Fact or Fiction?

As a nonfiction writer who has recently turned to fiction, I am compelled to share the essay “Highly Unlikely” by the fabulous Vendela Vida. After years of writing about actual events and being bound by relating the facts in my writing, I have discovered an exciting freedom in writing fiction. The imagination is a powerful thing, and Vida is a writer whose imaginative  stories are expansive, unique, and a pleasure to read. I reviewed her 2015 book “The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty” in the Post and Courier and wrote:

“Vida creates mournful scenes where the narrator is vulnerable and lonely, which makes us eager to follow as she dives into the next scene. Maddening in her recklessness (we wonder, who would do that?), the narrator’s illogical, spontaneous decisions are liberating (we think, wouldn’t it be great to do that?).”

The “unbelievability” of her character’s decisions are what made the book such a pleasure to read. In her essay “Highly Unlikely” Vida writes about the double standard in realistic fiction.

“As readers, we don’t want to read stories that are less interesting than the everyday lives we lead. Do we? And as writers I don’t think we should necessarily have to explain that something did happen in real life to justify a a novel’s unlikely plot. Of course it’s unlikely. That’s why we read. That’s why we write.”

Wego Health Writing Challenge…Open a Book

Open a Book. Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 without stopping.

This is not a random page but one of my favorite books about living with illness. The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso is a memoir of the autoimmune disease that tore through the author’s twenties, a decade of recurrent paralysis, collapsed veins, chest catheters, the deaths of friends and strangers, addiction, depression, and the trite metaphors that accompany prolonged illness.

Here is one of my favorite phrases from the chapter titled “Causation.” She writes,

Was the CIDP a physical manifestation of a spiritual illness?

Did the medication trigger the depression, or did the depression trigger the CIDP?

What about those yogis who can lie down on a bed of nails, then arise, streaming blood, then stop the flow of blood from each wound individually with the power of their minds? Isn’t frailty often a choice? 

And if frailty is a choice, then isn’t autoimmune disease a semi-intentional suicide? 

That statement stops me in my tracks every time I read it. As a woman with type 1 diabetes, I too have an autoimmune illness, and until I read this book, I’d never really considered the implications of an “autoimmune illness.” I know that our disease are very different, but like Manguso, I wondered what it meant that my own body was waging a war on itself?

When I was little and feeling sick, my dad used to tell me to think about polar bears. The polar bears were supposed to be healthy cells fighting off my sickness-my fever or strep throat or whatever it was at the time. It was the 70’s and my parents were hippies and this was his idea of a healing, positive visualization. But I didn’t like the idea of polar bears in my blood. It made me queasy. I just wanted to have someone give me medicine and make it all better.

I thought of the polar bears again when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I think it was more of a sarcastic teenage thought like, “Yeah, see dad, those polar bears didn’t do any good. Look what happened to me.” I wallowed in the ‘poor me’ phase for a long time. And I definitely didn’t believe that I had any sort of internal choice in the matter. I was stuck with diabetes and there was nothing I could do about it except feel sorry for myself and/or ignore it. Looking back now, I see that ignoring it was a sort of suicide. It wasn’t until I let my diabetes out of hiding that I felt like I had a choice about living well with diabetes.

26 years later, I chose how I manage diabetes. I did not choose to be diagnosed or to be “frail,” but I do choose to live my life well.

Wego Health Writing Challenge, Learned the Hard Way….

Learned the Hard Way. What’s a lesson you learned the hard way? Write about it for 15 today.

I’ve had big feet my entire life. I always hated them, especially when I was young and towering over all my petite little 6th grade friends. I used to lie on my bed with my legs dangled over my head and stare at my giant feet, cursing them, praying for them to shrink. In ballet class I tripped over my long toes while my friends spun across the room.

I recently discovered that writing in a voice that is not my own is like trying to wear shoes that are too sizes too small. I learned that the hard way. I thought shoving my 10.5 foot into 8.5 size shoes would make me more successful….8.5 seemed so much more popular and had a bigger audience and I was sure that it wouldn’t hurt to cramp my toes for a little while, maybe I could even make my feet fit if I tried hard enough.

I tried hard. I wrote 3 assignments in a voice that was more scientific and less personal than I was used to. I researched like crazy to learn all I could about one specific topic that was beyond my capabilities, and in the end, not good enough for the editor. The editor wanted exclamation points and “gee wizes” and I couldn’t write that way without sounding like my toes were pinched. The story came out sounding like someone else, not me.

After a few weeks of stress and a couple sleepless nights, I learned that I like my big feet just fine. I may have a smaller selection of shoes (readers) to shop from (write for), but when I find the right fit, it feels really, really good. 

Wego Health Day, Writing with Style…

Writing with Style. What’s your writing style? Do words just flow from your mind to your fingertips? Do you like handwriting first? Do you plan your posts? Title first or last? Where do you write best?

I write while I’m running. It’s been that way since I was a little girl and walked home from school. The bus dropped me at the bottom of our mile long dirt road and I took my time, kicking the dirt under my feet and plugging my nose and I wandered past the dairy cows. I told stories to myself of girls with names like Jessica or Samantha who wore their long blonde hair in braids down their backs. These girls had their very own horses and were the most popular girls in their schools. They were not lonely like me.

These stories kept me going day after day and sometimes, if it wasn’t cold and snowy, I’d linger on our front porch before I went inside because the story wasn’t ready to end. Knowing that the stories were waiting for me got me through my school days. It was the quiet of the Vermont woods that stoked those stories. The steady beat of my feet on the road and wind on my face-these noises were the orchestra to my imagination and it continues on today.

I run every morning in the still dark and quiet streets of my southern home. The plot lines have changed and I’m no longer telling stories of Jessica and horses, but the stories come just the same. Whether they are practical stories filled with interviews and tips from experts on living well with diabetes, or stories of smart and inspirational women with diabetes, or stories of my own, there are always stories to fill my head. Some mornings I go straight from my run to my computer where I sit and write, I’ve got to get it all down before it melts away. Other mornings there is nothing and I concentrate on the steady beat of my feet on the pavement and that’s okay because I’m no longer lonely.