2019 Washington State Book Awards Finalist
On the morning before Halloween in 2007, Sarah receives a phone call from her husband’s arborist colleague: Matt, her spouse of seven years and father of their two small children, has been severely injured by a falling tree branch while working in a neighborhood east of Seattle. Visions of their future go dark as she learns to care for the man she depended on for support. Faced with choices about how to behave through this unexpected journey, she takes as many steps back as she does forward and begins a rite of passage she never imagined.
“This is an unforgettable story of a “full-time witness” to trauma and its aftershocks. With refreshing candor and a brilliant sense of humor, Sarah takes us through the maze of caring for a loved one who has suffered a traumatic brain injury and reckons deeply with what her own recovery should look like. This book will stay with me for a long time. “
“With Losing, Cannon is…trying to do justice to the reality of the situation while still building a narrative she can live with around it. She’s trying to be true to her husband while breaking her vows. She’s sharing her story with you while still keeping the integrity of her story intact. Every human contract has a flaw built into it. Cannon is trying to find a way to embrace that flaw, to turn it into a strength, and to find the honesty embedded within the lie. The drama of Losing is in watching her come to terms with that gap and to incorporate it into her story as best she can.”
The most honest thing you will read this year… Losing is not a love story, or a story of miracles; it’s a story of reality and strength, hardship and struggle, learning and acceptance. It takes a hard look at what happens after trauma—an experience we share and don’t share all at once—when every decision we need to make is tough and our humanity reels in recovery.
Interview with Sarah Cannon
GC: Tell us about your book!
SC: The Shame of Losing a hybrid memoir that looks at the complicated nature of injury to a young family. It started out as fiction, but the more I dug in during the program, the more I realized the art lived where the fear resided. It’s a short book – 160 pages, and was picked up by Red Hen Press one year after graduation.
GC: How did your time at Goddard influence you?
SC: I think my book was interesting to Red Hen for its angling toward the freedom of expression. I sought books to read during a hard time in my life and found some, but none that really spoke to me in the subject I was writing in. My book is about how marriage is hard, and how when its confronted with something like a long-term rehabilitation from brain trauma, it’s even harder. But it’s also about compassion – for the self, for the community, for family. Goddard taught me to look deeply at my own actions and involvement in a narrative, not simply research or point fingers elsewhere.
GC: How did the Goddard process impact your own creative process?
SC: To me, Goddard – the intimacy of small advisory groups, the old-fashioned letter writing to mentors, the beauty of the location – symbolizes what it means to break chains of oppression and write with a wildness that might be seen as a little nutty in the real world. Personally, I needed that in order to create drafts. I needed the safety of feedback from peers who were along for the scary low-residency ride who I could trust. I’ll never forget the theme to one residency: Only You Can Write This. Learning to trust myself and my voice gave me the confidence to keep pursuing this passion, and ultimately, to finish.
GC: How do you, as a writer, respond to the world around you?
SC: I am a busy mom and employee, and don’t think of myself of an activist in the typical sense. And yet when I look back on the time since I began writing seriously (2012), I can say that part of the reason I wrote the book was to be part of the conversation around healthcare, poverty, and ambiguous loss. I wanted to write a book for my kids – more than a record of my version of what happened, but an artistic rendering of a unique set of challenges that shaped our lives. I volunteer as a creative writing teacher for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington, and offer continuing education courses for a retirement community where I live. I’ve learned that I love teaching, and will be offering my first course at the Hugo House spring of 2020. Those activities don’t pay the bills, but they give me great joy and satisfaction. I love being in community with readers and writers of any level.
GC: What advice would you give to a prospective Goddard student?
SC: I would say listen to your advisers and stay the course. Many of us have had full time jobs, raised kids, endured a health crisis, and made it through. You can too! Finishing a manuscript, even in draft form, is an elixir you don’t want to miss out on.
GC: What’s next for you?
SC: I have a few projects I’m working on: the challenge always remains finding time. I want to explore a YA voice, which feels scary but also exciting, since it’s a whole new genre for me. I’m facilitating a panel at the Orcas Island Lit Festival in spring 2020 called “Writing toward Belonging,” featuring two Goddard alums with new books – Sarah Townsend and Ginnna Richardson, among others. As I said, I have a renewed spirit for teaching and in addition to my in-person class with Hugo House, I’m collaborating with Creative Nonfiction magazine to offer on online class soon. I promise I’ll keep you posted!
MFAW, Port Townsend, 2014
Sarah Cannon‘s creative non-fiction appears in the New York Times, Modern Love: “Love, Light, Strength, (and Glue),” Salon.com, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Brainline.org, and Bitch Magazine, among others. She earned her MFA from Goddard, where she later helped launch the Lighthouse Writers’ Conference and Retreat in Port Townsend, WA. She lives with her family in Edmonds, WA.. cannonsarah.com.