Sparked by Words

The Inevitable Triumvirate

Death, taxes, change, the inevitable triumvirate. They make us shudder but we cannot escape them, nor the adages about them. They are linked uncomfortably, wedging between the people we love, the things we’re trying to do, the places we want to go. The stories I write now are different from what I wrote half a lifetime ago, but my sense of what’s worthy was impressed on me before I finished high school and have changed little the decades since.

Words and stories engaged me from a very young age. I wasn’t one of those precocious scholars who learned to read at two or three but certainly by the time I was six, stories had become my other, better world. I read them, I wrote them, they enriched me, they saved me. I could recite several from memory and make up others on the spot. None were complete without a crayon sketch. There I was, seven, nine, twelve-years-old, writer, illustrator, and occasional prize winner. My parents paid the taxes to keep a middle class home, a middle class life. As a child, I could ignore discussions of taxes and pursue my childish dreams.

Change ricocheted through my life. Born in Philly, I’ve lived in New Jersey, Hawaii (twice,) Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, and California. The prejudice I witnessed in New Jersey against Blacks was different from that which snared me in Hawaii against Haoles, in Alabama against Jews, in Michigan against the poor, in California against Mexicans. It shaped my perspective about social justice. Hatred, blame, and name calling were lobbed with Eastern accents, Pidgin English, a Southern drawl. Landscapes changed from mountainous splendor to tropical beauty but prejudice was ugly everywhere. It taught me that people should be fair and kind, learn to speak another language, be sympathetic to those who are other. My ideas about justice showed up in my earliest stories, infusing my voice even if they weren’t part of the plot.

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Death had already touched me. Great-grandparents and an adored grandmother died before I finished elementary school, leaving spaces filled with memories. The beginnings of stories, even if I didn’t know it yet.

High school and college compositions and stories assured me I could write, that is, I could competently express ideas in standard written format. Other people read my work, nodded their heads and made exaggerated faces that expressed surprise I could do anything, given my general level of incompetence for nearly everything that folks found important. I wasn’t good at anything practical for survival. More loss, of two cousins whose genetic material made sweet but grievously ill children. I wrote about them in a college story that my professor praised. Before turning 18, I’d paid the first of my own taxes, probably not more than $20 for a year of working retail.

I graduated college, married, moved several times. We had two sons. The changes of adulthood imposed a rigid adherence to schedules. We paid our taxes on time. A few more deaths, now of friends whose tragic exits warned me of my own mortality. I wrote my first full length book by sharing child care with a friend. She shopped while I minded her kids. I wrote long hand and then typed my story on a library typewriter while she watched mine. Immersed as I was in the world of kids, it was a children’s story. Kids’ issues I understood, though it was a story about children facing prejudice.

Deserved agent rejections shamed me into seeking other creative diversions. Raising kids and paying bills demanded I find a lucrative job. My ideas of being a great writer dissolved in the steam of running to school conferences, grocery stores, medical appointments, and playgroups between the hours when my job ended one day and began early the next. The following decades, I moved up and down the career/job spectrum, making little headway in writing.

We moved to a bigger house and bigger bills. I worked as a commercial artist and when I’d had my fill of studio humiliation, I turned those skills into an art teaching career. It was a huge change in focus, one I loved, so I wrote on the sly–articles about teaching art. The taxes went up with the income. A few more deaths. Despite the tears and sorrow, I’d come to the realization that it’s how it always ends. I’d learned that singular lives were subject to the compulsory demise of flesh but I could endure the loss of friends and family, bereaved though I felt.

About fifteen years ago, two huge events forced the biggest changes. I lost the teaching job I’d loved the most because of school politics. My rage at such unfairness nearly destroyed me. I had to change my focus if I was going to survive. Plunging myself into painting usually fulfilled me but I’d been doing that for years. It had to be a new pursuit. I began to write again, adult historical fiction about the Holocaust. Only a few weeks into the book, my husband was nearly killed in a terrible motorcycle accident. Worry about his health, several surgeries, and the long healing process took a toll on him and me. I needed an escape and the book developed along with my new life. Less income, fewer taxes, more stress. I started a second book, about the dissolution of a family, and began to think of myself as a writer.

Six years ago my beloved father died and my mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, became my responsibility. My third book is a funhouse reflection of life in a residence for Alzheimer’s victims. Cosmic injustice stomps through the story.

We’re still paying our share of taxes, and sometimes I think we must be paying someone else’s as well. I don’t know what I’ll be writing next year or in ten years, but the changes that describe the borders of my life will also inform my stories. I hope readers find merit in my stories. I want to leave a worthy legacy. And so I write.

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Comments on: "The Inevitable Triumvirate" (18)

  1. What a great article. I didn’t know why you began to seriously write. That ‘change’ word–so powerful.

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    • I’d often counseled that action mitigates or cures miserable situations so I followed my own advice. Yes, it is powerful in making you feel in control instead of victimized.
      Thanks for your comment, Jacqui.

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  2. Shari, This shows what a really good writer you are. I would put it on a permanent page “about Sharon” so that all your followers can access it at any time.
    I know how important being a “published” author is for you – know that however you get “published” you touch people with your stories, humor and deep connection to G-d.

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  3. A powerful write. Death and change are the things that most affect us and our writing. We evolve as death takes people from our lives. Taxes, well that is the annoying pebble in our shoe that won’t come out.

    Regarding prejudice, well, sometimes I think that as long as there are two people walking the Earth, prejudice will exist. Has man truly evolved. Until we understand we are one, we will always live with wars and hate.

    Good post.

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    • Andrew, I agree about how much prejudice exists and that it exists because we don’t recognize that we are One. I encountered it when I was very young (nearly everyone does) and, maybe somewhat uniquely, understood the horror of it even though I couldn’t yet put the correct name on the experience. Death, taxes, and change continue to impact me but it was the early encounters with prejudice that shaped me. I know I haven’t completely escaped its ugliness but I’ve always tried to understand the point of view of the other person. Culture, religion, ethnicity don’t have to force us into impregnable borders. Ending hate and war would be good for everyone yet we don’t seem to be getting close, do we?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I couldn’t help but notice that you left out Colorado in the list of prejudices. Is it because you didn’t find it prevalent there? I was born and raised there. I never felt there was any need to find such fault with other cultures, colors, or beliefs. The combination of those things in me made me the individual I wanted to be.

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    • So interesting that you spotted this, Glynis. The post was really about taxes, death, change, and mostly about change since that’s the condition we bring on ourselves. I’ve been influenced to my core by the prejudice I witnessed throughout my life, and that’s wrought changes by way of some of the activities I chose to engage in (not discussed in this post.) I also wanted to mention, briefly, the different kinds of prejudices that I’d noted in each of the places where I’d lived. I also didn’t mention any prejudice seen in Philly because we left when I was three. I know there’s plenty of it stewing in the City of Brotherly Love, but at such a young age, I hadn’t witnessed any I would have understood. Why nothing on Colorado? I loved living there but left before a year was up. Yes, it plants its sticky feet deep in the red clay and tall mountains of the state, but it’s of the same general hateful fiber as what I’ve seen in the rest of the places I’ve lived.
      You wrote that you don’t feel a need to find fault with other cultures, etc. Not exactly sure what you meant by that, but I also don’t find fault with other cultures. I find them fascinating to observe and sometimes engage with. I do find fault with people who create a barrier of unfounded distrust, hatred, and accusation because someone else is different in some way. That’s what prejudice is – an opinion or judgment not based on fact and causing bias or injury. I can state that I don’t like wearing red (looks awful near my face) but to state that Zee is an awful person because she wears red every day is prejudicial. It’s based on my preconception of the color red and reflects nothing I know about Zee. To state that Zee is an awful person because she beats her kids every day if I personally see her commit this violent act, is not prejudicial.

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  5. I’m afraid I’ve found prejudice of one kind or another in every place I’ve ever been. The targets changed but the bigotry stayed depressingly familiar. I think it’s also important for me to add, though, that I’ve always found tolerance, kindness and understanding in every place I’ve been too. They are two aspects of the universal human nature we all share. Some choose to embrace one and some the other.

    The other thing I wanted to say, Sharon, was how much I respect your writing success. Like many people with a blog, I’ve sometimes closed my eyed and imagined how nice it would be to become a published author. But also like many other people with a blog, I’ve never had the confidence to do anything about it but daydream.

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    • Thank you, Bun, for your very thoughtful comments. The prejudice issue is unfortunately perpetual. I also encounter the other end of the spectrum – the acceptance and willingness to consider a different viewpoint. My writing reflects an effort to see and understand the other side.

      I’m not published, however, and don’t mean to deceive anyone. I’ve written three books and am in the process of writing queries as I hope to be traditionally published. Writing is “easy” for me, in that I’m able to stick with it for hours each day and all the months or years necessary to complete a book. My college major in English was with an emphasis on creative writing as I’d intended to pursue writing as a career. I’ve belonged to a writer’s critique group for 15 years and have taken additional writing classes, all of them contributing to better stories.

      I’m not great at writing queries, however, as I find the process perplexing and frustrating. Yes, I read the blogs devoted to query writing but it is still a singular exercise with little guarantee of success – or even reaction.

      By the quality of writing I read on your blog, Bun, you’re an outstanding writer. You have the gift of seeing the most mundane aspects of life and reflecting them in words that we all relate to and thoroughly enjoy reading. With your wordsmith skill and your sense of humor, you could certainly write a book, and I know it would be loved. You have the confidence to write – you do it all the time. You just need to believe that you can gather your work in one folder and label it: Bun’s Book. Start querying – we can share war stories.

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  6. Thank you very much for taking the time to give me such a detailed reply. You may not (yet!) be published, but simply writing three entire books is already a major achievement, even before anything else happens.

    I also want to thank you for the very kind things you said about my posts. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but since I stick to light essays, I never thought there was much chance of anybody being interested in publishing my work. Having read your generous comments, though, I wonder if I should at least give it a try. Perhaps there really might be someone out there willing to take a look at my stuff.

    I’m now giving serious consideration to writing a few queries (although I’ve no idea how to do this!) and seeing what happens. I guess the most I’ve got to lose is a bit of time.

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    • This was a sincere suggestion, Bun. You probably can’t get anything published that’s already written on your blog by a traditional house because it’s already published material. Most will not consider published material at all – they are businesses after all. You could start to write a new series of your life observations and keep them tucked in a dark corner of your computer until you feel ready to approach an agent. There are many sites on the web that will guide you through the writing-to-publish process. Take a look at Query Shark (you should be able to find it through your browser) for specific strategies about how to write an effective query. You might also consider self publishing, and you can self pub anything, even what you’ve already posted on your blog. This is a major undertaking either way your choose. I truly believe your writing skills are excellent and the way you look at life is singular and humorously joyful. Publishable stuff. Best wishes should you decide to pursue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the advice, Sharon, and for letting me know about Query Shark. The procedure for writing queries is entirely new to me, so it’ll be good to have a source to look at.

        I’ve heard of self-publishing before, but never been very sure of what it involved. I will have a bit of vacation time coming up in about a month, but since I’m a bit low on funds, I won’t be going anywhere. It might be a good opportunity to look into the whole matter in detail.

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      • Perhaps first things first. Write the book, join a writer’s critique group (to get useful feedback) then look into publishing possibilities. But should you undertake to try, I wish you well along the entire journey, Bun, and I think you can make it. (Sorry about the money issues, with you there as well.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Sharon. I’m going to talk a couple of full days in a few weeks to investigate the whole matter. 🙂

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