Excuses Not To Live…and Reasons To
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.
I’m heartsick from the news: a colleague I have admired, respected, and adored for 15 years is battling brain cancer…and losing. He’s been on my mind for the past week, and I mentioned him in my blog only a couple of days ago. He and I took care of each other on the job for a good eight years, though it’s been a while since I’ve worked with him. I’ve kept my office door closed almost all day because all I can do is sit here and cry, and tears aren’t allowed in a job where I’m supposed to be heartless.
This is such a huge surprise, but not the only one today. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to me that I also receive crucial information from two people who don’t exist. Then again, these days, everything simultaneously surprises and doesn’t surprise me. After all, I learn things from entities in the Ether, from angelic beings and guides and Higher Powers. Why wouldn’t I learn something from two thought-forms I’ve made up?
The characters in my latest novel, Dark Revelations, have taken on a life of their own. Which is a good thing, I suppose, because it makes them more realistic. Either that or more over the top. They’re just two thought-forms I’ve created, but for me, writing novels has always been like holding a deep conversation with my Higher Self: I never quite know what’s going to come out—or what I’m going to learn—and that’s half the fun. I guess my protagonists, Aubrey and Eric, were working their magic on me overnight because I woke up this morning with a deep understanding of what it is that holds us back and what we say holds us back and what we think holds us back.
When I first started publishing my romantic suspense novels, I had lunch with my editor at Silhouette Books, the gorgeous Melissa Senate, at a little French restaurant in Manhattan. Over dessert, she told me a thing or two about conflict— internal and external. As a plot-heavy writer, I’ve always loved external conflict. External conflict means the outside forces that keep the boy and girl from getting together. For me, that generally means the bad guys.
The internal conflict has always been much harder for me to convey. It’s the real reason why people can’t get together. It’s some combination of fears and hopes, but mostly the fears, the self-doubt, the insecurities. Hope for something wonderful that will overcome a tortured past. Fear that the relationship won’t live up to expectations. And then just giving up because it’s easier not to take a risk.
For years, my heroine Aubrey has let outside influences hold her back and keep her from losing her heart again. And now, trapped in a high-security vault with a crazy man and hearing the truth about her long-lost lover, she’s just realized that it’s all been nothing more than an excuse not to embrace life.
How appropriate that, on the eve of this discovery, I hear news of an old flame who has issues far less serious than brain cancer but just as startling. Last time I saw him, he stared out the window of his car at a parking lot sign and cited a long list of reasons why we could never take our relationship to the next level, even though by that time, I’d already given up on any hope that we might have a serious love relationship. Not that any of it matters now. He’s out of my life. For good. It surprises me to know that those oh-so-important reasons he gave me don’t exist anymore—whether he realizes it or not—if they ever did. One by one, I watched his external conflicts evaporate. All except for one last crucial issue that came between us.
And now I’ve learned that that problem was not so dire after all. In his mind, perhaps, but not in reality. The fact that our potential relationship fizzled all came down to that one issue that he couldn’t get beyond. Whether he was a player or he really thought this external force kept us apart, I think now that he never really wanted a “real” relationship. That somehow it was all an excuse. As long as he could pardon himself with a claimed external conflict, he didn’t have to face his own issues, his own fears, his own self-doubts. Or, ultimately, his own hopes. He could enjoy his fantasy of a life with me while he hid behind the safety of what the bad guys had done to him, without ever realizing what he’d done to himself. Or to me.
It takes two imaginary people to show me that what Melissa Senate told me years ago—to wrap up the external conflict first and the internal last to craft a stronger story—that what she told me was true, not just in fiction but in real life. The external conflict didn’t really do anything to keep my old flame and me apart. It was only an excuse for what was on the inside, and if two people really want to be together, they’ll find a way.
He didn’t. Or didn’t enough. He gave himself an excuse and never explored the opportunity of what life might have been like if he’d ever dared to give himself to someone completely.
It’s sad, really. Our time in this lifetime is so short, and we come up with so many excuses not to live, instead of embracing life fully.