A note to my loyal, and greatly appreciated, readers:
I’ve decided to generate a few behind-the-scenes posts about Dancing in Heaven to use on my website as part of my fledgling marketing plan. I did manage to get a one-page website up yesterday. It is not perfect and basically is a landing page to send people back here to the as-yet-unfinished “Dancing in Heaven” page tabbed at the top of this blog. I designed my web page around one of three images Anna created when she was brain-storming. It’s not likely we’ll stick with this design, but it beats a blank. If you check it out, I hope you’ll let me know here if there are problems. The text on the right should be contained within the dark rectangles.
In the spring of 2005, while taking a creative writing class at a local college, I wrote a short story memoir about my sister Annie. It was in a collage format and my teacher loved it. She said, “I think you’ve found your genre.” She encouraged me to revise it, polish it, and seek publication. I put it in a drawer.
Talking about, or writing about, Annie has always been emotionally draining for me. I carry deep-running, ill-defined, emotions about her, and likely always will.
Some of Dancing in Heaven was written on the day it happened. When Annie got sick in the early summer of 2009 and later died in August, I wrote bits and pieces, snippets really, of what I was experiencing and what I observed my family members were experiencing, as we walked through these uncertain, frightening, dark, and sad days. Some of these writings took the form of e-mails to friends. One writing was scrawled on a napkin I found in my car after I pulled into a rest area on my way home, crying too hard to continue driving, needing to put down on paper the events I had witnessed that day at my parents’ house.
Seven weeks after Annie died, I considered the collection of materials I had: my initial short story, the e-mails and journal entries at the time, and memories flooding my mind. I decided to write a story in journal format of the days leading up to Annie’s death. I wanted to fill in as much as I could about the person Annie was and what she meant to us, so I added a vignette or explanation at the end of the chapters. I acquired Annie’s medical records from her doctor, which included her hospitalization records. My parents gave me an envelope that contained records of Annie’s initial testing and diagnosis. I asked for and received the notes from Hospice.
I worked pretty well on this for a while, reconstructing Annie’s illness and creating vignettes, until I got close to the last few days of her life, and then I stopped writing. I put it away.
All along, I thought of this project as something I was doing for Annie, to give her a legacy.
As the first anniversary of Annie’s death approached, I committed to finishing the story by writing each day what had occurred on the day the previous year. My mind fully cooperated, without fail, waking me by 4:00 am with scenes nearly fully composed. I would get up, go to the study, and write with a box of tissues close at hand. It was a difficult task, but I kept Annie’s picture nearby and the idea that I was doing something for her helped me continue.
Gosh, I just made myself cry again. But then, I do it easily.
Once everything was written, then it was just a matter of sorting and arranging the pieces to make sense. I couldn’t tell you how many times I rearranged things.
Now that I am so close to publishing Annie’s story, I have mixed feelings, especially in light of the fact that two of my siblings opted out. More on that tomorrow. But overriding a sense of insecurity that encroaches at times, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I’m telling Annie’s story. And if only five people, or 10, or a couple hundred, read Dancing in Heaven, well that’s something.
To rephrase words my dad said in his anguish after Annie died, it won’t “all have been for nothing.”
How about you? Are you working on a long project? How do you keep going?