Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 14, 2009

Crossing Back to Work

In the past few days I spotted two bears in the woods, helped run a library program, filled vases with lilacs, planted some pansies, read two remarkable theses and listened to students defend them. I turned in grades. I’ve heard the phone ring a few times and thought: it’s not Pat. I got briefly cheered up reading some letters sent from a school I visited, including one from a boy who began: I love your book so mush.

Trying to work on my novel, I shoved and shuffled words around. I told my husband that it’s hard to get back.

“Does it feel trivial?” he asked.

No. There’s the good news. I suppose this historical fiction could look stupid or irrelevant, but I see something there. It’s just hard to give revision the focus it needs. Grief, like a brown toad squatting on rotting leaves, surprises. Sometimes I feel on top of sadness. I’m old, I’ve been through this before, which must count for something, right? Other times, well, too early one morning I seethed at a telemarketer type, “I can’t find my glasses, the dogs are barking, and…. my friend died.” I burst into sobs.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Should I take you off the list?”

“YES! We’re already supposed to be off!”

Um, this time might have done the trick.

I don’t think people who dedicate themselves to creative work are all so different from those who don’t. All of us know sadness, for instance. But I guess there’s a difference in that some people find refuge from that in their work, while when we sit down to silence or blank pages, sorrow might sit with us. Today I wished I had a reason to put on teacher-ish clothes and go to school. Doesn’t anyone have a thesis to send me? I’m in an easy-grading mood. But no. I had to get through the day moving around words, mostly cringing. No, no, no, I told my writer self, then went back to my journal. After a while I re-opened my novel, hoping something would snag my attention.

At last, and this was brief, I smiled at a sentence, and told my writer-self: Yes.

Thank you very mush.



  1. I think in some ways it IS so hard to focus out of a loss like yours. I have a friend who had a huge loss almost two years ago, and there was no way for her to be writing. A while later, though, the writing became part of healing, I think, something to move forward with. I hope/think it can be that for you, too. And, you know, selfishly, I so want to read your book. 🙂

  2. “while we sit down to silence or blank pages, sorrow might sit with us.”
    One day at a time, one word at a time. Glad you smiled today.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I love that photo of Pat that you posted. It seemed to epitomize the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Even six years later, grief manages to punch me in the gut and leave me winded. But not as often and as hard as the first year.
    I’m thinking of you and sharing a little of your pain.
    I found it “helpful” to write about the person I lost – how he made me laugh, things from our childhood together, the crazy things he did – it helped. A little. Really, it takes time.

  4. Time and words. Yes, I think those things are helpful. And company, so I appreciate your note. There are always so many things we miss, and I guess we slog our way through. I wish you the best on your own journey through crazy gut-punching grief.
    (I love your quotation marks around “helpful.” I know just what you mean. We do try to help ourselves and others forward, but it can feel small. Even when it isn’t.)

  5. Time and words: yes. I do believe in those. Thanks for YOUR smile.

  6. Focus? Focus? I guess if I peer in at some work close enough and long enough I can move things around in a semi-sensible way.
    Writing as part of healing is a wonderful concept. I can see that coming. And thank you for waiting for my book! That means a lot, Becky. (and I know you’re patient…)

  7. One of the hardest things about writing, I find, is that sometimes it deserts us when we need it most. But you were brave to sit down with sorrow today. And I’m glad you had at least one moment of peace.
    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. A smile here, a word there, the story is willing to lay fallow until such time as you are ready to sit with it again.
    You need to grieve.
    Sometimes you will grieve with writing.
    Sometimes you will grieve with laughter.
    Sometimes you will grieve with friends.
    Through all times we will be here to listen, to hold you in our hearts, and to just sit with you in silence, if that’s what you need.

  9. Oh, Jeannine. I was unable to write after my dad died. Even on the days when I felt a strong urge to write the whole process was too overwhelming and I often chose to nap, instead.
    I think a word here and a word there is admirable. I’m in awe you’re able to express yourself so eloquently in this post. I mean, “Grief, like a brown toad squatting on rotting leaves, surprises” is an incredible image, under any circumstance.
    Thank you very mush for sharing this.

  10. Thanks for thinking of me, as I think of you. I hope we can somehow meet again this summer.

  11. That’s helpful, how you pointed out all the ways of grieving. It really is complex, isn’t it? And of course thanks for the hugs.

  12. Writing and grieving: yeah, both so complicated, it’s hard to do both. The naps sound like a good idea. I’ve been very tired, and a friend said she was told that happens as the body is told to slow down, or I guess is telling us, and give grieving the attention it’s asking for. Which kind of makes sense.
    Thanks for being here.

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