Inspiration: For When You Need It Most

A Moveable Feast

I don’t even own this book, but for some reason it is always there on my mind or in the back of my mind or otherwise someplace near to it. When I check it out of the library, I usually keep it through the maximum amount of renewals (9 I think) and thumb through it almost daily, reading bits and pieces of it here and there, discovering something new every time, and not just about Paris, or Hem, or that era, but amount myself and how I choose to view the world. Having written that just now, it sounds heavy, I know, but trust me it’s not. It’s actually quite simple and down-to-earth.

I can’t remember what drew me to A Moveable Feast the first time I read it—it was probably at my wife’s suggestion, but I do know it was on my writing desk the day my daughter was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder, type 1 diabetes. Obviously there was no connection to Hemingway’s Paris and this affair—we live in the American south and there was no drinking, no horse racing, no boxing or famous people involved—but I found nonetheless something buoyant about the writing itself that helped me come to grips with this, our own life-changing event.

Shortly after the diagnosis, I began writing this blog and what Hemingway’s writing of Paris, and his other, fictional work, too, of course, but Paris was real, what it taught me was to identify the emotion, find it in whatever action or person that gave it to you and write it down in such a way that it’s honest and clear so that if any one else reads it they will see and experience the same emotion too. It set a perfect example for a father who was facing what is and will probably be one of the saddest, most painful situations in his life, if only because of how unprepared and little I knew about it. For as Hemingway once wrote himself: The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places —A Farewell to Arms, so too had the world, it seemed, broken me and those I loved, but through writing about it I felt stronger. You can’t ask much more from a book or its author.

 

Originally posted on my Goodreads Q&A

A Special Request

Hi there —

I’d like to make a special request/ offer to the readers of Without Envy. As you know, I’ve recently published my first novel, called A Lovely, Indecent Departure.

www.stevenleegilbert.com
by Steven Lee Gilbert

It is a story about a young mother who kidnaps her five year old son from his emotionally-abusive father and flees the country to her native Italy. It is, if you know me personally and/or perhaps if I’ve written this blog with enough intimacy that allows you to read between the lines, a story, first and foremost, of love, and second, of a testament to what we as parents are willing to sacrifice for our children. Attributes with which each of you out there now reading this are exceptionally quite familiar.

The book is a culmination of nearly a decade of research and writing, an endeavor of heart and talent and yes, struggle. Writing it brought me much pleasure, but the act of publishing and marketing it has opened my eyes to a part of the process I’d not ever given much thought to. For certain, self-publishing a book is an enormous, individual marketing challenge—okay, so was writing it—but it was something I sought on my own, preferring to bypass traditional publishing methods. As a result, I am caught between sharing this wonderful, exciting news to the world and talking about it so much I come off sounding like a shameless fairground carny.

Step right up! Get your good read right here!
Hey you, wanna really impress her? Try reading a book!

Trust me, that is not my intention (though it would make for an interesting character, a kind of dickensian Gary Busey).

Part of what makes it so difficult is that when I think of who the book’s audience is—unlike a carny, it can’t just be everyone—my answer will probably not surprise you: There’s me, and then there is Franca. Those two are my audience for pretty much everything I write, because there are few things better for you and more satisfying than expressing oneself clearly to oneself (and who better to tell you if your idea of expression is correct, or appropriate, than a spouse). Through expression we learn to know what we think, which brings me to you: Without Envy readers, the community.

Many of you have been with me these past twenty-plus months. You know me. You have listened to me as I’ve shared my gripes, my hopes and my worries. You understand more than most parents what it means to feel out of control and especially of the sacrifices we make everyday to keep our children safe. You get it. So, I’d like to ask for your help and in return give you a token of appreciation.

The novel is currently being distributed through whatever means books are distributed to all sorts of booksellers. Eventually, it is my hope especially that I might walk into my library even and find it. To do that requires it get noticed (this is where that audience thing works against you). Toward that goal, I would like to offer to any of you who are willing one free copy of the book in return for an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, or wherever else readers congregate. The review doesn’t have to be all positive, just honest. If you’re interested send me an email and we’ll get started with either the paperback copy or a free download from Smashwords.

Writing has always been a huge part of my life. It has felt at times, especially over the last two years, as if it were the only thing keeping me sane. Through it all, your companionship has been invaluable, your comments uplifting. As far as I’m concerned if I saw any of you walking down the runway, I’d give you the book AND the big stuffed animal. I wouldn’t even ask to guess your weight or age.

 

How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say

I have mentioned before a particular fondness for a quote by the British writer E.M. Forster (and of which assumes the title of this post). It comes from his book on writing, Aspects of the Novel, which he penned in 1927. In this particular chapter, Forster is concerned with the subject of plotting and begins the section with a quote from a well-known Greek philosopher:

Character, says Aristotle, gives us qualities, but it is in actions–what we do–that we are happy or the reverse.

Forster then goes on to argue against Aristotle’s position, at least in terms of how it relates to what a novelist is charged with doing: illuminating the subconscious. Instead, he contends, happiness and misery exist inside the individual, a sort of a secret life of which there is no “external evidence”. He suggests that for a novelist to do this well, he must have command over all emotion and know in what direction the story is heading, what to leave in and what to take out.

I believe that, but to get to the point of why I think this is worth sharing on a blog that deals mostly with diabetes and raising a family, I should explain the context from which Forster drew his now famous line. In the chapter, he highlights the plot found in Les Faux Monneyuers, by André Gide, in which one of the characters, Edouard, a novelist, expresses his intent to write a character story about the struggle between reality and what we make of it, or as he puts it, a “slice of life” that leaves nothing out. A story about everything.

“My poor man, you will bore your readers to death,” a friend responds. “And what is the subject?”

“There is none,” Edourdo retorts.

“Have you planned out this book?’

“Of course not…I am waiting for reality to dictate to me.”

If this scene sounds similar you might recall the Seinfeld episode where George proposes to pitch a show about nothing. In Aspects of the Novel, Forster — and to some extent George — uses the moment as a means of suggesting that artists should become mixed up in their work, let it move them along, subdue them and tote them away, as it should the observer. The problem that Jerry points out, as does Edouard’s companion, is that truth in life and truth in art are not identical. All that is prearranged, Forster suggests, is false.

It’s a fact that he finally illustrates with the anecdote of an old lady who stood accused of being illogical. “Logic? Good gracious! What rubbish!” the lady exclaimed. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

This is, of course, at the center of what many of us who write about living with diabetes are after. To cut open, peel back and lay bare the truth of what life is like for us, to make sense of it and embrace it. To not let it hold us back. After all, to quote E.M. Forster once more, We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Without Envy for What?

I started this blog just over a year and a half ago by writing about Lia’s diagnosis and the challenges, fears and finally acceptance (or not) of living with the perplexity that is type 1 diabetes. I named the blog collectively as I did because that best describes the manner in which her mother and I want Lia to grow: without envy for those who don’t have this disease (a candid reader once pointed out that it could be read the other way: [my paraphrasing] “Without envy, indeed. After hearing about diabetes, who on earth would want it!”).

So, from the very first post to the entry marking our one year anniversary, I wrote — and we lived and breathed — in a way that allowed us to fold diabetes into the framework of our lives, not the other way around. But it has not been easy. Even now, it sometimes feels as if the struggle is all we talk about, with family, with friends, with one another. As if without envy were a premise and nothing more, a lofty achievement abandoned to a dimmer reality. That’s really not how we think about it, but the fact of the matter remains: Diabetes is worrisome, time consuming and often all-encompassing of our attention. It’s only natural that we talk about it, with anyone who will listen.

To be fair, we also talk about diet and food, about health and fitness, about achieving your dreams and living on less, about consumption versus sustainability. In fact, when I took time to think it through, it became apparent to me that the struggles and frustrations we’ve experienced with diabetes could be applied to just about anything. Money. Nurtition. Politics. Social issues. To be sure, the same care management tools for treating a health problem, individually and globally, involves each of these elements and many more, any of which could be, in the right circumstance, disabling.

That’s a roundabout way of saying there is so much more I could write about on Without Envy that I haven’t because of one reason or another, but mostly because writing about diabetes is hard. Way back when I wrote on Six Until Me that I felt “like a pilgrim setting out from our home… hoping to uncover proof that you can take charge of this beast and manage well”, I really had no idea what I was talking about. The word “pilgrim” alone implies someone on a journey toward some end. There is no end to diabetes. It is here and will be here for a very long while.

Which is why, beginning in September, I’ll write posts that seek to redefine the message and tagline of Without Envy: Raising a child with type 1 diabetes to live life to the fullest to include, and other things that make us happy.

More content. More frequency. More… (or is it, less) envy.

I hope you will join me.

The Writer’s Response to the Quandary

Of course you’re not going to fold it all up. What drove you to even suggest that? As if writing or not writing were even a choice. It is in the breath that you live by, who you are. Separating one from the other is impossible, like asking a heart to stop pumping blood. Haven’t you even been paying attention after all these years?

Yes, it’s hard. I know. I get it. Lots of things in life are hard. Hell, don’t you think there’ve been times myself I’d rather be curled up with some wicked fantasy at two in the morning than sitting at the desk with you; or spend the day putzing about the garden, walking through the woods, working on projects around the house and/or otherwise passing the time doing something else good — anything else good! — with my hands?

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

And speaking of easy, hasn’t this past year taught you anything? Haven’t you been listening to your own advice? Buck up, man, and make it happen. Overcoming hardship takes effort. It takes knowledge and passion and drive and when there is simply no other alternative, it also takes sacrifice.

You’re lucky. You’ve found something you love and when you find something you love giving yourself to it is easy. An image comes to you and you wrap your thoughts around it and you turn it around in your hands, over and over, until you discover what matters about it and you fall in love.

Isn’t that the message you’ve been trying to teach? Let nothing stand in your way.

There will always be some reason you can find for not following your heart. Illness, money, time. But what is the point of a life without envy if not pursuing your dreams no matter what?

Maybe now is the time more than ever that you lead the way by example.

Quandary
(Or the Worst Autobiography Ever)

What a bind I feel in these days; yet also prepared, illuminated, and forewarned. The problem, in fact, may be that I know too much, which don’t get me wrong, in this case that’s a good thing.

For instance, I know how much time caring for a child with diabetes requires of a parent. The planning, the prepping, the management. We are fortunate in this last year I was able to dedicate a good part of the day learning all I could about diabetes and using that information to help us better conduct Lia’s care. The challenge of doing this alone must simply be immense. I can only imagine how much further along we are because there were two of us and at the time of her diagnosis one of us was working from home where the opportunity to self-educate is much greater.

But beyond the huge benefit to my being at home, I was not just sitting there waiting for something to fall from the sky that would occupy my time, worry and attention like nothing I have ever known. I was there to write books.

Writing has been a passion of mine for nearly as long as I can remember. When I first started out I would devour books on writing and later read with painstaking detail the biographies of my favorite authors hoping to find the secrets to their storytelling. Of course, there were none. Hard work and dedication, those are the secrets. But I learned that sometimes to get some place you really want to be, it helps to picture yourself there first. Such was my thinking when one day about six years ago, I came home from a day at the office and Franca asked if I knew anything of the Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I didn’t and so she told me of how he had quit his job while on vacation, then he and his wife sold off many of their belongings in order to eke out a living while he focused solely on writing. What I had when she finished wasn’t a sudden epiphany but one that arrived over the next couple of days: For the years and years of my own hard work and dedication to pay off I would need to take some risk. So we adjusted our plans and set new priorities and eighteen months later I turned in my rung on the corporate ladder for a comfy writer’s chair and began the long, arduous, but enjoyable journey of channeling my passion for writing into paying work.

I could not have asked for anything better. Franca was teaching, the kids were in school, we had set aside savings to offset my loss of income. Finally, for the first time in my life I could just be a writer; and I did, scratching out two promising, albeit yet-unpublished novels, and in the process digging deeper into the crux of who I am that makes me a writer. It was the life I’d always wanted.

What happened next is no surprise. It is what this blog is all about, lives harnessed in mid-step, plans altered. When I think to four years ago and of my departure from the financial security of my job, I am reminded of the many people close to me who applauded my action, assigning it credits like courage and commitment and while I’ve never thought of it as that, more just a stubborn tenacity and a wife who generously allowed me to entertain it, now after what we’ve been through this past year with my daughter, I can tell them what true courage looks like.

And I can tell them, too, how difficult it is to live without making a shed load of money and treating this outrageous disease. It’s beyond hard, maybe impossible. I don’t know yet. Maybe there’s a way to do both and I just haven’t learned enough yet; and wouldn’t that be a wonderful lesson. But the burden of cost is one of my greatest fears, now and especially as Lia grows older. So much so that I’m torn between suspending this dream and focusing now on a new dream: doing all that I can to ensure that one day ten, twenty, thirty years from now when Lia is sitting in some office somewhere dreaming of some other life for herself and worried about the risk, she won’t be bound in her decision by the cost of treating diabetes.