What Am I Trying to Ignore?

“What am I trying to ignore?”

This is a question that Jane Friedman threw out on her blog, Electronic Speed, two years ago. (jf@janefriedman.com, Sat, Nov. 27, 2021) I wasn’t ready to deal with it, but knew I’d need to confront it before my memoir would ever make it into publication.

being overwhelmed?

Some close friends have read brief parts of the memoir. They sometimes say I I ignore how totally overwhelmed I felt as I coped with the challenges presented by two children with complex disabilities.

I ask, do I leave that reality out of the memoir or did I ignore it at the time? If I had let those challenges overwhelm me, could I have coped? If I couldn’t have coped, what would have happened to my children? Sometimes every parent asks themselves some version of that question.

not talented enough?

A more nagging concern is the fear that I’m ignoring, that I can not really pull off a successful memoir. It’s hard not to suspect my beloved husband, who tells me over and over how beautiful my writing is. After all, he is prejudiced in my favor-unlike the readers in my critique groups who minutely question details such as sentence construction, overuse of adverbs, improper period spacing, etc. But then I tell myself, their job is not to tell me what work is great. It’s letting me know how to improve. That only results from constructive critique.

story is too sad!

There’s the nagging doubt about the deep tragedy of our story. As a friend said, “It’s all so sad. I’m not sure people want to read about that.” She makes a good point, but readers will take on a tough narrative if it’s interestingly written. Nothing is all sweetness and light. Nor is parenting children with challenges all doom and gloom. I include plenty of light moments, like this one:

not always

One of the striking differences, I claim, between Kristy and Johnny is how much she loved to create works of art and how he refused to so much as pick up a crayon. Thus, one Friday afternoon upon entering Johnny’s apartment at Misericordia, I got the surprise of my life. There on the wall next to the TV hung a bright abstract, multi-colored, three-by-three framed painting, signed “John Ward.”

“Johnny couldn’t have painted that,” I challenged his caretaker.

“Oh, but he did.” She said, but giggled as she spoke.

“How did you possibly motivate him to paint anything, let alone such a complex piece?” I asked.

“Well, we wanted to hang a work of art by each guy in the apartment. All the other men were excited to take part, but every time we gave Johnny a paintbrush, he threw it on the ground. Then Sara got her brilliant idea. She spread an enormous piece of paper right where the brushes were landing. She handed him one brush after another, each with a different color. One by one they hit the floor, splashing colors in every direction. You can see the result is lively and almost looks purposeful.”

Staring at my son’s “creation,” I laughed so hard my sides were splitting. That was Johnny. Life was never dull with him around.

The above vignette is just one of the many charming stories the memoir includes. It’s not a simple tragedy, but also a triumph of love and joy over the worst that life can throw at us. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/the-notion-of-fixes-and-cures

no end to questions

But other questions mount up. Is it too long? Are the chapters balanced enough? I’ve revised it nine times. How can that not be enough?

So, what is the awful TRUTH that I’m really trying to ignore?

Friedman writes that what we are trying to ignore is usually a problem that won’t go away until we do something about it.

the truth

For me, it’s acknowledging that I’m finished writing. It’s time to work on moving the manuscript toward publication. Just thinking about the process daunts me. There are many avenues to publication, but despite the many paths, few debut authors actually find their books on the bookstore shelves.

Dwelling on that reality makes me hesitate to try. Why put so much energy into something that is sure to fail? Yet truer yet is that if I never work toward publication, if I ignore even that slim chance, then failure is certain rather than possible.

“Resolving the problems I am most afraid to confront is where progress lies. It’s insanely hard psychologically, but worth it.”


Woman and old memoir

11 Replies to “What Am I Trying to Ignore?”

  1. I am very proud of you mom. Just finishing a book is a huge accomplishment in itself.
    As for some of the comments above; Here is my take, since I was there. 🙂

    There are two words that stood out to me in your post.
    The first is OVERWHELMED

    Now, as a 50 year old parent; I have no idea how you did it. I truly can’t believe how overwhelming and challenging it must have been. I have been blown away, since the second I became a mom, about what you went through and how much grace you handled it with.

    BUT; THEN…..then you did not seem any more overwhelmed than any other parent I knew. Sometimes even less, taking on other friend’s kids after school and even babysitting other people’s challenged children.
    You managed to go get your PHD, raise Carrie and I into productive humans, run a house, devote time to friendships, take vacations and foster a genuine, loving marriage….. romance and all!

    How did you do it? I have no idea. But, you did and you really almost never seemed overwhelmed to me. So if you were, you hid it well from those who know you best.

    The second word that stood out to me was TRAGIC:

    I am not sure which friend said it was all so sad.
    NOW; I look back and I do see what a sad story it sounds like.
    I am sad they are gone, sad we never got to see who Johnny and Kristy could have been had they never become sick. Sad we have to miss them. All of that does feel tragic.

    But, THEN….it never felt tragic. Sometimes it didn’t even feel sad.
    Johnny and Kristy were who they were. And you and Dad did a implausibly amazing job of never making it seem sad.
    My siblings were all loved for themselves. You never made it seem like you wished they were anyone but them.
    And as you described above, you and Dad and Carrie always showed me the joy and the amusement and the love in Johnny as Johnny and Kristy as Kristy.
    This is just how our family was. And it wasn’t sad. It was truly beautiful and wonderful.

    1. Dearest Betsy, What a beautiful response. I am truly blessed in having you and Carrie for my daughters. Knowing that your memories of your growing up years are happy ones is the best reward I could possibly ask of life.

  2. I found this part every interesting, “They sometimes say I I ignore how totally overwhelmed I felt as I coped with the challenges presented by two children with complex disabilities. I ask, do I leave that reality out of the memoir or did I ignore it at the time? If I had let those challenges overwhelm me, could I have coped? If I couldn’t have coped, what would have happened to my children?” I think that’s a very interesting avenue to explore. When I talk about my childhood with Kristy and Johnny people always say, “That must have been so hard!” I reply, “Sure, but to me, it was just life. I didn’t know anything else.” It never felt like we had an option to get overwhelmed. We just dealt with it day to day the best we could. Is that the same as ignoring any overwhelming feelings? Or just

    1. Carrie,
      Such a straightforward way to look at it and so correct as well. We didn’t question all the good things that came into our lives – our wonderful neighborhood, our caring extended family, our lively community of faith, our loyal friends. Nor did we say “Why Me?” when we were called upon to meet Kristy and Johnny’s special needs. I promise to keep this in mind as the memoir gets into its final edition.

  3. I, too, loved the story about Johnny’s artwork. His caregiver, Sara, sounds like a gifted problem-solver, whose solution was a gift to everyone!

    1. Shelley,
      Thanks for reading the post. And you are right. I can’t say enough good things about the caretakers at Misericordia. They loved their work and those they cared for.

  4. Hi Jule, I appreciated your honest look at your fears/concerns as you are trying to decide to publish your memoir or not. i have know for a long time and always appreciated the fact you were able to see foremost the gifts that Johnny & Krysty were; you seemed to see what they had to offer rather than think of their disabilities.I don’t remember your indulging in ” I wish it weren’t’ so ” type of comments.
    I would vote for your publishing your book.

  5. I just get back into caretaking locally, as I lie down to rest after a challenging morning as one of my clients passed away today- literally, between my breakfast and lunch calls with them- I was thinking of Johnny and Kristy last night. I can’t too Carrie and Betsy of course in their response because I wasn’t there full time ever but in reality the extended family did also experience Johnny and Kristy through the years at holidays and as I became older of course, I got to know them very well. I love the story of Johnny’s 🖼️ work! Very funny! I think what ‘we’ are all trying to ignore is what you are also coming to the conclusion of; we are all limited and all of our efforts and the response to both our triumphs, challenges, accomplishments, probably don’t really matter in the end, we are all overwhelmed and no one can see that most of us are near drowning in some fashion, underneath but if you were overwhelmed, Mama Jule, you certainly did hide it well! and with grace to boot! In the end, life is both a comedy and also really tragic, my general feeling of having brought four children into the world, is guilt. I feel guilty that they will have to experience pain and suffering that I can’t control, I think we could all say that, perhaps more so when there are special needs involved. I feel like looking back, most of my time with Johnny and Kristy was pleasant and not tragic and I’m happy to have been a part of their lives, and yours! ❤️ you dearly!

  6. Dear Jule, Thank you for writing about this. It is so interesting – whether or not you have personal experience with children with special needs. I follow Betsy’s description. I know I was just a small part of life in your family. Still I have a similar impression of your wonderful family and the way you and John coped with it. You have often been in my thoughts when considering how to be a parent. Good luck with the book publishing! Love Bodil

Please let me know if you enjoyed this read and what about it caught your attention. Thanks, Jule