Thursday, May 29, 2014

DAD’S SYMBOLS (with tears on my keyboard)

Last month, when my father’s pneumonia/COPD took a turn for the worse, I flew to Connecticut.  Alongside my brother and cousin, I was with him as he passed on as peacefully as one can with life-sustaining oxygen removed, morphine compassionately administered.  Afterward, we faced the bittersweet removal of Dad’s things from his assisted-living efficiency at St. Mary's Home.   His was a tiny place, but packed wall-to-wall with his last years’ lifestyle, outlook, and convictions.  He was sharp to the end, so it was a surprise when we discovered he obsessively collected certain items.  I reflected on who he was as I imagined the symbolism of each. 

Shame:  Dad had hidden empty liquor bottles and beer cans.  He could have anonymously taken those bags out to the dumpster just around the corner in the hall, but he’d struggled with alcoholism his entire life.  His secret drinking had undermined his sense of worth.  He was ashamed of this weakness, attempting to hide it from the world.  

  Unclean, Unsafe, Unhealthy:  Dad had sanitizer bottles, various levels of full, all around his apartment.  One or two would suffice if he’d worried over germs.  Thus I suspect they were secret conversations with himself, perhaps related to his sneak drinking and a few other past indiscretions he wished he could wash from his soul.

Seeking Comfort:   Dad had always had dry skin but it must have grown more so over the years because he had a dozen different tubes and bottles of lotion scattered about.  It may have been simply necessary after using so much alcohol based sanitizer, but either way, using it meant comfort.

His Past Career:  Office supplies, pens, paper clips and organizing boxes.  Dad had been a successful manager of over 170 people.  He knew his business inside-out, treated his employees well, was organized, efficient, and capable.  Despite all his later troubles, he continued to keep well-filed records of his bills, payments, resumes, etc. 

Vulnerability and Fear:  Dad had a dozen depleted oxygen bottles, rentals he should have returned.   Dad knew he was winding down.  And we could hear it in his voice when he started to call us more often.  The heavy green bottles stood there as reminders that smoking had sucked the life right out of him.

Prepare and Protect:  White Towels that should have been returned to St. Mary’s laundry were everywhere.  I doubt the white meant purity.  St. Mary's only distributed white towels.  In their terrycloth-soft way, they’d protected him.  He’d wrapped them around his chair arms and back, cushioning them since he spent much of his time there, even while sleeping.  Maybe he feared pressure sores.  He’d draped more white towels over this oxygen bottles, collected them in his closet, tucked them beside furniture--emergency sop ups for his now-and-then incontinence.  They were preparation and prevention, maybe even embarrassment.

Limited Time:  Dad had little dime-store alarm clocks everywhere, as if he needed one visible from any spot he sat or stood.  He hadn’t taken good care of himself, smoking so many years, at times drinking himself into homelessness, even threatening his own life.  Miraculously his liver never suffered.  But his lungs told him he lived on borrowed time.

 Isolation:  Unable to even walk a few blocks, Dad came to feel detached from the wide world he had influenced in his political heyday.  He had a huge collection of magazines, CDs and DVDs that must have helped him feel a part of the world again.  Classics to new-release movies (rated G to X), CDs of all sorts--country music his preference, and magazines about his favorite topics, horses, sports, and what he always read “for the articles” --  Playboy.  These items offered vicarious connection. 

Nostalgia:  Calling to mind a teenage bedroom, magazine cut-outs of beautiful women were taped to his walls.  Maybe he wanted to be reminded of a time when he was a handsome, charismatic, female magnet.  It was only because he was loved that St. Mary's turned a blind eye to the half-clad display.

The athletic days: At least a dozen baseball caps hung on a wall:  He was reminded of his athletic days.  Growing older with a bad back was hard on him.  He used to play baseball, ride horses, and golf.

Conscientious about the World:  Cloth and canvas bags were everywhere.  It seemed as if he’d shopped in many places and bought a $1 bag each trip.  He must have set each aside and forgotten to take one with him when he went out shopping again. He could have asked for plastic but sacrificed what little he had to make the environmental choice.

Self-consciousness:  One might argue that sucking on mints was a practical thing to do given Dad’s lack of good teeth.  But I felt the hundreds of packets of hard candies and gummy chews—most not even opened—were my father’s way of reassuring himself that he could pop some flavor and keep his breath fresh.  He’d always been a good-smelling, clean, well-dressed statesman.  He still had pride in his presentation despite having very few good teeth in his mouth.  

Powerlessness:  Dad was naturally fastidious, but he’d become incapable, leaving dirty dishes strewn about and piled in the sink.  The unused stove was covered with a towel.  Luckily St. Mary's Home served meals.

Preserving and Protecting:   Dad had tissues everywhere.  Wads shoved over half eaten dried cranberries in paper cups, apparently meant to protect and preserve.  Sometimes those cups also had take-out plastic drink lids laid over them to further protect munchies from drying out.

Connecting/Reconnecting:  Dad had many little calendars and tiny address books with contacts and long lists of birthdates, friends and family he wanted to send cards to for Valentine’s Day (names checked off), fellow assisted-living residents to buy little gifts for.  Tucked inside were greeting cards he’d received and found precious enough to keep—one was from me, my last to him in which I wrote, “Dad you taught me to care what I think of myself rather than what others think of me.  You taught me to stand up to the bullies.  You taught me to care about the world around me.”  I had tucked a check into that card.  Only weeks before, he had sent the check back to me asking that I spend it on my sons.

 Follow Through:  He didn’t only make gift lists, he followed through.  On a window sill sat little figurines and tiny pots with silk flowers.  Dad wasn’t a figurine and flowers type.  But as my brother and I scooped Dad’s life into boxes to be donated or otherwise distributed, Dad’s fellow residents popped their heads through the door, expressing their sadness, showing us little gifts he’d given them on holidays and birthdays, items he must have picked up at the nearby thrift store.  Little pieces of his love.  Despite his oxygen depleted state, he’d thought of everyone. 

Dad’s things had no monetary value, but they told the story of his last few years, his reminiscences, what he regretted, what he cherished.   -- InkPot   


Friday, May 23, 2014

My Writing Team (A Poem)

My writing team of three,
'Tis me, myself, and I.
But wait, where's thou or thee?
A greater team have I!


Me writes first, the draft,
Myself whips out the pen,
And I, am I, plain daft?
To edit till "the end?"

I spit and cry and cuss,
At every shirty page,
Yet at "the end" I must,
Share my words again.

My friends, you read those words,
That slip and slide and rend,
Through every story told,
By me, your writing kin.

Thou holds my hand to cry,
Thy strength holds fast my heart,
Thee shares my angst and joy,
Through broken hopes, too oft.

And so my team of three,
When yes, "our" brain is fried,
"We're" grateful, don't you see?
Yes! Me, myself, and I.

~ Folio

Please add your own verse(s)!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It's a Great Life If You Don't Weaken

by Nib


Spring is here! As soon as the snow melts, anyway. I have to admit it’s been a tough few months for me. I didn’t winter well. I struggled with dreary days in a cold house. But I developed a routine, determined to persevere. I scribbled my way through one completed manuscript, ¾ of the way through another, which will probably remain unfinished. And finally settled in to write the first in a series I’ve been thinking about for a while. The first draft is nearly done on that puppy.

I kept myself to an ambitious daily word count, even if some of those days I resorted to only writing description because I wasn’t sure where the plot was heading. In addition to that, I forced myself to get outside on all but the blizzardiest days for at least an hour. I knew that eventually spring would arrive and I’d finally get to plant my vegetable garden and enjoy the sunshine.

I sought out inspiring messages. I read all those clich├ęs on Facebook about positive thinking and counting blessings. I did my best to create a positive attitude. It didn’t always work but it didn’t hurt.

In a faith-validating way, April swung around and I planted a vegetable garden. And now it’s growing and I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief. I don’t have to put so much effort into feeling happy. Hearing the birds sing, waiting for the first burst of color from my peonies, and feeling the sun on my face is all the inspiration I need.
Today, I’m going to share one of the bits of inspiration I tacked up last winter to remind myself to buck up. I saw it online someplace and printed it out. It’s from Doe Zantamata.

We believe what we tell ourselves.
Tell Yourself:
Everything will work out.
Things will get better.
You are important.
You are worthy of great things.
You are loveable.
The time is now.
This too, shall pass.
You can be who you really are.
The best is yet to come.
You are strong.
You can do this.  

My father-in-law used to have a saying I love: It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
I often resort to one of my favorite lines I first saw on a greeting card: It’ll all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

Look at their sweet newborn selves!

Now as I happily trip through the sunshiny spring and summer of growth and delight, I’ll shed the heaviness of winter. Not to get too maudlin, but life and the seasons cycle around. Maybe the dreariness of winter won’t hit me like a sledgehammer next year. But eventually, I’ll run into another rough patch and I’ll need to circle my emotional wagons again.

As an aside, the Hopi tribe, featured in my mysteries, believe that planting seeds and growning things is essential to maintaining not only the Earth's balance but our own personal balance. 

What about you? What tricks, methods, exercises do you engage when you need to pull yourself from the depths?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A little later than I'd planned but, as promised, here is Donnell Bell of Colorado Springs playing the Writing Process Blog Tour with us. (Donnell answered right away, I just procrastinated on this end.) 

What do you write?
I write romantic suspense and mystery.
 How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think I write outside of the typical romantic suspense box.  I concentrate on character and put them in “what if” situations to see how they grow out of a problem. For me, it’s all about the relationships.  Sometimes intimacy is called for, sometimes it’s not, and I’m never going to put a character into a scene because of the “expectation” it belongs there.  Pacing is everything to me, and sexual tension can be ten times sexier in my opinion than a gratuitous sex scene.  Of course, if the characters have built up to that point, a sex scene can be equally satisfying. 
I started writing when editors and agents were giving authors all kinds of rules.  Keep your characters together 99 percent of the time.  Never have a kid in a book older than two or three, couples don’t date, never start your book with your protagonist driving a car, skip the prologue…my gosh, we had a rule for our rules.  I’m grateful Bell Bridge allowed me to break a good many of them in my debut The Past Came Hunting.  I actually had an agent reject representation because Melanie my protag faced the bad guy alone.  It was her story, and although Joe, my police lieutenant eventually comes to her rescue somewhat, this was Mel’s journey and I wanted her to be worthy heroine material. 
In Deadly Recall, I was told, “Nice idea, but Catholic stories aren’t well received,” even though I explained the story wasn’t out to convert, I simply wanted to write a mystery.  Again, I owe Bell Bridge Books a debt of thanks.   Deadly Recall was a 2010 Golden Heart finalist, reaching #1 on Amazon’s Deal of the Day, and as of this writing, has 200 reviews, (some of them positive ;).
In Betrayed, my third release from Bell Bridge Books, is a mother and daughter reunion story.  Their reunion is the crux of the novel, but true to what I write, it includes a lot of suspense, mystery, and, of course, a love interest.  There’s lots going on in Betrayed. 
Speaking of BETRAYED, just a heads up.  On May 3rd BETRAYED will be Amazon’s Flagship Deal of the Day.  On May 3, it will be greatly reduced to $1.99.  If you like mystery, suspense with a healthy dose of romantic sexual tension, consider adding this book to your TBR pile.
Long story short, I write what I believe needs to be in the book.
 How does your writing process work?
 The storyline has to gel for me, and then the research starts.  I generally write cop stories, and this time a FBI agent has entered the fold.  I’m driving my contacts crazy with my questions and have purchased so many research books, they’re causing my floor to sag.  First draft, I write in shorthand, second, I print it into a notebook.  Then, when it comes time to type the work onto my computer and into manuscript format, I have a pretty comprehensive third draft.
What are you working on now?
I am editing my September release for Bell Bridge Books, another single-title called Buried Agendas and writing the first book in a suspense series tentatively called, “Whatever Happened to Rae Dawn Walker?”  P.S. I’m writing this one with the lights on.