Leanne W. Smith
Blind spots and new beginnings
2020 holds significant entries into the annals of the Smith Family History for a number of reasons. This time last year I thought 2020 would be the year of New Beginnings because I was headed to Italy to carpe diem after a cancer diagnosis. You know. You were there. I shared my excitement with you in this very blog. Jo sits on the floor in the kitchen, her back to the teal painted cabinets, and I, on a bench at the opposite end of the room. Things typically work best when there are several feet of space between us. That’s when she says the words, quiet but life-altering, like I imagine God’s whisper hit Elijah’s ears from the mouth of the cave after the passing of wind, quake, and fire: “I think I’m autistic…high functioning…obviously.” Then she gives a snorting chuckle as she says how a friend of hers with ASD said the “high functioning” part was a bit misleading. No kidding. That’s what has brought us to this moment, after all—functioning…dysfunctioning…malfunctioning—with her sitting on the floor, me watching her with the question—the 29-year question—hovering over us like an ever-present cloud as she tries to recover from the most recent of life’s set-backs. Now, the cloud dissipates with her words. I think I’m autistic…high functioning…obviously. And you watched, perhaps with pity, and I in frustration, as Lombardy and Milan became international news only days after I’d purchased train tickets to Milan, thinking naively that I’d fly with Shelby from there to Greece for a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter experience. At first it seemed I was part of a small—and extremely unlucky—group of people that Covid-19 had targeted specifically…meanly...like my rare uterine tumor. But then, as you well know, it became everybody’s problem. The Virus interrupted everybody’s plans. I came home in a funk of despair, telling myself repeatedly, like Cher smacking Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck to “snap out of it!” Then, mid-summer, God handed me an information point I’ve begged Him for going on two decades. She says it like an off-handed remark, like a throw-away comment, but it is everything—the answer to the question, the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, offered up like an after-thought. Her seven words ring with such forceful truth that I sit stunned, letting them slide down into the crevices of the heart that has bled a thousand tears for her. I know she is right. I know it instantly. I know it with 100% certainty before I even get on Google and start searching the new terms. My oldest daughter—my beautiful, amazing, talented, hurt, and emotionally frustrated adult daughter—is so high on the spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorder that it has flown under the radar all her life. No teacher, no coach, no doctor, no therapist, and none of the three in-residence treatment programs she has attended—two in the past calendar year—has ever suggested this possibility to us before. But her saying the words, me hearing them, us having a name for the source of her struggle to fit into a world that has expectations for her life and her behavior that do not match the wiring of her brain, is a key that suddenly unlocks the bolt on a cage—the bolt we’ve been hacking away at for years with tears, shouts, broken walls and body parts, prayers, and thousands of dollars. That was on a Thursday in late July. So 2020 goes into the annals as a mixed bag: loss, frustration, reroutes, dreams interrupted, and what constitutes one of the most miraculous moments of my life: finally seeing what lay in my blind spot. Ironic for a woman who thought this time last year that “Seeing 2020 in Italy” would be a good tagline for her blog posts. I wonder how many other blind spots I have. And how many blind spots you have. We make so many assumptions. We think we know things. But do we? I feel the need to point this out after a year of divisiveness and judgement on many levels. It’s my personal opinion that we all need…and need to administer…grace, grace, and a little more grace. The themes of my life have a way of working themselves into my writing, even when I’m blind to them. My third book, coming in March (barring Pandemic re-routes), is what Blake Snyder (Save the Cat) calls a “monster in the house” story. Leaving Independence is a “monster in the house” story, too. (Woman traveling toward danger unaware.) It’s as if I’ve been living with a secret I couldn’t crack, and it has seeped into the subconscious of my words. My daughter is not a monster—quite the opposite, as one of my beloved. A “monster in the house” theme simply means there is a mysterious “something” in the heroine’s life—potentially dangerous, or maybe not—and it’s in her blind spot. But it won’t stay there. As the book launch for Alone in a Cabin approaches, I find myself doubly excited to share this one with you. It’s about Maggie Raines, whose comfortable mid-life stint as a physician’s wife is disrupted when her husband announces he’s had an affair, and the 26-year-old—same age as Maggie and Tom’s twins—is pregnant. When Maggie rents a cabin to clear her head and see if she has what it takes to be a writer, a snowstorm, a half-frozen man on her doorstep, a dead body, and the local sheriff will lead her to the answer. Alone in a Cabin is for the romantics, the dreamers, anyone with a hope in her back pocket wondering if she has the courage to be the heroine of her own life. Cabin is the hub in the wheel of my writing catalog, the only contemporary in a list of historicals—the two published, and the works-in-progress to come. Cabin is where Maggie discovers the rich history of Marston County, with its intersecting threads of place and family lines over time, and the themes of love, loss, struggle, hope, home, and new beginnings. As 2020 draws to an end, I feel full to bursting with what a privilege it is to be a writer. To seek to illustrate slices of fictional life that represent parts of our own, to remind us all that our struggles are not isolated…or the sole chapters of our stories. Praying 2021 holds joy to counter your sorrows.
Let us not grow faint-hearted in doing good, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (paraphrase of Galatians 6:9)
And Alone in a Cabin, coming in March 2021.
If it snows and you need a short read to go with your crackling fire and cocoa, On a Dark & Snowy Night is still a free download.