I Write Because? – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Yesterday, before I read the prompt for today’s Writing 101 assignment, I addressed this question. I wanted to reflect before the class began.

“As I look at the larger patterns in my life, I realize that it’s important for me to share knowledge from the heart as well as from the intellect in words that are clear and simple. Lately, I’ve given some thought to the question “why do I write?” I write to share the simple things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help others. I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.” (Carol A. Hand)

As soon as I hit publish, I realized this was only part of the truth. What are the other reasons I write? When I asked myself that question this morning, an image and a memory of Mickey flashed through my thoughts. I was one of the strangers responsible for his care, a fifty year old man lying in a nursing home bed, forgotten, unable to care for himself, dependent on the kindness of strangers who weren’t always kind.

I only know bits and pieces of Mickey’s story and the accident that brought him to the nursing home many years before I took this job. He broke his neck when he fell down the steps one night while he was doing his job as a janitor. The accident left him paralyzed, paraplegic, unable to do the simplest self-care tasks. He needed to rely on overworked, underpaid nurses and nurses’ aides to do everything for him. Many didn’t have the time, patience, or inclination to realize there was a sensitive, alert human being inside his motionless body.

I had the luxury of listening to him because I worked the graveyard shift. (A fitting title for the night shift in this facility, although it’s hardly respectful of the people whose care and safety depended on our presence and compassion.) It was difficult for Mickey to speak as he struggled to make his jaw and tongue move. His softly spoken words were almost impossible to decipher at first. It took me time to learn the meanings behind this new language. One memorable story often comes to mind. Mickey told me in his halting, painful-to-witness way, that the nurses’ aides seldom talked to him or asked him if he needed anything. There were a few who were kind and treated him like a human being. But one in particular, according to Mickey, was incredibly rude. When it was time to get residents ready for bed, she would come in with a washcloth and rub it over his face without removing his eyeglasses first. In fact, she just left his smeared eyeglasses on, shutting off the light as she left him alone in his the room for the night. He lay there unable to do anything about it until I arrived for my shift.

I write because people like Mickey can’t. Someone needs to write their stories. I write because women with small children and bills to pay have to work at low paying jobs at times of the day or night that allow them to attend to their children’s needs during waking hours. They didn’t and don’t have access to affordable, reliable, high quality daycare and may be locked into pick collar, low-wage jobs for many years. They need to work at whatever jobs they can find in a society that does little to ensure that families have adequate safety net benefits. The long-term care industry (or childcare industry) is staffed by a steady stream of low-income women – mothers with young children or elders who can’t afford to retire. It’s an industry that is built on the backs of poor women often with few other options. (I mean that quite literally – lifting people like Mickey is heavy, back-straining work.) Their stories need to be included in national conversations about the need to pay workers living wages.

AW nursing home

Photo: Nursing Home Resident – Aging Wisconsin (full citation listed below)

Warehousing those who need assistance in institutions like the one Mickey lived in, or worse, is what we’ve been conditioned to see as the best or only option for people who need 24-hour care and assistance. Yet studies show nursing homes are not always the best option. It’s important to realize that one accident could place any one of us in a situation like Mickey’s – or worse. Is that what we want for ourselves, our parents, our children?

I write because these are important issues to consider. The legislators and experts who decide what types of services to provide as a nation rarely if ever ask those who are most affected by their decisions what they (elders, parents, workers) need and prefer. These are the people on the margins, like me, who need to have a voice in designing a nation and a world that care more about people.

“The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” (Hubert H. Humphrey, 1976)

While I doubt that my modest stories will have much of an impact, it’s what I can do today to try. It’s what I can do to honor Mickey’s memory and the many women (and men) who help people in the situations Humphrey describes with such poetic eloquence. Words can bring hope and healing to a troubled world. Writing with this purpose in mind is something I love to do. Ultimately, it’s why I write.

Work Cited:

Carol Hand (1988)(Ed.) Aging Wisconsin: The past three years – 1984-1986 progress report on the Wisconsin State Plan on Aging. Madison, WI: Bureau on Aging, Department of Health and Social Services.

Contextual Note:

This essay was inspired by the new course I began today, Writing 101. My intention for taking the course is described below.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all of you and learning more about your blogs. I’m also looking forward to the discipline and challenge of writing every day. It’s my hope to use this class to help me work on a new approach for a book that I originally thought would be non-fiction based on a research study I did a number of years ago. Instead, after experiencing the freedom of writing a play that required creativity and freed me from the constraints of objective reporting, I decided to explore fiction as an option. Fictionalized accounts would also be a better way to protect individual and place identities. So, I see this course as a challenging and exciting opportunity to experiment with new ways of writing.
I send my best wishes to all!”

Despite my desire to learn to write fiction, the prompt for today inspired a different direction. But then, it’s Labor Day. And unbidden and unplanned, the memory that came to mind allowed me to honor the many women I’ve worked with who do the heavy-lifting in the profitable long-term care industry, although they see little of the industry’s financial rewards.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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29 Responses to I Write Because? – Writing 101

  1. Eva Prim says:

    These are important thoughts and observations. Thank you for sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. desilef says:

    Thank you. I appreciated reading this today when, like every day for the past couple of months, I’ve been visiting my elderly family members to spend time with them and read to them. After weeks in two different hospitals, they are now together in a rehab facility where we hope to see them get strong enough to go home. Some of the staff makes me think of the women who rubbed the wash cloth right over Mickey’s glasses. Maybe they resent being so underpaid and unappreciated. Certainly some of the staff is very bitter. We also hire caregivers to be with them all the time because when they buzz for the nurse, no one comes. The caregivers are angels. The agency is receiving generous fees but we learned last week how pitifully little of the money (and no benefits) goes to the women doing the work. My only hope is we can get my elders home this week, in hospice care or round-the-clock care with us hiring the women directly instead of through the agency which enjoys all the profit. And thank you for the quote from HHH though it’s not just the way to judge a government, but the test of for-profit corporations, and of all of us. And thank you for being a graveyard shift angel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing these experiences and observations. As you say, some caregivers are angels, and others not so. It’s hard for me to blame any of them, though. Their lives are often so challenging. Why else would they be willing to sleep only a few hours a day and work hard jobs for little pay?

      I do hope your family members are able to go home soon. It’s where most elders say they want to be. And I hope you can find reliable caregivers. I know from my own experience it’s not always easy. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts, Diane.

      I often wonder why we continue to build housing that isn’t wheelchair accessible and equipped to enhance mobility (like grab bars in tubs). Needs and mobility change over time with age, accidents, or disease. We’ve had the technology for decades. Instead we insist on multiple moves to ever-more physically-accessible (and socially isolating) settings, each move a trauma.

      I do agree that for-profit corporations should have ABSOLUTELY NO TAX-SUPPORTED ROLE in health or social services (including education and corrections). I agree with HHH and go further like you – profiting from people’s suffering is immoral…

      Like

  3. Much of your reasoning for writing is shared by me with the admirable exception of Mikey (I’ve never been in such a situation), but I’ll add another. I’ve been repeatedly asked why I wanted to write a novel, particularly a science-fiction novel. I answered that the experience was profoundly cathartic, allowing my inner fears and aspirations an avenue for release. One of my responses summed it up nicely: “There was a book inside me that was dying to come out.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comments, Robert. You’ve sparked my interest. How could I have missed this on your blog for so long? I’m excited to have more ideas for winter reading and your books sound so fascinating. (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned how much I love sci-fi.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t know you liked sci-fi. It’s a wonderful medium for all sorts of stories – so open ended. Hope you enjoy them! 🙂

        (caveat: I’m certainly not the most accomplished writer around, nor the most gifted.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m sure I will enjoy them, and I’m sure they’re much better written than some I can remember. Seriously, Robert, I loved the story your wrote about your father, and I certainly don’t consider myself an accomplished writer, either. Besides, I’m much more interested in substance and creativity than mere superficial style.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Carol. Likewise, I also prefer substance over style. But in writing, style is important too. It greases-the-wheels for an enjoyable reading experience. This is especially true for fiction where readers might not be as interested in the specific content as in nonfiction works.

          BTW, your writing style is quite smooth and flowing much like a gentle, pastoral stream – very pleasing.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you so much for your kind words, Robert. Yes, I do remember that style is important. But I remembered something when Diane Lefer and I were exchanging comments yesterday. My style is unsophisticated (I’ve been told that “the grass is still between my toes”), and I still use a picture of me in my grandson’s large and somewhat dirty jacket as my avatar. It’s a class legacy that I accept. There’s a certain style in authenticity – something I think we both share.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. I write because people like Mickey can’t.

    This piece of writing is strong and powerful. Glad you’ve joined the course this month and look forward to seeing how you use each day’s prompts in your own way.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Insightful, as usual. I wish more people understood THEY would feel better/happier if they knew their neighbors were cared for, that they were OK. Because, deep down, we all know that we need help, and that we are called to help. It is a part of our shared human reality. Denying that creates cognitive dissonance – resulting in guilt, low self-esteem, and fear. (IMO)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Silvia TIC says:

    Always thoughtful and caring, a social activist and advocate, someone in the margins, as you say, but who fights that with strength and passion…
    From my corner here, I know why I read what you write: because your stories are varied, they reflect a world I try to understand, sometimes inspiring me, others concerning me to look further and do even more.
    I used to read a lot of fiction in my teens and early twenties: the works of what is called “universal literature” and also local writers. With time, I’ve learned to appreciate even more writings that come from real lives, real human beings, or the recounting of real things happening to our fellow animals, plants and ecosystems…both our writing (and reading) seem to change over time as we get involved in different areas of life.
    Whatever is the reason behind, do not stop writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am deeply touched and honored by your comments, Sylvia. You’re someone I admire greatly – your wisdom. passion, and commitment to social justice and permaculture are inspiring. I hope you make the same promise – to never stop writing and sharing your future-focused grounded knowledge that is indispensable for the times ahead.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Maybe you can find some way to add those experiences into your fiction. I worked in a nursing home for less than a year and vowed never to do it again. You very well described their reality and the hard work and low pay of the people who do the heavy lifting. And even though the nurses are paid more money, the large number of residents, the large number of medications, and the rigidity of the system makes them very discouraging places to work. It would be so much better to have small homes of two to four people with one nurse and MA in homelike environments. Ah. . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate hearing from someone who has experience with nursing homes, Skywalker. 🙂

      I’m honestly not sure what the best alternatives are. At one point in my job with a state aging bureau, I did focus on housing issues for elders. I visited a variety of different alternatives that I referred to at the time as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” It was during an era when disability advocates were enamored with the “small is beautiful” movement – shared housing in residential neighborhoods with no more than 4 to 8 residents with caregiving staff. I also helped organize a state conference of experts from around the country. What I learned is that there are no easy answers. At that time, most elders wanted to remain in their own homes, so I worked with the state housing development authority to create a no-interest loan program to provide funds to modify homes to make them handicapped (I dislike this word, but I can’t think of an alterative) accessible. The loans were not due until the elder moved or sold the home. Not perfect, but it gave some people the chance to “age in place.”

      The challenge is how to fund all of the social safety net programs that really should be in place. Most of the public funding for elders’ programs is already over-committed to cover nursing home care. Without significant additional funding, how do we fund other alternatives? If we pay staff decent salaries, small is prohibitively expensive. There are other creative possibilities, like home share, linking elders who own homes with a person or small family who needs a place to live. In exchange for providing some level of care for the elder, people have a place to stay. But assuring quality of care in such a program is a crucial issue…

      In the age of austerity, it is still possible for communities to develop viable local initiatives that link generations in mutual support networks, exchanging skills without state or federal funding. From my perspective, this is the ideal…

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I like your last option. Also, many of us elders are going to have to turn to each other for mutual support and creative ways of helping others in our communities. And of course, if we had Universal health care, quality care and decent pay for caregivers would be a given.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. cicorm says:

    It is very touching when I see the elders in retirement (some are 80 years old) helping the less fortunate on a regular basis. Not only they are helping others, but by keeping active in mind and body, they are keeping in health. Above all, a culture of love, care, empathy and group empowerment/self sufficiency is created. So far, I can’t think of a more meaningful situation than this : )

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Carol: in the spirit of giving the voiceless a voice, what about writing a short story seen from Mickey’s perspective?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I worked in a nursing home many years ago when my children were small and we needed the money. There were sights I saw then that I never want to see again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Carol, Thank you for sharing your writing with us. Yes, the test of a society is always how it treats its most vulnerable members.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. joanneeddy says:

    What a very poignant touching story. Thank you for sharing it. I, too, am a social worker, (MSW) and worked many years with those impoverished and excluded. I also taught Adjunct in Social Work and Human Services. So glad to “meet” you on Senior Salon. We truly need to call out to society and share stories to achieve change. So appreciated reading this

    Liked by 1 person

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