and write it down.
I am in awe of them. When I read The Year of Magical Thinking, I was blown away by Joan Didion’s honesty and courage in relating the intensely personal loss of her husband. It’s unfathomably hard to face one’s own grief and put it on paper. A friend of mine is dealing with this issue. Having lost a child some years ago, she is struggling with the need to put it in writing and the inability to do so. It’s just too hard to face. Yet something compels her to want to write it down.
As writers, we feel the import of emotional events. As writers, we need to get these experiences and the accompanying emotions out for understanding, for healing. As writers, we see the universality of events and the emotions they elicit. And we want to share them to help others, to find community, and empathy. Yet as humans we shrink from the glare of our pain.
Every spring I think of my brother Tom. He died the day after Christmas, 1984, in an awful car accident. He was a “motorhead” and had ten cars. Ten! He wasn’t rich. He found good deals. Some of the cars didn’t run or ran sporadically. For a while he had a Jaguar XKE that wouldn’t shift out of first gear. The ’57 Buicks, the Porche 911, the Corvette convertible: these cars would winter in various barns and garages around eastern Wisconsin until the weather turned and the snow melted. Then they would appear with Tom behind the wheel.
“Want to take a ride,” he’d ask. I always dropped whatever I was doing. Once, he let me ride in the Porche as he tested a slalom track before a competition. Just writing about it now puts the sound of the engine in my ears, the smile on my face, and the tears in my eyes. Even after all these years. In fact, this is the first time I have written anything about him. My chest is tight and my stomach aches. I am a coward.
Yet I know now that I will return to him. Maybe not as memoir, perhaps I need the distance of fiction. Yet I feel the need…as a writer.