Sunday, May 5, 2013

Writing My Fears (Why I Didn't Want Children)

This past December, I wrote a post called Reading Your Fears. I've reached the next level: writing my fears.

I'm struggling a little with the current draft of my novel. The novel is written from four perspectives: two younger women named Rachel and Hannah, one younger man named Billy, and an older woman named Greta. I'm happy with the four characters and how their stories compliment each other. Now that I'm getting down into the nitty-gritty, though, I'm focusing on making each of their voices (the way they think and talk in the context of the story) feel unique. Rachel and Hannah are easy, because I feel I know them so well, and they are, for the most part, extensions of myself (Rachel is more like my teenage self, and Hannah more like my adult self). Billy isn't too difficult either, though it's always a challenge for a female author to write a male voice. The character I'm really struggling with is Greta, the older woman. For long time, I couldn't figure out why. I just knew that writing in her voice felt uncomfortable, like an actor performing a character completely foreign to himself, or a musician playing a secondary instrument.

Well, I've finally figured it out, and it only took a conversation with my friend a few days ago, a scary incident involving my son cutting his toe, and letting my mind wander during yesterday morning's workout. In the middle of my balance-ball squats, I had an epiphany:

I'm uncomfortable writing Greta because she embodies my greatest fear.

When the novel opens, Greta is a deeply unhappy person. Her only son died a few years previously (this isn't too much of a spoiler; I won't tell you how old he was or how he died.) She loved her son as deeply as any mother can, and now that he's gone, she has nothing to live for. She's distanced herself from her husband and co-workers. She has no comfort, and most importantly, no hope for the future. She's merely existing day-to-day.

That is my greatest fear.

A few years ago, I went through a period of time when I didn't want to have children. It wasn't that I wasn't ready, or didn't think my husband and I could handle it, I just didn't want them. I even saw a therapist about it, because I didn't understand what my issue was; when I was younger, I always thought I would have children. One night, I had a major break-through while watching a news special about children with terminal illnesses making jewelry to raise money for other sick children. I started to cry, and it was at that moment that I recognized why I didn't want children: I was afraid. I was afraid that my children would become ill, like I was. I saw what my cancer did to my parents; I didn't want that happening to me. I didn't think I could bear the pain of loving a child so much and watching him be seriously ill or even die.

After awhile, I realized that I didn't want to hold myself back from a wonderful, life-changing experience just because I was afraid of what might happen. My husband often assured me that if something terrible did happen, we would be able to handle it together, and that helped a lot. About six months later, I decided I was ready to take the leap, and Edwin was born the year after that.

But losing Edwin is still my greatest fear, and that's why Greta is so hard to write.

Strangely enough, now that I've realized my problem with Greta, I think it's going to be much easier to write her. The author Jodi Picoult has said in interviews that she writes about the things she fears as sort of a talisman against them happening to her in real life. Maybe writing Greta will be sort of a therapy for me. Maybe knowing she's inside me will be my talisman against my greatest fear.

Maybe the act of writing this post released my fear to the world.

How can you release your greatest fear?

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