Ann grew up in Salt Lake City and now lives in Virginia with her daughter. A grandmother of seven, Ann sets a great example for those of us who have reached a certain age but still strive to learn more, do more, and keep moving forward no matter what happens.
Writing to Cope With Life Changes by Ann Carbine Best, Guest Blogger
Thanks, Pat, for hosting me today. I like the topic you suggested: How I coped in the face of disaster and how writing helped me work through the emotions.
By now, many of our followers, especially those who have read my memoir, know that my first husband left me to live with a man (first disaster); that I remarried a man who committed suicide (second disaster); and that two of my three daughters were in a catastrophic accident (third disaster).
This sounds like a major soap opera, but when I wrote the memoir, I did it from a calm place in my mind. It was emotion recollected in tranquility, a tranquility achieved partly through my faith in a personal God and partly from my lifelong love of creative writing. I did keep a sporadic journal, but mostly there were stretches of relative calm when I wrote scenes I would later use in my autobiographical thesis for my M.F.A. degree from George Mason University, and ultimately in my recently published memoir.
There’s something about “seeing” a scene on paper. It’s as if you have taken the experience that the words symbolize from deep within yourself and put it “out there” to create a kind of distance that helps you deal with the psychic pain. It’s difficult to explain, but if you’ve ever been in a dark place, you can probably sense what I mean.
One of the most awful emotions from the first husband years--the first part of the memoir--was fear. In fact, I titled one of the earlier memoir drafts From Fear to Faith. The nadir occurred one afternoon when I plunged into a debilitating fear of eternity and of the God I had believed in all my life. I dramatized that low point in a scene that one of my followers, Clarissa Draper, quoted in her review of my book.
Larry came naked into the room. He opened a drawer, pulled out his underwear, put it on, and looked at me.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“I don’t know. I’m terrified.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and touched my leg. “Why?”
“Years ago, a long time ago, I was with my parents and brother and sister, and we were going around the Point of the Mountain, and I suddenly had this fear. There was all that space with no beginning and no end. I was frightened and pulled back and the fear went away. But today I was staring at the sky through the window, and I thought how I can’t comprehend God. I can’t comprehend anything. I can’t comprehend living forever.”
“Can you comprehend dying forever?”
“No.” That was worse. I pulled my knees to my chest and cried out, “Do you understand? Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you ever thought about this?”
“Well, I’ve thought about it,” he said, “but it doesn’t frighten me. I know I can’t comprehend infinity with my finite mind.”
“What will we do forever? What if we get so far and there’s nothing left to do? Eternal boredom.” I moaned and leaned back against the pillows.
The fear was so acute that one day I began taking some of Larry’s valium, and some more, and some more. I think I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted to float away for a while. I wanted Larry’s attention. I wanted him to be with me and not with his gay lovers, whoever they were. I know now that I suffered from severe anxiety through weeks that were psychically dark and painful.
However, as writer Annie Dillard says, “If you want to live you have to die.” Paraphrasing Ms. Dillard I say, “If you want to have joy, you have to suffer.” I suffered but then took the steps that would bring me back to the light; back to my faith in God and myself.
I wasn’t alone through all of the disasters. There were always people to help me. They were God’s hands. And there were words, my words and the words of others, that helped me put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.
Ann, thanks so much for sharing your story with us. While journaling tends to be a private form of writing as therapy, memoir is a huge undertaking because it's intended for others to read. I have a lot of respect for those who can open up their lives as you have.
For readers of memoir, In the Mirror is available in trade paperback from the publisher, and is also available in ebook form for Kindle and Nook.