This posted the day of Aunt Judy’s funeral. It was during the light luncheon afterward that I spoke to her brother and he said her intellectual property rights–her legacy–would go to me. Then came the tracking down her publishers, the signed copyright transfer, the taking stock of things and formulating a plan as to how best keep her work alive. And yes, that is yet another post, one that I will write for the Evil League of Evil Writers in a few months, because IP rights and inheritance is an important consideration for writers.
We talked often about our writing and I knew she had books in progress and outlines, and those files will be coming to me with her computer. Depending on what stage of development they were in, there is a chance that eventually I could finish and release them posthumously for her. This is something, intellectually, I’ve realized since she passed, and while it struck with a sad little pang, they were feelings I could tuck aside, proud that at least I was in a position to do something positive with her work.
Last night I was poking around at cover art for some stories of hers I’ll eventually re-release, and doing some light copyediting on them. I ran across one I vividly remember her writing in 2005 or 2006–we were at the cottage (my favourite place in the world), and she was on the front deck, the story flowing through her like water. It was wonderfully dark and we’d talked about her making it into a novel.
The light bulb went off over my head and I remembered there was a draft of that book I’d talked her into doing one NaNao, but that was three computers ago and I no longer have the file. I went through a very old email account of mine and found the email from her still there, dated February 2007, and was able to download the file and glance through it again.
I dislike how grief is called a “process”–it is not. Sometimes processing is part of grief, but that deep sense of loss and coping with it is not a process you go through and come out the other side of. It is something always there, like the ocean at your back, and sometimes out of the blue a tidal wave of it will crash down, knocking you to the ground, soaking you to your bones, and leaving you shivering and weeping in its wake.
There were her words, so vibrant. The memory of her saying the dark bits made her squeamish, and me insisting that was where the power was and to run for it. The story was unfinished, with 35 000 words written and notes at the end of the doc for the novel’s beautiful heartbreaking conclusion that she never finished.
I am, at present, the only living person who has seen this book.
That tidal wave of grief hit me really hard. Because I miss her, even though I still hear her daily. Because I want people to read this story, and to know that even though her work was always light, her talents were tremendous and could go dark as well.
And because we all die with stories left to tell.
Joss Whedon recently spoke at SDCC and gave the meaning of life. Most of the time, I roll my eyes at that sort of thing, but I’ll read any quote of Whedon’s that might speak about craft and storytelling because truth always echoes there for me.
“You think I’m not going to, but I’m going to answer that. The world is a random and meaningless terrifying place and then we all—spoiler alert—die. Most critters are designed not to know that. We are designed, uniquely, to transcend that, and to understand that—I can quote myself—a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
Whedon added that “the main function of the human brain, the primary instinct, is storytelling. Memory is storytelling. If we all remembered everything, we would be Rain Man, and would not be socially active at all. We learn to forget and to distort, but we [also] learn to tell a story about ourselves.”
“My idea is that stories that we then hear and see and internalize—and wear hats from and come to conventions about… We all come here to celebrate only exactly that: storytelling, and the shared experience of what that gives us.” The shared experience of storytelling gives us strength and peace, Whedon added. You understand your story and everyone else’s story, and that “it can be controlled by us.” This is something we can survive, “because unlike me, you all are the hero of your story.”
When I was sick last year, my prevailing fear was that I was dying and wouldn’t get to finish my stories. That you’ll never know how Oblivion ends, about Ryann’s return to the church, about when Zara’s dying and Nate journeys to hell and back to save her. That you’ll never meet Livi and West (my dear, manipulative, pretty West), or my psychic Asha and plucky group of survivors navigating the zombie invasion of my old hometown of Bowmanville. And I despair, just a little, at how much of my time is spent on writing I do for pay–which, honestly, I don’t hate all of the time, even if it doesn’t have my heart–because I can’t afford to divert my attention to the projects I truly love.
Last night I ran into an old email from Aunt Judy pleading for the fifth and final book of an unpubbed YA paranormal series she’d read the first four books of, dated over two years ago. She never got to see the bittersweet, epic ending because it only exists in my head, and while I don’t think thoughts of it kept her up at night, I know it will always bother me that I didn’t get to share the end with her. And I thought of how Sara Baptiste and her fellow spies in futuristic Nairobi will swirl around in my brain forever because the story seems too big, too scary, and too hard for me to attempt to write, so I keep setting it aside. And, again, of the vast world of characters I want to share–even if only a couple of people read them–but that I don’t play with because I haven’t the spoons left at the end of the day after trying to financially stay afloat.
Canadian copyright lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years, which means I control Aunt Judy’s work for another half century here.
Realistically, I won’t be alive that long. One day either my brain will succeed in its constant attempts to kill me or my body will continue attacking itself until I can’t stave it off. And I will leave this place–probably gladly–sooner or later, and the stories that make up the chaos of my mind will go with me. This has left me wondering what of mine you’ll read and what you won’t, where you’ll be left hanging, what secrets I know that no one else will. I don’t write notes or outlines, so whatever is unwritten won’t be picked up again by someone–or, at least, not the tale I had planned.
And maybe, even though I’m really stressed and tired, I don’t need to watch that hour of TV all the time. Maybe I don’t need to play that game to unwind tonight. Maybe the dishes can wait a little longer, and I can remember that whatever doubts or reasons there are for not doing something, they don’t hit the pause button on the clock that’s running out. Maybe I’ll remind myself that a told story that is flawed still adds more to the world than a story that dies untold.
And when the waves roll back again, I won’t dry myself of the grief soaking into my skin, but instead settle into the ground and write something in the sand for a while.