What do you do when the muse goes AWOL? Do you wait for the arbitrary creature to mosey back into your office, coffee shop, prison cell? Or do you chase her down like a Labrador chasing the pizza delivery guy? I know what you’re thinking. The muse is simply one’s creative brain. The fairy dust section where whiskey is served. One need search no further for the muse than the space behind one’s eyes.
But what happens when a distraction has moved into that space? I’m not talking about the neighbor’s loud TV, but a major league disturbance. Big Life Stuff.
A few years ago, I drafted a novel through a bout of a thing that required an entire summer of medical treatment. I have my father’s Irish sense of humor. Takes a lot to get me down but, let me tell you, that was one crappy summer. I decided that, if I could write a novel though that thing, I could write through anything. I was un-blockable. Just a matter of reporting to work.
April 5th my father passed away.
I was visiting Dad as I always did. We’d had lunch and joked, a normal day, then he suffered a heart attack. Two paramedics and two police officers worked their asses off trying to save him. I could only watch, useless, as Dad slipped away from this life.
I allowed myself the five days of bereavement that any boss would give a grieving employee. I used the days as you’d expect. Wrote a eulogy. Attended to my father’s arrangements and all the meet-and-greet involved. Then I returned to work. Busy work. My front brain went through the motions but my mind kept returning to my dad, laughing, then quiet, then lifelessly driven away in a light blue SUV while my mother, his wife of 65 years, sobbed in a living room chair.
Just the day before Dad died, I had published a blog post on another website about writing perseverance. Show up, I blithely said, and writing will happen. Yet five days later, every time I opened a scene the words blurred behind that flickering newsreel. You need time to grieve, some will tell you. But I’m a writer. Nobody can fill in for me at work. I don’t have such time.
Two months have passed since Dad died. I cleaned out his office and workbench. I handled each tool, and lots of loose screws, sorted and packed the house so my Mom, his wife, can move to a place where she’ll be safe without him. I did these things, and still showed up at my desk every day to write. But grief is fluid. It trickles, then floods and drowns your focus.
I tried assorted head-clearing or mind-numbing remedies with only a trace of success. This bothered me. I’m a person who gets things done, but despite the hours spent at my desk, done wasn’t happening. Finally, I realized I was going about it wrong. My characters suffer loss. My characters mourn. I can’t change how I feel, so I gave the feeling a job. Instead of a deterrent to inspiration, my grieving is inspiration, itself.
I worked through the problem. And here’s why.
Dad used to joke that the greatest compliment to a man of his generation was to be known as a good provider. Out of high school, he’d served in the Marines as a field radio operator in Korea. After leaving the service, he took a job laying brick in the J&L coke ovens. Wanting more for his family, he went to college on the GI Bill, earned a degree in math while working full time, while raising four kids. After forty-four years in the steel mill, he put aside the hard hat. In retirement, he babysat, built walls, grew gardens. Never idle, my Dad. Six years ago, when Mom had a stroke, he became her tender caregiver.
To his kids, Dad provided a lifetime of love and encouragement. And through his example, he taught us a relentless work ethic. That work ethic carried me through these last two months.
What a laugh he would have if he knew I’d made him the subject of a blog post. Even gone, Dad’s still providing! Thinking about it, I’m laughing too. Without a doubt, I’m very much his daughter.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Inspiring Dads.