I pick up those check-out line ladies’ magazines from time to time, in part because they contain a surprising amount of this-just-in good science. Who knew that bergamot reduces cholesterol, for example? Each issue also has somebody’s as-told-to story of a life-changing hack, usually how to beat obesity and/or fatigue.
The pattern in the articles is always the same: The author recounts her suffering–can’t play with the grandkids, forgets her bestie’s daughter’s name, is too tired for date night again–and always adds, “And I was letting down the people who count on me.”
That aspect of the stories bothers me. You mean a woman’s suffering doesn’t deserve attention simply because it’s making her miserable? We must always add a coefficient of guilt because Somebody is Disappointed In Me for Being Sick? Phooey on that.
But then I thought back to the thousands of foster care cases I’ve handled, many of which involved a parent struggling with addiction. Because Twelve-Step programs are free and ubiquitous, they became the treatment referral default in my jurisdiction, despite little evidence that the programs work. (The evidence is, they tend to work about as well as doing nothing.)
One admonition those programs hand out frequently is, “You cannot get sober for the kids, your spouse, your team… You have to get sober for you.” But over and over, I’d hear mothers on the witness stand say, “The program says you have to get sober for you, but I only agreed to go to the meetings for my kids. I want to be there for them, and that’s what keeps me going.” And if anybody was getting sober, it was those moms.
So maybe, Grace Ann, there is something compelling about feeling your sense of connection threatened because a problem has gone unsolved for too long. (And maybe a treatment approach developed by guys born more than a century ago, when patriarchy and rugged-individualism were the answer to everything, needs some updating.)
The past year has been hard for me as an author. I am accustomed to putting on my writer hat, and conjuring happily ever afters from thin air. I do that regardless of family difficulties, my own frustrations, and whether the characters are making nice-nice with me. But in recent months, my determination hasn’t always been sufficient to subdue the Undertoads of isolation, despair, and anxiety.
That’s where my readers have come in. Just when I think, “Might have to, I dunno, hire out as an editor or something…” I will get an email from a reader telling me that the books have been a happy place for her in a dark time, that what I do matters. Writing is not only my job, it’s also my calling, and how I contribute.
And with those kind words fortifying my resolve, I can make another cup of jasmine green tea, and get back to my dukes and damsels. I’m not as isolated as I think, and that realization has been a tremendous comfort and inspiration.
What connections comfort you, however distant or virtual these days? To two commenters, I’ll send e-ARCs of The Last True Gentleman, due out on the web store Fed. 9 and on the retail platforms on Feb. 23.