Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Dearth of Pluck, I Only Want to Do the Fun Parts, Be Excellent to Each Other

I was thinking the other day, for various, to-remain-undisclosed reasons, that I would be a terrible cancer patient. (Nothing is wrong medically; it was just one of those things. I’m actually in absurdly good physical health considering my stressy lifestyle.) The reason I would be a terrible cancer patient is because I am decidedly unplucky. I harbor a stubborn and unshakeable belief that cancer only happens to plucky mothers of three who exist in Lifetime movies. Plucky mothers of three who are also “feisty” and ready to “battle” cancer for the sake of their children, and determined to “think positive!” and not to indulge in an ounce of bitterness, fear, rage or depression. If I had cancer, I would veer wildly from flat-out fury to bed-ridden depression. What I would not be is: Plucky, positive, determined and strong. Meaning, I would be a Bad Patient. I don’t have the positive-thinking gene. I’m bad at enduring. I’m somewhat phobic about hospitals, even though I work in one. And I simply don’t have time to have cancer, unlike those perky women on the Lifetime network with their handsome, supportive husbands and sassy, single best friends. The only two women I know of in the public eye who have discussed their reactions to cancer honestly are writer Barbara Ehrenreich and comedian Tig Notaro. They thumbed their noses at the positive-thinking mandate and spoke truth to medical-industry power. I say good on them.

I need to do a second, deep, structure-altering, thinky, technical edit on my novel and I just don’t want to, because it feels like work, and I only want to do the fun parts. The fun part was telling the story, the high of the imaginative leaps that would happen during the writing process, the fun of figuring out new ways to torment my immature and self-destructive main character. The editing part feels like having to move from finger painting with pretty colors to doing algebra. But  my compatriots at Absolute Write have been very supportive. I started a thread about what a sticky morass this second edit feels like, and everyone has been super-encouraging. However, I also made the terrible discovery there that opening a novel with a character waking up is such a horrid, unforgivable cliché that book agents will automatically, universally reject the book without reading any further. So I guess I will be re-writing my “main character wakes up late with vicious hangover in downstairs neighbor man-slut spoken-word-poet crush’s bed. *Sigh*.

This week, we held the memorial for Jules at the hospital I work at. It was a beautiful event. Everyone who attended had a chance to share a story about him. I was struck by how so many people were deeply affected by the loss of this man, who gave so much love. A lot of these were tough people who had endured a lot, and yet were weeping copiously at his death. (I don’t like the phrase “reduced to tears” because I don’t think crying diminishes us.) I sat there throughout the event thinking about how, ultimately, we are all so squishy, so soft, so easily done in by the loss of love. We can survive the loss of jobs, the loss of stuff, even the loss of identity, but the loss of love breaks us. I’m still really sore from grief, and it’s making me a bit sentimental, so forgive me—but can we all remember this week, in the words of Bill and Ted, to be excellent to each other? We’re mushy, and we all need kindness.

--Kristen McHenry

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