Saturday, August 29, 2009

On fear and motivation

Weird things have been going on in my writing life lately.

As I've blogged before, I've dipped my toes, blushingly and hesitatingly, into writing fiction. I have never, ever written fiction; from the very first scribble, I wrote non-fiction. Character studies, non-fiction short stories, narratives, journals, and then on to articles and interviews and radio scripts. Reality was where my pen was most comfortable.

But now that I am no longer a working journalist and can no longer spend my days asking real people questions, my reporter-brain has despereately started asking imaginary people about their lives and thoughts and stories. It's weird. I don't know how to deal with all these people who hang out in my brain and tell me things.

My first fiction manuscript is stalled, simply because I do not have the time to research the minute technical details properly, what with The Hubby's training and the full-time job and the rugrats. I wil get back to it, since it is, at its core, about identity, military family life and the nature of the life of a journalist, both in and outside the newsroom. The question I'm asking the protagonist is one I ask myself: "When do you stop being a journalist? Where does the reporter end and the person begin? How does your spouse's identity affect yours? Can you be two archetypes at once?"

The first chapters of the second manuscript exploded out of me about two months ago (before the computer croaked). That one I don't need to research so much. It is much more visceral and personal, and it is about something of which I know more than most obstetricians. (A sub-group Internet friends have immediately figured out what I'm talking about. Yes girls, I'm writing about it.)

But what it's really about is fear and the strange things we do when we're frightened.

Fear is a powerful motivator, and in some ways that's supremely appropriate. When we're frightened by a physical threat, we either run or fight, depending on what will best protect our sorry hides. Adrenalin exists for a reason.

But most of the things which frighten us are not physical, and we can't physically run from them. How do you run from illness or loneliness or death? How do you run from thoughts and emotions? How do you make yourself, or the ones you love more than life, safe again?

Finding safety in those kinds of situations is never simple or straightforward, and it often takes calm and quiet to suss out the answer. But here's the tricky part: fear is fear, and our bodies react the same way to each fear-threat. Adrenalin kicks in, and that particular hormone doesn't do calm and reflective very well. Its whole point is to flush out the indecision and make us act right away.

Often, when someone we love is sick or suffering, and we are terrified for them, we want to listen to the adrenalin and just make the pain STOP. It's hard to remember the short-term pain may be worth it, in order to avoid a longer-term consequence of absolute agony.

I remember when Super A. was a toddler, no more than 14 or 15 months old, he got very sick and needed to go to the hospital. The doctors ordered an IV placed and blood drawn. I held A. while the nurse did her job, expertly getting the IV in one stick as poor A. writhed and sobbed. Hubby held his other hand and stroked his back.

Then A. hiccuped out, "I be good, Daddy, I be good boy. I be good, no more owie."

As I kissed A. and assured him he was the best little boy in the world, and we were not punishing him (where did that never-spanked angel get that idea?), Hubby kissed his head -- and walked right out of the treatment room.

Later, he told me he had almost punched out the nurse, and had to walk away to make sure he didn't -- the nurse who was fighting to get fluids into our dehydrated and very sick boy.

That's what fear and terror and heartbreak can do to you.

So I'm writing a novel about fear as a motivator. Although it's not about me, I've already lived one side of the story. Now I'm asking myself how I might react if my own precious pearl faces my greatest fear.

I'm beginning to understand how fiction is just another form of writing the truth. I already knew the truth ain't pretty.

Wow, um, sorry 'bout that

Add a month alone with the kids to a computer collapse (freaking hard drive) and you have a full month of no blog posts.

Apologies to my four readers!