Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Plot Twist: When Grief Derails Creativity


It's as if I woke from a fog this morning and realized I hadn't blogged in months. Where have I been? What happened to my momentum?

It's not like I haven't been busy. Since May, I've published two new romantic suspense novels Mercy Upon Us and Ex-Pat, and one nonfiction book Fragments of Moxie. I also moved my 23 year old and 21 year old from Denver to Santa Fe in late July, and as we all know, moving sucks. August was a whirlwind of settling them into my home that I'd bought "just for me" and adjusting to being all together again.

Excuses, excuses...something I usually hate when it comes to not writing. I couldn't do it, though. I could not write anything fresh. My heart ached too much to open it up enough to create, to expose it to the raw emotion needed to write.

Yes, I completed the novels and the essay collection because staying frantically busy helped me cope. Fiction is a great escape and organizing essays into a book felt like the perfect distraction. No blogging, though. I couldn't do it, nearly shut it down. It felt superficial and I wasn't ready to open my life up anymore....at the time.

You see, my dad died in March after a massive stroke defeated his zest for life. We sat in hospice with him for over a week. He was the glue that held our family together. He was bigger than life, a true force of goodness in the world. As we sat in hospice, my family of origin split apart, with my brother and mother on one side and the kids and I on the other. As if my dad's passing wasn't traumatic enough, we were bombarded with hostility and lies and more than enough drama for one or two books down the road, or endless hours of therapy!

The impact of his death took my words away.

The horror of the family fallout hollowed out my heart for a long time.

I considered quitting writing all together, simply disappearing into the shadows with my existing books gathering dust on shelves and my works-in-progress remaining unopened on my computer. I didn't want to blog anymore. I didn't know if there was a point in any of it. My dad had died without ever seeing my new home in my new state...or seeing me flourish...or seeing his grandchildren get married...or anything we had spoken about in the past few years. We'd had plans...like so many people do with the ones they love.

So what was the point anyway? Why blog? Why write stories? Who cared?

I care. My dad cared. I haven't worked so hard on a career to simply abandon it. I could almost hear my dad's words saying, "So that's it then? You're just going to quit after all you've sacrificed? Are you honestly going to let them win?"

Hearing the echo of his challenge in my mind pushed me to release the books, but I couldn't blog until today because I finally felt strong enough to write about creativity and grief.

When we lose someone significant to our lives--a parent or spouse or child--the despair is overwhelming. All of our energy is focused on surviving one day after another with that void in our lives. There is no timeline. How we react to grief is entirely individual. For me, I could focus on the edits needed to release Mercy Upon Us and Ex-Pat, but creating anything new felt too daunting. I even made peace with the possibility that they would be the end.

Creativity is such a fierce yet delicate creature. When life throws us emotional traumas, we descend into a darkness where our every breath feels forced, where concentration is futile, and where focus is scattered. Our creative energy is rerouted to the mundane tasks of living...so that we can heal in time and in order for us to come out stronger than before. It's a gift, really, that our creativity is such a part of us that it can move through our system in the way we need...even if it isn't the way we want or expect.

Grief cannot be shoved aside or minimized, not when the loss is so extraordinary, nor should it be. Many people fear sorrow or avoid those who are sad. Shortly after my dad died, I met with an acquaintance at a coffee shop. I thought she wanted to discuss my dad because she knew I had just returned home after his death. Instead, when uncontrollable tears entered my eyes and my voice quivered, she folded her arms across her chest and said, "Can we talk about your writing? What are you working on?"

I wasn't working on anything, nor did I care to be. I was curling up in bed and sleeping instead of writing. I was crying at night instead of thinking of plot twists and edits. I was caught up in the usual "I wish I would have said more or done more or been more" thoughts that accompany a loss. I was rolling with the waves of despair rather than fighting against them or pretending I was okay. I was swept up in processing not only the loss of my father, but the loss of my childhood family and so much more that's difficult to explain.

Why are people so afraid of another's sorrow?

I gave myself the compassion I needed from others. I cut myself some slack. I said fuck it. I let it go. I made peace with the idea of quitting...until that echo came to me and I found myself finishing the edits and making my deadlines and publishing those books and finding the energy to rearrange my house to accommodate my children and traveling to Denver to pack up their place and move them here. It felt good to be busy, to be in a state of constant activity.

But I couldn't write about any of this until now. And that's okay. It's all in the timing and I do believe in Divine Timing.

After my dad died in South Dakota, I drove back to New Mexico. As I rounded the corner on the highway into Santa Fe on I-25, a white balloon shaped like a dove hovered in my lane out of the blue. It startled me, to say the least. The next day I was in my garage and found a random picture of my dad sitting on a shelf near the gardening tools. It was a picture that had very special meaning to me...and no other photographs are in the garage. I smiled then because I knew he was still with me, still believing in me, still encouraging me, and still smiling.

It took me months to write again, and that's okay. When my husband died in 2005, I couldn't write for a year! I did not cut myself slack then. I did the opposite and beat myself up. I guess I've learned with time. I have grown...ripened, if you will.

Creative professionals are known to be overly harsh toward ourselves. We have high expectations and  protect our craft with all we have. When grief derails our creativity, it's easy to judge that as a weakness instead of seeing it for what it really is...our creativity protecting us. 

I'm back to writing and have several new clients (after saying I was quitting that too). The bad thing with this business is that you can't stay quiet for too long without being forgotten....the good thing about this business is that it's flexible enough to make room for self-care when you need it and welcoming enough to give second chances and third chances and more.

My dad didn't raise a quitter.

Peace and love to all of you. Cut yourself some slack if you need it.

Amber

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also works as a professional editor and creativity coach, takes road trips with her dogs whenever the mood strikes, and advocates for suicide awareness. Her life motto is: Imagine, Create, Become. No matter what challenges life tosses her way, she gathers the pieces to create something weird and wonderful. Find out more about her books by visiting her website at amberleaeaston.com

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