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Friday, March 4, 2016

Circles Are Easy or Where I've Been Since Last We Spoke


Hey Howdy! I am actually, finally, publishing something because it's time to stop fucking around.

This is a book post. Ish. Because this is a book blog. Ish.

The theme of my work in progress is mortality. Well, dealing with death. Most especially how someone can come to terms with the sudden death of a person they loved. It isn't a new theme. Or a very original theme. But it is what it needed to be.

It's a book for young people and mostly I think I have done a great job making this theme all but invisible because it's a concept, when thrust to the fore, that's usually painted with a mawkish brush. I mean, I used to read a great deal of literature for young people and the one thing I hated most was the patronizing tone in which authors for young people speak to their audience. The best books, the books that shaped and formed the adult I became, never preached or condescended. Some of them were so blunt I was traumatized- Bridge to Terabithia  comes to mind as does almost any book with a dog. But I learned.

It's the first book I have attempted with a theme that's so tricky. Listen to how people talk to kids about death. It's a touchy subject usually handled completely wrong.*

I think my goal was well meaning. It was certainly ambitious. I was trying to make sense out of the world my kids lived in- a place where someone just comes in and kills people for no reason. That's normal for them. And it's horrifying. 

I knew this would be a tough book to write. I knew it was a book I had to write. I had it outlined and ready to go in very little time.

But my personal world just fell apart through the writing of this book. The theme of my life since I began the thing has been enduring the consequences of death.

Funny I know. Ha ha.

I started the book in February. On April 1 (a Monday) I was 100 pages into the book when my husband came home and told me that his boss had killed himself and he had found him. 

I was scheduled to go to a literary conference that Thursday. I was awarded a scholarship to attend and had been looking forward to it. C was going to hang around and sight see while I attended workshops. I managed to find four outfits without holes or stains *and a costume* for the conference. It was a big deal and C's boss knew how much we were looking forward to it. He was writing a book himself. He knew what it meant to me for whatever that's worth. 

We cancelled the trip then decided to go. The 8 hour ride to the conference was basically 8 hours of my husband trying to make sense of the senseless death of a person who he cared about. And identified with. I was supportive, of course. The fact that I was attending my first conference and was very nervous was pushed aside because what's more important? My nascent career or my husband's sanity? Though I had no idea at the time, this was to become a secondary theme of my life over the next what? God, 3 years. Anyway. C is fine BTW. He's come through the other side a wiser and stronger person. 

I did attend a few hours of the conference. I attended a lecture, given by the most godawful agent in the world, who during the Q&A, proceeded to denigrate everything I said (For some reason bringing up P&E and agent rating websites sent her over the edge. I later learned why). This kind of thing doesn't usually bother me but after the lecture I found a quiet bathroom and just started crying. I couldn't stop and left the conference. 

Life, if you can believe it, only got worse from there.

Actually, in a lot of ways, my life ended there. 

Dramatic but, sadly, true.

I manged to write another 130 pages or so even in the chaos that our lives became because this story wouldn't let me go. I wrote in the car. I wrote in the middle of the tiny heated common area. I wrote some days for 10 minutes at a time. But I wrote.

And then I didn't.

Basically the inside of my head has looked like that Munch painting, The Scream. There's no writing through that. At least not for me.

Every time I had the opportunity and felt well enough to write something horrible would happen. My mother would need me at the hospital or someone would crash into the back of my car (that happened like 4 times in one year and it wasn't my fault. They were all weird fluke things like a drunk lady not even slowing down at a crowded, stopped intersection. She had a choice of 5 cars to rear end and damned if she didn't choose mine.) or something. 

And then life calmed down and I made my work a priority. Cleaned a space to put my old desk. Dusted off the outline and writing folder for this book and *bam* the old people in my family started dropping like flies. But they didn't like catch pneumonia and just die. Nope. My beloved great aunt, twin sister to my grandmother, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told she'd die at the end of the summer. Well in late August she went into decline and my grandmother needed to go and be with her and her family. Normally this would be sad and awful but it wouldn't be a barrier to my work.

The problem was my other great aunt. My grandfather's unmarried sister. The last of her family. My grammie had been taking care of her after a fall she had in August. Once Grammie's sister started to actively die (it's a real thing- active dying) my other aunt decided that she was actively dying too. Since she was almost 93 it was pretty legit.

 She called a priest, a doctor and a lawyer and got all her end stuff taken care of. Her spirit and estate were ready to go. Her body however was exceptionally healthy. She never smoked or drank, ate red meat or stressed her body with childbirth. She exercised regularly and would take 10 mile bike rides well into her 80's. 

It took a while for her body to go along with the program. She dealt with the delay by torturing my grandmother. Once I found out what was going on I went over and volunteered to help my auntie. It was made very clear that I was doing it for free and as a favor to my grandmother and then my life descended into a deeper circle of hell.

Grammie's sister took a bad turn just after my other aunt turned 93- the last birthday she would ever have- and I was left alone to care for my aunt. Me and a paid caregiver. A bunch of family stuff happened that I don't want to talk about but it was quite an experience. She eventually did die in her bed as she wanted. She told me I was a good girl. Since she also told me I was a stupid bitch I took it for what it was worth but it gave me something positive to look back on. 

That and on the night she died something (it was her somehow) woke me out of a sound sleep  at 3:53. I knew that she was dead because I had this very strong feeling that I was supposed to remember the time because it was important. One of my cousins had stayed overnight and she fell asleep at 2:30 and my Auntie was dead when she woke up at 4:00. My Aunt needed someone to mark the time (3:53) and I guess I was it. She supposedly visited my (decidedly odd) cousin Mark at 4:00. Now my family makes fun of me and Mark thinks we have this weird Polish seer bond. Oh and I also inherited my aunts' cauldron. No lie. They used to keep firewood in it.

I learned a lot about hospice and the goddesses that are visiting nurses. I have been with many family members when they were dying** but had never been though the day to day stuff leading up to the big event.

And when it was over I had a lot of shit to deal with because my family is difficult, seriously fucked up and I had repressed a lot of things that came up when I was dealing with my family while I was taking care of my aunt.  

But I dealt with shit, dusted off the old MS and was ready to go.

And then C's grandfather (aged almost 92) started circling the drain. Since C is his power of attorney but couldn't take weeks off of work, and since the man lived alone, I went down to help him after a bout of pneumonia.

Then, as he recovered, we found out he had an advanced case of dementia. Which meant he couldn't drive even if he recovered fully from his pneumonia. Which meant he couldn't live alone. Or be left alone for more than a couple hours at a time.

I was away from home for a month. C was with me for all but 13 days (so much for not taking time off work). During that time we learned that he had no support other than us (he has a ton of family living in the area but they don't have anything to do with him. For good reason, but still) and that he was never going to be able to live on his own again. Unless I wanted to commit to living in Pennsylvania and being his sole caregiver for, potentially, years he was going to have to go to a home. Weirdly, his body was done- his lungs and heart were (still are) shot. His brain has become impaired. He has bladder and skin cancer but he absolutely refuses to think about dying. And so he lives. And he's actually really happy at the home because he has friends there and a lot more independence than he did at the farm. Of course he tells everyone he's doing 90 days in jail like he did in the war. And he thinks he's coming home in the spring. 

Anyway. I just got back.

And boy are my arms tired.

Wait. 

My book. Right. 

Honestly I'm kind of afraid to start finishing this book. I can't handle more of *this* whatever *this* is. 

I think that when a writer is actually going through things, LIVING life, it's impossible for the writer to write. This writer anyway. Because I'm slow and it takes time for me to process big things and it seems like every time I sit down, square and centered in my mind, something else big happens and I'm lost again. 

Since I started this book, even taking out all the death stuff, my life has been imbued with change. My daughter graduated from high school, we moved across the country into a camper, my son started school in a place where he really didn't fit in, my daughter started college, my husband got a great job, we slowly started moving into my (badly damaged) childhood home, I had to confront my childhood since I was up to my neck in it, my daughter graduated from college, my son failed to graduate from high school, my daughter went away to school, my son started his second senior year, people started dying, I went away, my kitchen- *this* close to completion- is still undone though we are painting the walls today... A lot of stuff has happened otherwise. Car accidents. Old pets having old pet problems. A lot of other stuff that I don't even want to think about. 

My son is making a hearth for this cool fireplace mantel we bought this summer and he's including symbols of rebirth. He says that it is the theme of our lives right now and also circles are easy. 

Bless him. I hope he's right.

M.B.

*It's a tough subject for parents and adults who deal with kids. I don't know the right way to handle it but I know what we did. When my son was very young, 2 or so, he was digging underneath a rock and my husband explained death to him very clearly: if you dig under a boulder it can roll and squish you and make you dead.^ Which is good advice. 

 ^ My kids knew what dead was because we spent a lot of time observing nature. Since we were loud, most of the animate (or once animate in our case) nature we observed had shuffled off its mortal coil. This was the first time they understood the term as applied to themselves. 


**Death, well the deathbed really, is a big deal in my family.  We don't dance around the subject either. I remember my grandmother telling my aunt "Annie I have to go to be with my sister- she's closer to death than you are!" and the caregiver looking at me like what the fuck is wrong with you people? But it was true. When someone is in their final illness the family (ok, usually the women in the family but when my Grampa died it was everyone) gathers around and either helps or gets in the way of the people who do. It's comforting for the dying people because my family thrives on chaos even while they're dying. I guess it's comforting for those of us who are left behind because it reminds us why we don't spend more time with our extended family and that, worst case, there's a fail-safe way out of a family gathering.