The Things I Carry

“What’s it like, being dead?”

“…I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.” – From Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This quote bowled me over. Not just because it’s a fresh look at death, but because it captures my feelings. While I’m writing I Trespass, I’m “inside a book nobody’s reading.”

Which is to say, sometimes I feel dead.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad dead. Let’s pretend there’s good dead and bad dead, and this is more of the with-my-fellow-dead, dead. My characters and I are someplace everybody else isn’t.

In the Bible, the word death is never defined by lexicographers as annihilation or extinction or even unconsciousness, but as separation. And that distinction helps me wrap my mind around death. I hope it helps you too. So while I’m writing my book nobody’s reading, I feel a separation– like I have a secret or a double life. This is the thing I carry: my story. The one for which I presently labor, and the ones waiting in the queue of my imagination.

Yesterday I finished a short story based on a family member. I began writing with real names and only at the end did I do a find/replace. (Well look at that, some members of my family are paying attention.) Keeping as much truth as possible for as long as possible helps me in the initial slog-through of the story. Once I get momentum, truth and fiction blur. I mash together an uncle and a nephew into a new little boy of my own creation. The truth is, I had a feeling I wanted to convey. I can’t even name it, but it’s the way you feel when you’re unprotected and it begins to rain and home is a long way off. It’s one to which I keep returning– children and the forces that play upon them. I have an uncle who committed suicide, and I’ve often wondered how that went down the day they were told. Rather than ask (what fun is that?), I made up how it went down that day, the day they were told.

Anyway, I wanted so badly to share this story with somebody, anybody who could say yes, I get it! or no, you’re unclear, etc. I often draft my children into literary service. Gabe is a precocious twelve year old and has often shown me plot holes or character flaws, but this story is rather sordid. I spared him. Tory, my mature and insightful writing critic is overwhelmed with school and work, and only a selfish brute would put a manuscript under her nose (for the second time this week), so I didn’t. I thought of putting a call out to my friends on Facebook or WordPress along the lines of Ahoy! Anybody sitting around wishing for a beta read? The deadline is October 1st, and I need immediate assistance… But also a part of me wanted to just ship it off, which I did.

Writing is also like war time communication, pamphlets dropped by the thousands on an uncaring population. Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one bothered to read the warnings dropped from American planes that said something along the lines of: Evacuate or die. And my missives are not nearly that important. You can imagine how few people read them. Well, maybe you can’t, but I can. You’d think the inverse relationship between labor output and actual reads would send me running to another, more impactful activity. On the contrary, If I can’t write something wonderful I know no one will read, I’ll write about the process of writing something I think is wonderful I know no one will read… Exhibit A: this post.

I meant to write about a harvest, which was my prompt from Carrot Ranch. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked. When I think harvest, the first thing that comes to mind is the harvest of souls talked about in Matthew 9:37. Jesus compares proselytizing to harvesting. Actually, harvesting is one of God’s favorite metaphors. At the end of all things, He says, there will be a great harvest where the wheat and the weeds will be gathered and sorted and– woe to you weeds out there. That’s the gist. Don’t be a weed.

Because separation doesn’t feel so cozy as a book nobody’s reading.




23 thoughts on “The Things I Carry

  1. Oh Kelly I love your writing style. Its humourous and personal and deep all at the same time. I dream of writing like that.
    As for that feeling you were experiencing, I hear. As for that separation, I hear you. As for the weeds, I hope they hear you too.

  2. elliotttlyngreen

    “The Day They Were Told” sounds like a cool title in itself.. Hmm. May I borrow that?? Lol. Enjoyed the enthusiasm presented within such the grim concept of the undead write; and the idea moved me so much I just had to swing in and say —-Excellent article!! I would be intrigued to check out this corpse of yours =].

  3. I think you can see from the comments that there are quite a number who read. You may be surprised that your family may actually like to be named and own their story. I have found it interesting as a memoir writer that those passages that I as a writer feels would give offence the reader/character has no problem with at all but may pick on something that you think is nothing to be a little upset about. Mind you if you are creating new characters then you are definitely writing fiction so you would have to rename them. I love that idea of trespassing in a book no-one is reading. Hope your piece goes well.

  4. dawnbentley

    Today I read your words. I don’t tell you this because you sounded needy of a stroke to your ego. You didn’t. Others writers get that. We write because we have something to say and we hope that the one, or the millions, that need to hear it will read our words. I have to admit when I literally have 5109 unread emails in my inbox right now (yes – I am one of those people) I often skip your posts. But today for some reason I took the time to read and I am glad I did. It prompts me to read more of them, to read more in general, to write more. Our words can be the bridge that reconnects us after a separation – an introduction of two strangers, new life to a broken relationship, or in the case of The Word, eternal life instead of eternal separation, Today, as the path of my day is just forming, I am glad I took your bridge.

  5. Wow, Dawn! I read your comment just before I began teaching my 5000 Words class today. It was a gift. What you said at the end about words being bridges… beautiful. You summed up why I write and teach writing. And you remind me too that the world is a busy place, too busy for reading sometimes. People are just trying to get by sometimes, and words fall off the radar– as they should. *shudders* Thank you for taking time to write me. 5000+ emails… I feel the love. 🙂

  6. Since I happened to read this post, I’m included in ‘the club of the dead’, right? 😉 Your comparison of writing to war-time communication really hits the mark! Excellent post.

  7. Popped over here from Carrot Ranch tonight and I’m so glad I left this for my last read of the evening. There are so many things I love in here, one or two which really struck me as things I can take to heart. Love hearing about your story – it sounds like it will be a great read.

  8. I found this interesting, well-written and nicely constructed.
    I think we all use real people as the basis of our characters, even Sherlock Holmes was based on Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh doctor.
    In my novella, The Second Request, I used the real names of friends for most of the characters, without any adverse feedback.
    Thank you for visiting Sound Bite Fiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.