“The past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past….That is why we dwell on the past, I think.” (Virginia Woolf)
I left my corporate job at the end of February to pursue my dream of being a writer. I have worked since I was fifteen, and the longest vacation I have taken was the two weeks that I took for my destination wedding in my birthplace Hawaii. It has been thirty years of “noise” (other people’s deadlines, visions, and priorities) taking precedence in my life. In order to clear some head space for my own voice to come to the forefront, I followed Pat Schneider’s advice in her book Writing Alone and With Others: I took a 3-night silent sabbatical (no child, no husband, no one else’s needs but my own).
What bubbled up during that experience was a lot of unexpressed emotion about the past and areas that I thought were healed or healing, but are not. I write fiction, including in screenplays, because as Schneider writes:
“Fiction is another way of telling the truth….If we refuse to write the truth of what we see and what we remember, we have to work hard to keep the door closed. We call that refusal ‘writer’s block’….And the truths that we have held undisclosed (perhaps even to ourselves) for a long time are under pressure and wanting to come up from the unconscious to the conscious mind. It is the psyche trying to heal itself. It is the artist in us wanting to make art…We do not choose our subject; our subject chooses us.”
So, at the end of the trip which was graciously extended two days by a snowstorm, I set some intentions. It was pretty clear that I needed to get back to a screenplay that I started a decade ago (and have stumbled on due to writer’s block) to embed the truth, not what people want to see. The topic is painful to me, the loss of my sister to a brain tumor, but the theme of coping with regret is universal. And, I know I will continue to feel blocked on the other 3-5 projects in various stages until I complete this story, even if I just write it for myself. The emotions I have felt from 1997 have since tempered, until yesterday….
Yesterday, I was present with my husband as the vet put his beloved cat, Freddie, to sleep. I was not there when my sister (or family dogs) passed, and I had some anxiety of how I would be when one minute Freddie was there and the next he was gone. But, in that time, I was able to give words of comfort and transition to Freddie, where my husband could not, and to “unground” him from the earth so that his departure would be easy. I held it to together, was strong until I got home. Freddie and I were not the best of friends (he was a true cat and I was raised around dogs). However, near the end, I cared for him: helping with his IV, putting him gently in the litter box and back on his bed, talking to him and stroking his frail body that wobbled beneath the gentlest of touches, letting him rest his head in my cupped hand. I loved him because he trusted me to help him in his most vulnerable time and then he was gone. Like my sister.
I believe that our final work on this earth is in our passing, our birth into the next world, and how it can affect and change others. My sister’s passing changed me into a better, more generous person. Freddie’s last and best gift to me was to “freshen” the emotions of 1997, to take me back to that time, so that as I follow through on the promised intentions of several weeks back and craft this story, I write the truth. Not some cliché or watered down version of the truth. The truth. The truth is what gives power and resonance to art.
What intentions are you making to follow through in your art or daily practice?