Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Pete, let's go home"

It was a gentle plea. He reassured her that they could talk about it in the morning. He might have known they would be her last words. That’s how close they were. She was the love of his life and he would spend this long and satisfying relationship trying to be the man she deserved. She was smart and witty. She could size a person up with a glance and deliver a perfectly timed one liner that let the person know they were made. Pete was a big guy with a marshmallow heart. He was like a big puppy dog, but he had his pride. I think Joan helped build up his confidence and self esteem. He loved spinning his beautiful life as an ideal. I remember when I was twelve he told me that he had something most people never achieve. I was so curious to learn this life secret. He told me that he had “peace of mind”. It was a concept I had never considered before he told me this. Only now forty six years later it’s just starting to make sense.

Pete checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders to go home and mourn and get his plans in order and collect his thoughts about how he will be remembered. He asked my sister to come up and help him put things in order. He had her run errands for him and she fed him as much as she could. His large frame seemed extremely frail to her. Picture an eighty seven year old man that’s six foot five at one hundred and twenty five pounds. But he was sharp as a tack mentally. One of the last chores for my sister was to pick up Aunt Joan’s ashes.

Tina and her husband Roger drove to the mortuary and found the old stone building at the edge of town. They saw a tall thin young man in a black suit standing at the entrance . He led them into a nicely furnished waiting area. He slipped out of the room and returned with a box. He carried it in both hands and handed it to my sister. Tina and Roger brought her home to Pete. He took the box and sat with it on his lap for a while. Eventually he put the box on the mantle above the fireplace. The next couple of days he cried. Tina felt it was normal and healthy and what he needed and wanted to feel, but before she left she voiced a concern.

“Pete, you are such a social person. You are so used to being with people and telling stories and enjoying the stories of others. Do you think you might be happier back in the nursing home or assisted living facility where you can talk to people and socialize?” Pete thought about what she was asking and he looked at her and smiled. “No, Tina. I’ve never been alone and I really want to have the experience.” I think he really might have been right when he told me that he had “peace of mind”.

Tina said she had the best time with him and she was grateful to share that week with him. Within a couple of days he checked himself back into Hospice. No one knows what he did with his wife’s ashes. I don’t expect you could find them in the Koi pond. He died exactly one month after his sweetheart. He was ready. He was the man that she deserved. Uncle Pete will most certainly rest in peace.   


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Protip From Pat Crowley

Every time I see Pat Crowley he tells me to write more. I usually tell him that I write all the time, but I don’t publish most of what I write. That is true. I write and rewrite obsessively and only occasionally clean it up and package it. I have journals and doc files full of copy that is mainly a sort of free association of my stream of consciousness. 

Pat whispers to me as he leaves the room, “A day spent without writing, is a wasted day”. Is he channelling my father? My father is the man who used to demand that I learn a new word every day. He even paid me for it. It was the best job I ever had. I learned to love it and came to realize that the value of that exercise was far more that the allowance I was given. It was good money for the times. I got paid seven dollars a week. But there were sometimes penalties. 

So writing for me is a multi layered activity. I get often asked about my style and my process. I usually parrot back something one of my readers has told me about how I write. But I have been thinking about it a lot lately. What inspires me? What motivates me? How do I process it, and what do I expect from the presentation? 

In school I never wrote for the grades. I wrote to surprise the teacher. I wrote to get a response but not to impress. I wrote in an effort to connect and be connected with. That holds true today. I am hoping that reading what I write will make someone laugh or smile. I hope sometimes it helps someone remember a relationship or an experience from their own life. I like to get people to tap into their own memories and familiar emotions. If they uncover something that had almost slipped away, it's even better.

I am inspired by my own relationships and experiences of course, and sometimes the nagging stream of thoughts in my mind. I have a very noisy head. I talk too much. I think it takes the edge off, but writing is a whole different process with an entirely different motivation. It doesn’t turn the noise off, It creates more. So we share and it resonates with some people. I am also inspired by other writers. I like no particular style and have incorporated many. I went through a couple of years doing Gonzo style reporting. I had a particular public group that seemed to need to know what I could find out. I realized that the fantasy of being the female Hunter Thompson would have to end tragically. It would be cheesey if I lived happily ever after doing that gig. At some point I realized that I really didn’t need to orchestrate experiences in order to reach people. My own experiences and emotional connections seem plenty to work with. After all no matter where I go, I continue to feel powerful connections and I marvel at synchronicities that surround life experiences large and small. 

So reading the classics and comic books and magazines and lots of plays and historical and biographical publications influence me. I have also been inspired by reading erotica. While only I only rarely find it meticulously composed, it promises to create a very emotional reaction. That fascinates me. The same is true of horror and fantasy. Powerful and very base connections are present in these genres. Science fiction weaves imagination and hopes and fears through it’s themes. I like that too. Self improvement and inspirational writing has influenced me some. But I don’t have anything to teach or sell. It all is woven through the carpet and tossed like a salad. Since I think in mixed metaphors I don’t avoid writing them.         

In High School I don’t recall writing anything particularly memorable as assignments. But I do recall writing short stories for fun with my friend, Sandy Bell. We spent hours writing and laughing and sharing short stories with each other and writing them together. The process was simply entertaining each other. One of us would say, “It all took place in Greenwich Village” and then the other would interrupt with, “No. It was Haight Ashbury”. Then we would laugh until our sides hurt saying, “What the hell? Make it both. Just say she got lost on the way to Greenwich Village and found herself on Haight Ashbury.” It was beautiful and funny and creative. Most of our stories covered one or two pages of notebook paper. I doubt it would have been as funny to anyone else, but we wrote it for each other. It built our relationship. That’s where I learned that part. 

Even though I write nonfiction and it all is about my own actual experiences I never claim that it is the truth. I am not a reporter anymore. I am simply a story teller. The stories I tell are my memories. That doesn’t mean that it is the way it happened. It is what I remember and how I felt and how I feel and sometimes how I wish I felt. Over time my world view and my opinions and my philosophy and my core values change. Sometimes they change a little and sometimes they change a great deal. I try to always remember who I was and appreciate who I have become because of who I was. Sometimes it’s harder than others. If I am feeling a bit hard on myself I flip through my mental rolodex to find redemption for myself. I realize that we all have an audience and a story to tell. And that is life. Whether you write or paint or deliver the mail, you are presenting your own artistic statement to the people you contact. I told a friend recently your life isn’t always pretty, but it’s always beautiful. 

I am soon to start a new chapter in my life. I am folding my past over my present by going home. Recently my therapist told me that she was certain that no matter what choices I make I will never be homeless. I thought it a bit presumptuous of her to say this. I agreed, but I wasn’t willing to entirely take homelessness off the table as a possibility. (I don’t like taking all the “dark” out of a story) I found myself over the next week or so thinking about how I feel about never being homeless. I realized that I have felt homeless for most of my life, but when I go back to Jupiter I always feel at home. So the idea of living at home became something I was willing to entertain. I bought a picture of the lighthouse from Mike Hardin. It is such a powerful artifact for me. It is a symbol of guidance and safe passage. It promises an avoidance of grave danger. It reminds us that some danger is part of the beauty but we are never alone if we can search for a beacon.         

Somehow it became literal when Kathy sent me a message. She reached out to me. She offered me a chance to come home and have a home too. It is a powerful experience. I have a life that I must walk away from to get there, but I trust the lighthouse to remind me to search for a beacon when I am feeling confused or alone or unsafe. 

I hope Pat never stops nagging me to write. It gives me a reason to live more life.