Why I Write

ink jar and quills (image by Charles Stanford)
(image by Charles Stanford)

I have been dealing with what I’ll call anxiety induced malaise of late.

As such, my creative work has stalled.

There is a school of thought out there that says anxiety, depression, and the like drive the creative person to make better art. I’m not going to say this is 100% wrong. When a person is sensitive and able to feel things deeply, that can be a gift. I have experienced that. However, it can also be paralyzing. Lately, I have been paralyzed.

I have especially struggled with my writing. I had a number of projects in the works, but suddenly that shifted. One novel I was working on (a sort of companion to Sideshow) seemed frivolous and unnecessary. Another novel seemed precious and overwrought. You get the picture. Each time I sat down to work, it all seemed to be without purpose. I wanted to do something important, but nothing seemed important enough, so I did nothing.

I’ve been here before. It’s far from the first time. I have always been a person deeply affected by the world around me and my effect on it (or lack thereof). I often struggle with being productive when I think that what I’m doing isn’t useful or helping anyone, and at times, it paralyzes me. Who am I? What do I have to give? When I run through my talents, I usually find myself coming up sort (blame the anxiety and some lingering threads of that teenage angst), but there is one thing that still remains: stories.

I write historical fiction not simply because I love history.  I do love history, but more importantly, I love the stories of history. So often in a history class we are taught to memorize names and dates, but we see these people as far away and nothing like us when in reality, we have so much in common with them and knowing their stories helps us to see that. Knowing their stories helps us to understand our own world as well.

When I wrote Sideshow, I initially struggled with trying to explain why I set the book in the in the time period that I did. The 1950s are a polarizing time to write about. They are so easy to romanticize, what with the poodle skirts and roller skating car hops and the birth of the American teenager, but under the surface of all that, there is a lot going on, most of which would bubble over quite fiercely in a short amount of time. I wanted to address these issues in a story of what is often portrayed as an “idyllic” time. I wanted to write a story that talked about some of the parts of that time that still ring true in our world today.

Additionally, I included the flashbacks because just as I do not exist solely in 2017, but also in 1992, 2001, 1988, 2010, etc as the years I lived through helped shape who I am today, the same is true for the people of the past.

Take for example the flashback to the incident with Abby’s mother. This is a history that Italian-Americans did not often talk about or acknowledge to their descendants. I myself had to learn about something similar happening to one of my own ancestors from archival documents and not from anyone in my family. This story as well as the others included in Sideshow were important to me because just as these events shaped Abby’s perception of her own identity, there were events happening in the world around me that I knew where shaping the identities of myself and everyone else for years to come.

So…the telling of stories…

It may not be much, but this is what I have give the world. So…I suppose I must find a way to continue.

Are some of my projects frivolous or precious? Yeah, probably.

Do I feel weird mentioning them on social media when so many more important things are happening? Definitely.

Do I think my words are even close to enough to change anything? No. Not really.

But deep down I know it is one of the few things I have that can help anyone (as self-centered as that may seem), so I have to keep trying.

Three Epiphanies

In honor of a few people I love and admire

1. 

The farm boy tuned out the Frenchman talking to his company. He was more interested in seeing where he was. He had never set foot outside Ohio, but he knew this place. He knew it better than he was willing to admit. His father had left through the same port that he was entering now. His father had become a man by leaving, but he was still a boy; a boy who woke up each morning to milk the cows…and there were no cows in the infantry.

He dared not speak, tell a soul what he was thinking when he saw the words: Le Havre. The other boys had looked at him funny when they heard his last name. They still treated him with an air of suspicion. They were wrong, of course. So very wrong. But, what would they do if they knew Alsatian soil could have been his home?

But it wasn’t his home. He knew that too. He owed France nothing. He belonged to France even less than he belonged to Ohio.

Ohio. He never thought he’d miss Ohio.

He thought of home and all the deferments piled up on the kitchen table: only son. He knew it wouldn’t keep him out forever. Not as the list of names in the Times and the Reporter continued to grow. And now here he was.

The Frenchman was babbling on still…and must have seen something in his eyes. “Where you from, son?” He asked, sounding far too much like the farm boy’s own father.

“Strasburg,” he said, not thinking.

The Frenchman lowered his eyes and touched the farm boy’s shoulder.

2.

The blinking light almost looked like a star as it went overhead.The other men had cowered below deck, but not him. He wanted to see it. He had to see it.

“What if the Commies have bombs on it?” they had all asked.

He knew it couldn’t hurt him. He was strong. He was brave. He had managed to survive this far. And besides, the satellite was something bigger than what they were doing.

Taking a deep breath of the salty air, he pressed against the rail and watched the reflection of the stars out in the black water. He wondered vaguely what it would be like to escape to space. Escaping to sea hadn’t been enough. And yet…

At home there was his wife

and a baby girl.

He wasn’t running from them. He’d just forgotten how not to run. He’d try to forget for a little while longer as Sputnik raced across the sky.

3.

She didn’t know why she wore bright red lipstick. It clashed with everything about her complexion. But she was here to do something and it seemed to make them happy. Happy was really all she could give most of them at this point.

The last man she had seen had lost half his face in a mortar blast. He hadn’t even known it. He’d just looked at her…like she was some kind of angel. But she was mortal. And her brother was out there. And the men she loved. Someone loved that man too.

The least she could give was red lipstick.

She carefully closed the door behind the doctors as they rushed in. They told her nursing would bring fatigue, but she had never imagined fatigue could be like this.