On Writing “Everything (Except What’s Important)”
January 30, 2013 § 7 Comments
We regularly ask Brevity authors if they would write a short blog post on the genesis of the essay just published. Today, Pamela Dellinger tells us how she came to write “Everything (Except What’s Important):”
She stands at the end of the jetty and watches. Her bathing suit fit at the beginning of the summer, but now the polka-dots are ovals against her dark skin. She looks behind her. All the others, laughing, pushing, hurrying to hurl themselves into the abyss, then do it again. She stands there quietly. They push her, thinking it a game. At the last minute, her arms straighten and her fingers weave together, protecting her from the jellyfish. She brings one out of the water with her, holding it from the top, tentacles rendered useless, poison hanging down. She drops it on the sand to die, and runs down the slippery boards of the jetty again.
This is the person I used to be. A little hesitant, yes, but brave nonetheless. All I wanted to be then was a writer. I threw myself into that task with as much abandon as everything else I did, and devoured the words of others even as I wrote my own. I wrote my way through college, majoring in print journalism and free-lancing for every paper within a hundred-mile radius, covering hospital and school board meetings to make ends meet, writing fiction for fun.
Then, with only my internship left before graduation, my illness spiraled out of control and put an end to it all. I questioned everything about myself, and my abilities took a second seat to survival. I did not write more than a post-it note for almost twenty years.
Two husbands and three children later, I find myself back on the jetty, tossing myself into the dangerous unknown and writing again.
There are few things I know for certain. I may have stood on the jetty, but never would have leapt again unless I was pushed. “Everything (Except What’s Important)” is part of a larger work that began as a short assignment my first semester back in college. When that assignment ended, the project refused to let me put it down, and for that, I am grateful. To take experiences, mold them, shape them, turn them like stones until they shimmer still excites me. This project has given me the opportunity to look at the moments making up my life with a different voice, to see the impact manic depression has on my relationships, to share that impact with others. I’ve cut and revised, tweaked and polished, and even scratched the whole structure and started over more than once. It is constantly, relentlessly drawing me closer to that dark, fearless girl I used to be, who was not afraid to launch into the abyss over and over to do what she loved.
And I have remembered what I love to do is write. My project may never be more than enjoyment. It stretches and grows like the polka-dots on that old bathing suit, refusing to be contained in one shape. Index cards with scenes yet to be written litter my home like my children’s toys. It seems to be gradually becoming a memoir, though I don’t know if it will make it. For now, just the sheer joy of repeatedly hurling myself from the boards with reckless abandon is enough.
Jellyfish be damned.