Friday, September 18, 2009

What Writing Has Done to Me

I sit, feeling like one of those portraits with moveable eyes, watching, undetected. Some of the faces are different this morning. “You should have heard the snoring last night,” one pretty young woman says; I can’t imagine she’s speaking to me; after all, I’m invisible. I glance at her, just to make sure. She’s looking at the white-haired woman beside me, who responds, gesturing toward the row of recliners. “Yes, it was an orchestra of snorts, wheezing and growls, in three-part harmony.” Without a sound or change of expression, I laugh. They are joking in the midst of horror, in the midst of their lives suddenly blown apart. “How’s your husband this morning?” the older woman asks. “The helmet that saved his life caused a contusion at the base of his skull. They’re putting a shunt in—it’s a good thing.”

All at once, my diaphragm is in my throat and I’m breathing deep, allaying the burning sensation flaring through my sinuses. My vision blurs, and then the sensation passes. In comes in waves like that, has been for the better part of a week as I daily observe a new set of strangers reenacting the horror.

At the same time, a member of someone’s family embraces a newcomer, there in the hallway. I stare through a window as they cling to each other and begin to sob. I’m viewing tragedy on a split screen. My eyes are upon them as I eavesdrop on the impassive receptionist who answers a teenage boy. I switch to watching them as he repeatedly rakes fingers through his hair, nodding continuously. He’s breathing rapidly—I wonder if he’ll hyperventilate.

That sensation returns; I have scrutinized them long enough.

Loud accusations break the din, as a young man—he’s dressed like a gangster—jabs his finger at a mousey girl with an infant on her hip. I hope it’s her brother and not the child’s father. I wonder if the scene will escalate, and they’ll have to call security, like they did several nights ago. I don’t watch for long—I don’t want to see him strike her. All of this is bad enough, but I don’t want to see the violence on top of it.

I fiddle with the purse in my lap and close my eyes, but only for a moment. I can’t help but put a face to the new whisperer. First, I see balloon-like booties on his feet; he’s dressed in green with a surgical mask hanging like a bib. I watch their feet as he escorts the pretty young woman into a tiny room behind me; on their way, I see her hands tremble.

This is indeed, some bizarre variation on voyeurism.

I decide at this moment, that I don’t like tension. I don’t like drama. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like the realization that when I write, I will tap into these awful, private moments, into the nausea, at some strangers’ expense. This is what writing has done to me.


  1. I find it kind of liberating, JB. I think it's kind of akin to an actor that might be playing a role that's very different than who they really are.... Do you feel guilt over some of the things your characters do and say? I know I have, but in the end, my desire to "get it right" is more powerful. As writers, I think if we hold back because of this apprehension, it could really detract from the quality.

  2. I feel your pain. Everything we observe comes out in our writing. Is it fair to those strangers? Maybe, maybe not.

  3. Scott,
    I know that “getting it right” must come from somewhere; I just hate that I can experience/observe something so intense, then too easily detach, knowing I will later conjure it for my own devise. It feels creepy.

  4. Susan,
    Our writing does spring from all we know, see or imagine. That does not diminish the repulsion I feel at my conscious thought as I was experiencing it—I felt a fascination with so much raw emotion around me; raw material if you will.

  5. I think the fact that you see and feel the true emotions of life around you reflects your empathetic nature. Your account of your experience reads as honest and heartfelt. I felt as though I was sitting there with you. As a reader, and a writer, I look forward to reading more of your work.

  6. Deb,
    Those are very kind reassurances.
    I could only write about the 2nd hand stuff—lest I be incriminated for divulging family idiosyncrasies; and oh, how they come out when under stress...

  7. I hear you loud and clear JB--I've found the family 'idiosyncrasies' one of the hardest things to deal with, especially under stress. Hope you're getting through this okay.

  8. So far so good, Deb.
    The brain has such a resourceful way of going numb after a certain point.

  9. Hah, it's creepy like you say above, but remember it's all fiction. Only you make the drama as intense as you need it to be. If it gets to be too much, do you think you could ever stop writing?

    Nope, I didn't think so.


  10. How do you go from writing a scene like that to doing anything else. It must be difficult.

  11. Glam,
    Of course, you’re right. When it comes right down to it, I’m glad I don’t live in a vacuum, even if it does get intense occasionally.

  12. Nancy,
    The whole ordeal did put me in a funk, but writing about it actually did help.

  13. Hope all is well JB... Missing your wit in the blogosphere.

  14. Deb,
    Thanks for missing my wit (I think I’m also missing it).
    I’m in New Hampshire struggling with withdrawal from the blogshere; I am, in fact, in the land of dial-up internet (and limited at that).
    My husband and I had a prescheduled trip out here, planned for the entire month of October; perfect time of year. Sadly, this particular post did not have a good outcome; consequently, we are also in NH for a funeral.
    At any rate, the seclusion of where we’re staying is refreshing, and a great place to write, without blogging distractions—you know what I mean.
    If it wouldn’t take 2 hours to upload, I’d write a post, showing my little office overlooking Okemo Mountain, across the Connecticut River, in Vermont—how inspiring is that! If I can find some wireless internet somewhere, perhaps I will.
    Should be returning by November 1st.
    Bye for now.

  15. My condolences Bridget. Sorry to hear that your trip has been touched by the sadness of loss. Your work space and view sound very inspiring and peaceful! Glad you checked in :)