Recently, I’ve listened to a couple of interviews with Ryan and Amy Green, creators of the video game “That Dragon Cancer.” Their son Joel was diagnosed with terminal cancer when he was 1. The Greens began working on the game while he was still alive, hoping he might make it, and then adapted it after he didn’t.
Ryan Green answered with a sigh. “Sometimes I just think, well, what else would I have done?”
And I thought, Amen, sir.
He went on, “You know, for Amy and I, we’re creative people, and expressing what we’re going through always seemed like a natural thing to us.”
For creative people — like the Greens, like me — it’s natural to express what we’re going through. It’s natural to transmogrify pain into a different form. For them, that was a video game. For me, with my mother’s cancer, it was poetry.
During her last three years, when I wrote 72 poems, I needed to write them because, well, what else would I have done? I wrote the poems for a couple of reasons: to process difficult moments and to make myself remember. Every scene that turned into a poem is more clear than the other scenes from her life. After she died I could edit them with perspective — how that moment changed me, or how it looks now, six years hence.
What I was trying to do with my poems was not just bring words to life but also bring my mom to life. You never met her, so all you have are my words about her. If they do their job, they bring her to life. The Greens’ video game, the stills and the trailer alone, introduce me to Joel and to the challenges and joys of being his parents.
Everyone goes through hard times. But creative people have a way to cope that might reach beyond ourselves to touch others. We can — in the words of Pixar director Pete Docter — “Make stuff.”
When he accepted an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for “Inside Out,” Docter had a message for junior high and high school kids: “There are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna be scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.” (You can read the text in various articles, but seeing him deliver it is so powerful.)
So, make a video game. Build a world out of interlocking blocks. Bake muffins. Or write a poem. It doesn’t even have to be good.
What else are you gonna do?
Megan D. Willome is the managing editor of and a regular contributor to the Wacoan, a city magazine in Texas. She also writes occasionally for the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post and Tweetspeak Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Every Day Poems and Windhover. She has survived reading poetry daily for 15 years while still managing to discuss other topics, such as college football and whether or not it will ever rain. Visit Megan at meganwillome.com.
Great news! Not only did I buy a copy of Megan’s book, The Joy of Poetry, for myself, I also bought an extra copy to give away. Just leave a comment below and tell me something you like to make (or subscribe to my email list, share this post on Facebook, or Tweet about this post – just be sure to tag me), and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll draw a winner and contact them directly on April 22.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska via Unsplash.