There’s an event described in my current fiction project. It’s about a person who dies of a heart attack doing something that was his passion and fulfillment. A comment is made about how he had done his work with his heart, and how his heart had given all it could.
But there’s a writerly thing about the way it’s included in the project. The event is told second-hand in the flow of plot in this different sort of novel. I didn’t take my reader there to witness it but had one of my characters recount the event to another. In the dreaded parlance of fiction writing, I told it rather than showed it. We fiction writers are not supposed to do that.
Last Friday, when I was walking on the treadmill in the cardiologist’s lab I wasn’t thinking about this, this bit of subjective distancing that happened in the work of fiction that I’m creating. The imperfectly self-aware, post-psychologist me latched onto this realization upon reflection. It was too difficult for me to take my readers right there as it happened. I had to tell it in a past-tense, third-person account.
You see, a generation ago my father, who was just a scant few years older than I am now, died of a massive heart attack. He did so about 3500 kilometres away from me when my life and his had quite significantly diverted philosophically as well as geographically. My father and I engaged quite different works of the heart.
My father’s heart was filled with Jesus being in there. In the religion of my childhood, that which defined my father’s life from his adolescence on, having Jesus in one’s heart was a very important thing. It was full of reassurance and hope. My father’s heart attack was Jesus taking him home.
My heart has been filled differently. I outgrew choosing the sacred for the various self-benefits of an assuring faith: you know, being one of God’s chosen, a person whose prayers get answered, having Jesus as a BFF, getting to go to heaven when you die or getting to ride a cloud into heaven at the Second Coming. What has filled my heart instead, what the sacred has been …. Well, I can only hope that sacred heart work has been living with compassion, empathy, gratitude and grace.
But at that, undoubtedly, I have only done so only imperfectly.
This entire theme is under development in my current writing project. That’s what writing fiction does for me as an author. The various undercurrents of human nature, what I have experienced through my former professional work and the living of my life, get to be projected out onto characters. Once out there I can watch it happening and understand it more deeply. Three novels have explored that theme with respect to my work as a psychologist. The current project explores the theme by examining the contrast between a religion, with its drive toward evangelizing its doctrinal correctness, and lovingly responsive relationship.
But let’s get back to the cardiologist standing beside me at the treadmill. While I panted away for a long time just to get my heart rate up to 85% of its maximum, he stands there quite calm and clean and crisp. He has a job to do, and does it with efficiency and clarity. I’m sure his heart rate doesn’t go up at all. He’s reassuring to the extent that he can be, simply letting me know that I’m really not his problem to deal with given my performance on his treadmill and the symptoms I report. I suspect he flawlessly goes through this diagnostic routine a couple of dozen times a day, each time with the same clean, crisp, calm clarity.
The experience was everything that I could have hoped for and sadly disappointing at the same time. I’ve spent my life trying to do my work and live my life with a sense of heart and this guy totally knows about hearts. But in the final analysis, he was just about his diagnostic algorithm and the blips on the 12 lead ECG machine connected to his treadmill. And I guess that’s what the system of medical diagnostics believes I most need at this point in my life.
He qualifies for a character in a novel, somewhere I need a foil to someone who really knows what heart is about. You know the really hard heart stuff that is messy, and chaotic, and unclear and hopelessly subjective but deeply connects two people together.
You can always be in touch to offer your reflection on my blog, or to get your hands on that fascinating current writing project by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clickable links to all my previous blogs.
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.