It's been an interesting and demanding couple of months. I've been thinking a lot about the way, for a writer, your life fuels your craft. I've been thinking about the fact that when we write essays and blogs, we are writing about real people in our real lives. It is a tricky thing to write about people you know, people you love. It's easy with colleagues, or those we know socially, but it gets tricky (and worth reading) quickly when we are writing about family, spouses, besties. How to ensure that your "material" isn't an invasion of their privacy? How to avoid being paralyzed in the telling of a story? Often I managed that balance by writing fiction. :)
But I have stories to tell now that will be cheapened and weakened by that strategy. And I have been thinking lots about that balance. When my late husband, Jeff, was alive, I wrote almost nothing about his illnesses, his challenges, our challenges. He was a very private person, and both a stoic Czech and a Nebraskan. He hated pity, despised selfishness and pettiness, had a core of something like steel or iron or titanium infused with grace, better able to face the truth than almost anyone I've ever known. So part of my decisions not to write about him were to honor his sense of privacy--but it had another function, too. Before he had cancer, he had some chronic illnesses that were difficult to live with. They were illnesses that impacted everything in our lives, from finances to lifestyle choices to our relationship with one another. And those realities shaped the life choices I was able to make. As a person, I carved out online spaces and pieces of writing where I could be just me, just Patti, and in those spaces I did not write about Jeff. What I gradually realized during that time is that it felt, as I assume it does in almost every close and committed relationship at one point or another, that his needs were automatically more important than my needs. Imagine my surprise, when I finally shoved those words out of my mouth in a counseling session one afternoon, when my counselor's response was a very calm, "Well, yes. They actually are more important, or at least more urgent, and probably always will be. But that is a factor having to do more with the person you've chosen to be than with Jeff's needs."
Because I could have left, you see. I could have given up entirely and left. I could have driven big changes in our home life. I could have said no, I could have said "not my problem" and I could have stopped fighting on his behalf. Some of the choices I made are permanent--I'll never have a baby, for example. And sometimes people ask me if I regret that choice. I wish it were otherwise, will probably always have a soft spot in my heart where I wonder what might have been. The only actual regrets I have, though, are in not being more kind, not being more courageous with Jeff. All he wanted was for me to be happy, and there were times I was afraid to ask him to help. My motives were pure--to be protective of him when he needed some buffering from the world--but I do think I erred on the side of cowardice.
That moment in the counselor's office was one that changed my whole understanding of the universe and my place in it and how resentment can color everything you see. I still, six years later, have moments when realization explodes like a flare and I know that what is happening to me will only change if I change it. A fact that is both empowering and exhausting. When I'm feeling resentful, most of the time, it's mine to undo.
When I'm feeling trapped, I need to remember that something made me make, and re-make, and re-re-make the choice that has me now caught in a situation I don't care for. The demands of my job, for example, were pretty well known to me when I said, waaaaay back last summer, that I wasn't sure I wanted to step into this circle of crazy. But step into that circle I did, and I need to own that choice and work hard to focus on the good stuff, on changing what I can around me for the better.
Yesterday my bellydance troupe performed in front of a very enthusiastic crowd in Salt Lake City. We were all there, all 6 of us, and each one of us had made choices to perform in spite of obstacles. We had injuries, several of us are looking with dismay at the number on the scale, there was some expense involved, there were competing demands for our attendance at other events--but we were all there and while we were imperfect, we danced with joy.
I hope the forsythia bloom early, because I could use some sprays of bright yellow blossoms in my life. We all could.
Here is to courage, to making thoughtful choices and to dancing with joy.