This past weekend I had the chance to visit with my in-laws in Pittsburg for our Christmas Extravaganza.
This is entirely our thing … every year we pack the car, turn on some Christmas music and take the boring, bland 8 hour stretch of I-80 east bound towards the quant town of Cranberry, PA. My husband and I have been doing this for the past five years … it’s something I look forward to, as the weekend always promises to be nothing short of fun. Ample food, good conversation, plenty of alcohol, and a little good tidings and cheer to round it out. It’s how we launch we the Holiday Season in our home, the first of our various Christmas celebrations.
This year was no different. We were able to see family and friends, we ate too much and drank way too much.
As the evening lulled into good-byes and well wishes, we sat down in front of the television. My mother-in-law turned on the Hallmark channel and the conversation lapsed into how “predictable” the various stories were. Always the same formula of life’s grand lessons … he’s cheating, she’s heartbroken, he’s moving on, she’d dying … the names and places and dates may change, but the situations hardly ever do.
Before I launch into the art of depressing someone, we should cover a few ground rules first …
1. NO ONE beside my mother-in-law, father-in-law and husband in that room, at that moment, knew I had written a book.
2. I’ve always said my book would fit a Lifetime Movie perfectly.
… Okay …
So, as we’re digressing into the finer points of predictability when it comes to women specific television, my in-laws friend says … and I quote … “this movie is probably about a parent dying of cancer who writes a letter to her child. How much more depressed could I be?” … end quote.
Now, picture me: I had a half full glass of wine in my hand, eyes wide, slightly flushed, embarrassed … raising the glass to my lips and skillfully swallowing the entire thing in one gulp as though the 4 ounces of wine were a shot.
Speechless. I was just … speechless.
But now that the hours of drinking have passed … and the thoughts are clearer … my rebuttal is this …
I never wrote my story to depress anyone. No, not at all. Yes … there are pings of sadness in the 94,000 words that may hit home … places I worked on so hard to evoke a feeling of loss. Real life, it can be sad. But the story of loss … any loss … shouldn’t be depressing, it should bring someone to a thoughtful place.
Here is a bit of full disclosure …
When my mother was sick … our home was never a depressing place. Honestly, it wasn’t. She was given a 30% chance of survival in the dark days of modern medicine — we could have been grim … we had the right to be grim. But still … we had candles and flowers, we laughed far more than we cried. We talked to each other, we spent time together. It was a place and time of collecting and gathering. We never let her illness define us, and although there was hurt — there always was hope — and hope was far more measurable.
Death is depressing. It’s a dark place by nature. But there is a light side to it as well, and that light is the legacy of love shared between people over the span of a lifetime — no matter how long or short that lifetime is. The scale of that balance is dependent on how an individual sees it.
Jenna Chamberland, my protagonist, she isn’t a wallower. That’s not her nature, believe me — she showed me that all on her own. She is strong in the face of uncertainty and, like my own mother, hopeful in a place of heartbreak. The tapes … they were a gift. A thing of love. A show of devotion.
The art of depressing someone with words, it’s a balance. I’m not a believer in things having to work out perfectly to have a happy ending. Happy endings … and depression … are subjective. Love doesn’t always end with Prince Charming kissing the princess awake … nor does it end with sunshine and gold stars. For my parents friend … the final gift of a parent to child may be thing a sadness … for me, in the context of my story, it’s a source of joy.
My favorite quote on writing is this … “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and your read it in your terms” . So, if you ever glance a copy of my book and decide to buy it … bring to it (along with all of your thoughts) that this story was written to be a hopeful one.