Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Using The Time You Have

A popular post from August 2009

For some of you, parts of this post will be redundant--I'm sorry for that--but I can't deny that this topic has been on my mind a lot these last few weeks and then Julie's blog on opening the door ignited another line of thought. So bear with the repetition, there is a point I'm trying to make :-)

When I first met my husband--well, he wasn't my husband then, but you get my point--he told me about numerous of his relatives. One of them was his great aunt Elva. She was fiesty and a little bit intimidating, a passionate geneologist, and a talented writer. Elva didn't tell me she was a writer, Lee did. Apparently she wrote quite a bit--short stories, articles, essays. She read one to me a few years after Lee and I married (before I had written a lick) and it was really well done. I mean REALLY well done. I asked her if she'd ever published anything and she got embarrassed and put her writing binder back on the shelf. We didn't talk about her writing again until I published my first novel. Elva was somewhat was suspicious of it and even made some comments about writing only being PURE until it's published, then it's just a commercial venture. I took it with a grain of salt and since then have encountered dozens of people with the same attitude. In my opinion, it's an attitude of fear. As long as their writing is on a shelf at home, it's safe, they have control and no one will reject it. Thus, when another writer does what they can not (or will not) do, it pricks at them a little bit. This is how it was with Elva.

However, over the next few years she softened up a little and in time became genuinely interested, and maybe even a little bit proud, of me. And then she dropped a bombshell. She was writing a book. When she told me, she just glowed and it was one of those moments when I realized how far we had come. She shared the premise with me and I thought it sounded awesome. I encouraged her to finish it. It was fun to see this woman, in her seventies, so excited about her writing. She was finally ready to put it out there.

And then she was diagnosed.

Doctors didn't give her a time frame like they show in the movies. She had surgery, she had radiation and chemo. She traded her coarse red hair for a coarse red wig. At her funeral a year later I asked about the book and her son said he'd thrown it in a box.

And so the book was, and is, and always will be in the box. That's not to say that the time Elva spent writing was wasted--I'm the last person that would say that--and it's not to say that she missed anything in her life by not being published, I believe she was pretty happy. The only part of it that bothers me is that by the time she decided to open the door, there wasn't time left for her to finish her book. In addition, I believe that because she didn't give her writing much 'credit' it was not of value to her family either. Her son wasn't interested in her book or anything else when she died--but she'd never demanded respect for it either.

I recently had another friend who ran out of time. Anne was forty years younger than Elva was, but equally talented. She was also diagnosed, and she'd also written a book. The doctors didn't give her a time line either BUT there are a lot of differences between her and Elva. First, she opened the door for her writing a lot sooner than Elva did. Second, she was never suspect of anyone else's success. Third, she lived half as long as Elva did and didn't waste a moment. Fourth, the people in her life knew that she wrote, they respected it and because of that, I believe they always will.

Over the last 19 months of her life she wrote letters to her three daughters that will be given to them as they reach milestones in thier lives. She wrote out numerous experiences from her childhood that she wanted them to know. She finished the middle grade novel she'd been working on and submitted it to agents. She wrote, and had accepted, a magazine article and wrote a couple others. She wrote a picture book for families facing cancer and researched and queried agents. She was already well on her way to a satisfying writing career when her future took a detour, but instead of putting her talent 'in the box' she threw that door wide open even though it wasn't easy for her write amid surgeries, treatments, and still raising her children.

Anne's funeral is on Thursday and there is nothing about her death that is not heartbreaking, but while her words she wrote did not buy her more time here, her daughters have their mother because of the words she wrote and the time she spent to write them. Had she not continued writing after she was diagnosed, they would have missed out on precious things that I believe they will always treasure. THAT is an incredible gift.

I will always regret that I won't see Elva's book on the shelves--but I'm glad she wrote it. I wish she'd decided to open the door to her writing even ten years earlier. Who knows what would have happened if she had.

I will always regret that I don't get to watch Anne's career grow and flourish the way she deserved it to flourish--but I'm glad that she wrote every word she took the time to write down. And I'm so glad she decided to open the door when she did. Not all of us get a 'head's up' on when our time here will be over. Might we all use our time, and our talents, wisely.


L.T. Elliot said...

Heartbreaking and beautiful post, Josi. I'm glad that both women found their joy of writing. I wish they both had more time.
A poignant reminder of how we should use our time. Thank you.

Teri said...

Wow. It really puts things into perspective. We recently had a death in our family, of a talented actor, philosopher, and yes, writer. He was published in numerous papers and yet I think that there were stories that he never "opened the door" for. Through all the pain of the loss, I have used this example to be determined to create and make the most of whatever time I have on this earth...especially leaving a written legacy for my children, published or not.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I didn't know that Anne had died.

Do you think Aunt Elva's family would let you finish her book for her? I know if I died, that's what I would want.

Amber Lynae said...

This is a beautiful message. Both women seem amazing. I think if an author doesn't take their work seriously no one will.

Heather B. Moore said...

This is so sad, and so inspirational. I love how she continued to follow her dream even though she was in incredible pain. She has left a great legacy for her 3 daughters to follow.