Maine poet writes through terminal cancer diagnosis

Nick Stone is a former corporate lawyer who started writing poetry in his retirement. In August, when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer and given twenty months to live, he decided to keep writing.

Eighty-nine-year-old Nick Stone has written dozens of pages of “left-brain” work, such as legal briefs and filings, for decades. However, the Portland Press Herald reports that he started engaging the right side of his brain when he composed poetry for the first time after retiring to Maine from his career as a corporate lawyer in Boston. Now that he’s diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and has just months left to live, “Stone only wants to keep writing.”

It is almost otherworldly, what comfort writing can bring – even to the dying. Stone’s poetry gives him something to come alive for. No matter how late in life it is – even near the end – a writer’s time can come.

The myth of the substance use-disordered writer

Mark Dery, a columnist for Medium, analyzes the relationship between alcohol abuse and writing. Although he stresses the physical and emotional toll of such a lifestyle, I cannot emphasize enough the danger of this narrative.

According to Luis Buñuel’s memoir My Last Sigh, he perfected his martinis by “simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin… [as] the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen … leaving it unbroken.” A poetically written quote which attests to the depth of Mark Dery’s research as well as the keenness of his prose, the cultural critic deconstructs the connection between writers and alcoholism in his Medium column, “Why Writers Drink – and This One Doesn’t.” While employing a personal essayist’s anecdotal evidence for his own artistic partnership with booze, Dery argues that the field of psychology fails to grasp the unique stress of writing for a career, in addition to the ethereal nature of inspiration and creativity, when scientists “reduce any use of mind-altering substances to a psychological disorder or a genetic predisposition.”

Personally, the “madness and genius” narrative bears no weight with me – if anything, my mental illnesses kneecap my productivity, rather than disinhibit it, because studies show my bipolar I disorder has diminished my hippocampus in size, which leaves me more vulnerable to alcohol-induced blackouts and leads to more debilitating trauma. Indeed, Dery writes, “after one too many scotches, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you realize, woozily, that everything you’ve written since the tide in the bottle ran out has been drek.” If you’re at risk of becoming one of the ninety-five thousand Americans who dies of substance use disorder, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A writer of climate fantasy faces the future more fearlessly in her fiction

Rebecca Scherm began writing “A House Between Earth and the Moon” while pregnant in 2014 to ease her anxieties about the world her first child would inherit. Much like childbirth, the process was painful, but miraculous.

For many expecting mothers, the world today can strike the fear of God into the heart; for writers like Rebecca Scherm, that dread is an opportunity “not to calm myself, exactly, but to run my imagination all the way out, until it exhausts itself.” Contributing to Literary Hub, Scherm describes the creative process behind her science fiction novel, A House Between Earth and the Moon, which follows a family as they flee the dying planet for a space station in 2033. In forcing herself to research the realities of climate change she’d once upon a time avoided, Scherm writes, “This novel changed me from someone who writes about a need for change into someone desperate to bring those changes to life.”

As loath as I am to regurgitate pull quote after pull quote (especially in a blog post this brief), Scherm is the best writer I’d never heard of before today, and she deserves the same recognition as all the other women authors dominating the post-J.K. Rowling marketplace; Gillian Flynn springs most readily to mind as a worthy contemporary. Anyway, Scherm speaks for herself with more of a voice than anyone else could hope to capture, such as with the course-correction in lifestyle she outlines here: “I started down a path of climate activism through native plant gardening—for biodiversity, for carbon capture, for reacquainting people with the more-than-human world around them—and this path has felt like a kind of salvation.” Sometimes, meaningful action is as deceptively simple as the hope native plant gardening brings to a new mother, and Scherm has her own imaginative literature to thank for that “salvation.”