Life...and Literature: To a Writer, It's All Gold

There's a saying among writers--or at least...among me.  To a writer, it's all gold.

To a writer, it is all gold.  Or at least it should be.  It's part of why very little fazes me. 

The last thing that really fazed me must have been in 1998.  I was still in my 20s, with 5 children ages 9, 7, 5, 3, and 18 months. 

I was barely home from spending 3 mostly sleepless nights and days in Seattle (I feel like there should be a movie about that) in ICU at Harborview where my oldest son had been airlifted--strapped to a board, in a helicopter, just days after another medivac copter had crashed in Puget Sound, drowning all occupants.  Yeah, great time to be told your 9 year old son is going to be strapped, helpless, to a board and flown over that same Puget Sound.

I had made the hour-long drive to Seattle with the radio on, listening for news of another helicopter crash, still agitated that they had told me I could fly with my son and then said I couldn't after all, wondering who would save him if this one went down, too, and fighting horrible visions of my son strapped to a board, sinking under waves, still seeing him looking up at me, scared as they strapped him down (to prevent further motion or injury) unable to understand why I wasn't stopping them and rescuing him.  It's a horrible feeling, as a parent.

Just to top it off (and I swear I couldn't make this stuff up) a stranger had picked that night to ask me at the gas station in Gorst (yes, Gorst, I couldn't make up a town named Gorst, either) if I could drive him to Seattle and I'd had to conclude that of all nights to risk being raped-mugged-and-murdered for the sake of a good deed, that just wasn't a good one--you know, in case my son was busy drowning in Puget Sound, or on a more positive note, merely alone and scared in a head trauma unit far from home--and tell the stranger no thank you.

Barely home after my son's release, I had barely slept, barely showered, barely eaten in three days at his bedside.  In retrospect, I don't actually know who took care of the younger kids during those days--if my (then) husband took off work of if friends had them.  And there I was, half-asleep on the couch, exhausted, with continued instructions to watch for numerous signs of danger, and for some reason, my 5 year old's friend was there, and there were sounds of a tussle, and argument, and a scream. 

And there was my 5 year old, thrown into a coffee table, his head bleeding profusely--and barely home from Seattle's head trauma center, I realized I had to somehow, with a house full of kids, get another child to ER to have his head stitched up.

I won't give the ugly (or embarrassing) details...but I vaguely remember sliding down like melting ice cream against the bathroom wall, and the 5 year old in question staring at me very perplexed to see an adult melting like ice cream against a bathroom wall and telling his mother, "I think Mrs. Stack is upset."  (In retrospect, I find the Understatement-ness of the year of that statement hilarious.)

So yeah...that fazed me.

Is it a surprise that really very little has fazed me since?

Most certainly, a woman screaming obscenities, shaking her fist, and giving amazing gestures I didn't even know existed from a moving car doesn't even register on the Richter Scale of Things That Might Even Potentially Think About Possibly Maybe Considering to Hope to Aspire to Possibly Fazing Me.  Like a flow chart:
  • Is my child vomiting green vomit?  (It was St. Patrick's Day, what can I say, we had dyed every possible food item green.)  NO.
  • Is my child being airlifted to the major head trauma unit over a body of water that has just claimed the lives of other medivac occupants?  NO.  
  • Is my child bleeding profusely?  NO.  (There was this time one of my children went through a plate-glass table...when I was 9 months pregnant...and when the medics arrived at the car dealership, we were all covered in blood--and I do mean covered--and they thought they had stumbled on a murder scene and they were afraid I was going to deliver a baby then and there...see what I mean?  It's all gold.  You can't make this stuff up.)
  • Bones broken?  NO.  (Remind me to tell you about the pillow fight that broke an arm.  That ties into another interesting story about a church with an orchestra and being kicked out very publicly by the Pastor Who Had Very Important Things To Say...but I refuse to digress!)
  • Am I in a town named Gorst with a complete stranger wanting to get in my car for an hour?  NO!

ERGO: NOT FAZED.  Better luck next time.

But this story isn't really about fazing.  It's about human nature.  Ross's reading last night at Night Writers included the comment that every little thing we do impacts other's lives.  (Sorry, Ross, I don't remember the exact wording at the moment.)  We all touch one another's lives.  Even as strangers, we touch each other's lives for better or worse.

Tonight, within fifteen minutes, I had two vastly different encounters with complete strangers.  One was the woman at the intersection shouting and waving her fist at me.  Why?  She thought it was her turn at the intersection.  I thought it was mine.  No near collision.  No screeching of brakes.  No near miss.  No death.  No near death even!  (Man, this story is boring!)  No actual collision.  No one held up from anything.  Really--virtually nothing actually happened! 


Complete non-story.  If I'd written it and published it on amazon, it would have a slew of 1 star reviews already, it would be such a complete and utter boring non-story.  If they gave Nobel prizes for Non-Story of the Year, this event would have totally won it, even above  "I woke up and was still tired and fell asleep again."

But she was furious.

She shook her fist and yelled and taught me gestures I'd never imagined before.

Fifteen minutes earlier, I had been at a thrift store.  One son was trying on shorts.  I went to find one of my 15 year old twins, and found him having a great conversation with a man in his 60s.  They were having a great time poking around and examining an Underwood typewriter from 1908, looking at what functioned and what didn't and discussing how these old-fashioned typewriters worked.  (It doesn't have internet, I warned him.)  The man was ecstatic about this typewriter and said I should buy it!  It would sell for twice as much on e-bay!

(Okay, readers, do not get any ideas!  I'm going back tomorrow and getting it!  Don't touch my typewriter!) 

I asked why he didn't buy it himself and he said he'd just had to make an unexpected car repair.  He asked me to buy it for him!  (Ha ha, we both laughed pretty hard at that!)

We all left smiling, I took my purchases to the check out (shorts for one son, angel tapestry runner for the table for me--it sort of goes with an angel tapestry I already have and speaking of lives impacting one another, the moments of seeing and being given that first angel tapestry is still fresh and sharp in my mind) and as we waited in line, the man came up and placed a wooden box of old-fashioned Americana games on the check out and pushed three dollars in my hand and said, "I want to buy this for your boys."  And he disappeared out the door.  I was very touched by this small act of kindness and connection.

We all left smiling.  We all left happy.

And it's all gold to a writer.

I find myself wondering: What has his life been like?  What has the angry driver's life been like?  What happened to each of them this particular day? 

I'm betting the man's life has not necessarily been easy.  All too often we find that the most generous, loving, giving, cheerful people have had many troubles in their past--and it is through these difficulties that they have learned perspective and joy and the desire to give something better to others than what they themselves have received.  We learn that reaching out to someone else and putting a smile on their face gives us our own joy in the midst of difficulties and shows us that our lives have meaning--because we were able, just for a moment, to make someone else's life happier.  Because--if we put joy in someone else's life, then our own lives matter, have value and meaning.

I bet his life makes an interesting story.

The angry driver?  Maybe she's always a nasty, hateful, angry person ready to chew everyone out.  Maybe she's a self-centered woman who thinks of no one but herself and her own rights and needs and wants.  Or...maybe this was an anomaly for her.  Maybe she had a really difficult day.  Maybe someone had been very unkind to her. 

Maybe her son had just been airlifted somewhere and she was racing to get to a hospital.  

I bet whatever led her to that point makes an interesting story.

I continued on to my 17 year old son's orchestra concert.  Not fazed.  Only curious.  Two strangers.  Two vastly different reactions to life and other people.  And without a doubt, stories behind both.

To a human being...we benefit from digging deeper and thinking about where people are coming from.  To a writer, it's all gold. 

  • Hiking the Grand Canyon, and other adventures on the road
  • Guest posts: Megan Easley-Walsh and Lorrie Holmgren
  • Last Sunday in May, 10 am: Books and Brews with Lorrie Holmgren, mystery author
  • June 24, 2017, 3 to 5 pm: Reading at Eat My Words Books with Michael Agnew
  • October 2017: Author Talk and Book Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin
  • January 9, 2018: Talk with the Edinburgh Book Club
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