My Twitter cover picture, for quite some time after Dan died, was the meme of a quote from Rocky:
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
I feel that there is an expectation that somehow any blog, any podcast, any memoir, should leave the reader with a sense of hope, of adversity overcome, of life enduring and being worthwhile. That no matter how hard the protagonist is hit, they should emerge victorious. Well, maybe I’m still in the early chapters then. Maybe readers will have to stick with me through the next few years to see if I crawl into the sunlight, a winner, at some future point.
In truth, I have felt pinpricks of victory, moments of genuine delight in the world, in the last three and a half years. I’ve raised my face to some sunshine, smiled at a few rainbows. But I have not reached a place where the pervading daily tone is that of carefree ordinariness. There is a tinge of grey sadness around each day, photographs edged with a fuzz, keeping the images and experiences within a tight frame. There is no sense of life going on just out of shot, of a wider panorama populated by loved ones. Each day now is clearly bound. Another day without Dan.
Sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I become immersed in a book, or a tv programme, and am transported to other worlds and times, becoming another character, or I am rapt, up close in someone else’s drama. But the pages turn, the programme ends and then here I am again.
Part of my current heavy sadness is undoubtedly due to the darkening of the days. The rainstorms blur my view of the world from my desk. All I see are shades of brown and grey. The wind whips away birdsong, so instead I wear headphones, tighten the hood of my thick winter coat, and don fleece-lined wellies as I walk the dog along puddle-strewn paths. Even outdoors, I am forced inside, further into myself and my own dark world.
I read the writerly advice. Don’t write memoir until you are in a place where you can really examine your memories with some sort of objective clarity. Don’t write about your experience without referencing other writers who’ve covered similar ground. Don’t write about something if there’s not going to be an immediate and obvious commercial market for it. Why you? Why now? Who cares?
I’m sure all this is absolutely valid. If I were and agent or editor, I’d want stuff that I could monetise, stories that I believed would find a smooth transition through the hoops and jumps of the publication process. I’d want that next bestseller. But as a reader, I don’t always want the neatest and tidiest stories, the ones with the pretty-much-a-happy-ever-after. I want journeys that twist and turn, that show me the raw insides; I want to be permitted an unhappy ending sometimes. I want journals, letters, diaries, pictures, emails, tweets. I want tales told in ways that let me take risks. And I want to tell my own.