WE ARE ONLY HUMAN
I have just returned from a few days at the Sewanee Writers Conference.
What makes any of us write? To have permission to talk to people in our head? Or because we don’t have another talent? For me, both are true. I love my characters and I love hanging out with them. Even when they do bad things and say bad words.
Writing is a very lonely job. When I go to Sewanee, I take my messy self. My insecurities, my worries, my fixation to find the perfect words to make my sentence sing and to be challenged and inspired by people who seem to have their “sentences together”. I am there because I crave the connection of like-minded people who live in their head. It is like attending a political convention where the mascot is paper and pen.
Weird things always happen to me there. But they have always happened to me. In my 20s people could come up to me and say, “what’s wrong with you?” They would say it in a challenging way. My southern manners generally kept me from most of my witty comments like “it’s perfectly obvious what’s wrong with me… What’s wrong with YOU”. In my 20s and 30s it was like I had stamped on my forehead “PLEASE, invade my personal space and tell me intimate things about you or ask me inappropriate questions”. It happened on planes, in coffee shops and bookstores. I have urged recovering alcoholics to attend a meeting. I have hugged perfect strangers and encouraged others to go to the doctor ASAP.
As I was leaving my 40s and 50s behind the questions changed. “Did you have polio as a child?” Or discovering that I wrote novels, “I’ve always wanted to write a story about my grandmother. What do I do?” The second question is always easier to answer. I utter a simple word “BEGIN”. The other questions require more.
During my stay a woman sat down at my table at breakfast. “Can I ask you something? Did you have a stroke?” Sometimes I have fun with this question. I often say some people have a stroke of luck… I had a stroke at birth. I could tell this woman needed more. “Yes” I said simply. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Is this what your book is about?” She asked. “No this is a novel. My memoir Dying of Natural Causes is about my stroke, my mama and my relationship with the men in white coats”.
She continued. “My sister had a stroke. She would’ve been 40 this year. She was petite, blonde and lively. Like you.” Her tears no longer stayed put. I took her hand and said, “this is what your sister might look like at 60. I will be 60 next week”.
I view these questions and confessions now as a privilege. Maybe she needed the same thing that I need when I come to this mountain: Human Connection.
6 thoughts on “We are Only Human”
I love your witty comments!! It reminded me of my cousin who has severe cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. One day in the grocery store, a lady looked at her and said, “Oh, you poor little thing!” Libba just smiled at her and said, “Well, I’m not poor or little, and I’m definitely not a thing! I’m a human being!” I applaud you, Leslie, for your compassion and empathy and always knowing the right thing to say. That’s why you are such a good writer! Love you, sis!!
This is such an inspiring post. Connecting with each other is why we’re all here, and I love how you responded simply to her and that it meant something to her. I also love the thoughts you sometimes have when people ask you questions….the kind that should appear in a comment bubble over your head rather than materialize as actual words! I think you have to have a sense of humor about life and health issues (I know this from my own issues)…if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at! Great post, Leslie! 🙂
What a beautiful writing. I was so touched by the end with the woman speaking about her sister. I can’t wait to read your book Leslie. Your words are beautiful, inspiring and touching.
Leslie, I loved this post! I guess I identified with questions asked of me and my changing responses.
Thank you for your humanness- guess that’s a word! 😊
I love this post! I think it may be my favorite of all so far. You have a great way of answering people when they ask questions–regardless of whether the questions are asked in an appropriate way. The truth is that you have so much to offer others through your own experiences, your deep insights, and your words! I think you’ve got your sentences together!
Leslie, I have a grandson with autism. He faces many challenges daily, but we as his family, make sure he experiences as much of life as we can. When he was younger ( he’s 14 now), people would literally tell us he should not be allowed in public with his behaviors. He had meltdowns due to fear, not because he was mean or a spoiled brat. He is growing into a very polite, well mannered young man. But he had to have the opportunity to grow and keeping him home was not allowing him to grow. I also work with individuals with developmental and mental health disabilities and I fight daily for their rights to be “just like everyone else!”