Holiday? What holiday?

There were plans. I swear. I was going to read stuff. Bake some other stuff. Have the holiday glowy thing going on. But it all failed, like the souffle I’ve never learned to make. No really, I want to learn to make a souffle some day…maybe when I’m eighty and have nothing better to do. Then my grandkids will come over and shake their heads at me.

My grandfather passed on the 26th. I’d known he was slipping further and further into the ether of Alzheimer’s, mind you. His body was slowly unraveling, slowly forgetting itself and its purposes. We’d watched him go from standing in the driveway with his keys, not knowing what he was supposed to do – to the same thing with a toothbrush – until finally, his own bio-neural functions forgot to keep working. It’s an inglorious, undignified way to go. It took my mother’s father as well. And both my grandmothers have some form of dementia or another. My sister (who is a biologist) and I have often commented that we feel like we’re staring down an abyss when we consider that statistic. It’s a compressed number. Even the national statistics can’t compare.
•5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
•One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease.
(http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp)
The prevalence of dementia among individuals aged 71 and older was 13.9%, comprising about 3.4 million individuals in the USA in 2002. The corresponding values for AD were 9.7% and 2.4 million individuals. Dementia prevalence increased with age, from 5.0% of those aged 71–79 years to 37.4% of those aged 90 and older.
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705925/)
My dad’s dad was 92 when he died in Dec. My mother’s dad was 85 when he died back in 2005. They’d both lived long lives, yes. Varying degrees of satisfaction and joy, yes. Both had worked in extremely physically demanding positions – my dad’s dad had been a mechanic with an engineering degree (call it being susceptible to familial pressures) – mom’s dad had been a farmer all his life. They’d lived through the Depression, never having any major privations – the former went through the war working as an engineer at an aircraft factory – the latter as a machine gunner in the South Pacific. They both returned to their childhood homes afterwards, married the first and only women in their lives, and each had two children.

When I think about these men, I don’t remember being hugged and adored by them. That wasn’t in their playbooks. They preferred addressing us on terms of assumption that we were all at least as intelligent as they were. The biggest thing that got in the way of “getting to know” them was that they worked their brains out. They’d both head out the door to work around sunrise and come home around sunset. There was nothing else for it.
My grandmothers were always the storytellers. They each only seemed to tell their own stories, as well. That’s one thing I would change if I could – I’d have tagged along with my grandfathers, to the shop, or on the wheat fields, if only to hear them chat for once – without being interrupted, corrected, or scolded.

All the storytelling in my family was what gave me a sense of history, an appreciation for people who were long-dead. A sense of amazement at how two people could meet, and create a whole new universe in their own way – and that if just a few things had been different, I wouldn’t be sitting here, freezing on my couch. I’d still be a mote of cosmic dust.

I keep telling myself that this year HAS to be better, that it must get better…I know that I have to play an active role in that, obviously (and it doesn’t help that Downton Abbey, Psych, and Once Upon a Time are all imminently active again).

Later this week, I will be publishing a review of the book I read most recently, Susan Henderson’s Up From the Blue (and if you don’t run out and read it immediately thereafter, there’s no help for you!). I’m looking for a new contemporary author to read next – taking recommendations! – but I also have Martha Grimes’ Foul Matter, Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd, and The Hobbit to read, not forgetting Laurie R. King’s most recent Mary Russell installment either…there are never enough hours in the day!

So, how were your holidays? Did they live up to your sugar plummed dreams, or do you struggle a little like I do?

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How I earned my first 2 dollar bill….

I have to thank my husband’s auntie for this experience. She, of her own volition, got on the stick and asked whether she could use my short stories for a reading group in her retirement community. It slays me, really! I don’t know what I imagine, but it’s nice so far, and having a deadline looming overhead is keeping me moving a little bit.

Actually, if I’m being quite honest, reading critically for short story writing has turned out to be much more helpful than I’d guessed. First off, you don’t want to be a rambler if your narrative is supposed to be succinct by nature, so you start thinking about how to say everything in much smaller, more meaningful mouthfuls. When you write long, you get a little lax. I’ve used the running metaphor for writing before, and it still holds true. When I set out on an hour or more looooong run, I’m only worried about being able to make it for the return leg, so I take it easy, and coast, and delve off into fantasy or two. On the days I go fast and short, I have to remain in the moment, focus on form, and push myself. This is exactly how I am feeling as I move through short stories. A little bit of endorphin, a little panic, a glance at the clock every few moments, and eventually, I can see the end nearing. I’ll breathe when I’m done.

Through the auspices of this reading group, I’m expanding a story I mentioned before, based on someone I observed in our neighborhood. Instead of one tiny piece of his pie, I’m making the rest of it, into a village narrative. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m in the home stretch of the second in the series. I wish it had been easier and more quick, but holy hell, we got the mother of all snowstorms last week, and I’ve been on my own with our kids, with my husband overseas on business. To quote Metallica, “…frayed ends of sanity/hear them calling me….” Tonight was a particular challenge, with our younger child going apeshit several times. He’s always been high strung, a colicky personality to the bone, but tonight was a new level of freakout. It’s tough to get him ramped down from those moments – you tell him he’s got to chill and do some breathing, and he screams that he’s CALMED DOWN NOW!!!!!!! I have never met this kind of kid before…and it’s chemistry, too – his extra-extrovert to my sanguine (normally) introvert. We collide like matter and antimatter – and clusters of black holes are littered around us by day’s end. I love his passion, for the most part, but it might kill me.

And for my efforts, I have gotten a modest fee, and a genuine two dollar bill to frame and baffle my husband with when he arrives home. It’s not perzactly publication, but if I can get a little feedback, and a collection of stories to play around with, it’s well worth it.

To be continued…..

Whoosh!

Just like that, everything, the summer, my intentions, my memory, has blown right by.

I know what I said I am going to do this year – the blog part of is has simply fallen through the cracks for a few months.

So, to recap, I said I was going to have TEN PROJECTS completed by the end of the year.

Where am I with that?

Well, I finished drafting and editing one short story about a guy in 1876. His name is Augustus Purce, and he’s the town drunk, but he’s got a secret. I got a tiddling bit of input on that one, rewrote it a couple of times, and zing-zanged it off to Glimmertrain’s semi-annual thingie for new fiction. Who knows. Maybe I should send it off elsewhere as well, but I have to check on their rules for that. This little story came about from watching our own neighborhood drunk bumble up and down the street on a regular basis. He likes to blather at anything that doesn’t hide fast enough, and swills from a coffee cup. I sort of took that, and wondered what would happen if he wasn’t really what he seemed. And then had to wonder why someone would do that.

Now, just today, I finished the first rewrite of a story that is loosely based on what happened to one of my great-grandmothers as a child. I had to make her older than her brother, which was not the case in reality – she was younger than he was, and only a baby when the general facts of this story took place. Her father died of TB when she was 6 months old, and her mother, being a practical sort of woman, put her and her brother, Millard, into an orphanage until she could find either work or a new husband. This story imagines what would have happened if the children had encountered someone who was as wounded as they were, and who decides to take matters into her own hands. In reality, my great-grandmother was retrieved by her mother. It just wasn’t a terribly pleasant time for her, nor was her mother’s next husband, who sexually abused her. It’s a sad fact that the way she grew up probably turned her into a needy, terrified woman who married an alcoholic.  I plan on touching into her life again for a another story or two.

I have some more things that I have started, but if I count correctly, I’m about halfway there. I think I’m going to try Zoetrope again soon, but until then, I’ll be back.

The plot sickens…and dies.

(If you’re like me) You’re cutting along with a general, vague idea of your storyline, unless you’re one of those type A people who graphs it all out in advance damn you. You let the story float along on the currents, with no precise mapping, no idea where you will make landfall next (hey, most of the time it works for me…), when you pick up the spyglass, only to detect the distant, misty roar of Charybdis up ahead, threatening to take the whole thing down.

What next, then, when something doesn’t work? If it’s only the little bit that you just wrote, you can gently pick it out, as hardened tar from jute…it may not unravel everything. The really painful, difficult situation comes when something POPS into the narrative (you know, that little bit you just wrote) and changes the map completely. You find that you have to go back through everything – do you start over, culling out the bits and pieces that still fit, preserving those parts that are so good they cannot be lost in the wreckage? Or do you haul the thing into the shoals, and effect repair?

Being the recycling soul that I am, I tend to go for the latter maybe it’s just laziness, even though I may read through later on, and find that I missed something…s.

Even worse, though, is when you get underway, only to have the winds leave you, luffing and heading for the shallows, which bristle with rocks – the story founders – there is no remedy- all hands are lost. I have a virtual graveyard of sunken stories that never went anywhere…but of course, they stay, just in case….