In 2012, I discovered my aunt Becky had stage three breast cancer. She was mentally disabled. She did not drive. She barely spoke to anyone. But Becky and I have always been close, so I moved her into our basement and took her to the doctor. I did not begrudge her my time. How could I?
Every day I woke up thinking Today I will write! And at first, I did. But as Becky’s cancer progressed, fifteen-minute doctor appointments turned into two-hour clinic appointments and more. Did you know a blood transfusion can take up to six hours? Slowly, my writing practice dwindled from five days a week to twice a month.
“I haven’t written anything today. I won’t be able to write tomorrow. Why not give it up for now? Maybe I could come back to it when I have more time?”
Contemplating these questions made me sick to my stomach. I grew agitated. If anyone asked me what I did, I changed the subject because clearly, I was not a writer. Sure, maybe a paragraph here and there but the rest of it was all Facebook quips, black coffee, and cheese sandwiches. And I knew that was not writing.
Writing is using every experience you have ever had to form one stupid sentence about the weather, which you will eventually cut from the final draft because it is way too purple and clouds don’t really do that.
Writing is sitting in front of your computer making weird faces so you can figure out how eyebrows knit together or how your mouth turns down in confusion.
Writing is taking dictation at three a.m. because your brain won’t stop describing the wave patterns you saw the other day in a gravel driveway and it will not fall asleep until you get it right.
Writing is a compulsion – to tell a story in the simplest way possible for the reader to understand your meaning. And it·requires·that you make everything else around you·less important·than the voices in your head.
But how could I do that? My aunt was literally dying right in front of me. How could I make her less important?
There came a day, a regular day I guess, certainly no different than the day before, but when I woke up on that day it was all I could do to get myself out of bed. I had to pull my clothes on before I could protest, and push myself out of the house.
Later, as Becky and I drove home from the hospital, I realized that if I wasn’t writing, what was the point of anything? Why stay? Who even cared? You could say it was a suicidal thought, but I think of it more like a suicidal consideration. At the time, it seemed like an easy and efficient answer. I could see the appeal.
The simplicity of that thought scared the bejesus out of me. I’d given up writing because it felt more important to invest my time in Becky. Somehow I had convinced myself that asking for help was akin to goofing off all day. No one else believed that, not even Becky. Still, I didn’t see how much I needed to write until my world began to fall apart.
I don’t think I would have had this problem if my artistic passion in life were something tangible, like carpentry. I’m willing to bet that carpenters never question why they need so much time on the construction site in order to build stuff. I’m pretty sure they don’t make a habit of just trying to fit some framing in on the weekends. And I know for a·fact that they don’t wait for a spare ten minutes here and there to hang drywall.
But that·endeavor – the artistic passion to get everything right – requires the same amount of hard work and dedication as writing a novel. You cannot slap some trite plot lines together, plaster it over with adjectives, stick a tin roof ending on it, and call it good. It takes more than that to write YouTube comments.
I reached out. Of course·people helped. They·wanted·to help. After months of living for someone else, I now had my time of my own. And because that time came at the expense of others, I was obligated to use it wisely.
It’s been two years since Becky passed away. I think about her often. She was important here, a close part of our family. She taught me how to spend my time doing worthy things. Before she died, Becky was happier than I’d ever seen her – especially when I sat at the kitchen table to write. She loved watching me write. She thought all the weird faces I made were hilarious.