Laura Long On Recovery, Writing, and “The Survival of Uncle Peachy”

Laura Long

My short fiction “The Survival of Uncle Peachy” began as a poem. It was one of several poems that portrays working-class lives in my first book, Imagine a Door. I grew up in West Virginia, and many people around me were not verbally expressive. I tried to fathom their inner lives, and the artistry and grace that some people created in their everyday lives. A poem that sketched a truck driver’s life evolved into this story about Uncle Peachy after I added another character into the mix. The story connects in my mind with how recovery involves imagination, and how imagination can open one up to a new mix of the past informing the present.

I see recovery as a constant in our lives, as being alive to elements of the past and “recovering” them to use in new ways. Every day implies the questions “Where was I? Where am I now?”

Recovery means taking risks. I learned this from children who had cancer. I taught creative writing at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for three years. The gist of the job was hopeful, since over 85% of the children survived. In twice-weekly sessions, I became an astounded witness to the passion these children brought to writing. They were fierce in their imaginative play. They quickly grasped that they could express their individuality in writing. Creative writing was intensely powerful for the dozens and dozens of children I taught, not just a few. So I learned that writing and recovery are deeply linked. Both require the courage to face what is real in the present moment. At the same time, through writing a person may dream and devise a deliberate relationship to the world.