Are your knuckles turning white?
Thanks, Jon, for inviting me to be a guest blogger today. I bet you wish you had assigned a topic. I can feel you quaking: What will Kathryn write?
After all, wouldn’t most of us like to live our lives with some semblance of control? To go to sleep each night in a clean, comfortable home with that feeling of accomplishment that comes from ticking items off a full to-do list? Or to eat breakfast from a cupboard stocked with healthy menu choices? Get paid reasonably for regular work so we can stick to budgeted expenditures? Most of all we’d like to see dangers looming ahead—corporate downsizing! hardening arteries! the deer in the road!—so we might steer clear.
If I have described your life, bless your left-brained, white-knuckled self. My life is a bit more of a crapshoot. Maybe yours is, too.
Sooner or later we all realize that life doesn’t unfold according to our plans. One morning an Arizona congresswoman shows up for her first “Congress on the Corner” event, eager to meet with her constituents, then leaves shortly thereafter on a stretcher with a bullet to the brain, fighting for her life. Six around her lie dead. How could this happen?
Always hoping to create order, I am a fan of to-do lists. I’ve even been known to add an item I’ve already completed just so I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. Here’s what I had on my planner for October 20, 1997:
• call the printer to tell them the Arts Council calendar will be 6 pages long (I had a desktop
• call a contact at Lehigh Valley Magazine (also a freelance writer)
• fax a newsletter design to a veterinarian in New Jersey
• submit Morning Call article on choreographer David Parsons (also a dance critic)
• run off hunt club newsletter (also a volunteer)
• meet with new resume client at 5 pm
• hunt club meeting at 7:30 pm
None of that happened. Because by 8:30 a.m., police had whisked my two sons, my parents, and me from the house as dozens of camo-clad troops invaded our peaceful little farm—and at the end of their full day standoff, my husband lay dead by his own hand.
The Monday I had envisioned ended up playing out like bad reality television show. How could this happen?
How could this happen?—it’s a great question for fiction writers, as it alludes to plot and seeks character motivation. For a memoir writer, it’s a way of creating context and meaning out of the messy, random-seeming chaos of real life.
There’s a book-length arc to my story, Standoff at Ronnie’s Place, and I’m writing it now. (If you care to read more, the link will take you to the first chapter, published online). I blog about how I use my writing to heal—even now, 13 years beyond the suicide—at my own blog, Healing Through Writing. I invite you to stop by.
Have you ever had a day that went completely wrong—in a horrific, shocking, or even funny way? How could that happen? If you see a story in it, please share the set-up with us here—then go write the story!
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation and editing service. These days she writes women’s fiction and memoir. In addition to her own blog, she doles out writing advice as a contributing editor at The Blood-Red Pencil, to which Jon often refers in his weekly “best of” lists. Thanks for everything, Jon!