On A Writer’s Investments
April 11, 2018 § 30 Comments
By Laura Gilkey
These are the first words I am typing on my brand new laptop computer. I bought the laptop, I told myself, so I can write when I need to write, where I need to write. An investment, I said.
My husband went to the techy store with me, wholeheartedly supporting my investment. He believes in me, the poor guy. We chose a middle-of-the-road laptop, no bells or whistles, not a huge amount of memory and a three-digit price tag, not four. I just need it to be fast, I said. I need it to keep up with me. With all of this writing I’m going to do.
This investment came just two weeks after I invested in attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Tampa, an hour’s drive north of where I live. I was so proud of myself for committing to it, despite a near-crippling case of Imposter Syndrome. I catered the conference to my own particular palette these days: memoir, grief, research, trauma. I was riveted by three full days of panel discussions with incredible voices who tell incredible stories. I filled a legal pad with emphatic notes. My mind was brimming with words like intersectional and liminal and narrative arc. I couldn’t wait to get home and write. Of course, first, I made a list of more than twenty books referenced during the conference, books I clearly must read before attempting to properly tell my story.
Three months before the conference, I invested in a writing coach. She is someone whose work I greatly admire and whose opinion I value implicitly. I chose her because six months ago I invested in her online workshop for mothers who write, and it was exceptional. I produced good work during those ten weeks, and I learned a lot from her, and from the other mothers taking the class. So I hired her. Which is so great. Except that I’m not giving her anything to work with. Since our agreement, I have sent her fewer than twenty-five pages of manuscript. And that was two months ago.
But hey, I haven’t been procrastinating, I tell myself. I’ve been doing field work. I’ve been studying the barred owls that will play so indelibly into this story. I’ve been keeping a detailed journal of their behavior and of my experience observing them. And I’ve been writing the letters to my son. I have to write those. More than a hundred now.
I am completely procrastinating. Jesus. The laptop, the conference, the owls. This essay. As much as his story burns in my chest, as much as I know I cannot live with myself if I do not write it, I don’t want to. What is my problem? I wrote for 772 consecutive days when Benjamin was sick. I shared my writing with a blog audience that grew to several hundred per evening. I didn’t edit myself, and I certainly didn’t care who was reading what I wrote. I wrote because I had to. I wrote to survive.
I know I need to write now. There is something so big at stake here. But I don’t want to recount the chronology of my son’s death last February. I don’t want to go deeply into the pain Benjamin felt when his liver and his spleen grew to twice their normal size. I don’t want to smell that occult blood again or feel the unwelcome shift in the alternating pressure mattress or watch him try to push away the inevitable. He was nine years old.
I do want to convey the joy he brought to our family, though. To the world. That was a big fat note I wrote on my legal pad at the conference, and starred: to capture the magnitude of the loss, you must capture the magnitude of the joy. And I need—need—to delve into the unmistakably divine events that have happened since his death. I have no idea what will come out of those pages. That’s why I need to write them.
One of the AWP Conference panelists I saw—twice, actually—offered readings of her “craft essays” as accompaniments to each literary piece she read. These were breakdowns of her observations, not about the subject matter, but about the process of writing it. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand why she felt the need to write them, let alone share them with other writers, but now I do. This procrastination of mine, this series of investments, this anguish is just another layer of the storytelling experience. It helps me understand the importance of the knowledge I hold, because of Benjamin. It tells me to be brave, like he was. To go into the pain. I will tell his story and I will do it right here on this laptop, so help me God, and I’ll do the best job I possibly can.
Laura Gilkey is the mother of two sons: Banyan, a healthy, rugby-playing adolescent, and Benjamin, who died of leukemia in February 2017. Laura’s writing through Benjamin’s cancer treatment is archived at BenjamintheBrave.com. Additional work has been published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Mommy Magazine, and Pulse Voices for Medicine. Laura co-produced Maternally Yours, a weekly community radio program, for five years. Guests included CNN Hero Robin Lim, Right Livelihood Laureate Ina May Gaskin, and Dr. Maya Angelou.