When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
Random House

when breath becomes airSo much has been written about Paul Kalanithi’s meditation on living and dying When Breath Becomes Air–reviews in every newspaper and magazine, a Super Soul short by Oprah, NPR interviews, a TED talk. What more could I possibly add?

Not much.

Kalanithi does with words what he did as a surgeon–takes two pieces seemingly torn apart and stitches them seamlessly together. As a surgeon he removed brain tumors and fixed broken spines, then sewed muscle to muscle and skin to skin so that the patient was once again all of a piece. As a writer he took an idea that frightens many–death–and connected his past and present, bringing the reader to understand that death does not separate us from our lives, but instead merely moves us along a kind of continuum. In her Ted Talk, Kalanithi’s widow, Lucy, recites the poem “Separation” by W. S. Merwin: Your absence has gone through me/Like thread through a needle/Everything I do is stitched with its color. I can only hope that it may be so for my loved ones.

Strange that I read When Breath Becomes Air only three days into my retirement. Such an event is frought with thoughts of mortality and life’s work and self-worth. I’ve most likely lived, at best, two-thirds of my life already. And I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that some days that remaining slice of the pie seems terribly small.

I could also say that Kalanithi wasn’t so lucky.

Or I could say he was the luckiest man alive–because Paul Kalanithi experienced a marvelous grace that enabled him to live a good death.

Happy Flavia Day!

Did you know …

Alan Bradley started writing after he retired from a career in TV engineering and production.

Bradley never planned on writing more than ten Flavia de Luce novels (*yikes*) because he can’t imagine her as a teenager. He has considered, however, Flavia at 70 looking back at her life.

The author is … Canadian! and never traveled out of North America until the publication of the beloved novels. Now he and his wife plan to live for a time in each of the countries where the novels have been translated–that’s 31 and counting.

Bradley sold film rights to Sam Mendes whose production company also brought us Call the Midwife.

While there is no release date or cast for the BBC series, I found this intriguing trailer for a Flavia film in Norway, of all places!

And last of all, friend (and blogger) Denice at Denice’s Day makes a pretty good case for suggesting Flavia join the ranks of Jo March, Hermione Granger, Scout Finch, and Nancy Drew.  We need to promote images of strong and confident young protagonists for girls to dream about … and grow into.

My Big Magic

big magicA few years ago I was cleaning out my file drawers. I use “file” here loosely because the drawers are an odd collection of miscellaneous ephemera: ticket stubs, campground maps, prayer cards, receipts ($12.97 at Meijer, and I saved this?!), and unopened mortgage offers. I’d just slogged my way through some serious upheaval and organizing is my go-to ritual. If I can’t put my life to rights, I can certainly put my papers in order.

At the bottom of one of the drawers I found a folder with a few stories I had written nearly thirty years ago. In another life I’d have been a writer, but I pursued a more practical path instead. I had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, and ain’t nobody got time for make believe. Part of the fallout of these last hard years was that I had to put off retirement and pay the bills. I was the breadwinner once again–but a heartsick and weary one.

The stories reminded me of what could have been, I was mired in the misery (self-inflicted, mind you) of the wouldas and the shouldas, and I just wanted to forget the dreams. I flipped through the typed pages. Wondered if they should stay or go. And threw them in the trash.

As I did, I remember having some strange sense that those stories could never really be trashed. “They’re out in the universe somewhere–living on in some other dimension. I only set them free.” Maybe I’d done enough to just write them; maybe keeping them wasn’t the point.

So imagine my surprise when I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic last weekend and she confirmed my intuition. Ideas, says Gilbert, are “an energetic life form … ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will.” Ideas will tap us on the shoulder, knock impatiently on our hearts–waiting, waiting for us to give them welcome. Whenever we create (whether it’s story or quilting or painting or dancing) we embody those ideas and they come to make their home with us.

Now am I sorry I tossed those poor stories out? Of course. I think they know that I did so from a very sad place. But I also think they forgive me. Their brothers and sisters–story sprites!–come sit next to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

And we are all of us happy to be alive.

Flash Fiction Friday

I stepped over the warped floorboard on the porch, thinking its crack might wake him. The baby was bundled into her blanket– a yellow one Nana knit after Poppa died. This October night was cold and brittle, but the grass hadn’t yet frosted. It was so quiet I could just make out the horses shuffling and stamping in the barn. The ground around the house was uneven, so I stepped my way carefully until I reached the road.

sears catalog house
Steve Baker@Flickr.com

I should be able to make it to Tammy’s easily, if not quickly. Two miles straight down 14th, a left, then three blocks into town. She wasn’t expecting me, but she’d never turn me away.

“Next time he does it, you just up and leave,” she’d made me promise. But I didn’t the next time or the next.

Tonight I’d flinched before he even straightened up out of his chair and that’s when I knew it was time.

Ceci stirred in her blanket, one little fist popping through, so I folded her in more closely. I couldn’t carry Ceci and a bag, so I’d need to come back for some things. But not tonight. Tonight it was just me and Ceci on our way. Ahead, the asphalt of the road met the dark autumn night–I fixed my eyes to where they met and walked.

[The flash fiction “Leaving”, 2016 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

Write now

I’ve amused myself with this little blog for eight years now. For most of that time, blogging was a delightful diversion, a pastime for those long summer days.

And then suddenly, it wasn’t.

Thinking I’d been bitten by the blogging bug, I saw blogging conferences in my future and read everything I could about the business of blogging. I poked around the sidebars of blogs I read for book bloggers who were of my own heart. (Networking, I learned, was key.) I hemmed and hawed about participating in blog hops and challenges. Then I bought a StudioPress template and my domain name and migrated from Blogger  to a self-hosted site. I even hired a web designer to help with the back-end technicalities about which I knew nothing.

writer
@Petr Kratochvil

And then I realized that what I really wanted to do was simply write. Now if I’m a picky reader (which I am), you had better believe I’m an even pickier writer. Writers are Anne Tyler and Paulette Jiles. Fredrik Backman and Alan Bradley. Barbara Kingsolver, for goodness sake! But word by word, paragraph by paragraph my thinking shifted. I found I wasn’t as interested in developing my brand as I was in playing with words. I didn’t want to market myself as much as I wanted to get the characters who have played in my head for so many years on the page. I took one Writing Workshop, then another. I attended Sunday morning Writing Circles. And every now and again I’d think oh-so-tentatively, “I’m a writer.”

Because a writer, after all, is someone who writes.

So write I will. No more and no less. There will be no e-books or POD books in my future any time soon. I won’t be distracted with my Klout score or scramble to get my post on Medium. For now I won’t worry about missing out on yet another NaNoWriMo–I’ve got bills to pay, papers to grade, lessons to plan. Because does the world really need another novel, or do I just need to write?

Those characters who’ve lived in my head? They’re making their way onto the page, peeking out every now and then from a workshop piece. It’s slow going, but there’s no rush. I only need to write.

With special thanks and gratitude to Emily and Pat and Brenda who helped me draft my way.


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-oct-2016