Writing provides so many opportunities to learn, and learning presents so many opportunities to write. Let me explain. If you’re writing about a protagonist who supervises home sales for a home building company, you have to learn about the details of that character’s job. What are her responsibilities? How does she interact with the predominantly male sub-contractors and skilled laborers? What does she need to do to market the houses? Once you research, learn, and integrate that information, you’re eager to develop your character more fully. You understand her personality quirks and you can imagine how she handles a typical day’s duties.
I enjoy learning as much as I enjoy writing. Every day that I visit my Mom in the Skilled Nursing Facility where she now lives, I learn something new. The new information might concern a medication she needs. It might be about her regression along the continuum of well-being as she gradually transitions from the mother I used to know to her present state, and then to her final days. I’m constantly learning about the power of touch and kindness as I witness the staff’s gentle, caring behaviors. At some point I’ll no doubt spill tears and words onto the pages of a book about this entire ordeal.
I must insert here that the visits with my mother aren’t always filled with sadness and despair. During a recent visit I heard her cough a few times. Clearly she was dealing with some congestion. After one particularly chest-rattling cough, I asked her if she thought she had a bit of phlegm in her chest.
“I don’t know,” she answered, rising above her expressive aphasia. “Do you see any?”
I began laughing and she joined me.
I’ve been visiting her in the nursing home for the past two and a half years. I can drive from my house to WillowBrooke with my eyes closed. I’ve memorized each bump in the road, each gnarled tree trunk I see, every missing slat in the fences I pass during my trips. I can point to every property that oozed a pre-election insult with its Trump lawn sign planted near the road. And I remember each home where the owners installed a Hillary sign, only to have it ripped out in a matter of hours, not days. I’d drive by at nine in the morning and pump my fist in the air upon seeing “I’M WITH HER.” During my return trip, the sign would be nowhere in sight.
One morning five weeks ago I spotted something new hung from a newly installed post. The red, white, and blue sign proclaimed, LOVE TRUMPS HATE. I had no idea who owned that property, so I jotted down the address and then wrote the homeowners a thank you note. I included my email address in case they wanted to respond. Their sign had given me a spark of hope while I continued my commute to spend some time with the woman who used to be my mother before age, illness, and infirmities took over her life.
Sally, one of the homeowners, sent me an email. She’d reacted emotionally to my thank you message, and she invited me to stop by for a cup of tea.She said she wanted to meet the person who had taken the time to express her gratitude to strangers.
A week later I stopped in to share a pot of tea with Sally and her husband, Andy. Whilst (that’s for Andy who is British,) we sipped our tea we discovered that Sally and I grew up only a few miles from each other. Andy grew up in England, quite a few miles from the town in Surrey where my sister lives. We talked more and saw that we shared the same political opinions, the same dark feelings of dread, the same disbelief that a neurotically self-focused despot with no impulse control was the White House’s new tenant (when he’s not sitting on his throne in his New York tower.)
At Sally’s and Andy’s invitation, we’re planning to go to a “movie night” where Viv and I will meet a few other people who are answering the call to resist.
WRITING that thank you note led me to LEARN there are others who live near us who share our thoughts and emotions about the election. As Viv and I continue to learn more about Sally and Andy and the ways by which we can move forward, not backward during the “L’etat C’est Moi” Age of Trump, I hope to continue writing because writing leads me directly to its spouse, learning. And I so enjoy learning.
Renee Bess is the author of five novels published by Regal Crest Enterprises. Currently she and Lee Lynch are co-curating stories, poems, and memoir pieces for an anthology titled, Happy Hours – Our Lives in the Gay Bars. Please visit her website: http://www.reneebess.com