By guest blogger Annie Neugebauer
I’d like to thank my guest today for courageously writing this post at my request. Annie wrote this on April 17, her dad’s birthday. He would have been 57.
Last June, nearing the third anniversary of my dad’s death, I wrote a guest blog for Beyond the Margins called Writing Through Pain. In it, I admitted that I hadn’t written any new poetry or fiction for three months because I was afraid of my own emotions – my own grief. I was terrified that if I sat down and wrote, really allowing myself to feel what was seething inside me, I might break. I guess that might sound a little baseless now, but it felt real then. What if I just never stopped crying? The well of emotion certainly seemed endless.
Partially to inspire others and partially to force my own hand, I made a promise to the blog readers and myself that before June 18th rolled around, I would sit down and write. My mantra: “Pain cannot destroy us; fear can.”
The response to the post was overwhelming. Dozens of people commented, tweeted, and emailed me to share their similar stories, give their condolences, and show their support. Some people admired my courage, some were touched by my honesty, and others told me to go easier on myself, that grief takes time. Everyone was kind.
I could say that I finally wrote because of my promise. I could say that I wrote because everyone’s words moved me so deeply (and they did). But when I dig to the bottom of it, looking back, I realize that I finally wrote because I was ready to face it. Talking openly about it helped, as did the support of so many responsive friends and strangers, but ultimately, I didn’t write until my grief would let me.
As it so happened, that did occur before the 18th, but not the way I thought it would. I sat down in my office, dark but for the glow of my computer screen, and opened the short story, “A Single Balloon,” that I’d mentioned in my blog post as a fictionalized way of dealing with my grief. It was what I’d been procrastinating on, and I sat down with a brutal determination to write at least some words that night, even if it left me in a wet puddle of tissues curled on the floor.
I couldn’t type. I just couldn’t. My fingers were made of cement. So I got up and went on the back porch. Covered in dancing goose bumps, I sat in a rocker and stared outward instead of inward, where dark clouds chased lightning shooting horizontally across the sky. The air was heavy with the smell of rain, but the ground was dry. It was so beautiful.
Out of nowhere, a poem struck me, the way poems often do. It was about my dad, about me, about me healing from the loss of him. But I didn’t get up. I didn’t scramble for a notepad or run inside to type it. I just allowed myself to sit, thinking about the ideas in it, letting turns of phrase rave through my head like sideways lightning. I just stared at shadows, rocked, and let my thoughts twist themselves around my grief. I let go of the fear, the pressure, the analytical side of myself that was disappointed in my weakness, and I just sat.
Before I knew it, I was mind-writing the next scene of “A Single Balloon,” too.
When I was too cold to stay outside any more, I went back to my office and opened the blinds to watch the lightning. And I began typing. There was crying. Shockingly to me at the time, the crying didn’t break me. And I’ll tell you the truth:
The fear was worse than the pain.
I only wrote for about an hour that night, but it was enough to prove to myself that my writing hadn’t dried up forever – and more importantly, that facing my pain wasn’t fatal. And the work I did that night is some of my best. The poem, “Lifting,” is now the closing poem in my autobiographical poetry manuscript The Alcoholic’s Daughter, which just last year won second place in the Poetry Society of Texas manuscript contest.
The short story, “A Single Balloon,” is literary fiction. When I finished it – well after June 18th, and on my own terms – I submitted it to my top five literary magazines. I’m still waiting on one of them, and another came back with a hand-written note that says, “This is good; keep it up!” If you’re out in the submission trenches right now, you know how much that means.
And to think: if I had never faced (and embraced) my pain, I never would have produced that writing. Not only did giving in to the grief not destroy me, it made me stronger. It made me softer in the best way, more understanding, more forgiving of myself. I did need to write to prove to myself that I could, and I’m glad I did, but I also learned that I was being too hard on myself.
Grief is a powerful thing, and evasion is an underappreciated tool. Sometimes it’s okay to avoid what hurts you. Just don’t avoid it forever. When you’re ready, you’ll know. You’ll feel it deep in your gut, and when that happens… write. Write your heart out and let the tears try to catch you. Write when you’re finished crying. Write while you’re crying. Write about someone crying. Write, write, write, and cry. You’ll feel better in the end. I promise.
And when it all becomes too much, remember this: Pain cannot destroy us; fear can.———
Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a short story author, novelist, and award-winning poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in over two dozen venues, including The Spirit of Poe, Underneath the Juniper Tree, the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies’ prize anthology Encore. She’s also a member of the Horror Writers Association, vice president of the Denton Poets’ Assembly, and president of the North Branch Writers’ Critique Group. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for blogs, creative works, free organizational tools for writers, and more.