The other day I was asked to explain how … or more specifically, why … I wrote a story about Alzheimer’s disease from the inside-out. From the thoughts and viewpoint of a woman trapped in such a gripping disease. Why didn’t I just write something simple … like a mystery, or a story about sea monkeys or something?
To put it bluntly, All the Dancing Birds was a story I had to tell. Certainly, writing about the distasteful subject of Alzheimer’s disease wasn’t easy — especially from inside the mind of a dementia sufferer. This wasn’t your practical, run-of-the mill story. I didn’t REALLY know how I was going to pull it off, but from the floor of my gut, I knew it could be done. I even fought my writer’s group over it. “You can’t do this,” was the cry. “It MUST be told from some other viewpoint … omniscient maybe, or at least from the viewpoint of another central character,” they pounded. “What will you do when your main character is a vegetable?” they whined. “When your story’s voice is voiceless?” They had a good point. I think my ears fell off my head, though, because I didn’t listen to the collective practicality of this good group of readers and advisers.
I simply continued to plod ahead … each week presenting more improbable writing. More imagination.
One day after a particularly brutal session of continued assertions that an Alzheimer’s story MUST be told ABOUT the victim, rather than FROM the victim’s voice, I was nearly convinced that it couldn’t — or shouldn’t — be attempted. As I packed up my pages, my mouth most likely turned down with defeat for having wasted precious weeks on a project that was unlikely to be successful, one member of the group, a rather quiet woman who conspicuously hadn’t joined the chorus of naysayers, sidled up to me.
“Do it,” she whispered to me.
“Do it. It’s beautiful. Keep going with your story just like it is. I need to know what your heroine thinks about, especially as she gets sicker.”
“Yeah.” Her voice began to shake, her eyes teared up. “I’ve just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I need to know how it’s going to go for me.”
That woman looked at me with eyes that no longer wanted to know about mystery whodunits, or about Sci-Fi, or Chick-Lit. She didn’t want to read ABOUT crazy Aunt Jane … she was about to BECOME crazy Aunt Jane. She wanted to know that someone was writing a story from her viewpoint and that her family might one day find understanding from such a story.
And so I quit the group. I wrote the story. It was recognized and awarded by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Several agents have recently indicated high interest in it. It’s on its way!
And aren’t we all just Dancing Birds, trying to find our perch in this world?