Joy, a dear friend of mine, started a writing group with me a few years ago. We commenced meeting weekly at a local coffee shop, and we ended up being a writing group of two. This suited us just fine, since we could both talk the ears off a donkey. Joy had faced severe illnesses over the past ten years but stoically fought off each onslaught. What she had achieved was amazing — and one thing that kept her going was her passion for writing.
Each bout with her life-threatening condition re-inspired her to get her novel out again and this time, finish it! Over the years, in between teaching at the university, and editing, ghost-writing, and blogging in her spare time, she made wonderful progress. Her characters developed intense, clear personalities, her settings felt as real as the air on my face, and the plot began growing and changing on it’s own, deepening, turning, winding through dark and light. Meeting with her became inspiring to me, too. I had known her for over two decades, and although her writing always impressed me with it’s excellence, never had I read anything from her that excited me, jolted me even, like this last work of hers.
As every new semester got started, Joy vowed to keep working on her book, but something always seemed to intervene. Bills, clients, recurrences of her illness in new forms, some more serious than others. The courage she demonstrated humbled me. She floored me with her commitment.
We continued to meet until about six months before her death. One Christmas, I received a confusing call from her; she was lost on a beach, and didn’t know how to get home. Our connection dropped, and being all the way on the other side of the country, I felt helpless to find her. She did get home again, but this incident was a foreshadowing experience. Many of the important, even spiritual, events of Joy’s novel took place on a beach, and when I heard that she was lost on one, I felt a chill of worry.
The next few months saw Joy once again taking on treatments that would flatten many of us. Through it all, she rallied, reached out for help, inspired, and hoped. No one could constellate a helping group of amazing people like Joy.
I saw her just before she died, and she was desperate to get back to her novel. I understood her urgency and the intricacies and intimacies, joys and frustrations, of her creative process. I asked her if she’d like me to bring her a pad and pen in the hospital. Her eyes stared off into the distance for a moment, and somehow, she seemed to understand that the time for writing was not now. She said no, and then she again said, with a fire in her eyes, how much she wanted to get back to her novel and this time, finish it!
The next night, just before midnight, Joy passed into her next world. I stood at her side, looking at one of the bravest, gentlest, most creative beings I’ve ever known, and I felt her say to me — “Don’t die with your writing — or dancing, or singing, or painting — inside of you….”
So this post is dedicated to my beautiful, raven-haired friend Joy, and to the muses who guide us all.
The Greeks understood that the nine muses inspired our creativity. Inspiration also means to breathe in…. Without inspiration, oxygenation, breathing, our bodies die. And maybe this is as good a reason as any to create whatever it is our spirits are longing to express — for as we refuse to express our gift, it’s almost as though we refuse to live. If you live to write, maybe you also write to live….
For now, whenever I write, or dance, or laugh, or look up at the stars, every time, in fact, that I feel joy, I send up a blessing to Joy’s memory, and ask the muses to take pity on my imperfectly perfect life….