A Writer’s Attempt to Outrun Grief

I set my timer for twenty minutes and vow to write without stopping. I tell myself not to judge, not to edit, not to think, not to cross out, or hit delete, or re-read. Just keep my fingers dancing across the keyboard, I tell myself. Just keep moving. This is what I tell my students, and this is what I repeat in my head as I type.

Just keep moving is a good strategy for writers because it keeps us from getting bogged down in our thoughts. For writers, thinking is not helpful.

I think a lot of thoughts that wander around and go nowhere. They drift into the space between me and the ceiling of my bedroom. I stare up at the white, pitched ceiling and the wooden beam that spans the length of the room, and I can see my thoughts meandering around the room like a sunbeam or trying to escape out the back door, like a fly, or gathering in the corners, like the spider webs that return nightly even though I whack them away when I notice them. My thoughts gather in the corners and wander around the room, looking for an escape. I write as fast as I can in the hopes that I will not get tangled in them.

Writing Fast to Bypass Grief

I write faster than I think so that I won’t think about losing my mother. Friends of mine tell me, “She is always with you,” but I want to see her blonde-frosted hair and her colored nails and her carefully curated outfit probably in teal blue or purple or leopard. I do not want an ethereal connection. I don’t want her to be with me in the spiritual sense. I want to see her sitting on my turquoise couch in the living room holding her iPhone and playing Words with Friends while I make meatloaf for dinner.

But my mom’s phone is no longer in her hands. It is in the night table next to my bed. It is in the purple leather case she kept it in the night she fell. It is so strange that my mother’s phone is still here, and she is not.

Mom’s iPhone is My Sacred Object

This is how her iPhone became my sacred object. It went from being a device for her to make and receive phone calls, play word games, and leave messages for faraway friends to my emotional support object. My mother held this phone in her skinny, little fingers. She kept it in her flowered purse. She slept with it next to her leopard-print pillows. Now it sits in the drawer next to my bed as I sleep.

I think about all the conversations we will not have on that phone. That phone will not ring, and she will not pick up, and we will not talk about empty nesting and how I miss my kids, and what I should make for dinner now that it is just my husband and me. My mother will not hold that phone to her ear and comfort me and relate to me and remind me that she felt the very same way when I, her baby, left home for college across the country.

I thought we would have these conversations while I drove to the drycleaner and Trader Joe’s or the mall, and she would relax on the couch in her apartment and impart her words of wisdom. I thought after my last kid flew the nest, I would have more time to plan our lunches or our trips to Marshall’s or to Chico’s, her favorite store. But God laughs while we plan. Or life happens while we are making other plans. Or some such wisdom I read on Instagram.

Writing Allows Me to be Real

My family hates when I am sad, so I smile but my smile does not extend to my writing. My writing is where I pour the grief out. My writing is where I cough up the fact that I still miss her, and it has been nearly four years and I wonder when or if I will ever get used to her absence. In my writing, I drift into the sore spots that I try to ignore when I’m thinking. As a writing teacher and workshop facilitator, I tell my students that we have to get out of our own way and allow our words to emerge. I have to take my own advice, even when it is painful. I have to allow the words to come forward onto the page just like tears.

So, I set my timer and I write. I write faster than I think. My fingers hurl across the keyboard as my words spill onto the page. I know my mother is with me. I know her phone is in my night table. I know her presence is in my heart. But I also know I cannot outrun my grief no matter how fast I type.

Learn more about Robin Finn.

Check out her Robin’s book, Heart. Soul. Pen.: Find Your Voice on the Page and in Your Life