I am reading Margaret Atwood’s books this summer. Some short stories, several novels, and some “being a writer” non-fiction. This reading provides moments and hours of respite from my family caregiver existence. Atwood’s observations on the writing life, the writer identity, and simply surviving remind me that I’m traveling a sane not simple road, not alone. For the precious sense of being in a word-crafting community, I am grateful.
Reading has always been a major part of my life. Vaguely, I remember grandparents, aunts, and uncles who urged us not to be such “bookworms.” Go outside; play baseball, they said. We didn’t spend much time with them. We were not a family with “traditions,” but this far along in my life, I can recognize one never-failing routine in our life. My mother drove us kids to the library in the evening every two weeks when the books were due. We checked out anything and everything. I read most of the books that we boxed up and took home. Sometimes I talked them over with my father.
When my father died, (Jan. 2008) I was unable to read, for about five months. Couldn’t make it through sentences or pages let alone whole books. Not just not having time or energy for reading, which had happened for a season or two in my adult life, but trying to read and simply not having the focus or the will for it. Though, then, I still had my darling Will… when he went on Hospice at the end in May 2008, I arranged to take three months off my job to be his family caregiver. I went to the library and stocked up. My book pile that summer was devoted to re-thinking my unhappy work life, my work relationships, myself in relationship to my “career,” etc. I finally read “Nickeled and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich; it was on my to-read list forever. Another sweet reading treat was a little Buddhist-inspired book on accepting the chaos of the workplace. When Will died, too fast, in June, I had my reading to keep me grounded. I never went back to that job.
Living fits between reading and writing, outside this much less real tapping of symbols onto paper or screen, and separate from the pages anyone else wrote. Living is cleaning, cooking, fixing pillows in beds, counting pills into bottles. Living is numbers, budgets, shopping. Living is too real for words. When it is too much, the retreat to this magic is a cool swim on a hot day. Eventually, experiences are seasoned; they can then be used as material for characters, plots, or blogs.
When I made a run at revising my comedian novel, three years ago, I ran into a grief wall; Nessa’s funny father and the silly boy, Sparks, were too much like Daddy and Will. Today, life is giving me new stories, to write some other day. Finally, I’m happy to write about the silly men. Writing on; living through. Reading, always.