I am blessed to share my birthday with the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who would have been 89 years-old today. I’ve always felt a kinship with Dr. King because of our shared birthdays, and have strived to emulate him in word and deed my whole life. This isn’t always easy to do, because unlike my best friend who shares a birthday with Hitler, my birthday has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Every so often there comes a moment when we see ourselves through another person’s eyes. Determining whether that’s good or bad depends entirely on what we see. Most of my epiphanies are delivered in the form of my sister telling me my ass looks fat in my jeans, whether I ask for her opinion or not.
Commentary on my fat ass or bad breath I can handle, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the reality of personal feedback in the form of reviews for my novella, Reapers With Issues.
Before I begin I’d like to state that every reader who reviewed my work negatively did not condemn me personally for what I’d written, despite not particularly enjoying the book. I’ve read reviews of other books where the reviewer took the author to task, and I am happy to say I’ve been blessed with a classy group of readers who didn’t feel the need to blast me.
I guess what confounds me most is that I expected there to be more blow back for subject matter. Portraying Jesus as a closet homosexual and writing a scene where Genghis Khan violates a shi-tzu wasn’t going to win me an audience with the Pope, and I knew that going in. I also prepared myself for a critique of the quality of the writing itself, which as it turns out I didn’t receive much of. What I did get was essentially the same question, asked in so many words, of what kind of person could conceive of the Reapers idea at all. Again, good or bad depends entirely on what we see.
[enter the dreaded introspection process]
The first thing I did was try to answer the question of what kind of person I am. Despite an obscene amount of navel-gazing I am no closer to that answer now than I was when I began. My motivation to write Reapers With Issues was just as strong and the subject matter just as easy to conceptualize as Gods of Asphalt’s was, so identifying a specific default in thinking didn’t pan out. The truth is that I’ve got a hundred different stories buzzing around in my head; everything from harmless children’s stories to British comedies to even more Reapers sequels (oddly there’s nothing milling around in there that remotely smacks of Erotica, but that’s a post for another day after an hour on a couch).
So after an even more shameless bought of self-contemplation I began to ask myself a different question, “Why do any of us write what we write?”
Do we choose our genre or subject matter because of who we are, or because of what we make of the world around us? I imagine it’s no coincidence that Reapers With Issues was written during the darkest hours of a friend’s battle with cancer, or that Gods of Asphalt was written while stuck in bed, listening to my two teenaged sons bicker amongst themselves and argue with their father.
It is also not lost on me that I wrote Reapers With Issues from a third-person point-of-view, allowing me to observe at a distance the story of a Reaper whose best efforts to gather souls are thwarted by a Savior, or that the overall theme of Gods of Asphalt is how brothers cope when their mother isn’t around.
I suppose in the end what we choose to write comes from the harmony of both who we are and what we see. I’ve learned that whether my writing is received as harmony or dischord depends entirely on who’s doing the reading, and no amount of alteration of my “music” will accommodate everyone.
For the record, I’m fine with that. I am a Jazz fan, after all.
There is no easy way to deliver the sad news that our young friend, Libby, has lost her brave battle with cancer. On the evening of Sunday, March 17, Libby spent her last few hours mercifully free of pain, surrounded by the friends and family whom she so dearly loved.
I will admit to struggling for some time with the crafting of this post, wanting my words to do Libby’s life justice. I was desperate to seek out and find the good within the tragedy, to find meaning in the joyous birth, brief life, cruel illness and untimely death of this beautiful young girl. Twenty-four hours later and the words still struggle to come.
My first attempt at a post was meant to be a memorial to Libby’s life and her legacy of positivity despite adversity. Luckily for me I was blessed to know Libby personally, and as anyone who knew her well will tell you her positivity wasn’t hard to find. Both spirited and stubborn, quick-witted and compassionate, Libby’s energy and light drew in everyone around her.
Yet despite being a direct recipient of her love and energy, my words failed me. There just weren’t adjectives enough to describe all that Libby was in life. Every turn of phrase was deemed woefully inadequate. Naturally, I started over.
My next pass at a draft focused on the struggle to seek out the positive in loss, even a loss as tragic as the death of a child. I crafted nearly a page of generic comfort words, each sentence painting a picture that paled in comparison to the miracle that was Libby. Needless to say that draft never saw the light of day either.
I had all but given up when I decided to take a break and update Libby’s Wrists Around The World page, hoping to regroup and get a handle on just what it was I wanted to say. As I read down the list of names on her FRIENDS OF LIBSTRONG page and saw pictures in her GALLERY of wrists of people from all over the world, it hit me-
You. Me. All of us. WE are her legacy.
Strangers who with a click of a mouse became family. Writers who donated their work for her benefit. Readers who bought books for her cause. New friends the world over who donned wristbands and thought enough of a child thousands of miles away to carry her with them, to memorialize her struggle in a snapshot. It became clear to me in that one, glorious moment that the very best way to honor Libby and her life would be to live our lives well, to continue to give of ourselves freely, selflessly, and to demonstrate daily the good that resides in us all.
Libby’s bravery brought out the best in all of us. What better way is there to honor her than to do our very best everyday? As long as we are brave enough to answer that question, Libby’s life will have meaning. Libby, within us all, will live on.