On the Death of Alan Cheuse, a Leader in the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.


Alan Cheuse,


Why write? It’s a ridiculous endeavor, really. This decision to embark on the entertainment of others without the benefit of bright lights, stage make up, musical accompaniment, or special effects. To take these black and white symbols, ambiguous words that carry multiple and arguable meanings, and build a world. To give the world names, and nuances. Create brave, sad, hopeless and heroic characters with problems that range from sublime to deranged (often for a writer those are simultaneous). And then, to invite in not just a few trusted souls, but in theory- by publishing our words – anyone. Read my work! We advertise, invite, tweet, beg and shamelessly self-promote. Come into my brain! See the murky waters, and judge it, based on anything from the slightly unwieldy plot to the misplaced metaphor. This is reality TV level horror. No one should do this. But we do it. Again and again. This week a writer died. I did not know Alan well, but had the opportunity to meet him at Squaw, to see his friendly face rove through milling nervous writers, to exchange a few words of exhaustion (me) and encouragement (him). More importantly, I listened to him read from his novel, Prayers for the Living. The excerpt was rich, with characters who I quickly bonded to, rooting for the father as his fruit cart fell upon him, longing for the boy who watched the accident, amused by the mother who railed at then bargained with and chastised God. The prose had a rhythm and poetry I could only long to replicate, with subtle twists of irony, humor and loss. I was left wanting more. More of the words, more of the story. It was a story Alan Cheuse needed to tell. Over his many years at NPR and as a writer, I know he told many more. But the night he read to us was one of his last ‘story telling nights’, as he was in a severe accident on his way home from the conference, which then led to his untimely and tragic death. Other writers from Squaw were lucky enough to call him a friend, and are lost in their grief for him. My heart goes out to them, and most of all to his family. I hope eventually the stories he left behind can offer them comfort and healing, as stories are meant to do. This is why we write. Because we have stories to tell and life is short, often unpredictably so. Because our words are often our longest legacy. Because for writers, the worlds we create and the one we live in intertwine, separated only by fragments, or a shadow. Which is why we can commune with a writer’s spirit in his fictional worlds long after his time on this earth. A year after my own mother’s death, she came to me in a dream. It was the most vivid dream of her I’d ever had. Her face was restored to health, her body round and fleshy, not caved in with illness, and she was busy, very busy she said. She whispered things to me about life, and death, and the afterlife, skirting around my bed rather furtively, tucking me in, and spilling out advice. “Keep writing. Get the baby a sweater, she was cold today. Get more rest.” “But Mom,” I said at one point, “How is this happening? How can I see you so clearly?” “Think of life as a book,” she said, before leaving. “A book we are both reading. We just happen to be on the same page tonight.” And then she was gone. For the loved ones of Alan Cheuse, I hope they discover that life is a spiral book, one that loops around, and crosses places with loved ones long after they have departed, in the strangest of ways. In coincidences and memory, in long told stories, in late night dreams, and on the pages of life. Blessings on the writers we have lost, and those still here, trying to share the healing stories. Joanell Below is a link to a lovely write up about this impressive man I was fortunate to meet, but not to get to know well. I wish we had at least known, in our moments by the coffee table, that we shared an Alma Mater, Rutgers. I wish I could have a longer conversation, but I can at least open one of his many books, and begin the journey. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/books/alan-cheuse-author-and-npr-book-critic-dies-at-75.html?_r=0


About Joanellserraauthor

My debut novel just released from Wido Publishing and on Amazon. Come see me at http://joanellserraauthor.com/
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