Laurel Braitman on writing loss & self
"I want to live in a world in which people read stories about other people who make different choices that are not written as moral lessons but rather as accountings of a life lived."
Just love this. <3
I read an early copy of this book and can co-sign! I was really moved by how deftly she handles those formative years with her dad. It's not romanticized or sentimental; it's sincere and aching and meaningful.
And then the sections detailing her gradual unpacking of that grief made me really, really question why I was so afraid of words like "romanticized" or "sentimental" in the first place. And made me question how much my own relationship style and work style is connected to losing my dad in a traumatic way when I was a teenager. I sincerely had never thought about it that way before, but the way this book is structured effectively shows (rather than tells) what the long term ripples of grief can look like.
I love her depiction of high achievement as potentially a trauma response. I’m just now, through therapy, starting to understand my own drive for achievement as a result of trying to control my environment after a life-threatening dog attack when I was 6. My parents thought I was ok as long as I did well in school. Now I’m dealing with the exhaustion of being on a treadmill for 50 years. Laurel’s transformation of perfectionism into meaning inspires me and offers hope.
Oh my goodness. I’m buying this book the minute I finish writing this comment.
I was struck by the first part about learning to write through letters. I never really thought about it, but I had a mild pen pal addiction around age 12 (this would have been around 1979 and I had maybe 70 pen pals). It also coincided with a very lonely time when my parents divorced (something that didn’t seem to occur to them when they hassled me about what we were spending on stamps). But that was a lot of writing and I suppose, storytelling.
I went a lot of years when I didn’t think of myself as being very interesting. I didn’t think I had stories in me. I started playing with writing fiction in my late 20s but I still felt like imposter-ish. The thing that helped me “see” that I had stories was having children (twins, born when I was 33). They
Loved my stories and anecdotes! Nothing was too basic for them: me falling off a treadmill because I was gabbing with the person next to me. The time a bird landed in my head as a kid. It changed everything and allowed me to start sharing more of myself.
"You must learn to sound like yourself." This is the most encouraging writing advice I've heard in ages. I've been writing professionally for 20+ years, and I've worried that "my" voice is gone, in the service of the professionally neutral. I love, love, love the idea of finding it again by just.... doing the work.
Laurel, I'm crying because I think I've finally found someone who maybe understands my life and what I went through...
My dad first became ill when I was 10 and he was 42; against the odds, he lived until I was 19 and he was 52. For half of my life he was "normal" and for half of my life he was ill and declining, and this has defined my entire life. I had the same overachieving coping mechanism until he died, and then I broke.
"I think I probably could have kept going on like this if I’d been lucky enough to avoid further losses. But I wasn’t." Yeppppp. For these past almost 16 years, my life has felt like an pendulum of overachieving and breaking...as well as reading one million self help books in the hopes that one of them will help me transform.
I spent so long ignoring the pain - every time he almost died, it was "at least he's still alive!" and not acknowledging the horrible pain of NINE YEARS of wondering when he would finally die. Then after he died, it was "at least I had another nine years!" instead of acknowledging "you're a teenager and he's dead and this really sucks and almost no one else you know has lost a parent."
But it's defined everything for me, and I mean everything. Okay, now i'm really crying, so I'm going to end it here for now.
I'm super broke right now but will purchase your book when I get the chance.
Paused my reading to pre-order, and then returned to this engaging and beautiful interview, and then re-read it immediately. Laurel is just dropping pearls of wisdom (about identity, grief, writing, relating) so casually and clearly, it takes my breath away! Can't wait to read What Looks Like Bravery, thank you for this interview.
Completely agree that letters are a wonderful way to find a writing voice (or just a voice!). I guess writing would be boring if we had it all figured out...like some robotic exercise. Sounds like a great friendship.
I want to live in a world in which people read stories about other people who make different choices that are not written as moral lessons but rather as accountings of a life lived.: wow wow wow! That is so powerful. And as I'm posting it I can see its been highlighted already!
I definitely need to read this book. When I was pregnant with my now-almost-seven-year-old, my husband's cousin's wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her kids were like five and seven (the confusing part is they were both on the cusp of birthdays). She's still with us and living a pretty full life, but I've been acutely aware of how her kids' lives have been defined by the rhythms of chemo and the bigger question of how long she will be here, like when I see an 11-year-old fretting about her mother not having been well enough to get her chemo.
When I think about a parent trying to eke out that extra time with their kids, I often reread this beautiful piece by the late Marjorie Williams. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-halloween-of-my-dreams/2012/10/31/80d281c0-2372-11e2-ac85-e669876c6a24_story.html
The wisdom in this title is knocking me for a loop! Thank you.
MORE MYSTERIES WITH ANIMALS. If Juneau Black can do it, Laurel can.
“The “how-am-i-going-to-do-this” feeling is actually the feeling of doing it.” Frame shift for me, thank you Laurel!
This book sounds so good, formed through much heartbreak. The idea of needing to understand yourself well enough as you put your life on the page so your readers don’t discover something about you that you didn’t realize about yourself - mmhm. Therapists have a similar motto about you can only take someone as far as you have gone (not life experience wise, more willingness to plumb your own depths). As someone who writes without any formal training, this felt encouraging to me, and I look forward to reading the book!!