It’s been a good long while since I actually wrote any sort of real blog post. I took the month of January off of all my blogging duties, including Make Mine Mystery, Fatal Foodies, and my own Zhadi’s Den. I did manage one hostess duty turn at Un:Bound for Ravenous Wednesday and a couple of quick posts, and I’ve slowly been hacking away at my WIP, but pretty much it’s been a barren desert in my head as far as creative inspiration.
I have a pretty good reason for this. As most of you who read my blog know, my dad passed away on December 27th and we very recently had the funeral service Monday, February 1st (a day before my birthday, actually). Most of my experience with death and loss has been with my pets, so processing something this life-changing has been challenging.
I know a lot of writers who use stress and grief to fuel their creative fire and lose themselves in their work. I have never been one of those writers. Stress and sorrow incapacitate me, my brain goes into vapor lock mode, and all I want to do is sleep or walk. I have done a lot of walking over the last month, starting with a three and a half hour hike the day after my dad died. I walked from my office down in the Financial District to my home, out by the SF Zoo and Ocean Beach. Lots of hills, lots of greenery, lots of miles. My legs and butt definitely had a few things to say about the fact I forgot to stretch out after I got home, but I won’t repeat them. They weren’t very polite.
One of the issues connected with Dad’s death that I’ve been processing is based on something he said to me many years ago, after he’d had a few too many drinks. I was in my early twenties and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t remember exactly how or why the conversation turned to my career path, but I will always remember what Dad said to me at the time: “I’d expect a lot more of you if you were a man.”
Wow. What does one even do with something like that? Sure, it was said under the influence of alcohol, but it still had the power to burn into my brain and memory. He might as well have been etched those words in acid on a gauntlet and slapped me across the face with it because that comment made everything I tried to accomplish from that point on an attempt, subconscious or otherwise, to earn my father’s approval.
When I started writing seriously, as in getting a couple of low budget screenplays optioned, publishing short stories and essays, and finally getting my murder mystery published, I never enjoyed the small successes for more than a nano-second because none of it was ever quite good enough to get a ‘well done’ from Dad. I always got the feeling I’d fallen short because I didn’t have that million dollar sale for a screenplay or mega-advance for my book. Sure, I’d come further along the trail than a lot of aspiring writers, but it just wasn’t good enough.
Praise from other people, while welcomed, didn’t register as much as it should have. I was always looking ahead to my next project, tying myself up in knots about it not being good enough, and refusing to pat myself on the back at all to celebrate each of those small victories and steps along the way. In other words, I treated myself like crap and no doubt gummed up my emotional/creative connection many times during the writing process.
Well, now Dad’s gone. I don’t have to prove myself to him any more. Maybe I never had to do so and I certainly didn’t realize until one of those long walks brought me some clarity regarding exactly how much of my life has been about proving myself to be good enough even though I hadn’t been born male. This realization floored me. It both opened up the possibility that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone anymore…and left me feeling totally bereft that I’d never get the chance to do so.
I miss my dad. I think he was proud of me, even if it was behind my back, maybe even proud of the fact that I could write like ‘a drunken misogynistic man,’ (something I took as a serious compliment considering the narrator was a hard-bitten private detective who happened to be a zombie) at least for my story A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat. In fact, I think if I had been a son, he would have loved that story. It was hard for him to get past some of the language considering I was his baby girl.
Now I’m learning to write for myself again. As my sister pointed out, I’ve written since I was old enough to string words together, it’s always been something I’ve just done because I loved it. So time to write for myself again. Towards that end, I got a lovely boost this morning when Loren Rhoads, creator and editor of Morbid Curiosity Magazine and the anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, posted this link on my Facebook page. It reminded me of the pleasure I got out of writing those essays as well as made me realize my writing has touched other people (sometimes they laugh, sometimes they go ‘eeeuwww!’) , and that Dad’s remark uttered way back in the mists of time also shaped me into who I am now and possibly made me a better writer.
So Dad, I’m tipping back a bit of Scotch in your honor… and putting on the following song by Blood, Sweat and Tears because it’s what I had playing in my head when I said goodbye to you Monday. If ever a song captured your essence, this is it:
I’m not scared of dying,
And I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin
‘Cause it’s cold way down there.
I hear that its cold way down their.
Yeah, crazy cold way down their.
And when I die, and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on,
to carry on.
Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.
Yes only my dying will tell.
Yeah, only my dying will tell.
Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.
Oh I want to go naturally.
Here I go,
Here comes the devil,
Look out children,
Here he comes!
Here he comes! Hey…
Don’t want to go by the devil.
Don’t want to go by demon.
Don’t want to go by Satan,
Don’t want to die uneasy.
Just let me go naturally.
and when I die,
When I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born in our world to carry on,
To carry on.