This year, 2014, is about to end. Sebastian and I have endured a lot. I’m glad that a new year is starting.
Every December, I think about what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost in the year that’s closing. I lost my husband. I gained the satisfaction of knowing that his was a beautiful death, in my arms, in our home, exactly as he wanted it. Do I miss him? You bet. But the sharp depression that haunted me (and Sebastian, too) during the summer has tamped down, and both of us have settled into our lives as a twosome.
I lost my daughter, Nathalie. She and I were close when she was small, but before she turned ten, she had decided that I was not the mother she wanted. She loved her father and his second wife, and she even, grudgingly, loved Ben, my husband. But she had stopped loving me. First, “Maman” turned to “Mom,” while her father, who isn’t French, remained “Papa.” Then, as she grew older, she ceased calling me anything at all. I was supposed to respond to “Hey, there.” And she wasn’t at all proud of me, the way I was of my mother, who was not only a beauty but a successful literary agent in Paris. My mother wasn’t perfect, and sometimes, she could cause me real problems. I’m sure I caused her plenty. But, God, how we loved each other!
Nathalie has always blamed me for decisions she took or didn’t take. When Ben died, she abruptly turned loving and concerned. I was so thrilled. But two months after his death, she blasted me about the fact that I wasn’t sending her any money, that I was vain and self-centered, and that she didn’t care about anything I was going through, or that my father was suffering, her grandfather. She wanted money, and I didn’t have it to give. I had love, but she wasn’t looking for this.
That was the final conversation we had. About how I was failing her by getting my hair done and my nails manicured. How my dad and I “lived as a married couple,” and beyond our means, depleting the estate so that she wouldn’t receive what she felt was her due. I was polite, but I did not apologize for my life, nor for my choices. And my dad and I decided, sadly, to sever all further contact. It was her choice, not mine. Lesson learned: Don’t tread in waters that will drown you. Go for the balmy shore where you have safe footing.
I gained a new daughter. Melinda was a recent widow when she entered Ben’s and my lives. She’s Apache, and a novelist. She’s mom to a grown son, Erik, and a teenaged daughter, Shaelee. And she never had a mom and dad. So now, I’m Mom. And she is a blessing.
I gained a niece. Her name is Jessica, and she happens to be my webmistress. We’ve been close for years. She has a mom, but she adopted Ben and me as her uncle and aunt. She’s talented in music, art, writing, and the web. Her husband, Tyson, is a brilliant artist.
I lost a beloved cousin, also named Jessica. Her mother and I have been close for decades. She’s always been troubled, amazingly smart, and artistic. But, when Ben was dying, she interfered in my private life, and while I still love her, I removed myself from any further encroachments.
I regained myself. I ceased thinking as Monique, Ben’s caregiver, eclipsed by cancer, and started to believe in Monique, the person and the writer. I began Irrevocable Trust. I cut ties with friends who were no longer friends, and solidified friendships that were. I started to enjoy myself again, to watch silly movies and read all kinds of books, from the sublime to the ridiculous. To go out, hesitantly, into the wider world.
And I am moving my superb father into my home. Don’t think that it’s because he’s old! He’s young, vibrant, runs a film company, is a bridge master, and has a much more impressive social life than I do. But we are both single, and it makes sense to take care of each other. And to have Sebastian take care of us.
Just a few days ago, there was an interesting debate on my Facebook page. Did one have to learn to become a writer? What, in fact, makes one? Some said experience. Others felt classes would help.
I’m going to weigh in on this. I have never taken a writing class in my life. Yet I have taught writing for years, and miss doing so now. My methodology was thorough, and it was new and somewhat different from the tried-and-true. My students outlined their books on Visio, did superimposed Power Point charts based on how each of their characters reacted to events in their plot, partnered with one another to create dialogue between their characters (so that the character in one novel was interacting with someone in another person’s book), had group therapy with a licensed psychologist… as their protagonists, not their writer-selves. Did they learn to become better writers? I’m not sure. But I did. I taught them and in so doing, I taught myself.
You can’t teach talent, just as you can’t teach an aptitude for math or sculpture. The raw talent is something inside us writers, something that can be refined, not created. But a writer must love language, metaphor, and people. A writer must be open to the world, but relish being alone to work “in the zone.” A writer must be an avid reader. And, yes, a writer must live. Every word we write comes from our thoughts, opinions, and experience bank. In this regard, even the most far-fetched fantasy is autobiographical.
A writer is a sponge, and a writer is unrelenting in exploring what comes his or her way. You meet a new person; the person shares a slice of himself. You store it away. Years later, you will draw upon that conversation and use it to amplify a novel or a case history. No human being is too boring to explore. I want to know what you’ve done, but I mostly want to know who you are.
I do not need to write about my personal gains and my personal losses. They belong to my life, and it is this life that furnishes my books with stuffing. You may not read about Melinda or Jess, but you will read about the sort of love that I share with them. You will not see Sebastian in one of my books, though you might. But you will see the soul-bond that the two of us have. You will not suffer through the loss of Ben, but you will find him all over my books. And so it is with us authors. We’re not afraid to plumb the depths of our feelings. We do it for you, that you may sense how universal humanity is. Because our gains and losses aren’t so unique. They’re human.