Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Saint or Martyr or just plain numb?

On Sunday I attended the ongoing writing group I recently joined. I emailed my piece earlier in the week so everyone could read the entire story, since we would only focus on one portion. The story concerns a dying parent, and the adult daughter and her partner, who are involved with the end of life care. I chose a middle section of the story to work on with the group; I feel the opening scene is strong and the end is what I want in essence, with a little tightening up needed.

Much of my current prose writing is about the everyday: who we are, where we work, what we notice, riding the bus, walking down the street – momentary slices of life.

The narrator is the daughter’s partner, who, in this small slice of the event, is in a “doing what needs to be done” mode. This means observing what is in the scene, reminiscing and changing the dying mother-in-law’s diapers.

Although it was not the point of the story, one of the main discussion topics was the narrators demeanor. My intent was to present the narrator as observer, without judgment or resentment, because the narrator is there in the moment to support the partner and the father-in-law and help take care of the parent who is dying. The lack of conflict within the narrator or between the partners was a sticking point for the writing group.

Is my narrator truly a saint, with no feelings about what is happening? Or is the narrator a martyr, trying to rack up points to call in at a later date? Or, could the narrator be in a place devoid of those emotions at a conscious level, while being present with the person who is dying, without resentment toward the partner who is still in the early stages of grief and unable to perform some of the required tasks? Narrator = Saint? Martyr? Or merely numb?

I am still mulling over this – and the other – feedback. I will try some of the suggestions and see where they lead. And I don’t want to change my narrator into a judgmental martyr *grin. I’ll keep searching for that magic place between the oppositions and see where the characters want to go. I also want to think about what it is I want the narrator to convey and if I have done that.

Or perhaps I didn’t pick the best section on which to focus!

The painting at top of the post is
"St. Caterina of Bologna" c. Serena Barton