Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Book I Cannot Write

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. –Joanna Macy

I spoke last fall at a fundraiser for an organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Adults like my two sons who live in one of the organization’s group homes and work at one of their sheltered work sites. I spoke about trying so hard for so many years to find a cure for my son's autism...and failing. I spoke about becoming a foster parent to James’s classmate Dan when Dan’s parents died and there was no foster family qualified to take him because of his autism. I spoke about being a single mother with two autistic teenagers, knowing that like Dan’s parents, I, too, would be gone one day, and how terrified I was about what would happen to them.

I spoke about sleeping easier these days knowing that they have a good life in the care of an organization that provides more than I ever could by myself. They work and go out with friends and do everything that anyone else does, with the help of caring and trained staff. I see them most every week, unless they are too busy and ask me not to come. I see that they are thriving.

I spoke about hope. I hope I have done the best I can. I hope that Dan’s mother looks down from heaven and believes that I have honored my promise to her to care for her son. I hope they are going to be all right when I’m gone.

It was a speech of joy and triumph, and immense gratitude. And yet when I spoke, my throat choked up and my eyes filled with tears. My voice quavered as I told my story, and more than once I had to pause and take a deep breath. The sadness is never very far away.

I’ve learned that denying my sadness over the years, being afraid of the enormity and intensity of my feelings, not only deadened the pain, but also deadened the joy. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Our natural instinct is to avoid suffering, to run from it, to escape from it. But we can’t. The four noble truths do not offer a way out, but rather a way through. When my pain eventually broke through, when I got too soul sick to fight it anymore, I discovered that the released pain brought with it into the light the exquisite joy of life, here for us in unlimited abundance, always.

I write about James and Dan sometimes in my blog, little snippets of the story that began 24 years ago and will continue all my life, and theirs. People tell me I should write a book, that it would help other parents. Perhaps it would. But it is a book I cannot write. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because writing little pieces of the story here and there, as I do, does not ask me to leave the present to revisit those dark and deadened times for the extended periods which a book would require. Perhaps it is a story that has already been told, in ways more meaningful and eloquent than my writing skills permit. Perhaps the time for my writing that story is simply not yet. Or perhaps the time has passed. I don’t know.

But I know this. I’ve made my peace with sorrow. It doesn’t go away, but it isn’t scary anymore. I recognize it as the key to unlocking compassion. And compassion is the key to sweet, sweet happiness. Touching that raw place breaks my heart wide open, every time. And in that broken open place, is a deep, deep well, a bottomless well...of love.

Today is the last day of July, so this ends our focus on Step 7–Practice compassion. I hope that you have touched some tender places of joy as well as sadness, places that allow compassion to well up and spill over into your own lives and into the lives of those around you. Some posts this month have prompted comments and emails in which you have honored me and other readers by sharing some of your challenges, so I hope that you will be abundantly generous with compassion towards yourselves.


related posts: Mad/Sad/Glad Game, Game Change


  1. Galen I feel that if you are to write a book you'll know when it's time to do so, you'll receive messages from every which way you turn and they'll be messages you can't miss.

    I personally think that you are a wonderful writer, you write with passion and I believe that people connect with "real" writers. I know when I pick up a book and read the first few pages if the author is writing to sell a book or if they're writing from their heart and soul. There's that old saying "Never BS a BSer" well I know BS first hand! lol

    You have had quite the challenging life, I feel that your story would benefit others who are experiencing hardships such as you have and I would say go for it and write that book but only when you're ready to do so. I'm going to write mine one day and I know that it's going to be extremely therapeutic and if it helps even one person then it will have been worth it.

    You are an amazing lady, I hope you have a fantastic day!

  2. Galen: I felt exactly the same way before I wrote my memoir. The first draft was a thousand pages. The final draft was just over a hundred.

    Before I became a writer, I had to learn how to write, so I attended workshops for almost five years. Even with that, I still could not write the book because I felt like you do. Then, someone told me I first had to decide what the book was about. I thought about that long and hard. I wanted to write about me, but the story was about a little girl. With that focus, I whittled down my notes and wrote the book from my heart - about my daughter.

    First step: What is the book about? Only you can answer that.

  3. I have to agree with are an absolutely WONDERFUL writer, but that is stemmed from your wonderful heart! I couldn't agree more " life is suffering" Excellent description of life to be certain! Love & Hugs, Mitzi

  4. You can write that book that will help you come to grips with all the feelings that are still quite active in you. Writing is a great cleanser, even if you never allow the manuscript see the light of day.

    You can write the book because you are a writer and that's what writers do.

    You can write the book because you have knowledge and experiences that will help others, and you are a helper.

    As darlin noted, you will know when the time to write is right. Then, it will just happen.

  5. I believe you have the story unfolding right here already. It seems all we need to do is let our heart and soul speak for us, when ever it sees fit. God bless you and your boys everyday.

  6. Galen,
    Whether you write a book is a decision that you have to make; but please, don't ever question your writing skills and whether you have something worthwhile to say.

  7. What a sweet and compassionate woman you are. I sensed the pain of your experience but also your joy. I can't imagine what it was like to go through this kind of an experience; but I have had some hard times that were blessings that taught me much.
    Thanks for sharing your tender thoughts this day.
    Blessings to you!
    By the way you are a very good writer; so I hope you will write a book on your experiences. I know that it would help many in the same situation.

  8. You can also write because the process of writing brings clarity to your own process of understanding. You don't have to think of the book as a commercial product. It need be no different in intent than letters you write to assist you therapeutically, that you know aren't intended to be posted. Most great authors pen works never intended for publication.

    Writing puts even the hardest tragedy at a distance because it isn't the actual experience, only a re-visitation. It works the way dreams do, to allow us to face things we aren't ready to spar with hand-to-hand.

  9. darlin--Thank you for the kind words. You are right about the BS. I wrote something once with a view to what I thought the publisher wanted. I knew it wasn't good. I never even sent it. I threw it out and wrote something that meant something to me...and it was chosen for publication. So there you go. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement. I look forward to reading your book when you are ready to write it! Thanks for your comment.

    JJ--Thanks for the behind the scenes look at your writing process. Your book was impossible to put down, so I will take your advice to heart. Thanks for commenting.

    Mitzi--Thanks for the kind words. I'm a bit embarrassed because I didn't write this post to fish for compliments. Nevertheless, the encouraging words about my writing have uplifted my spirit and given me a boost of confidence. Thank you!

    Bob--I had to read your comment twice. "You are a writer and that's what writers do." I never thought of myself as a writer. A helper? Sometimes. A teacher? Definitely. A writer? I'm going to have to try that out in my little psyche for awhile! Thanks for your comment.

    Karen--Great advice about letting our heart and soul speak for us. Seems like I feel best about my writing when I get out of my own way. Actually, I guess that's also when I feel best about my life! Thanks for commenting.

    Mikey--Great advice, to write it for myself. And good analogy to sparring. Funny, I wasn't even thinking about really writing a book when I wrote this post. I was thinking more about the connection between sorrow and compassion and joy. But I'm getting enough comments about the writing that now I'm really thinking about it! Thanks for your comment.

  10. I wrote a post but managed to lose it in Preview :-) Sadly I can't remember the exact words but I just wanted to say that every story has its own time and place. And I agree with Darlin and the others that you're an excellent writer Galen. But sometimes the story isn't ready. I think sometimes this happens with paintings as well. I have a book in me that is still too painful to tell. One day when the pain of holding it in exceeds the joy of letting it out... the words will come. Soon. I know.

  11. Riley--Thank you for the kind words. As I said to Mitzi and Mikey above, I really wasn't looking for compliments, but goodness knows, I'm happy to get them! And while I have been planning a book based on the 10 Steps, I had not really thought seriously about a book about my kids. I guess we will see what happens. At any rate, thank you for your comment.

    LeAnn--True, I've been through some difficult times, but what I've learned is that we all face sorrow and sadness in our lives. And I've learned that our attitudes about what is happening in our lives can increase or decrease our suffering. Thank you for the kind words and for your comment.

    Jean--Sorry about your lost comment. I hate to lose a single word that you have to say! I appreciate the time you took to write again. I like your comparison between writing and painting. I'll have to ask my sister (the artist) about that! Thanks for your comment.

  12. I never fail to find a gold nugget in every single post you write. This one was: "I’ve made my peace with sorrow. It doesn’t go away, but it isn’t scary anymore. I recognize it as the key to unlocking compassion. And compassion is the key to sweet, sweet happiness."

    Your words are eloquent indeed! When you are ready to write that book, I'll be amongst the first to purchase a copy.

  13. Galen,

    I didn't think you were really writing about writing a book either!

    I resonate so strongly with the point of this article: the only way out is through. Through touching our sadness we open to love, compassion, joy, and happiness. Thank you for walking through and showing us the way. You have a beautiful heart!

  14. Dear Galen

    It is because of your authenticity, your courage, your strength, and your ability to be real in how you face all of the human emotions we possess that I knew from the first time I read about you what an incredibly inspirational being you were. I don't think I was able to word that properly before when you asked.

    Thank you for sharing what you did above. It had a strong resonance for me and I look at people like you as the Earth angels that you are.

    And thank you again for sharing more of you last month on EB.

    It is truly such a joy, honor and pleasure to know you :)

  15. I am fairly sure if that book is meant to be written - you will and it will just flow out with the perfect words.

    I too have a story - I think my child needs more privacy from the public eye to allow for her success at this point in time...everything is on the internet and she is finally maturing and developing into a remarkable young woman....the only story to share is that I knew that person was there all along, when others were sure I was out of my mind.. maybe that is my sadness

  16. Kara--Thanks for the kind words and the vote of confidence! I'm so please that you find something meaningful to you in what I write. Thanks for your comment.

    Sandra--Thank you for seeing the connection. I have to speak at a fundraiser Thursday night and I'll be telling my story again. It is so raw still, and I guess it always will be. But even in thinking about the speech, I can feel my heart open to the pain and it's worth it. Thanks for commenting. You have a beautiful heart, too!

    Evita--The honor is mine. I was pleased to see your new profile of Irving this month. What a great series. Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to comment.

    Patricia--Balancing telling our stories and our privacy is an ongoing challenge. The reason I use a pen name is to keep some measure of privacy for my kids. We all find our ways to tell our stories. Thanks for commenting.

  17. I have already bookmark this page to keep myself updated of the latest information.

  18. Your post include great detail of information yet you managed to keep it understandable.

  19. I can understand how the thought of writing a book can appear challenging or even daunting. I believe that your book will come if it is meant to be. Even if you don't wish to publish it, writing it can serve as a nice keepsake for your kids or grandchildren later on. Just a thought :-)

  20. Research--Welcome and thanks for your comment.

    School--Thanks and welcome to you.

    Evelyn--Thanks for the encouragement and for your comment.

  21. Galen,
    You have created an amazing resource for people living through all sorts of issues, autism included....this blog. Your book is writing itself in some respects. You are telling your story, providing advice, provoking thought, and generating compassion and understanding each time someone logs in to read. Your book may not be in traditional form...yet. But it is there.

    Katy x


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