I Believe in the Power of Storytelling
In 1998, my wife, Sue, suffered what would be the fifth of seven miscarriages. I tried my best to help her and our son, Ben, through their grief. Men are raised to believe that they can fix anything. But I quickly learned that I was powerless to change this reality. All I could do was offer hugs and reassurances of my love.
I also learned that I was having a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with my own pain. I felt myself spiraling down to a very dark place. But I didn’t feel as though I could dump this on my wife and son. What did I do? I started to write.
I wrote in secret, at night when my wife and son were asleep. Sometimes I’d disappear upstairs to our computer on weekend mornings ostensibly to surf the Web. After a month or so, I admitted to Sue what I was doing. And then I hesitated before I added: “It’s a novel, I think.”
I remember the look on Sue’s face that seemed to say: “Oh, oh.” After all, I’m a government lawyer. What was I doing writing fiction? Was this a midlife crisis? Well, it was a crisis, but not one of middle age.
I eventually completed my book, not a full-length novel but a novella, entitled “The Courtship of María Rivera Peña” published in 2000. It’s loosely based on my paternal grandparents’ migration from Mexico to Los Angeles in the late 1920s. In it, I recount both the beauty and pain of life. The process of writing this book did, indeed, help me confront and lessen my grief. Since then, I’ve published two short-story collections and a children’s book. I’ve completed another collection which sits with several publishers and I’m trying to complete my first full-length novel.
I’ve found that I still use fiction to address issues in my life. For example, when our son experienced the nightmare of Buford Furrow’s attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999, I wrote a short story based on the shooting entitled “Summertime” to help me get a grip on my anger.
Over the years, I’ve learned that my fiction has also helped others. I remember receiving an e-mail from a man who had just read one of my short stories that dealt with alcohol abuse. He said that he was marking another year of sobriety and that my story helped him get through the day without touching a drink. And I’ve been delighted when youngsters have told me that they, too, want to be writers.
So, I believe in the power of storytelling. I know that writing keeps me sane. It allows me to stay in the game, to move forward with my life and be there for my family. My little stories also have given hope to some. And I have little doubt that I will continue to write as long as God allows my imagination to spin tales.
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