Sunday, October 30, 2011
--SO, FOLLOW YOUR HEART AND NOT YOUR HEAD
…I have a new story, “Black Heart” up at Pure Slush and here under “Words in Print.”
It’s a counterpoint piece to Andrew Stancek’s fine, fine story, “Belly Laugh.” The idea is Andrew would write a story and then I would take one, or two of the characters from his piece, and re-design it from a fresh/different perspective and point of view.
It was a lot of fun to write and I really enjoyed working with Andrew, who is an imaginative author and great support to me.
…I suppose I should tell you what happened, that my mother died.
This is true, not fiction.
She died yesterday. In the early morning.
I wasn’t there. My father was.
She had been sick a while. A long time, really, but technically, officially sick, since her stroke a few months back, and then early onset dementia.
I wasn’t going to write about this or her, her dying. It seems both outrageously personal and impersonal to write about one’s mother dying, to do so in a blog, to let strangers read your thoughts and garner your emotions, even guess at what you’re thinking or the ways in which you’re reacting.
I’m not sure how to feel about things. I’m doing something very odd here, just thinking out loud with a key board, not even pausing to edit. I am writing this right now not knowing if I will really post it, not knowing if I will finish it or what I’m even intending to say. I’m writing because that is the thing which more often than not helps me cope and sort, escape and survive, understand.
If you know me even a little bit, you know that much of my writing is “dark.” That stems from having a less than bright childhood. There are typically wounded, broken characters in my writing. Many times these are children. Often there is a mother figure present. Are the stories autobiographical? Well, some are. Some are nearly 100% true, yet I’ve just taken to calling them fiction, either to save myself from embarrassment or shame, or for some other reason I can’t readily identify.
Most of the time I’ve taken the germ of an event and contorted it, because without that real kernel there’d be no story. Without that dark truth, I’d not have had the foresight to be able to bend it into an acceptable lie.
Yes, I believe it when people say, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” A lot of mine has been that way.
As far as I know, my mother never read a single story of mine. She knew I was writing full-time these last few years, but it must not have interested her that much. My mother was very much a creature of habit. Adding new things to her plate—even lightweight stuff—would set her off course, put her of kilter so that the natural order of not only her universe was jolted, but so, too were the galaxies of anyone around her.
She was a complicated person, my mother. I know that word—“complicated”—can be a cop out, but it’s fitting in this case. Not only was my mother complicated but she was paradoxical across the board.
She was tiny but could be loud.
She was kind to strangers yet could be cruel to family.
She gave birth to a large group of children but didn’t seem to care that much afterward.
From time to time, she’d say she loved me, but rarely, if ever, did she show it.
And, for such a petite woman, she could sure create a lot of destruction.
Money (being poor) and sickness (she was a hypochondriac) were major preoccupations of hers. A ritual was sitting in the trailer saddled up to the kitchen counter, smoking Tareytons incessantly, drinking black coffee, and bemoaning gas prices or the hike in what coffee cost, how her gall bladder or goiter were going bad. This was her entertainment. It was the sad, cloistered world she’d shaped for herself, and rarely did she venture outside of it.
When I was a teenager, I toggled between knowing my family wasn’t normal and sort of daydreaming that we were. I knew TV was make-believe, too good to be true. There was always too much love on display, too many happy endings. So, I thought, perhaps we weren’t all that screwed up.
But we were, of course.
For years, I worked fiendishly at becoming everything my family wasn’t—I became book smart and went to college. I never got sick, even if I was. I worked until I could accumulate the types of things we never had (sugar cereals, clothes, a big house.) I grew my hair long and wore jewelry. I read poetry and wrote it. Eventually I became an attentive and loving parent. I told my children I loved them and meant it.
So, I'm rambling a bit, and you can see rather plainly, I would suspect that I’m still working through stuff. On Wednesday, I’ve got a solo, five hour drive to Eastern Washington ahead of me to do some ruminating. I’ve got that and the rest of my life.
In some ways, my mother did the best she could. In other respects, she might have tried a lot harder, or in the very least, there might have been different tactics utilized in raising her brood.
But if I’m complaining, I don’t mean to be. Growing up with little in the way of a material or emotional bank, having to make my own way in the world—well, those things have really helped me as an adult. Surely I’d be a different man without them.
Surely I’d be a different son without her.