The more I write fiction the more my psyche, my subconscious, my mind — challenges me to look deeper. Inside my head where the ideas come from, where fears abide, where whatever creepy or amazing or fascinating thing happened to me as a child lives. At my very first writing conference I met a therapist and asked her if she could help me remember parts of my childhood. She demurred. She said something along the lines that lots of stuff was best forgotten. We are so vulnerable as children, easily scarred. We all have scars, scabs we pick at in our fiction in our old age. My sincere wish is I don’t write grim, depressing books as I age.
Not that I am *particularly* elderly — yet. But this year I turned a significant leaf in the calendar. I spend a little time each day razzing myself for thinking “old thoughts.” Yesterday I watched the movie Water for Elephants and really loved it right up until the last scene where the old man (the main character Jacob as played by Robert Pattinson when he’s young) is telling the young circus man that his elephant died, his wife died, his kids moved away. I wish they’d ended the movie showing him in hip boots and a whip leading the lions around the ring instead of that. It was a total bummer for us oldies.
It fascinates me how the mind attaches to little things like this. What deep resonant chord did that touch? Death, and the short unpredictable nature of life, informs much of the fiction I write and read. One of the memorable moments in my childhood is the day I realized what death was. We had been doing air raid drills in our elementary school, hiding in the hallways and huddled in the girl’s shower room. It was frightening, but not as much as the idea that someday I would not “be.” I remember standing by the window in my bedroom, the one with the owl-and-the-pussycat curtains, and thinking these deeply terrifying thoughts.
Many books deal with the more joyous days of youth, including my own. My next book, now titled “All Your Pretty Dreams,” is about two twenty-somethings. One of my beta readers said it should appeal to the Young Adult reader. (I guess now 20 is YA.) Our book club however (which does consist of more than a few retired ladies) is reading “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” Definitely a book about getting older, but funny and sweet in that particularly English way. An 80-year-old in the club recommended it. Even though the Major is only 68 he is a fuddy-duddy and made to feel put out to pasture.
Is aging harder for men than women? I always thought women had it worse when they lose their looks. Men look “distinguished” even without a shred of hair. But I think men have it just as hard. Life moves on, young people take your place. You’re not that amazing young buck anymore. Getting older isn’t for sissies.
My mother is working on 89 years and my father lived to 83 so with any luck I have at least 25 years to go! That’s a lot of books to write, even at my super slow pace. I better get busy. As Flannery O’Connor said: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Maybe I’ll write a book about a little girl and air raids… Nah.