The Only Question
I write two separate blogs, one on my website No One Is Broken, and the other for Author magazine. The blogs I write for No One Is Broken are about being a father to a son who was diagnosed with autism, and the blogs I write for Author are about writing, but in truth they’re both about the same thing: unconditional love. One of the great gifts my son gave me, particularly when he was much younger and the behaviors that would garner him that diagnosis were more acute, was an absolute dearth of evidence that he would be okay – whatever exactly that meant. There were no glowing report cards, no piano recitals, no lasting friendships, virtually nothing that resembled what I understood to be success except the occasional LEGO set that was put together effortlessly.
So what’s a father to do, aside from try to fix what isn’t actually broken? It was hard to imagine how I could be happy if my son would never thrive, and so I had no choice but to believe that everything was okay, even though it looked like everything was not okay. It became a kind of spiritual practice, finding an inner, emotional balance every day that existed beyond the conditions of the world in which I currently lived, conditions that always included how my son was behaving.
This was great practice for writing. If I write, and if I want to share what I write with other people – if I want to be an author – I must forget to care what anyone might think of what I am writing. It is simply impossible to write with authority and confidence, to find that effortless dream-state from which the most inspired writing flows, if I am wondering what anyone else will think of the story I am telling. If I want to write, I must choose whether to answer the question What do I most want to say? or What would someone else want me to say? I can’t answer them both.
In fact, I am only ever capable of answering one, though I have tried over the years to answer the other, always to my own misery. It seems unfair. Just as a father feels he cannot be happy unless he knows his child will one day thrive as an adult, so too a writer believes he cannot love what he has written unless someone else loves it too. But as a writer I must love my stories as unconditionally as I love my children. It is the only way to perceive either as they actually are.
I don’t think I am the only one writing so often about unconditional love. The more I write about it and think about it, the more I hear a question being asked in every conversation I enter, and in every television show or movie I watch or book I read: Is happiness assembled outside of me, or does it spring continually within me? It’s the most important question we can answer. And what I find most compelling about this question is that it can’t be answered just once. I must answer it again and again and again, with every story I write, with every single thought I think. The question is as continuous as I am, and the answer always becomes what I call my life.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com