I balance my literary life with my other commitments. Of those ‘other commitments’, the largest are work and family. I’ve been away because of family.
In three months, both of my in-laws have died. My husband is an only child – and so I’ve been helping with…with all the stuff that you have to do when someone dies. In a way, there’s a lot of it and it takes forever. And in a way: Poof! It’s all gone.
Death. We don’t talk much about it anymore. When I was a kid in 1960s America, we lived closer to death than we do now. Coffins were open, old people stayed in their families and their neighbourhoods. You saw people decay…you saw the inevitability of what happens. An attractive woman would become ill, age rapidly and still do her shopping and water her flowers and then you’d see her stagger in her garden and then it was her funeral. I remember being led up to open coffins and peeping over the edge, disappointed by how undramatic it was, how normal the deceased looked.
I’m writing about my own death again. When I was 14, I died in a car accident. Of course, I came back! I wrote a memoir about my injury and recovery. Now a publisher wants me to fictionalise it, for a larger readership. It was hard to write and it’s still hard to write…I feel like death is all around me right now, like I can hear a long scythe being sharpened just behind my left shoulder.
Being conscious of our own impending death is, some people say, the main defining characteristic of the human. It is the root of all our neuroses and also of our altruism.
It’s also a great motivator. I’ve got four books on the go at once and I really need to finish some of them, get them out, get them published and let them go. I have other ideas. I have other things to do. And I’m not getting any younger – none of us are. So I’m starting to wake up just that little bit earlier and work just that little bit longer. As my Irish grandmother used to say, ‘There’s plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.’