I have a confession to make. I have been cheating on the Man-Whore.
Doesn’t that usually work the other way around?
I knew this would happen. In fact, when I compiled my “Life List” goals, I gave myself a year to complete the first draft of the Man-Whore Chronicles. For my more ambitious writer friends, that might sound like not aiming high enough. But for me, that was just keeping it real. Part of it is that I struggle to find enough writing time around my job, my fitness goals, and life in general.
But the real issue – or maybe it isn’t a problem at all – is that I am a fickle writer. If I would spend every writing session on Man-Whore, I could probably have a draft done by Christmas. But, as Man-Whore would say himself, “that’s just not how I roll.” Sometimes there’s just something else in my head that is clamoring to be written, and it won’t stop banging around in my brain until I let it out.
Recently, what has pushed Man-Whore out of the spotlight has been another short story. Usually, as my plots come together I can piece together the events, snippets of conversation or people that inspired them. But this one sort of slammed into me as I was sleeping one night.
Without giving away too many details, this latest venture is the story of what happens to a young couple when they move in with an aging uncle. On the surface, the uncle’s health and mind seem to be failing, but of course there’s much more going on than that.
It wasn’t until I had finished the first draft of this piece and put it into the “incubation stage” that something odd dawned on me. This is the second short story I’ve written in six months that focuses on struggles with an aging relative. The first one, Stalling the Sunset, is my fiction sample here on this blog.
I don’t always write based on personal experience. Sometimes I am inspired by a news story or a random conversation. But when I can’t pinpoint where a theme is coming from, it usually means my mind is trying to push something in my subconscious up to the surface.
I knew my mind has been wrestling with the issues of work-life balance and financial security (or lack thereof). But until I sat back and thought about the road my short fiction seems to want to follow, I had overlooked just how bothered I’ve been by this whole concept of aging lately. I’ve been chewing on it like a tough, unpleasant piece of meat that I don’t want to swallow.
Of course I know that growing old is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. But that doesn’t mean I think its pretty. In the last few years, I’ve watched my grandparents – both in their early 80’s – go quickly downhill. I’ve seen firsthand how all the planning and prepping and living life well doesn’t always pave a smooth road for the later years.
For the most part, my grandparents did all the right things, with ever so much more success than I’ve had so far. They avoided all the bad habits that are supposed to break down your body. They both worked full-time, steady jobs their whole lives and saved for retirement. Even so, their savings and pensions have not been enough to get them comfortably through all the medical issues that have come with this stage in their lives. On top of pain and frustrating physical limitations, they have to struggle to make ends meet.
That, quite frankly, scares the shit out of me.
I get angry because I think they deserve more. I get frustrated because other than companionship and what help we can give, there isn’t a whole lot me or my family can do about it. Those are the unselfish reactions.
Then, of course, there are the selfish thoughts – the fear that I’m also looking at my own future. Those thoughts have taken root in my head without me realizing it. They scare me, so I bury them deep, and forget they even exist.
Until, that is, they push their way to the surface in the form of stories. The stories are dark, and the characters themselves are unpleasant. But they have to come out anyway.
I’d rather be working on Man-Whore. After a writing session that focuses on the novel, I’m often lighthearted and grinning, if tired. Even though the plot focuses on a dead dude, there’s humor and entertaining adventure. These short stories about old age are, to me, much more stark and depressing.
But I’ve learned something as a writer. If I try to force myself to work on one piece while my mind is obsessing over another, all I end up with is distracted, sub-par writing. There is a time to reign in the subconscious, and a time to just shut up and follow it where it wants to lead.
I don’t intentionally write as a form of therapy. But if that ends up being a side effect of my word addiction, so be it. After all, that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a shrink.