The Spark: This Day by Tiah Beautement
The Spark is a weekly guest blog series by African writers talking about what inspired the big idea for their new novels.
Want to write one? I’m open to submissions for 2015. If you’re an African author or publisher with a new book out or coming up (or that came out in the last six months or so), please email me a query after you’ve read the guidelines here.
This entry about grief and loss and resilience, is by Tiah Marie Beautement, an American who moved to South Africa in 2008 with her family and co-founded Short Story Day Africa with Rachel Zadok. She splits her time between writing, running writing workshops for children and her short stories can be found scattered over the internet and in various magazines and anthologies. This Day is her second novel.
The Spark for This Day by Tiah Beautement
The spark for This Day began in the soft tissue of my right wrist. The smouldering burn travelled up the arm and eventually made its way down to my left fingertips. The sensation was like standing a tad too close to a fire without being able to step back. I’d been here before, but this time it refused to abate. Constant. Unrelenting. Painkillers couldn’t touch it. Keys were dropped. I could barely cut food. Managing a fork was tricky. Cooking dinner was approached much like an obstacle course. I began to feel like a hero each time I drove the children to school, biting my lip as I turned the key. Text messages were received with dismay – more buttons to push.
Something was wrong. But for almost a year nobody knew exactly what was to blame for the degeneration. I waded through doctors, specialists, brace makers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and listened to experts outline possibilities that were frightening. Received an X-ray showing damage to my right wrist. The surgeon said, ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing that can be done to fix this.’
Drop by drop life grew smaller. Gone was the surfing, rowing, piano playing and baking. Gone was wrestling with my kids, throwing a Frisbee and joining in on family bike rides. Then each day, after the children were at school, I would sit at my desk and confront that I was losing the ability to manage a mouse, to type. The words were slipping away.
Physically it would have felt better to give up. Mentally, the mere thought of quitting sent my emotions plunging. Eventually practicality stepped in, pointing out that this was only going to work if I was willing to change. New writing began by reading: a how to, which approached the craft at a different angle. That done, I took an honest assessment of the notes and research I’d gathered for a novel.
Goals shifted. Dreams altered. The story I’d planned to write no longer appealed. In the end, all that remained was the main character, Ella. She, who begins each day by writing letters in the sand. A woman who is physically healthy and financially independent. I didn’t envy her, however; the pain she carries was worse than my own. But I greatly admired her fortitude. So I offered my fictional character a deal: I would get her through another day, if she would get me through a book.
My body prevented the words from pouring forth: two hundred one day, seven hundred the next, three fifty on a third. Push too hard and it all stopped, sometimes for weeks. In between these forced sabbaticals I began to ponder the people I’ve admired over the years. These are souls who kept finding reasons to live, despite life knocking them down time and time again. Not people who live in denial, pretending life is always full of joy and endless happiness. They take life for what it is and possess a determination to find a way to live within it. Or as my physio is fond to say, ‘You need to learn to live your life.’ I looked at Ella and thought, so do you.
Peppy slogans and platitudes are often used to obscure reality. Some things cannot be fixed. There is no cure for Hypermobility Syndrome (HMS) or Fibromyalgia – my eventual diagnosis. Nor could the consequences of Ella’s tragedy be unmade. Forced positivity didn’t teach me how to live with an altered self and bringing it forward. A self that isn’t necessarily better or worse, simply different. Changed.
Day by day, word by word, I cheered Ella on as I wrote her through a span of nearly seventeen hours. As the drafts piled up, I began to learn how to manage my chronic conditions through medication, new exercises and various braces and tapes. Some parts of the body healed, some are permanently altered, while new injuries and challenges crop up and must be dealt with. It isn’t the same life as I had before. But it is one that can still be productive. A life in which the words have remained, producing This Day. A story about trying to keep going after life goes wrong.
Every day we begin again.