Guest post by Coleen Patrick
The fragility and courage of young men–why are these qualities so heart-breaking to me? Is it because men are supposed to be stronger than women? Or is it more personal than that, since my son survived cancer when he was a teen?
When I first read Coleen’s post, I knew her brother’s face would remain in my memory for a long time. That’s why I’m honored to have this as my guest post for today. Thank you, Coleen.
November 1st was the start of National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo. This year I am participating and writing in honor of my brother.
I first heard about NaNoWriMo five years ago, and used the general principles to write my first middle grade story. I’d been filling notebooks with stories for years, but I did it strictly for the fun of it. Suddenly I wanted to do more and NaNo seemed like the perfect way to launch that spark. So I started writing with more of a purpose. The only person I told at the time (other than my husband) was my brother. I remember him being fascinated by the idea of writing a thousand plus words a day. He was a creative type–he drew, wrote, cooked (even went to culinary school), so he was the perfect person to understand the need to do a writing marathon in a month.
When I finished that first draft, I put it away to read it at a later date with fresh eyes. Then, when the time came to go back to it, I decided I didn’t really want to write. So I went out and got a job, leaving the story behind.
I was afraid. Afraid to read the rough draft. Afraid of what it would mean to move forward with my writing. So I went about life and work without it.
And then a couple of months later, my brother died.
It was sudden–a brain aneurysm. He was 31.
My brother was so funny. He did the best Chewbacca impression ever. He was also incredibly kind. Maybe it’s the sharp finality of death that smooths away the rough edges of a life, but I truly can’t remember him ever being anything but nice to me.
But I think he was hard on himself. He had unrealized dreams. He had physical obstacles, like when he stopped working in restaurants because he couldn’t be on his feet for that many hours (he battled Type 1 diabetes starting from the age of 11). But I think maybe some of his biggest struggles were more internal. He got bogged down by dark moments, the kind that show up to shadow your plans and leave you filled with self-doubt and fear.
I know that fear.
I have one of my brother’s journals. In it there’s the beginnings of a story, some sketches and some personal notes he wrote to himself. One of those notes sticks with me:
“Write damn you! Write! Anything, something, Please!”
My first instinct is to feel sad at that personal plea to his self, but then I realize that goes against what he wrote. Because he didn’t want to get stuck in those paralyzing fears.
In fact the first line in the journal he wrote is: “Life is for enjoying.”
I remember my aunt said at his funeral that she was sad because she couldn’t learn anything more from him and I get that because I would love to know what he would have thought of the LOST finale (our last conversation happened to be about the beginning episodes of season three and the oh so random subject of peanut butter). I also am curious what his thoughts would be regarding Twitter, the Kindle or his take on the whole new world of publishing. I would love to hear his opinion on all of this crazy writing stuff I’ve been pursuing. Plus I wonder if he too would be blogging, putting his writing and drawings out there. Tweeting.
But then again I know now, five years later, that I am still learning from him.
I am learning not to be afraid. I am learning not to worry about regret.
And I am learning to enjoy my life, from random peanut butter moments to marathon writing months.
What are you looking forward to?
This post first appeared here on October 24, 2011.