26 October 2019

Writing as Salvation (a serious post just to prove that Bad Girl isn't always flaky


This year has been a test of anyone's sanity. In the winter, my beloved husband died painfully of cancer. I want to roar like a bear in fury just thinking about it. He wasn't retirement age yet. This kick to our life plan put my own life at risk. Was it worth it? Was anything in this world worth living for now?

The first three months were like walking through a stage play, where everyone had a script but me. I was haunted by the way he had died and my helplessness to make much of a difference. Guilt can be tied to helplessness in a strange and not exactly rational way. I was alive, where he wasn't given the chance. And I didn't appreciate it, this life. I felt guilty for that.

My two grown-up daughters kept me going during this time.

About month four, I had a strange feeling. I'd been through this before. Not the exact situation. But the quite similar emotion of things being out of control, overwhelming, too much to handle.

When I was a young girl, my sweet little brother was sick. Or so we called it. Later, they gave it the label of autism. Our house was one of sadness, and at times, fear. I sought ways to escape. And the very best way, I found, was through creating stories.

The characters in my stories did what I said. I gave them wonderful adventures. But at the end of the day, they were under my control. That was it - pure, unfettered control, where in my own life, I had none.

As a kid, I started writing as a way to cope with an unstable home life. Could things be any more unstable than they were now?

I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life. No idea where to live. And with that, intense loneliness that had settled deep in my bones.

SALVATION: deliverance from harm, ruin or loss.

Writing - back then as now - has been my salvation. But not perhaps in the way that most people think. It's not that my prose allows me to reflect and write about my feelings as some form of therapy (although this does work in wondrous ways for some people.) Instead, it does the opposite. It takes me out of myself.

On those days where there doesn't seem to be much point to sticking around, this calling pokes at me. Get writing, it says. Write for other people - not yourself. Don't yield to the temptation to make this about you. Enough about you. Write for them.

I write humorous heists, epic fantasy and romantic comedy. Many of my books have been used in the ESL and literacy market, here and overseas. It took a long time, several months, for me to pull out of my grief to remember that. But the memories are starting to come back. In the back of my mind, a voice pokes through. That of a large man in his mid-thirties at a literacy event, saying to me, "If you hadn't written the Goddaughter books, I wouldn't be able to read now."

I'm making this year about him. Enough about me.

What about you, fellow writers and Sleuthsayers? Is writing crucial to maintaining sanity in difficult times?

No BSP this time. May we all touch someone with our writing.

24 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Awesome posting, Melodie. Brought a well of emtion in me as I read. The older I get the sadder I can become. As artists, it isn't about us, is it? It's about the work. It's about the ones we love and the ones we touch with our writing. It has to be about the work.

Life brings so much joy and beats us down at the same time.

All we can do is try.

janice law said...

what a wonderful compliment on your Goddaughter books- and a wonderful attitude on your part. Keep on writing!

Melodie Campbell said...

O'Neil, thank you. I love your comment: It has to be about the work. I will remember that.

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks Janice. Such kind words.

Paul D. Marks said...

A very touching post, Melodie. We never know who we touch with our work. I'm sorry for your loss.

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks Paul. It's true, isn't it? We don't get instant audience applause, with books. So often, the response is silence, even if we've made a difference to someone.

Rev Darrow Woods said...

You also make the world a better place as a teacher, writing coach, and cheerleader.

Melodie Campbell said...

Darrow, thank you. That means a lot to me.

Lynn McPherson said...

Beautifully written Melodie.

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks for commenting, Lynn.

Ilonka said...

Thanks for writing this, Mel. I did a lot of journaling after my husband passed away but it wasn't until I started writing fiction again that I found the road out of my sadness.

Eve Fisher said...

Blessings, Mel. Aging hopefully comes with wisdom, equanimity, and humor - but it also comes with grief (and guilt) as not all our loved ones make the milestones with us. Every day spent writing and living and breathing is a good day. You're doing great.

Anne R. Allen said...

I so relate to this, Melodie. Writing has got me through some of the worst times of my life. Grief can sometimes take over your entire being. If you can find the energy to write something--anything, it can get you out of that paralyzed state. And how fantastic that your books are helping people learn to read. I can't think of any better reason to write than that!

Melodie Campbell said...

Ilonka, would you believe I tried the same. I tried journaling, but it really only made me sadder. Thank you for leaving that comment. It helps to know I wasn't alone.

Melodie Campbell said...

Eve, thank you. I'm trying to find the good days among the bad. They are starting.

Melodie Campbell said...

Anne - thanks for that wonderful comment. You nail it with that clause, "it can get you out of that paralyzed state." I was there for weeks and weeks. And thanks for the kind words in your last two lines.

Daniel Bay said...

Reading this brings me back to our conversations in your home over muffins and coffee, Melodie. I'm happy you can remain true to the craft through deep hardship; you've touched on grief in a way that others can't. I pray it strengthens your resolve to keep writing.

Forgive me for quoting another, but there is a passage I keep on my wall from Sarah Manguso, of The New York Times, from "Green Eyed Verbs", that says:
"The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself or create something beautiful, though one might do so anyway...the purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to create something beautiful or smart becomes vain in comparison. But if people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you're doing your job."

If this quote is indicative of what a serious writer aims for, then you - queen of comedy - might end up being one of the most serious of them all.

Melodie Campbell said...

Wow. I am humbled by your last line. Daniel, thank you. I am copying that quote right now, because it hit me as no other writing quote has ever done before. "But if people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you're doing your job." This is going on my wall too, Daniel. Thank you for making my day so much richer.

Alison E. Bruce said...

All it took was the photo to make me tear up. Thank goodness I started reading. It gave my thoughts another direction. You gave me plenty to think about.

I had a happy childhood unblemished by the kind of trauma you had to deal with. However, I went deaf in my right ear at age nine. I could hear well enough if I was talking to one person in a relatively quiet place but otherwise it could get very frustrating for me and whoever I was trying to hear. Someone else might have lashed out. I tucked into my own worlds. Telling myself stories, and eventually starting to write them down, became my coping mechanism.

Melodie Campbell said...

Alison, thank you for sharing that experience. As a child I wouldn't have understood how frustrating it was for you, and that in itself must be an additional burden. People don't understand, and see it only from their point of view. I'm very glad your coping mechanism was to write stories!

Leigh Lundin said...

Melodie, for the past 40 hours I've tried to come up with the right thing to say and there just isn't any right thing. I just give you silent hugs.

Barb Goffman said...

Yesterday was terribly busy so I didn't read your post until today, Mel. When I was driving yesterday, I was listening to a nonfiction book, read by its author, who lamented that one day she would be dead and forgotten, and if so, what was the point of life? Can you say depressing? But I don't think the point is to try to be someone who will be remembered centuries from now. For every Shakespeare (and there are far too few of him), there are other infamous people I'd rather forget. I think what we want to be are people who make a positive difference in the world now, in whatever way we can. You, Mel, can make people smile, and that is a wonderful gift. And if giving that gift to others enables you to get out of your head and allows you time to heal, all the better. In the meanwhile, I send you smiles and hugs and jokes. Did you hear the one about the priest, rabbi, and a hooker who walked into a bar? First they prayed, then they oy veyed, and then they got laid. (Good thing I write comedy mystery stories, not jokes, on a regular basis, huh?)

Melodie Campbell said...

Thank you, Leigh. Hugs needed and accepted.

Melodie Campbell said...

Barb, you indeed made me smile! (Other crime writers, however, might fantasize killing you for that joke) Yes, I agree with you. If we are remembered centuries from now, it is our *name* that is remembered. Not the person we are. Best that we affect the people who know us now. Bless you for that message.