I was in a writing workshop, reading aloud an essay related to my cancer, when the instructor asked, “Who are you writing this for? Others who have been through your experience? Or people who haven’t?”
“The dead don’t read,” I said.
If I wrote just for people like me, I would have a fatal attrition problem. And I know that stories are for the living. In the last few years, two beautiful and deeply moving memoirs on dying were released and our attention already refocused on the new story that the writers’ bereaved spouses had developed a romantic relationship.
Life. It’s the happy ending we all want.
I have read enough cancer memoirs, essays, and blogs, and reviews of the same, to know that those of us unlucky enough to be struck by serious cancers, particularly early in life, are supposed to teach people how to live. Which makes me smile because if there is one thing I have not yet figured out, it is the key to “living”—least of all in the biological sense.
Still, in between illness, pain, and even death, there is life. You would probably be surprised just how much living happens at the precipice of death.
There are writers who create great consequence out of the mundane. It’s a skill I admire, but I spend most of my days doing the opposite—breaking great personal consequence down into its most mundane parts to find the life that lingers there. Through these inconsequential experiences, I find myself rooted here and connected to all who thread together a series of mundane events punctuated by the highs and lows of life.
One afternoon I was searching for the right type of light bulb for a new lamp through the lingering hangover that happens when you let them poison you with the hope that you might live. Shopping for light bulbs is a frustrating and—yes—mundane task. Soft light? Natural light? It’s surprising how many options there are for the simple function of flooding dark spaces with light. I have had to make life or death choices within hours with limited information and countless unknowns, but I was spinning out trying to decide whether 60 watts was enough to light my guest bedroom. And I was suddenly aware of what that meant. I get to shop for light bulbs.
One definition of mundane is, indeed, boring. Lacking interest or excitement; dull, says Google. But there’s a second definition I only recently learned: of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one.
The dead don’t read. As far as I know. But the stories they leave behind are no different than our own.