Let’s Break Up With Some Literary Characters by Nina Gaby
Most of us writers are voracious readers. And man, do we love our characters and our authors. From day one, right? From the moment when the word “LOOK” (for those of us who began our reading careers with Dick, Jane and Sally) first clicked in our brains and we lit up like little Christmas trees, to last night when we cuddled in bed with our newest favorite crush. (For me it’s Miranda July and last week it was Atul Gawande.) So what happens when we have to lower the boom? Breaking up is hard to do.
So bye bye, Sue Barton. Yes you, with your vivacious personality, your coiffed red hair, your chums Kit and Connie. Your surgeon husband who made you choose between your nursing career and him? I have to break up with you for not breaking up with him. And I’m mad at you for giving me a totally screwed up view of what working in health care would be like. Part of me is still that optimistic 11-year-old that devoured all seven of those novels from Senior Nurse to Staff Nurse and everything in between. It’s not “romance and excitement at every bend of the hospital corridor.” Not by a long shot, Sue.
James Frey. You had me at dental emergency. Then you cheated. You lied. You lied to Oprah, for godsake. You do not deserve me.
Scarlett. For having a 17-inch waist. A description that defined womanhood for me and a line from a book that I could never forget.
Sometimes they beat us to the punch and leave us before we have a chance to leave them. David Rackoff, I had just lent your collection of essays, Half Empty, to my friend, a therapist who was dying, about your experience with your therapist who was dying, and then I found out that you were dying too! No kidding. I miss you! You’re better than David Sedaris. (Oh yeah, goodbye David Sedaris, you just aren’t that funny anymore.)
We can’t talk about creativity without acknowledging the darker side. Like the suicide of David Foster Wallace. The loss of his beautiful mind is a sucker punch I will carry for years. I looked to other writers and experts to explain. “The arts are more dangerous [than other professions] because they require sensitivity to a large extent. If you go too far you can pay a price – you can be too sensitive to live in this world,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California and author of Flow. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of numerous bestselling books on mood disorder agrees, “Many biographical studies, as well as studies of living artists, writers, and musicians have found higher rates of mania, severe depression, and suicide in creative individuals.” And I can look to my own profession; I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner, what is my life other than helping people climb out of the dark wells of depression, hopelessness and addiction? None of this really helps to explain the loss of great creative minds though, does it? How do we let go?
And then there is my own, not so well hidden darker side. That side that I begin to explore in my new book, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women, but not really. How sometimes it is easier to walk away than acknowledge our jealousy. Hasta la vista, Amy Ferris (who incidentally has a new book coming out on suicide in the fall, Shades of Blue.) Jealousy is a terrible thing and I’m just too jealous of your intense and unflagging exuberance in the face of all that feels so wrong in this world. I can say this because I don’t think you will let me break up with you. And while we are playing the jealousy game, TTFN Vivian Gornick, David Shields, Elena Passarello and Anne Lamott. Just because I love you so much and I will never have the likes of any of you. Or your essays for my anthology. (Just between you and me, I wrote a whole bunch more stuff here and broke up with a whole lot more people, but it started to feel really petty so I deleted it all. Don’t tell anyone.)
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist and psychiatric nurse practitioner whose book Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women comes out on March 3, 2015, from She Writes Press. She has never completely mastered the art of letting go. Gaby has been a contributor to many other anthologies and periodicals, has guest blogged for Brevity.com among others, and has widely shown her sculptural porcelain with pieces in the permanent collection of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian. Find her blogging infrequently at www.ninagaby.com.
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