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March 2007

Weekly Wrap: Joy and Pain.

by Susan Henderson on March 30, 2007

Here’s someone I like a whole lot, and it happens to be his birthday today. Maybe you can drop by his blog and wish him a good one.

Also, a shout out to those of you who made the jump from LitPark to Brad Listi’s fabulous Nervous Breakdown!

And one last thing before I get to the Weekly Wrap: Here’s a link to the conference I’ll be a part of this summer at NYC’s Algonquin. Go ahead and click it to see who’s on my panel …because if you’re a LitPark regular, you know I have footage of one of those panelists during his 80’s rock star days. And you know that person was wearing a shiny button-up with giant polka dots on it.

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Am I the only one at LitPark who owns this album? You know it, right? The song worked its way into my head this week and got stuck there, and now it’s also the title of today’s Weekly Wrap. But if you’re me, you don’t just sing the chorus because you know the whole damn song….

Joy and pain
Like sunshine and rain
Joy and pain
Like sunshine and rain

Well I’m the new kid, I’m just comin’ up
A lot of rappers think that I can’t tear it up
Well I’m ‘a show ’em and ignore ’em
And when they think I ain’t lookin’ I floor ’em
I mean take ’em out I keep groovin’
A slick bass line keep the beat movin’
They can’t take it they just fake it
They wonder how the Rob Base make it
I get ill, you know the deal
Cuz this is how the Rob Base feels.

Um. I could go on, but I’ll stop there. It feels different singing this song when you’re forty.

You’re waiting for the tie-in, I suppose.

At first it seemed odd that the week I planned to feature an interview about artists and depression would also become the week I announced my book deal. It seemed like it would be difficult to talk about joy at the same time as pain, and I didn’t want to water down either one. But as I think about it now, it’s very much the way of the world. Weddings and proms are classic occasions to remind people they’re alone. One wins a race at the exact moment another loses it. An artist creates a masterpiece that leaves him feeling exhausted and bare. Life is filled with these moments where joy and pain live side by side, and certainly that marriage of opposites is a part of the life of writers and artists.


Oh look! The spontaneous joy of Neil Gaiman! Wait! You can’t have him. The torture!

What a fearless and inspiring interview Daryl Darko was! I shared more of my history of depression with Daryl than I will here, but I can tell you that, for years, I had to chart each day in 15 minute intervals and check them off as I lived through them. I hated myself, hated sleeping, hated waking up, hated the thoughts I had, hated the way I behaved, hated the sense that my life felt both meaningless and too intense – all at once. It was the writing that saved me, but I can say equally that the writing nearly killed me.

I’m in the middle of filling out an author questionnaire for St. Martin’s (HOW F**KING COOL IS THAT?!) and they asked a question about my experience writing this novel.

I’m not sure what my answer is yet, but I know that creating my novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had to go to all the places I feared. I took a long look at every dark place in my soul. I created characters I didn’t like and followed them until I respected and understood them. Writing the novel felt like entering a tunnel with no assurance that I’d find my way out the other side. And the only thing harder than writing this book was for this rejection-phobe to gather the stamina, courage, and blind faith required to send it out. Connecting with that editor who’s moved by my characters and their story: Pure joy.

All of this is to say that you can come to LitPark to celebrate, to vent, or to hang. Come when you’re feeling giddy, sarcastic, drunk, hopeful, cranky, frustrated, or joyous. Moody artistic types are my favorite company!

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Here’s a hard truth: You will never be Neil Gaiman’s cat.
But, like Rob Base says: Keep groovin’!

Thank you to those who answered the Question of the Week and for the nice things you said about my book deal and about each other. I am so genuinely grateful and happy to know you. Okay. I can’t do all the links for a thread this long, so I’m going to link those who are new or irregular or share names: amy, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Terry Bain, Robin Slick, mikel k poet, Claire Cameron, Renee Rosen, Anneliese, Betsy, Ric Marion, lance reynald, Lori Oliva, Roy Kesey, Jonathan Evison, Kirk Farber, Myfanwy Collins, Richard Cooper, Tish Cohen, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Julie Ann Shapiro, Jody Reale, Carolyn Burns Bass, Richard, Gail Siegel, Margy, Maria Headley, Nicole, ellen meister, Carrie Hoffman, Grant Bailie, Amy Wallen, Noria, Trisha Mortimore, NFD, Sarah Roundell, Kimberly, Katrina Denza, Juliet deWal, Nathalie, Elizabeth Alan, Karen Dionne, Richard Lewis, daryl, Pia, patry, maryanne stahl, Bruce Hoppe, Mark Bastable, Jason Boog, and Sheila.

See you Monday!

{ 25 comments }

Daryl Darko (Gaiman contest winner)

by Susan Henderson on March 28, 2007

A while back, I ran a contest, using one of Neil Gaiman’s baby photos, and said the first person to guess who it was would win an interview with me.

Honestly, I run these contests because I like any excuse to play. But something else happens and that is you can be surprised by the depth and grace of people you didn’t know were reading your blog. So today, I want to introduce you to Daryl Darko.

Daryl is a writer, photographer, and sometime anthropologist. I knew right away I’d find something interesting about him because his website featured Syd Barrett, who created one of my all-time favorite albums, The Madcap Laughs. But very quickly, as we were talking about his work (including an intriguing ghost story set in the town he knows best), what grabbed hold of me was Daryl’s struggle with bi-polar disorder.

He is brave and generous to share his experience with depression, so I hope you’ll let Daryl know you heard his story.

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These photographs all represent recent work done in the last 45 days. They are part of a 365 day long project I am doing in association with a group of people on Flickr where we all shoot and display (at least) one self portrait photograph a day.

Tell me about your name.

I’ve been a fan of horror films since I was a child. The scare I got when I was six years old from watching “The Haunting” stuck with me all my life as a source of entertainment and introspection that I’d never be able to shake. I never became fanatical about collecting horror-zines or anything like that, but rather I had a deep respect for the inner process I went through while watching film-stories that dealt with, what I considered to be inner matters of personal transformation. People that were monsters or had to deal with physical manifestations of monstrous spirits were champions of some sort. They had qualities worthy of study.

Daryl Darko is taken from the film title/character Donnie Darko – a schizophrenic teenager that has psychotic episodes that make him believe the world is going to end on a very specific date. Which it then does, on the day he dies.

This is a question about the bipolar disorder . . . Can you put me inside your shoes for a bit? I’d like to see how it feels to be in the world with this, and how it is to be a writer with it.

Being bipolar, to me, is like having a noose tied around my neck. I’m not quite as bad off as Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, was in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when he balanced precariously on the back of a rickety wooden cross (with his hands and feet tied) in a cemetery with a noose that his nemesis, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) had put around his neck. My hands are finally free in that I have found a proper balance of medications to use which essentially allows me to loosen the tightness of this diseases grip on me. I am not mincing my words, Susan. Being bipolar has brought me closer to not only giving up on my dreams (and life) but it has, at its worst made me incapable of even making the simplest of decisions.

The wonder of bipolar is being able to experience vibrant polar opposites of emotional states. I get to be really excited about things and I also get to experience powerful sadness, or in clinical terms, depression. I can’t really tell you in terms beyond what my own experience is what it is like for writers that are bipolar to experience this condition, except that there are periods when we feel like we can finish writing that book and that there are times when we could care less about it. Establishing a continual experience of middling moods is what we are made to believe is normal and what we must be to participate in the world. To do this, I have fought to become able to use the minimum amount of medications possible for me to stay in touch with my creative insights and energies and to avoid falling into decimating depressions. Only this past year (out of the eight since I was diagnosed and put on medications) have I become successful this way.

If you were to write about a character who was bipolar, what would that character want to express more than anything else? In what ways does s/he feel inhibited or caged? And if someone could cure the bipolar disorder in a day, what would the character miss?

Cured in a day? What would she lose? Have you seen the new t.v. show HEROES? There are characters that have their memories erased. I think being cured of this disease would be similar to that state; where there would be a huge part of the individual’s identity removed which made it possible for them to remember who they were and what they were about. I don’t want to be any better than I am now. In fact, there was a time about two years ago when I was dipping in and out of pretty intense depressions and I remember saying to a friend that I “didn’t want to be well”. That I “enjoyed the darkness” I was in because of how it fueled my creativity. During that phase I did a lot of the creative, imaginative structure building of the novel that I am writing. And I did it through actually being my character; existing in her depression.

I admire you so much for tackling these questions. Plenty of LitPark’s readers are struggling with depression, and I think it helps when people realize they’re not alone.

Can you tell me (if you want) what things were like before the medicine, and how others reacted to you?

Heheheh, *really big grin on my face now*, wow! What a memory!! Oh my goodness was that a great year. 1998. The year I was to complete my bachelor’s degree in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. Part of the bipolar awakening in me was my becoming able to decide to go back to college in my mid-30’s.

My uncontrolled manic mind created some powerful delusions of grandeur; particularly that I believed that I was capable of going on in my studies to not only become an M.D. but to also earn a Ph.D. in medical anthropology. There was a problem, though, in that I couldn’t pass my first year college math or science classes. I imagined and talked up such a story amongst my peers that only I knew this truth; that I had zero mind for numbers and calculations. I was actually a visionary, not a scientist.

Luckily, during my second year at UCSC a class about James Joyce was being offered. My first knowledge of where my own natural abilities in crafting words laid came when I was fifteen years old in a creative writing class. How I had gotten away from the dream of becoming a writer to pursuing a path into professional medicine in what were now my late thirty’s I cannot fully tell you without writing a(nother) book. I had lived in Dublin, Ireland during the decade of the country’s worse depression (the 80’s) and could sympathize with being a down-and-outer on Dublin’s dusty streets. Being instructed to read ULYSSES from cover to cover for this class was a welcome wake up call.

Suddenly I started to change my curriculum at school. I stopped thumping my head against chemistry and pre-calculus books and started to take writing and literature classes. In fact, I got so off track with my study of anthropology that when I could have graduated with the rest of my class I was missing units to fulfill my diploma requirements. I had to stay for one more semester to finish my last anthropology course.

That became an impossible goal that I to this day have not fulfilled. That summer I took a playwriting course that broke my spirit. Now I can’t remember this in exact detail but there was some sort of spiritual process I went through where I measured all that I thought about against some hallmark of judgment that I considered to be ~god~. I did this with the pursuit of the medical career too. I would channel my thoughts into an epiphany experience where basically, I would say “God? Is this the right thing for me to do?” My method of how I measured these questions and answers, I can’t explain right now because I don’t remember how I did it. I don’t/can’t do it anymore. It was not giving me right or logical answers though because how on earth could I have become a doctor?!

So I was writing this very esoteric play during the summer session about these local Santa Cruz young people that would go out to this grove of trees where it was said that The Holy Virgin had appeared. And we would act this out in class. The writing of the play, the drama, the interaction with my classmates, my professor… it all was real to me. (Later, part of my diagnosis was that of being schizo-affective; that of having psychotic episodes mixed in with the bipolar.) I began to believe that I too was seeing The Holy Virgin in the woods near my home. And I wanted to lead the others to see her. But before that confusion fully manifested, I had an epiphany.

See, I somehow got this idea in my head earlier on that my doings would lead me to spiritual awareness. Higher awareness. Actual enlightenment. And this particular day, deep in thought/meditation/wonder about this play I was writing and the pursuit of enlightenment via the path of “writing”, I realized that I would never achieve the goal. It happened in a split second while I constructed a brilliant outcome for the plot of the play; I reached the pinnacle, stood up straight, looked around and saw that I was still in the very same small, dark room of my own self that I had started out in. And then I collapsed.

I fell into the most miserable depression I had ever experienced in my life. There were other factors involved too. I had been in an eight month long relationship with a professor from the anthropology department and her job had just ended, causing her to move away. This was tragedy enough on its own because I had never had such a complete relationship (mental and physical) with a woman ever before in my life. And so I went on to develop a pretty good drinking ability… I did start school again in the fall but I didn’t make it through more than five weeks before I had to completely drop out. Yeah, I really ruined it badly.

Anyway, what people thought of me? I don’t think I’ve ever known what people really think of me because I don’t get close enough to people to ever hear them express their opinion. I’m very independent and it is really hard to get close to me. I have had very few close friends in my life and spend a lot of time alone. I have made an effort since I was a teenager to subtly stand out differently from the crowd, not caring what others think of me. Yeah, that’s my answer.

What was the event that led to a change? How did you go from the most miserable depression in your life to feeling like you have the bipolar controlled as well as you do now? What helped and what didn’t help to turn things around?

It has been a very long process, Susan. Eight years. Most of which were lived in hopeless abandon. When I was first diagnosed with this disease my condition must have scared my doctor very badly. So much so that she overmedicated me to put out my flames. The first two years of being medicated were almost like being in a coma. The things I remember most were that my driver’s license was taken away and I had to be driven anywhere I had to go (which was basically doctor appointments). I developed a myriad of health issues during those years from the excess of 50 pounds that the Depakote added to my previously virile 190 pound frame (like high blood pressure and constant swelling of the ankles) and problems with my liver from the Lithium. Overall the worse problem was the agoraphobia that set in. I had never been so shut off from the outside world as I became during this time period. Afraid to actually leave my house for anything but doctor appointments.

Ok, but I don’t want this to sound like any old bipolar confession that you could read on any support site. There was some thing that saved me during those darkest years and please, at least don’t laugh out loud when I tell you this. It must have been one of the most base instincts of the human spirit that was sparked in me but I developed a craving to be told stories. Almost like a child. I crawled into a cocoon of an inner sanctum and fell under the spell of television serial dramas. In particular it was the series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that won most of my attention. During the years when Buffy was first being aired, the F/X channel bought rights to the show and started to play reruns while the show was at the height of it’s popularity. Fans could watch four episodes of Buffy a day; two hours in the morning (7-9am) and two hours in the afternoon (4-6pm). I had nowhere to go, nor anything much better to do so I fell into a deep fascination with this, and other quality television shows.

There was an healing that I experienced during this time of obsessive devotion to these programs. A lot of emotions that I had kept buried seemed to become real to me in such ways that I was able to contemplate my life more deeply than I had been allowed to before. Having this time off and being spurred to look at the long process of my life, and imagining inwardly that I was feeling emotions that these stories imitated worked for me. A sort of self-therapeutic treatment via video literature.

And that is the key of what kept my own creative inspiration alive. I started to discover my own story that I needed to tell. To write.

If you knew there was someone out there suffering the way you did, what would you say to them?

Listen to your body. Especially if you are on meds. Don’t believe that you have to do everything that one single doctor tells you. If you don’t like the results of the care you are getting find another doctor. I know that can be hard. My insurance is state sponsored and I can’t go to just any ol’ doctor that I want. So I’ve literally battled with my doctor (for nearly three years now) to get him to really listen to me and consider my wishes when it comes to trying different medications and dosages.

(Okay, I jumped right into talking about doctors and meds as if any or all readers of this would already be under treatment. If you are depressed or suffering symptoms that make you think you may be bipolar, do not be afraid to seek professional assistance. Get help before things get as bad as they did for me.)

Also, educate yourself. Read as much as you can about these conditions to determine whether you are correct in assuming you are bipolar or not. Do not be shy about asserting your knowledge before the professionals. If you are really sick, get someone to advocate for you (i.e. go with you to your appointments and speak for you). I have never been able to do this. I tried and ended up destroying a very old friendship in the process, but that is another story.

Find something you love in life and hold on to it. I lost a lot of things when my crash came and that ensuing heartbreak is more of what crushed my spirit than anything. Having to leave Santa Cruz, not being able to live by the ocean or be in that youthful, artistic, healthy community anymore really was a loss. If you feel like you have lost everything? Find something new, no matter how small it is and become fascinated by it. The crawl back to life may seem eternal but it can be done.

Now, tell me about this mix of anthropology and photography and writing. Have you found a way to put these interests together? What’s your hope about what you might create in the next five years?

I want to create things that no one has thought of or seen in exactly the same way before. Studying anthropology gave me insight into storytelling in different ways than I had known before. Anthropology is pretty much a social science that tries to reflect truthful biases about those aspects of society studied. I learned research techniques of observation that enable me to view life and the world with less prejudice than I used to harbor. But I am not in love with academia, and truthfully, due to the continual grip this illness has on me, I cannot say that I would make a suitable or reliable field researcher.

And I think this is where fiction has slipped into my mixture of how I want to relate (or report) my view of the world to the world. I don’t want to lie or create lies. I want to tell the truth but I want to share it in ways that are born of my spirit. I think memoir has become tired and less vital, even in just this last decade. Although, my stories will be and are of my life.

So, I am on a path of continual self-discovery and my methods of expression are still in development. Even now, while I am enrolled in college courses learning how to do digital art, photography, and web design I am envisioning new ways to get out what I want to say. It’s a personal evolution. I am not simply a writer of short stories/poetry/fiction/novels.

Ok, here is what is on the board right now. I have this wonderful novel of a story in my heart/mind and I’ve got a notebook full of ideas and research written out. Just a few months ago I discovered the personal voice of the narrator that I want to tell the story through. So now, in this one very creative photography class that I am taking we are planning on creating zines. And the brainstorm I am having is to use this project as a building block in the process/development of my novel. Did I tell you that I’ve already titled my novel? “Burnt Bone, Stone, and Manzanita. A Young Woman’s Descent into Madness”

I want to make my zines be chapters, graphical novel-like scenarios of what the book will actually be. And see? I’m learning how to design web sites now too using Dreamweaver. (Such an apropos title for software, isn’t it?) I can make both hard copies to mail out and electronic copies to link to my blog and leave floating mysteriously on the web for people to discover.

Whether this could turn into an ongoing serial or not, who knows? By five years from now it would be wonderful if I could have the full text of my novel written and ready to send to a publisher.


With Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, who was a guest professor in the anthropology dept. at UCSC.

What would you consider the most awesome stroke of luck if it came your way?

The most awesome stroke of luck would be becoming able to afford to live in Santa Cruz again. It is a magical place to me. I would be in a community of artistic-minded people like myself, I would be near the sea – that gives me so much rejuvenation, and who knows, maybe I’d find love again.

Why do I have this feeling good things are about to come your way? Thanks so much for being here, Daryl!

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Say something nice about the person who posted right before you. (Okay, it’s more of a command than a question, but try it. Who couldn’t use a compliment?)

Wednesday, the winner of the Neil Gaiman photo-guessing contest will be here. You may remember that the prize for the contest winner was an interview on LitPark. So now I’ve met Daryl, and I’m so glad about it because I really like this guy and can’t wait to introduce him to you. Our interview took a pretty deep turn, and an important one, so I hope you’ll be back to hear his story of what it’s like to be a writer/photographer living with bi-polar disorder.

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Oh, right, I promised you some news, didn’t I?

Okay. Tuesday, as I’m folding laundry and trying to help Green-Hand find a snack and start on his homework, I get a phone call. And this person says, Are you busy, is this a good time to talk?

And I say something like, Go ahead, I’m always busy.

And then she says, I’m calling from St. Martin’s Press. And like a fairy godmother, she tells me the things I’ve needed to hear for I don’t know how many years – that she loves my writing and my book and the characters – and soon I find I’m not exactly listening because I’m thinking Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.

And then she asks me if I have any questions, and I answer, Oh my God.

And then she says more things and says she’ll actually give me money for my book, and I tell her I love her because I do – it’s that easy to get me to fall in love.

She’s still talking, of course, because that’s the normal thing to do during a phone call, but once again I’m not quite listening because I’m thinking, I wonder if this moment isn’t true? I wonder if this is a cruel dream that I’m about to wake up from or if I’ve gone mad and started hallucinating? And then I hear her ask me to think about the offer and to give her a call, and I tell her I’ve already thought long and hard about it and the answer is yes and please send the contract right away before I wake up.

The problem with phone calls is that, after you hang up, there’s no document you can refer back to that says, Hello this is St. Martin’s Press and we love your book and want to buy it. So instead of being happy, which I was – unbelievably so – but only for a moment, I started feeling that more familiar sensation that something I’d wanted so badly would turn out to be a rejection. And it felt like years waiting for some written confirmation that all of this actually happened, and even now it really feels too good to be true.

Those of you who know me well know I have a strange phobia about sharing good news, so in saying all of this, I am going against my belief in The Power of the Jinx, but here goes:

In spring of ’08, or thereabouts, I will actually have a novel coming out. I know the majority of you understand how it is to collect years and years of rejection letters and to hear people around you questioning how you spend your time. After a while, you start to wonder youself if maybe you just suck and you shouldn’t waste your time writing.

What a trip. What an absolutely unbelievable trip to have someone tell you you don’t suck afterall. Man, if I could give that feeling to every one of you . . . .

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One last thing – just a quick little quiz called, “What about my book advance?”
a. I will put it directly into my savings account as soon as the check arrives
b. I will apply it to bills as soon as the check arrives
c. I will spend it on stamps and paper and contest fees as soon as the check arrives
d. I will spend it on lavish and unnecessary things as soon as the check arrives
e. I spent all of the advance already, and then some, though no check has arrived

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Weekly Wrap: Our Signs

by Susan Henderson on March 23, 2007

Monday, when I announced it was my birthday week, I never ever imagined I might get a book deal as a birthday present. I can’t share all the details just yet, but I did accept an offer on my novel the other night. The offer came out of the blue and I’m still stunned and overwhelmed and beyond grateful. For my friends who’ve been trying so hard in this business and waiting for luck to happen, I wish this same feeling for you because there’s nothing like the sense of validation that the stories you’ve needed to tell and the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made to tell those stories mattered.

I promise I’ll give you details very soon, but I will drop a hint about who’s taking my book. If you live in NYC, this is the building where my people work.

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If you’re a LitPark regular, I know you’ve been missing Lance Reynald who’s been on hiatus from his monthly Reynald’s Rap. But today he’s going to do the honors and give the weekly wrap. Take it away, wondertwin:

When semantics won’t do.

This week in Litpark has been both difficult and inspiring. I have been greatly touched, comforted and influenced by the sharing I have seen from all of you.

Grief is very fresh with me right now. I lost my father to a heart attack on February 19th. Just a month ago, and I am just beginning to feel my own skin and see through the fog and numbness of the loss. I know that what I feel as some hope and future returning to my world is but the beginning of living with the sadness I still feel.

Grief is certainly not new to me. I’ve known loss before. At different points of my life. I lost my best friend to an overdose at the age of nineteen, a lover to suicide at twenty-three, my mother to cancer at thirty-two. Each time the experience was different, and each time I emerged feeling fundamentally changed. I am thirty-six years old and face the world knowing that four beings that have formed the capacity of my heart have left this world. A challenging notion, a sadness to live with.

I talk to them all often. Lately it seems daily. I wonder if they are together, I like to think that they are. I like to believe that they watch together, giving strength to one another’s hopes and dreams for me and watching out for the hopes and dreams I have for myself.

My Father’s passing dealt me the most fatal blow of grief I’ve ever felt. The greatest darkness and worst despair. Robin is very true in her comment that the loss of your parents brings you into the world of being an adult. I realized that I’d passed through a door, now fully accountable with no one left to answer to. I also realized there was no one left to call. Yes, I have my friends and loved ones. But, a parent is who you call for a certain acceptance, to share good news or to get advice when you need that sharing with someone that has invested a life in doing the best they know how to do for you. A relationship you are born into, not one you have made at all, not like the others.

The loss disrupted my balance, changed my world. I felt suicidal everyday for the first few weeks. I was certain I would never write again. But, more than anything I just wanted to get my Dad on the phone, ask him what I should do. Left with the dream that I know every grieving child is left with, the proverbial one more day.

I also went through a period of anger, with this thing that is grief. I keep company with my contemporaries, all wordsmiths. All those that know grief, in many forms. Yet, somehow we all find it impossible to put to words. I felt as though I was facing my grief with no warning whatsoever. Nothing I’d ever read or heard prepared me for a period that I’ve thought purgatory, hell on earth. We, writers, possess the skill to create entire lives and worlds making our experiences over and crafting with words, but”¦ I’d never seen words to prepare me for the feelings that this grief brought to me. I have to admit it, I felt a bit betrayed.

A couple of weeks in I got a note from another writer, a note I will always treasure. She too had lost her father, and offered these words:

…now that your father has passed over to the other side, lots of people are going to give lots of advice.

They’re going to tell you that in time everything will make sense, and that in time you will stop hurting. But this is not true – and that’s why it doesn’t help when they say it. There will never, from this day forward, be a day that is better because your father isn’t here. You will never stop missing him, this will never make sense. This will not be okay. That is the truth.

The other, bigger truth is that you will learn to manage your pain. You will learn how to take it down, as if off a shelf, and you will marvel at it, and when it’s time to go join the real world, you will be able to put back up on that shelf, where it will wait for you.

It is not a question of the pain dissolving, so much as re-arranging. You will be able to bear this. YOU WILL. But do not look to “move on.” You will always miss him. He will always miss you. I believe in a great hereafter, and I believe we will all be joined again one day. So I focus on that, and I wait too.

I hope this seems ok to say to you – from one human with a missing father to another. I don’t know why we will make it through the bizarre choreography of life, these insane turns of events – I just know that we will.

In the darkness and despair of what I was feeling, those words felt like the only true thing I’d heard in weeks. Another writer, another grieving child. A friend.

Words that spoke truth to the feelings I was having; giving me some hope that I would find a way out of my despair.

I am so very proud of all of you for having the love, courage and strength to share like you have this week. I’d also like to add that you have all managed to find the words that I thought had been missing from the world of literature just a month ago”¦ You are all the most beautifully gifted wordsmiths I’ve come across, I’m honored to share this space with you and my life is better because of you.

Wishing you all the peace and love you deserve!

Thank you-

Lance Reynald

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I know I’m not the only one here who loves Lance, but since it’s my blog, I get to say it first. Thank you for what you wrote. And thank you to Noria, Carolyn, Grant, Betsy, Jim, Shelley and Aurelio for letting us know your moms and dads just a little bit.

And here’s to all of you who shared your birthdays:

Kimberly
dennis mahagin
Carol Novack

A. S. King
Ric Marion
EminemsRevenge
Shelley Marlow
Bruce Hoppe

me (Sunday I’ll be 40 – but if you knew my friends who’ve already turned 40 and 50 and 60, you’d understand why I’m not scared of big numbers. Besides, each day is the youngest we’ll ever be again, so we might as well enjoy it, eh?)
Megan
Gayle Brandeis (Gayle, you share a birthday with my friends, Mike and Ritchie. It’s a good day to be born.)

Betsy
Carolyn Burns Bass
Brandon Hobson
Laura
Jason Boog
Mary Akers

mikel k poet
Julie Ann Shapiro
Larissa Shmailo
Kaytie
Sarah Roundell
Aida Wojcik

Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Terry Bain

Robin Slick
Kris Yankee
Malcolm Campbell

Shannon
Ronlyn Domingue
Aimee
Grant Bailie
Daryl
Jordan

Paula
Lori Oliva
Lance Reynald
n.l. belardes
Claudia Smith

Myfanwy Collins
Simon Haynes
Ellen Meister
Nicole
Anneliese
Noria
Alexi Lykissas

Avital
Nathalie
Mark Bastable
Amy Kiger-Williams

Jim
Laini Taylor
Aurelio
AmyWallen

See you Monday with some details.

{ 33 comments }

LitPark Gang Talks Loss

by Susan Henderson on March 21, 2007

On Friday, Mr. Henderson and I lost our friend Cletus, and then on Monday, we lost an awesome and funny woman we call Bargie. Bargie is sister to Jean Erdman Campbell (whom Bargie called “Johnny” – all four sisters had silly nicknames for each other) and sister-in-law to Joseph Campbell. She will be buried here:

These are photos from Christmas in Hawaii.

Funny, the topic today was going to be loss anyway, so now there’s just more of it. But when you read today’s interview, and when you think of your own losses, I think you’ll agree that the flip-side of this emotion is affection. We miss people because we care about them and because they matter. And loss also reminds us to be grateful for our friends who are still here and to not leave unfinished business with those relationships we still have time to improve.

Today’s interview is a gift from my friend and LitPark regular, Aurelio O’Brien. You might want to put the kettle on about now because this post is a little long, but it’s also worth it because it shows off what I always say is the best of LitPark – and that would be the community that hangs out in the comments section. So here’s Aurelio and some folks who should be familiar to you….

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The November 13th Question of the Week was: “Is your mom proud of you? Do you let her read your work? Does she even know you write?”

This question sparked many interesting responses from LitPark writers, and the discussion continued and expanded beyond November 13th. Susan shared her own experiences with her mom. She also expressed interest in hearing some more from those of us who lost our mothers (or fathers) and how that has influenced our writing, so Noria, Carolyn, Grant, Betsy, Jim, Shelley, and I each put down some of our personal reflections.

Noria Jablonski:

My father’s kidneys failed when I was several months old. My first trip to the ER with a ruptured eardrum was when I was three. I spent much of my childhood in doctor’s offices and hospitals (conveniently, my ear doctor’s office was just across the hall from the hemodialysis center). We were bound by illness – his kidneys, my ears, so similarly shaped. Once we went to see a healer together, a man in Oregon named Dr. Hill. Dr. Hill put his hands on my ears (I had severe hearing loss from the constant infections). For five days, my father’s kidneys functioned again. He could pee. And for two weeks everything was so loud!

In all, my father had three kidney transplants and lived until he was fifty-nine. He died shortly after I began working on HUMAN ODDITIES, a collection of stories about the body gone awry. I’ve always felt a sort of kinship with Flannery O’Connor, not just in terms of our freakish subject matter, but because of her experience of her father’s death from lupus, which she would also die of.

My writing didn’t have real urgency until I figured out what my fundamental crisis was: the body afflicted. In her essay “On Being Ill” Virginia Woolf remarks how strange it is “that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

My father said that his body was his greatest teacher. That’s been true for me, too.

Carolyn Burns Bass:

Although my mother didn’t die young according to the calendar, I believe her spirit died early in her life. Disappointments, heartbreak, and self-condemnation sucked the life right out of her before I was born. She knew how to love, though. I never doubted that she loved me.

She’s been gone for three years now. I sat with her every day in the hospital during the two months that cancer baffled her doctors. She had been my mother for 45 years, but in those final days she became my friend, sharing secrets like girlfriends, admitting the disappointments, heartbreak, and self-condemnation she’d carried for decades. Her bravery in the face of death put a new face on the picture of her I keep in my heart.

Grant Bailie:

Almost everything I wrote about the mother in my first novel, CLOUD 8, was the literal truth about my actual mother. She died when I was 19. It was a slow death involving varying degrees of dementia.

My mother and I had always been particularly close – trading books (hard-boiled detective stuff, mostly) playing scrabble – before and throughout her illness. When things got particularly bad, I was the one making her tea and helping her to the bathroom.

Fluffy, Charlie and Mom

At one point toward the end, I remember, she wanted me to write her life story. I already had my ambitions of being a writer. She knew that, of course. The next Raymond Chandler.

I sat at her bedside the dutiful son with pen and legal pad, but little of what she said by then was coherent – or maybe I was only a poor transcriber. I waited for some detail to grab me, some storyline to evolve – she repeated the same few facts over again; disjointed tidbits about a sickly childhood, leaving school by the 6th grade, not being taught to swim because her mother feared drowning. I had heard it all before in some form or another, but wrote a few words down to remind me of it later.

But later, she died and I lost the notes. My first book then, was like a chance to reclaim some of those lost notes, as well as some happier memories. She made cardboard wings for my sister and me when we were kids. That’s in the book too.

And my second book, which I had thought would be about something else entirely, still ends up with the protagonist in the arms of a long lost mother – though now, admittedly, she is portrayed by a gorilla, which should not be seen as a negative reflection of my mother, who was not remotely gorilla-like.

Elizabeth Crane:

I was in my thirties when my mom died at 63 after a few years struggle with lung cancer. As an opera singer, she had been a militant non-smoker, as well as taking incredibly good care of her health overall. Her death had much to do with my writing on several accounts. One that I always say I’d give back, is that it was the single biggest loss I’ve ever experienced, and there’s no doubt that my writing has considerably more depth because of it, and not just simply in the stories I’ve written specifically about losing her.

Many people related to me had the unfortunate luck, within just a few years of this time, in addition to my mom, my dad and stepdad, to come down with several varieties of cancer (plus a stroke and some Parkinson’s for good measure) – dad and stepdad are alive and well, fortunately, but all of this just highlights the need to connect and to cherish my (pretty awesome now, have to say) life while I’ve got it. It just informs my worldview in a completely different way – not a morbid one at all, but certainly a more complex, melancholy, bittersweet one.

The other is that it really did hit me like a lighting bolt that life was (sometimes) short, and that in terms of writing, which I’d been doing since I was eight but not with any great effort to put it out in the world – it was time for me to get on it, and I made a decision to take a year off after she died, finish the book I was working on, and get an agent. (I did that and finished and sold my first collection as well.)

My mom was an incredibly complex character. Everything that the words “opera singer” imply and then some. She got a masters degree in social work in her 50s and also became a reiki master. She battled depression her whole life, I’m sure, which manifested in all kinds of ways. We got along well, much of the time, fought at other times. Lots of mixed messages – she was an artist, but basically discouraged me from being one – I might also have become a singer myself. Part of it was that she had struggled and didn’t want me to, part of it was, to me, just a fearful outlook that’s been hard for me to shake until the years including her illness and after. Now – for me, any struggles are just part of the deal I’m willing to take.

I must direct you to “Year-at-a-Glance” and “Christina” in WHEN THE MESSENGER IS HOT and – well, pick a story in ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY, and she’s probably in there too, and there’s a nonfiction piece in an anthology coming out next year called Altared – my mom was a definite product of her generation (when I saw The Hours, Julianne Moore absolutely crushed me – I feel sure my mother had felt an similar dissatisfaction with what was expected of her – and she ultimately did choose a different life for herself, but there were costs, I believe, her marriage to my dad among them), a master seamstress etc, and sewed a dress for me 15 years prior that I actually had updated and wore to my wedding (several years after she died). I mention it because, well, that’s my mom. She gives me stories and a wedding dress from the beyond.

Jim Tomlinson:

Looking back, my mother’s life seems not fully realized. I’m not sure she’d agree with my assessment, though. Maybe.

She left school at thirteen (eighth grade), to help support her family, she explained later. This was about 1927. No doubt her father thought education beyond that was wasted on a girl. She played violin her last year of school in the high school orchestra. She went from that to working full-time at the local pencil factory in small town Illinois. She worked in factories until, in her early twenties, she married my father, who felt it reflected badly on him if his wife worked. He worked for the post office, delivering mail. She stayed home and raised two sons and a daughter.

Betty Tomlinson, 1960

My mother loved books. There were always books in the house, books she’d bought, second-hand books she’d picked up, and books borrowed from the library. She read Pearl Buck, James Michener, and Readers Digest condensations of the popular novels. In time, I think she felt shame over not having a high school education. She was well read for a small town woman of her day with a better-developed vocabulary than mine is today. Her friends were the ladies of her Methodist circle. If she were alive today, she’d be in book clubs, I think. She’s not, though. Cancer took her many years ago.

The cancer arrived when I was in high school. At least I think that’s true. We kids were so protected from knowing such serious things that I can’t connect it to other events, to a particular school year or sports season, proms or girlfriends. Grandparents died, not parents. I remember the bandages after the mastectomy, the burnt skin on upper chest and neck from radiation treatments, and afterwards the scars that sometimes showed at her neckline, the weakness on one side from chest muscles surgically taken with the breast. She had to ask for help carrying the heavier grocery bags into the house. She rearranged her kitchen, unable to reach top shelves anymore.

Recovered, she looked for her first job since marrying. I don’t know what discussions she and my father had. Their life together was hidden from us. She applied at the town library, where she had used up so many library cards. Without a diploma, she didn’t qualify as assistant librarian. But she could be assistant to the assistant librarian, and that became her part-time job. And she loved working among all those books and being among the people in town.

I left town for college, graduated in engineering, visited home when I could, joined the Navy two days ahead of the draft, and married a Rhode Island girl. We settled in New England after my military service.

The cancer came back when I was in my early thirties. She wasn’t feeling well during our trip to Illinois that summer. She didn’t name the beast, though, and I was deeply involved in the turbulence of my marriage. I hardly noticed.

That fall she went to the hospital a couple times. There was fluid in her chest to be drained, she said. Nothing to worry about. We planned to drive out for a visit over Thanksgiving, if she felt up to company. Sometime in October my father phoned from the hospital and put Mom on the phone. Long distance phone calls were rare extravagances in our family. I remember thinking how unlike Dad, calling like this. I talked to Mom for a few minutes. She sounded very weak. She talked about procedures the doctors were considering, about her discomfort in the hospital bed, how she hoped to be home soon. Then she asked if I could come see her. I remember thinking she must be confused. “I’ll see you over Thanksgiving,” I said. “It’s only a few weeks.”

“I don’t know if I’ll make it,” she said. I thought she meant she didn’t know if she’d be home from the hospital by then. It was only later that night that what she must have meant dawned on me. And it is the greatest regret of my life that I didn’t go see her the next day, or the day after that.

She died in that hospital a week later, my father and sister at her bedside. I’ve always felt that I owed her so much more as a son than I ever gave her.

I tried to write a longhand novel a couple years after that, and a typed one after that. And when I started writing short-shorts fifteen years ago, one of the first was “The Little Violinist,” a narrative based on my father’s telling of first seeing my mother, how she swayed as she played violin in the high school orchestra, how she walked with long, proud strides along the railroad tracks, walked to work in the pencil factory.

The story, “Flights,” which appeared first in and then in my short story collection is very much about her and my father and the desire that some vestige of them be remembered.

There are times when I feel as though, by being a writer, I’m repaying some cosmic debt for shortcomings as a son, that I’m living another version of her life in her stead, one she might have lived, had she been born in other times, under other circumstances. She had the inclinations of a writer – the love of books, of language, of a story well-told. I don’t know that the thought ever crossed her mind, though, don’t know if she considered it possible. There is much about her that I can never know. But I do know that she’s the reason I’m a writer.

[Someone needs to give Shelley a book deal so I can put the photo here!]
Shelley Marlow:

My relationship with my father was complicated. As a teen, I asked for a typewriter for a birthday present. My parents never gave me one. I always thought it was because they didn’t want me to write about situations that they were not able to process. Also, they wanted me to be an artist. My father was a self-taught artist. While I was growing up, he worked in his tuxedo store until 8 at night. So I probably didn’t see him much all week, only on Sundays.

He died when I was an adult. We healed a lot about our relationship when he was dying. One gift he left was all about working ceaselessly until a project is completed. He also taught me to see beauty in everything, especially trees. I still have a few small pieces of particularly fragrant wood he’d collected for carving.

Aurelio O’Brien:

My mother grew up on a small farm in South Dakota. I visited there only once. I was about six. I remember that it was flat and dusty, the mosquitoes traveled in clouds, and that my hunched-back old grandma had a mustache and smelled of mothballs. Her old, weathered house had come from a Sears catalog.

Mom was born and raised there, but she was brave – when she was 18 she left the farm and moved to NYC all on her own. This act of courage had two motivations: first, to get out of South Dakota, and second, to avoid the only two single men in the area she would have been doomed to marry.

While out walking the streets of Manhattan in search of a job, she peered through a large picture window. Someone inside saw her and asked her in, then inquired if she needed a job. Just like that! It was a gym. My mother had never exercised a day in her life, but the farm work and her genes had given her an ideal figure. She became the receptionist who sat in that same picture window of the gym, signing people up.

She met my dad in NYC; he was in the army at the time and briefly stationed there. They married and moved to Utah for dad’s GI education, then to California.

Even away from South Dakota, farming was in my mother’s blood. She wanted to raise children, so she raised a flock of them. Six of us in all. (Two more step-kids came after her passing.) She was a devoted mother; a neighbor once wryly commented that my mom was “the only woman they’d ever met with six only children.”

Mom was definitely homespun, but surprisingly progressive. She made everything from scratch: I remember egg noodles drying on the backs of kitchen chairs, she made all my sister’s clothes on a little black portable Singer, and no one could bake a better pie crust (I think she used lard with just a daub of bacon fat, maybe???) But she loved 50’s modern furniture (cutting-edge at the time), art, music, museums of any kind, and marveled at new technology.

She insisted all of her kids were brilliant. I was too young at the time to be embarrassed by this public proclamation.

She died of cancer when I was seven.

I was pondering what part of me is like my mother, or what main influence she left me with; it would have to be her enthusiasm for life. She was an extremely positive person. Mom was interested in everybody and everything, and I know this influences my writing in its general tone and the way I approach my characters.

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Maybe after reading today’s post, some of you have letters to write or phone calls to make. Well…? xo

{ 18 comments }

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