by Gina Sestak
I've speculated in prior posts about the difference between writers and other people. There is, of course, the obvious one: writers write. Other people may talk about writing, but they don't really do it.
Beyond that basic fact there are other distinctions. Writers enjoy words. We like to talk and read about word origins, and to debate usage and grammar in our critique groups. We like the way words sound, and how they look upon the page. We like our silly typos - in the midst of a horrific torture scene, I found myself repeatedly typing "gingernails" instead of "fingernails."
But other aspects of the writing life are more problematic. In a prior post, I mentioned standing by my dying aunt's bedside, unable to stop myself from mentally translating everything that happened into sentences. Those sentences formed the basis for my essay, Breathe Out, that won a PennWriters non-fiction prize one year. I think it captured the experience of what happens when a family gives up hope, authorizes the breathing machine to be turned off, then spends those agonizing bedside hours waiting for someone to die. I'm proud of the piece, but I felt like a ghoul while writing it.
This past August I spent a week and a half in Shadyside Hospital having gallbladder surgery. There were complications so, in addition to the extended stay, I got this lovely huge incision scar that makes my abdomen look as if it had been designed by Tom Savini. I don't want to talk about that now, though -- maybe in a future post. Now I want to talk about my roommate.
Ellie [not her real name] came into the hospital about mid-way through my stay. She's a 93-year old woman who needed emergency surgery and who, after the first day or so, began to speak almost non-stop. I'm not sure who she was talking to. Clearly not to me. I should point out that I love to eavesdrop, which is another trait that distinguishes writers from other people. Other people get annoyed about having to listen to someone else ramble. I get fascinated. She didn't tell stories, exactly. Whoever she was talking to already knew the substance of the conversation. She got belligerent. She challenged the unseen hearer, and used language that I wouldn't have expected a church-going woman of her age to even know. As one of the staff members put it, Ellie has a mouth like a trucker, although most truckers I know don't cuss half as much.
The staff kept offering to move me, or move her, and seemed confused that I kept turning them down. I wanted to listen!
I should mention that the hospital employees - nurses, aides (now known as "patient care technicians"), dietary, housekeeping, and other personnel - were very patient and kind to Ellie, even when she called them names and made inappropriate remarks. Watching their reactions was fascinating.
So I've listed a few things that distinguish writers from other people. What other traits can you think of?