‘Transitions’ is such an evocative theme, what compelled you to submit for this issue?
When I saw that “transitions” was the theme of this issue, I knew it would be unlikely to find a better-suited home for this particular piece. 2021 has been a time of transition for not only me personally, but for my entire family. When a close family member is dealing with a serious illness, no one in that circle goes untouched by it. Every relationship my mother has ever had has been excavated, examined, and altered by her dementia. People whom she has not spoken to in decades have suddenly become sources of information to me, and I am a translator of that information to my family. People who love her come to me, but so do people who were disgruntled by her very presence before her memory left her; they tell me what she meant to them in the good times, what they did to each other in the bad times, and how they feel I should write her story in the future. Every one of us who knows her has found ourselves shifting uncomfortably in the face of this news. My own view of my mother had grown stagnant before this unfortunate turn but is now in a horrible flux. “Transition” describes what I expect to be the coming decades of my life, which is to say: transition is as apt a description of life itself as we’re likely to find.
Do you have a routine for writing? If so, what is it and how has it evolved?
I fall in and out of routines with writing. When I’m in them, I’ll admit, is when I feel best about myself as a writer. It’s so satisfying to look down at pages of a legal pad scribbled across or to watch that word count or page count rise as you finish scene after scene. But, to be honest, I can only have that routine when I’m stable in a few key ways—my job, my home, my non-writing routines. Otherwise, I struggle to meet that daily word count goal, and I had to learn to be okay with that. Writing for me is like any emotion: if I ignore it, put it off for too long, it starts seeping out of me. I end up sending long, extravagantly punctuated texts or writing thank yous on the back of a bar tab. That’s when I know it’s time to sit back down, that I’ve allowed myself enough space to deal with life, and it’s time to write.
Do you find that CNF comes easy to you as a writer and/or what is challenging about it?
To be honest, sometimes it does feel like CNF comes easy, but that’s only because of my warped perception of it. The truth is, I’m scared of non-fiction. Every time I begin a passage of true-to-life-writing, the only way I can finish it is by reassuring myself no one will ever see it. I only write nonfiction when I can’t help it. When I write nonfiction, it’s because my life is flying from me like sparks from flint. I’ve been resisting writing for so long, giving myself the space I need to heal from my life, that my writing starts pouring out of me. That’s how this piece happened. I had nothing left in me to stop the words from coming out. So yes, it’s easier for me than fiction in that I have to map out every turn and building block in my fiction in a way I don’t for my nonfiction; however, the reason I don’t do that for nonfiction isn’t because I’m a savant, but because I ignore my emotions for so long they erupt out of me in a way I can’t help to control.
What is song is on repeat for you right now?
“Breakers Roar” by Sturgill Simpson. It’s a song, and a couple of albums from him in general, that I used to get myself through the toughest days of helping my mom. I needed help, desperately, for myself. This song provided catharsis and guidance. In its lyrics are descriptions of depression and anguish (“oh how the breakers roar//keep pulling me farther from shore”), as well as instructions for dealing with the struggles of life. He writes things like “breathing and moving//are healing and soothing”. I found myself then, and still now, listening to the song over and over again when I need to cry, when I need to know that other people are struggling too and not just me and my family, when I need to feel the embrace of someone—even a stranger whom I’ll never meet. He’s taking the time out of his day to talk me through the heartache I’m experiencing. As he says, “so enticing deep, dark seas//it’s so easy to drown in your dreams”, which tells me I’m in the company of someone who understands what I’m going through, even if the situation that led him to this place is completely different. I highly recommend the song, and the albums A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Even if you, like me, don’t necessarily consider yourself a fan of country music, you should still offer your time to this writer. They’re just good songs written from a place of vulnerability and celebration of the hard lives we live.
I’d like everyone that read my piece to know my mom is doing much better. Although no one has ever won the battle against dementia, she no longer forgets who I am, and I consider that a gift of the highest order the human experience can offer us.