How Loss Made Me a Writer

movingLoss is an interesting word. It can mean so little and so much. Lost hair? Lost keys? Lost dog? But losing for me has always been elastic in its meaning. Stretching and holding and snapping back into place again.

They say moving as a child is like experiencing a death; you lose all that’s familiar in your daily routine, you lose what you know about the world to be true, and then there’s the people. Gone are all of those friends, that feel like permanent fixtures in your life. All of it, gone.

I was a military brat as a kid. (I also lost a parent in all of that, but that’s a story for another day.) I moved A LOT–more than most people do in two lifetimes. Loss became a deep, visceral pulsing beneath my skin that beat against my trust, my ability to give freely. Despite this near-tangible being, this permanent parasite that had become a part of me, loss wasn’t a word I truly came to understand until I was an adult. An adult out in the world, attempting to find a place I could call home that held significance, a place that would fill me up. I had never had the experience of running into folks at the library or the grocery, or bumping into so-and-so at the local coffee shop. I was unknown wherever I ventured, an outsider, an unloved.  It wasn’t until much later that it really soaked in that I meant something to someone,  really meant something, and that they would STAY and our relationships would endure; that it didn’t all just slip away. And that was the hardest part of all– to allow myself to love and BE loved.

So I say loss is elastic. It is, for me, because the loss GAVE ME SO MUCH. I always knew myself. There was never any guessing. All of that starting over taught me who I was at a young age–a gift I held dear. Loss is elastic because through it all, I ultimately gained more than I could hold. I gained perspective, the ability to see, to absorb, to be open-minded; to compare new environments, new cultures, new ways of life, TO UNDERSTAND. I gained the ability to watch and be unseen. I gained a writer’s lens. For that, I’ll be forever grateful. So all of that hurtful loss bends and stretches around so much good, and holds all of it–the emotions and experiences and GIFTS together just like an elastic.

Now, I can honestly say, I’m truly grateful for all of that loss.

Is there a time when your loss gave you a great gift? 

Author: Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, her debut historical (Plume/Penguin 2014). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her Twittering @msheatherwebb, hosting contests, or hanging around as a contributor to the Editor's Posts. She is also the Twitter mistress for the popular Writer Unboxed. She loves making new reader and writer friends. Stop on by her website, Between the Sheets!

22 Replies to “How Loss Made Me a Writer”

  1. You’ve crystallized many of my thoughts and experiences, as a fellow military brat and now author. That’s so true that all that understanding and observation allows a writer’s lens to develop. Also, finally knowing that everyone won’t disappear and will actually stick around- I can definitely identify with that. Strange how it’s a given for most and an unexpected thing to people like us. Great post! Best of luck with your continued success!

    1. Thank you, Megan. It’s really so interesting how we are shaped from all of the moving. I’ve known many military brats who go in the opposite direction–become shut down in their views because they believe “one way” is the best way. Just loads of egotism there, in my opinion. Good luck to you as well. 🙂

  2. I was not a military kid, but we did move around a lot when I was a child. I lived in 10 different houses before I was 10 years old. So this definitely resonates with me.

  3. This is so well said–and moving to my writer-soul. There are so many kinds of loss and this post can be “translated” to apply to all of them. I love the “attitude of gratitude.” Thanks for posting!

  4. Wow, Heather! How amazing that you are able to have such a positive perspective on all you went through. Thank you for all your family sacrificed. I’m glad that you are in such a good place in your life now. Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. I love how positive you are, Heather, and I like the way you transformed your experience (which could easily cause bitterness or resentment) into the notion of elastic loss. Elastic is such a great word! 🙂

  6. Well said, Heather. I do believe that loss can deepen our emotional container, and lets us fill that container with joy.

    In terms of my own personal losses, our lives changed so much four years ago after our house fire and it defined for me so clearly what was and was not important. I truly no longer sweat the small stuff.

    1. I can’t imagine going through that, L.J. But you’re right–a major life trauma like that can spin us on our heads like tops and change our views of everything. Not sweating the small stuff is one of life’s most important lessons. You’re blessed, in many ways, it came to you. 🙂

  7. Anything bad makes me a better writer because it gives me interesting material to write about.

    I moved dozens of times in childhood and throughout my life but it wasn’t until we moved from New Jersey to Oklahoma and Virginia that I lost what I knew about the world to be true. I had no idea states were so different culturally in the same country and I learned what it feels like to be an outsider. But now I’m writing about it. And those who treated me badly are not going to like it. It’s great.

    1. Unfortunately, I have to agree about the “anything bad” part. But don’t the good things shape us to? For me, for example, I feel like I’m a better writer since I’ve had kids. I have a greater understanding for the capacity for human love and sacrifice and I consider that a very good thing. 🙂

      And yes! Different cultures within the U.S. I moved from Texas to England to Tennessee to Louisiana to Rhode Island to Illinois (and many others as well), so I very much get this concept. lol. Fascinating.

  8. My dad worked for the VA Canteen Service, so we moved a lot, too. He was a sort of fixer. When a Canteen in a VA hospital was in trouble, they’d send Dad to fix it. Along the way, I learned I had to fix myself or life was going to be pretty dismal. All these years later I actually embrace change as a way to let go of past mistakes and build on my strengths.

    1. That’s really interesting, Jane. And I do the same thing–I actually embrace change. I feel a bit stifled if I haven’t kicked the dust off my feet and gone off on an adventure for a while.

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