an essay by Lynn Z. Bloom
How to write about happy times when other writers—and critical readers—are suspicious of them. Do editors prefer works devoted to what I tell my students are the five D’s—disease, dysfunction, divorce, disability, death—to which we could add more—distrust, disfigurement, disturbance, degeneration, destruction—the list is endless. Overcoming great obstacles seems more credible even when they’re fictionalized; and attract publishers, applause, sympathy. I was, for instance, greatly moved by Kathryn Rhett’s Near Breathing: A Memoir of a Difficult Birth; especially by the tough part—the delivery and the tense two days afterward when the baby had aspirated meconium and was near death. The book covers 10 days; in my view the writing is better at the beginning and gets slacker and less appealing as the crisis wanes.
But would there be a market for a lyrical account of a normal birth and happy delivery to a two-parent family that wanted the baby? Why not? What’s wrong with celebrating the ideal?
Tie this in with the contrast–my own birth; the dead twin, the incubator burn leaving a searing scar on my now never-perfect knee—1 3/8 inches would have been all the way across the knee. The fact that my parents altered my birth certificate to erase the twinhood and never discussed it but named my sister Linda Kay, born seven years later, after the dead twin, a complement to my own name, Lynn Marie.
Maybe I’ve solved the problem—the significance of the happy times is understandable in contrast to the unhappy, the not so happy, the frustrating times in one’s own life or in lives of others we know about. The Grace of God factor. I do not think my childhood friend who has been unable to walk for the past 38 years is pitiable because she does not pity herself; indeed she is very tough as well as resilient. For years she headed a national church related disability rights movement, articulate, active and vigilant. But I think often of her being in constant pain from an incurable bone affliction and thus unable to walk, run, dance, or drive. That said, she pilots a speedy wheelchair, she travels, she is sustained by a powerful faith, her own determination, and a devoted daughter. She was widowed far too young when her devoted husband died of a malignant brain tumor—which also precipitated family estrangement that has lasted to this day. I am glad I can walk with ease and don’t have to think about putting one foot in front of the other, for the fact that my husband is alive and happy, and that our family, with—yes—negotiation, gets along well. That every day is a gift may be a cliché, but it’s welcome, and it’s true.
Lynn Z Bloom, University of Connecticut Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Emerita, held the Aetna Chair of Writing 1988-2015. She learned the essentials of writing from Dr. Seuss, fun; Dr. Strunk and E.B. White, elegant simplicity; University of Michigan professor Art Eastman, nitpicking revision; and Benjamin Spock, during interviews for Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical (1972), “If you don’t write clearly, someone could die.” These precepts inform the heart, soul, and human voice of her teaching and writing, including Writers Without Borders and The Seven Deadly Virtues and Other Lively Essays (both 2008), and her current work on creative nonfiction—memoir, essays, writing about food, travel, medicine—that people love to read—and write, also the subjects of her 2013 Fulbright in New Zealand.