Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A reason to write after all

I suspended this blog a while back; September 6, in fact, was the last post before the entry on the Sandy Hook shooting, and I posted that one only because I was writing a piece for the local newspaper anyway. The September 6, 2011, essay was posted just two days before my father entered a hospital for exploratory surgery. For the next three months he recovered, relapsed, rallied, and finally relapsed, failed to rally, and died. And when I say I “suspended” the blog, I don't mean there was any intent. It just means that, after my father died, I didn’t feel like writing. In fact, now that I think about it, I probably didn't write because, if Pop wasn’t around to read it, there wasn’t much reason to write.

For most of my adult life I've made my living by writing, and in all of the writing I’ve done, Pop was my biggest fan. He understood better than anyone I know that just because something is finished doesn’t mean it can't be made better. A written work is "finished" only because the writer has run out of time. Given more time, a piece can be infinitely improved. I learned this by listening to my father and his father tell stories and improve on them with each telling. From them I inherited a love of language as a raw material for stories. The love of writing was and is in our blood (two of my brothers share the love to this day.) The only thing Pop liked more than writing was talking about writing, usually while drinking some really good Scotch, and he could recall from memory long stretches of the American literary canon. When I wrote, I wrote for him because I knew he understood how hard it is to write well.

The last meaningful thing I wrote, before just a few weeks ago, was his eulogy, which I delivered at his memorial service. Like all writers, I sometimes take my stuff out and re-read it, and I always wish I’d had another week to work on that eulogy. What I really wish is that Pop could have read it. He’d have denied that he was the guy I wrote about, but he’d have been honored, and he would have suggested changes, and probably good ones at that. I won’t include it here; it would be meaningful only to people who knew Pop, and almost all of them were present that day.

I haven’t written since then because I just didn’t have anyone to write for. Writing is a process, and often an arduous one that requires one to constantly take bearings the way a ship’s master gains his shoreline bearings from a lighthouse in the dark. Pop was my lighthouse, not just when it came to writing, but when it came to life. When life battered me to the point that I completely lost my bearings, just a word or a look from Pop would tell me where I was. In the world of politics, faith, and human relationships, I knew the exact latitude and longitude of his light and could use that light to get myself back on course, safely across the river bar and into the sheltered bay. That light went out late on the night of Nov. 25, 2011. Two of my brothers and I were at his side when he breathed his last and sank, pale and cool, into oblivion. My world has been very dark since then and I have felt adrift in a strange and dangerous sea.
To be sure, there have been new joys in my life; my last grandchild was born a few months after Pop passed, and our other grandchildren are growing and thriving and thrilling us almost every day. But one joy simply disappeared after I wrote his eulogy; I lost the ability to enjoy writing. I posted on a couple of chat boards I frequent, but even that became laborious. My wife, who knows well the curative powers of creative expression, suggested I write about how I felt, but I was too loaded down with the feeling of it to write about it.

And then the Sandy Hook shooting happened, and something stirred. I couldn’t not write about it. My fingers found the keyboard and before I was finished I’d contributed an op-ed piece to the local newspaper. Now the publisher wants to talk to me about regular contributions. I’m excited. For the first time in more than a year, I’m excited about writing.

It seems only right, my contributing to the local newspaper. Back in the 1990s I edited it, and for the five years before he died, Pop had a column in it. He would be proud to know that my byline is back on those pages. And that is reason enough to write again.