Things I Learned While Writing

As strange as it may sound, the death of someone you love deeply isn't necessarily all bad. There are moments, sometimes whole afternoons and evenings, of warm joy.
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Hi. My name is Ron. I wrote a book called Everything Matters!. It was published in hardcover last year. Now the paperback has been released, and I'm writing stuff about the novel, doing interviews and such, in the ever-desperate effort to get people to pay attention to books in general and my book in particular. This is one of the things I've written. The people at HuffPo were kind enough to offer me space, and even suggested a theme: "Things I Learned While Writing This Book." So here goes.

1) I learned pretty early when I was writing the book that my father was dying. For a while after that I stopped working, more or less. Instead of writing I drove around a lot, smoking and listening to music and feeling bad for myself. I spent a lot of time fishing on the Sebasticook River, where my father took me and my brothers when we were kids, to the spot just below the dam where the big boulder juts up out of the water and there are plenty of pools the bass like to hide in. You know the spot, or a spot like it? Yeah. And then one day a few months before my father died, I snagged an eager smallmouth in the eye with a treble hook. There's no gentle way to remove a barbed hook from an eye, but I tried. And I realized that if this fish could scream it would, but instead all it did was gape, and I released it into back into the river, hurting and silent and probably bound to die. And after that I lost the stomach for fishing, and have hardly done it since.

2) I learned that miracles are a rare thing in life, but that they happen whenever you believe in a novel. I scoured the internet and the library for a deus ex machina for my father, perusing the usual conga line of alternative therapies and macrobiotic foods and black magic that people resort to when the doctors shrug their shoulders and say sorry and send you home. And then I thought about what it would be like if I could, myself, concoct some sort of witch's brew that would actually save the old man. Some nastiness that he would choke down twice a day for a month, grimacing and complaining, and then he'd be fine. And I didn't do that in real life, but I did it in the book.

3) I learned that writing is not therapy, but that, like a lot of honest work, it can be an effective distraction when you're faced with terrible unfathomable circumstances poking you all over every waking moment, and haunting your dreams each night.

4) I learned that there is almost nothing I won't exploit for the sake of my writing. My father was an intensely proud and private man, but every day, when I finished doing what I could to help take care of him, I would go home and co-opt much of what he suffered for use in my book. He had no idea, of course. I wrote it pretty much like it happened. I didn't include everything--that's where the "almost" comes in--but I included enough that I suspect if he could, my father would box my ears from beyond the grave for revealing this terrible and embarrassing shit to the world.

5) I learned, the night my father died, that real-life miracles do happen, and also that they're small and quiet and don't change anything. After I helped my father trade in his truck because he couldn't drive it anymore, after I brought him to a store to find a recliner that had a mechanism inside it to help him stand up, after I heard his final confession, after I sat beside his bed and rubbed his hand between mine during the last hours of his life, after the undertaker came and expressed regret and did his job and drove away, after everyone stood for a while beneath the overhead light in the kitchen, staring at the floor and not talking, I excused myself and got in my car to drive home. When I turned the ignition and backed out of the driveway that a few hours before had belonged to both my parents and now belonged to just my mother, the opening strains of "Maggie May" came on the radio. Which wouldn't have seemed all that momentous, except that a couple of years earlier my father had, quite uncharacteristically, revealed a bit of his younger self to me that had everything to do with that song, and now it was playing as though someone had cued it up just for me.

6)I learned that, as strange as it may sound, the death of someone you love deeply isn't necessarily all bad. There are moments, sometimes whole afternoons and evenings, of warm joy. There is pleasure and satisfaction embedded in pain. There is a brand of intimacy borne only of shared tragedy, an intimacy that endures even after the person is gone. I put all that in the book, too.

7) I learned, finally, that there's sometimes a difference between the true and the factual. Everyone obsessed with "true" stories would do well to learn the same. So if you're one of those people, read my book, regardless of how you get your hands on it. Buy it full price, find a remainder, swipe it from rapidshare, get a library card. Whatever you have to do, find it, and read something true, if only once.

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