There are a lot of things I should be doing - laundry, dishes, paying bills - and they will all get done eventually, today. I am thinking about Pat Conroy, however, and I'm a little weepy. Pat died last night, from pancreatic cancer.
Last October Pat wrote this in his blog: "I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. But that knowledge grants me insight and causes me no despair. The journey has defined me, inspired me, and forced me to write on."
I was thinking about that a lot this morning as I walked Lola.
How do we figure out life on the page? That's a question all writers struggle with. I know I've struggled with it.
Just when I think I might have a handle on it, something throws me for a loop, and I have to try to re-evaluate, revise my thoughts and opinions, and discern how to do things differently, to be at peace with myself and my life.
The state of serenity most people aspire to - including me - is really not conducive to good writing, I don't think. Most of us have demons we keep at bay as best we can, with varying degrees of success. Writers learn to manage their demons by writing about them. I don't know why it works, but fashioning strings of words together and painting pictures with them somehow creates enough distance to make things bearable.
Pat wrote about his brutal childhood over and over. When the people who are supposed to love and protect you are abusive, you never get over that. Some people just shove those feelings as far down as they can and pretend like nothing happened. Eventually, though, doing that turns those memories to poison and that poison has to be released somehow. In releasing his poisons, Pat famously infuriated or alienated a lot of people in his family. I hope before he died, however, that he was reconciled with his daughter Susannah, because I know how it feels to be estranged from your child. Nothing can be more painful. I had a lot of fights with my dad when I was young but we were never estranged.
A lot of people in my parents' generation were raised by folks who grew up with 19th century attitudes and ideas about things, and that's sad. When my grandfather Thompson died and the family was gathered in a small room at the hospital a few minutes after he died, his widow - my grandmother Cordelia - said bluntly if you're going to cry, go somewhere else. When her boys were growing up she would go in the closet if she had to cry. That wasn't unusual for someone of her generation.
My mother has an absolute horror of crying in public, which is why she won't attend funerals. I've tried to talk to her about it, but it's no use. It makes me mad seeing people ignoring their emotions for the sake of propriety, but it's not something Mom can control, so I try to cut her a lot of slack.We couldn't have any music at my dad's memorial service because Mom was afraid it would make her cry.
I told Mom not long ago we will have LOTS of music at her memorial service, and plenty of Kleenex.
Dignity and propriety are not bad things, but they often come at a price.
Pat Conroy's genius was in being able to write about his emotions, which most men simply won't - or can't - do.
“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat Conroy,
Amen, Brother Pat. You spoke the truth. I hope we can do better, the future generations.