pain and hurt are often lost, hidden behind walls and doors, sequestered away until they are lived and over and we can return again to the happy people that we think we are supposed to be.
Sometimes life is beautiful. There are wildflowers and people who delight our souls, drawing us out and helping us dance. There is pasta and coffee and chocolate cake and comfy couches. There are hikes through fields of perfectly shaped boulders and quiet spaces where you can watch the clouds change with the wind.
But even in the most beautiful life, there are moments when our hearts cry out and feel like they will contract until they are no more, pressed into a space so small that our chest hurts with the change and we wonder, silently and aloud, if we will be ok.
When I delved into the world of fiction again so many years after that creative writing class, I found that I fell in love with it because fiction wraps itself around the hardest truths so that we can hold them without burning our hearts.
In stories we can live out our hurts and fears, letting characters guide us through the pain, knowing that we are not alone, that someone has gone before.
And in stories we can write about those parts of life that are so often seen only at a distance.
I am learning that like life, writing is full of the unexpected. Characters take on lives of their own, and as they grow to fill the pages, we are surprised.
I guess in a way I didn’t really choose to write about grief and loss. I chose to tell a story about people, and as I did the reality of what it is to be human emerged with them. Living in community, facing our disappointments, being surprised, awkward, kind, and quirky. Wishing we had done differently, telling stories and holding hands, being sad, letting go, and learning to be who we were made to be. Writing is a place where we can write about the things we might be inclined to keep hidden, and therein lies the power to give us new ways of seeing the world.
Life is unexpected. Unexpectedly beautiful. Unexpectedly surprising. Unexpectedly tough. Unexpectedly real.
And as a writer, I hope that somewhere in the real and unexpected stories we tell and read, we can begin to see not only characters, but more of ourselves and our lives and our beautiful, painful, surprisingly unexpected world.
As a writer, I care deeply about words and using them to create a picture that shows the world both in a way that is so familiar and also reveals what we had never noticed before. I think that is why I write. To describe a world that is near and dear and still a little bit unseen.
The book I ended up writing is called Hello Goodbye We Meet Again and is being launched on Kickstarter here.