For the past year or two I have been living with two impending deaths. One was natural, merciful and literal. The other was unnatural, tortured and figurative. Both have both come to pass.
I have been alive long enough to know that there is no way to anticipate or speed the grieving process. There is no way to shed grief but to endure it and to respect the truth of it. I am also aware that the trend these days is to encourage people to move on with their lives, or to otherwise ignore or distract themselves from grief — advice that is often proffered by friends and family who do not want to embrace the totality of loss, or the inevitability of mortality, in their own lives.
As I have watched myself move through this process in two instances, I have noticed that as a writer I do not have the tools to accurately describe what I am thinking and feeling. Were I authoring these events I would struggle greatly to communicate the totality of what I feel as a character.
The lesson here — the fiction writing lesson — is that this cannot be done. The craft of the writer is as much about reconnecting readers with vistas already observed as it is about describing vistas that have never been seen. (And in this is the difficulty of writing about life for young readers. Because they have so little of life’s experience to draw on, there is little that can be evoked.)
If there is a common core to every writer’s work, it is found in the intersection between what the author wants to express and what the author can evoke. This is true of love, of loss, of madness and of resolve. It can only truly be communicated if the reader already speaks the language.
I don’t know if I will ever write about my grief. I don’t know if I ever want to, or if in doing so I would have anything more to communicate than adding my voice to the human scream.
What I do know is that I know how. As I tread water and look for landmarks by which to orient myself, I find my craft sustaining me in ways I did not anticipate.
Writing is inextricably a part of who I am. It has always been my way of seeing and being.
And it is a constant reminder to go to the truth not simply in my work, but in my life. Even if that truth is grief.
— Mark Barrett