Friday, March 29, 2013

Joyful Tenacity Outweighs Magical Thinking

In my daily review of the many blogs I follow, I saw this post from Michael Hauge--screenwriter and coach extraordinare--and it hit home today.

"Every successful screenwriter or novelist I know possesses one outstanding quality: tenacity. The difference between working writers and wannabes isn't talent or age or gender or geography or connections or the industry or the economy or sunspots or anything else writers tell themselves to avoid facing this awful truth: writers write. They write every day, they started their current book or script as soon as they finished the last one, they think in terms of career and not a single sale, and they look at every unsold story as a necessary step toward improving their craft."

You can see the entire post here on his Story Mastery site.

I completely agree with him both for novelists and for life as a whole.  Magical thinking has often been a part of my life. I'm sure it began as a child, and it still creeps in now and again when I don't wait to face something difficult. I am a fiction writer, after all, and magical thinking is a huge part of my process.  I am fortunate that in my novels I can actually create a magical world if I want, and have done so in my YA Fantasy series under Maggie Faire.  In the real world, however, we do not have magical powers beyond breath and love.  They are strong, but they don't stop death.

Difficulties come in all sizes. Sometimes it's just dragging myself out of bed--especially if I stayed up too late the night before. At other times it is facing the computer screen and re-editing a chapter that I know isn't working even though I've rewritten it seven times. Then there are the days that are simply filled with emotions I'd rather not deal with: anger, grief, distrust, betrayal.  You know, all the fun ones.  It is at times like these that I tend to engage in magical thinking--the belief that there is some simple answer I'm just overlooking. Or worse, an answer that someone or some group is simply refusing to share with me.

It would be lovely to know the secret handshake for becoming a bestseller.  It would be amazing to win the next PowerBall and never have to worry about money again. It would be miraculous to believe my uncle, who is dying with ALS, could get a shot or a pill or a prayer that would reverse everything.

The reality is all of the above is magical thinking.  There is no secret handshake for becoming a bestseller. Neither is there a special inside network that guarantees a great advance, the best agent, or a treasure trove of readers.  I guess there is a very slight chance I could win the next PowerBall. However, that would involve me buying a ticket.  I think the last time I bought a lottery ticket was in 1986. That was when I realized the odds of winning were a gagillion to one. (Okay, it's more like 8 million to one, but it might as well be a gagillion).

Alas, my uncle is truly in his last days. It is only his example of how to live life and accept death that keeps me from not burrowing into a corner and crying at the injustice of such a good man suffering such a debilitating end.  But you see, even that is magical thinking. Injury, disease, and death do not discriminate between good people and bad people. I'd like to believe they do, but reality is they don't.

And that brings me back to tenacity.  You see my uncle is an amazing man--a man who has lived life with joyful tenacity. He saw my aunt through a horrendous illness early in their marriage, and the premature birth of their son; all while serving in the military and living in Germany in a studio apartment.  When my cousin was 10 or 12, he and my aunt opened their home and hearts to help many foster children over the years. When they stopped taking in foster children, they adopted the last one and gave her a forever home. When my uncle began having difficulty walking, standing, and keeping his balance it didn't stop him from maintaining his vegetable garden in the backyard. He loved sharing his plethora of vegetables with everyone in the neighborhood and passel of relatives as well.

If he fell, he would simply roll onto his stomach then get on all fours and crawl to do his work until he could get up and balance gain. He accepted that was the price to pay for being in his garden. Joyful tenacity. When he had to use a walker all the time, he still went to family events, told jokes, shared in the lives of his children and all the relatives. Joyful tenacity. When he was confined to a wheelchair and realized that he did have ALS and there was no cure, he said: "I've had a good life. Seventy-eight years with only rare doctor visits and never surgery. Something had to give eventually." He accepted it was all part of his life's journey and he did whatever he could still manage, drawing out each day as much as possible.  Joyful tenacity. When he could no longer move from the bed to recliner or to wheelchair without an aide, he still concentrated on moving his one good arm to help balance the cup that delivered water to his parched throat. As long as he could use his voice, he still concentrated on telling my aunt he loved her and engaging in a bedtime ritual to promise loving sleep. Joyful tenacity.

Though he is no longer able to talk, or respond, or move in any way, I am sure he is concentrating on his breath in these last days. He is breathing in the joy of the life he had and the love of all those who are still thinking of him and praying for him. Then he is breathing it out again--his gift of life to be shared with those who remain after him.  Joyful tenacity.

There is nothing I can do except to breathe in his gift--joyful tenacity.


Zoe Brooks said...

An inspiring account of your uncle's tenacity. Thank you.

Susan said...

First I want to say this is a wonderful homage to your uncle. He will not be forgotten. In my careers as a nurse and a writer, I have more than once walked alongside death and grief. Like your uncle, so many handle this last journey with grace, and in the end peace. {{{Hugs!}}}

You said, "It is at times like these that I tend to engage in magical thinking--the belief that there is some simple answer I'm just overlooking." I believe in the magic of life, and I think you're right. Somewhere there's always a simple answer. It's just not the one we get to first. Sometimes it's a hunt and find game, which is where tenacity comes in, lol.

Thank you for this post! It's given me a lot to think about today :)

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Thank you, Zoe for your support.

Susan, you said: "Somewhere there's always a simple answer. It's just not the one we get to first." I agree with you. I should have said, my magical thinking has a specific answer in mind and it is not the one that will happen. Intellectually I know that, but my heart often wars with my brain.

In the case of my writing, the answer is keep writing because I love to do it and not worry about being a bestseller. If it comes, it comes. In the case of the lottery, I learned long ago that money doesn't buy happiness. But there are days I still yearn for what it does buy and wish I had more.

Finally, in the case of my uncle. The simple answer is that death can be a reaffirmation of life. I believe that is the magic of his life. As we often sing in church, love does go on.

But my heart is still struggling with the goodbye. I know that will be an ongoing struggle that will lessen in daily reminders as time goes by. I've lost two brothers younger than me, and all my grandparents and other uncles. Each year brings more affirmation and less grief for those past deaths, but the tug of grief never goes away completely. A line in a book, a scene in a movie, a walk in a park can remind me of what I miss about someone who has died.

In my magical world, I would have a way to see them (either in spirit or in physical form) and still talk and share our lives. Maybe others have found a way to do that. I know people who have seen spirits or been visited by the dead. I haven't. At least not outside of my novels. :)

Maggie Jaimeson said...

My uncle passed from this world at 6:35pm on Easter Sunday. He is finally at peace.