The next chapter: April 2017 update

Greetings, writerly friends 🙂

Yes, it’s that time of the month again—no, not that time—it’s time for my next chapter update. Yay (flailing Kermit arms)!

Ok, maybe that’s a little too enthusiastic.

That’s what spring does to me, though.

Even though we haven’t had a particularly warm spring up here, the fact that there are more hours of sunlight each day really helps me find my energy.

And what do I do with that energy? I overcommit. That’s what I do.

What does that look like in 2017? Let’s see …

  • work full time;
  • write as much as I can, evenings and weekends;
  • produce the monthly Sudbury Writers’ Guild newsletter;
  • serve on the Canadian Authors Association Program Committee (and various sub-committees); and
  • sign up for Writing the Other with Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford (yay—it’s awesome, but I can’t keep up with the assignments and so feel crap about it).

Truly, though Writing the Other is one of the bit of writerly awesome to happen this past month. It continues through to the middle of May, so I’ll save the deets for a future weekend wrap-up post. Suffice it to say for now, though, that I would recommend the course to anyone.

A second is my continued semi-regular SF&F column with DIY MFA, Speculations. As I mentioned last week, I’ll be posting to share those columns on the blog. The next one should be coming up Tuesday, and it’s a dreamy one, so stay tuned 🙂

A third bit of awesome was that I participated in was the Sudbury Poetry Project. April was National Poetry Month, after all. When Kim Fahner, Sudbury’s Poet Laureate put out the call, I wrote a new poem and submitted it.

thiswintersky

“this winter sky” was inspired by what has been a particularly gloomy winter here in Northern Ontario. I believe that almost everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere experiences some degree of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and those of us predisposed to depression tend to feel the effects of SAD more than others.

More than, that, though, the poem is about the hope that blossoms when one recovers, or learns to live with, mental illness. This is why I was honoured to have the poem posted outside the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) which is a safe place where survivors of mental illness and consumers of mental health services can gather, learn, and heal.

And now, onto the writing progress report 🙂

April was a decent month. I finished my latest revision of Initiate of Stone. Unfortunately, it only reduced the overall word count of the novel by a few thousand words 😦 I was, however, after a short respite, move on to Apprentice of Wind.

I also revised two short stories for submission to a contest and an open anthology call. We’ll let you know how that goes in the future.

All the new writing in April was once again on this blog.

AprilProgress

Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • 79,078 words revised on the Ascension series, or 113% of my 70k goal.
  • 4,105 words of short fiction revised, or 164% of my 2,500 goal (makes up for not revising any short fiction in the last two months).
  • 6,098 words written on the blog, or 92% of my 6,600 goal.

That’s a total of 83,183 words revised and 6,098 words written. That’s not counting my column for DIY MFA, which I really don’t have a place for on the tracking sheet.

What’s up next: I’m going to continue work on revising AoW, which I don’t anticipate will be finished until next month. Revision will yield (I hope) to writing with respect to short fiction. We’ll see how everyone likes the new plan for the blog.

Next week, I’m heading down to Story Masters in Toronto, with Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Christopher Vogler, but that, of course, means that there will be no post next weekend. I’ll have another wrap-up post to share on this lovely event later in the month.

And then we’ll see. This writer’s life is never boring, that’s for sure.

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay stong, because this winter sky will always yield to the light.

The Next Chapter

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The one where I post about Dad: A life sentence with mortal punctuation, part 9

You may have noticed that I didn’t post in my series last week.  Truth is, I needed a break from the angsty.  While I feel that this series is important to write, and that I have come to a point in my life that it is necessary to purge certain things, all this exposure of my tender bits is difficult for an introvert like myself.

In the last instalment, I wrote about some of my encounters with death I had during the sixteen years in which I sorted my depressive condition.

About Dad

I love my dad and that’s in the present tense because even though he’s gone in the physical sense, he’s still here with me every day.

In order to tell the tale of his last two years of life, I have to give it context and that begins with his birth.

Dad was the youngest of three brothers and in those days, they lived out at long lake.  Doctors still made house calls for deliveries and that day he was running late.  The woman attending my grandmother, I’m not sure whether she was an actual midwife, or just a family friend, but she told my grandmother to keep the baby in until the doctor got there.

In the story I was told, she said, “cross your legs.”

When the doctor eventually arrived and my father was delivered, he had a brain bleed (subdural haematoma) and almost died right there.  He was given a poor prognosis, but he survived.

Dad was subsequently diagnosed with epilepsy as a child and was on medication from a very young age.

When I was very young, I was his darling.  We’d watch wrestling on the weekends and he’d let me wrestle him on the couch.  Good times 🙂

Then, he fell off the car-port roof, and was hospitalized for a while as a result.

In the years that I was catching all the typical childhood diseases: chicken pox, measles, and mumps (that was terrible, I had them one side at a time so it lasted twice as long as normal 😦 ), by dad was hospitalized for various other reasons.

He had his gall bladder removed.  He developed a hiatus hernia, which was initially mistaken for a heart attack.  He had surgery for that too.  A haematoma developed after that surgery as well.

At home, he’d return from work absolutely exhausted, collapse into his recliner, and fall asleep before dinner was even ready.  After dinner and the evening news, he rarely stayed up late, or fell asleep in the recliner again.

When I hit puberty, things changed again.  I don’t think Dad really knew how to relate to me after that.  His sarcasm became biting, not only with me, but also with my friends.

By then, the malignant hyperthermia had been detected in my family and he had to get tested for that.

Only a few years afterward, Dad suffered his breakdown and was hospitalized for three months as a result.

The spectre of mental illness

For a while, Dad was doing well.  He was getting regular talk therapy and attending a support group.  He started walking everywhere: down to the corner to pick up groceries, out to his get-togethers with the support group (they had coffee klatches outside group).  It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that he was improving.

Then the therapist he was seeing indicated that their sessions would be coming to an end.  Dad should look at trying to get his life back on track, maybe going back to work.

There was a problem with that though.  His employer had disbanded his work unit and there was not job in Sudbury for him anymore.  He couldn’t imagine trying to start over and I’m sure he had anxiety attacks just thinking about it.

Plus, he’d successfully gotten on a disability pension and was, I think, comfortable not working.

Soon, he stopped attending the support group and he stopped walking.  He gained weight and developed sleep apnea.  He also got prostate cancer and though a combination of hormone therapy and radiation put the cancer into remission, Dad suffered the usual after-effects of prostate issues.

His behaviour became more erratic as he went through his manic and depressive phases.  When he was manic, he’d spend like crazy, buying things from the Shopping Channel and Readers’ Digest.  He’d enter every charity lottery he could and spent hundreds on provincial lotteries.

Toward the end of one of his manic cycles, he’d always get struck with buyers’ remorse and his guilt took an odd turn.  He’d start to accuse my mom of trying to leave him, or of hooking up with one of his friends.

When he was depressed, he slept much of the time and tried to undo his financial miscarriages until the next manic phase hit.

My mom was taking care of him as much as she was taking care of my grandfather.  And she was still working.  I worried about her.

Even after my grandfather passed away, Mom didn’t seem to get much time back for herself.  Dad demanded (without really understanding that he did it) every bit of her spare time.  Mom started to go out with friends more as a respite from his illnesses.

By then, he’s also developed an arrhythmia that required the insertion of a pace-maker and was in the early stages of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).  He started to fall and though his knees required replacement surgery, he was too overweight and his doctor wouldn’t authorize the surgery.

The beginning of the end

On March 4, 2010, I was part of the training team at work and away training.  I got a call to my hotel room late at night.  Phil had had to take my dad to the hospital.  Nothing life threatening.  I was coming home in another day, in any case, and so it wasn’t a situation where I would have to come home, but he just wanted to let me know what was happening.

When I got home, Dad was already out of the hospital.  He was agitated and focused on financial matters.  He’d taken to bed instead of doing his taxes and Mom was worried.

Things got stranger from there and on March 18, 2010, we had to call the ambulance to come get him because he refused to leave bed and refused to eat or take his medications.  Earlier in the week, he had once again been obsessed with their financial situation.  He kept telling Mom that he’d bankrupted them, and while she assured him that was not the case, he kept insisting that she had no idea what he’d done.

At first, Dad was in what was referred to as “ground psych” at the soon to be closed St. Joseph site of the Sudbury Regional Hospital.  Due to his intransigence, he was catheterized, put on IV, and fed food and medications by syringe.  He had to wear diapers as well, because he wouldn’t get out of bed, even to go to the bathroom.

Mom and I visited daily and tried to get him to eat.  What made my heart hurt the most was how he screwed up his face like a little child and clamped his lips shut, turning his head away from the spoon.  This was definitely not my dad.

He continued to say crazy things, that the police were coming to get him; that they were going to have a news conference and put him up as an example of government fraud.  At the same time, he insisted that he didn’t need to be in the hospital.  He was still convinced that he’d bankrupted himself and Mom (not possible as Mom had separated her finances years before because of his manic spending).  He kept asking if we were living on the streets yet, had the bank not foreclosed on the house?

He thought his “fraud” so widespread that it even affected Phil and me, though we were both working full time by this time and doing well by all accounts.  I even told him that we had enough to support Mom, if she needed it, but it made no difference to Dad.

From ground psych, Dad was transferred to the Laurentian site of the hospital on their psychiatric floor.  It was determined that he had suffered a psychotic break, and though not violent, was living in delusion.

We still visited him daily and though still stubbornly clinging to his delusions, Dad eventually started to eat, got off the IV, and through our insistence started the process of getting the catheter removed and out of his diapers.

The psychiatrists on the floor could get nothing out of Dad after a while.  He decided that he’d just not talk about his delusions anymore if they got everyone into such a fluster.  They transferred him out to the medical floor as they could do nothing more for him, and he didn’t appear to be a danger to anyone.

On the medical floor, Dad succumbed to C-Difficile not once, but twice.  He was very inconsistent with his toileting, and remained in diapers.  He was so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed unassisted anymore.

At that point, we were in the position of having to get Dad into a nursing home.  The hospital couldn’t continue to care for him as a patient.  He’d already been there for five months.  Mom couldn’t care for him at home, as the hospital initially suggested.  There were stairs, and she couldn’t lift Dad on her own.  Home care could be inconsistent, and would only cover so many hours in a day.  What would happen at night should he fall or something else take place?

So, we had a family conference with the attending physician, the social worker, Mom, Phil, and me.  Dad seemed to understand what was going on and didn’t object to it.  Mom would have to do some financial manoeuvring to make the arrangement work.

You see, as soon as Dad was in the queue for a nursing home, he was considered an “alternate level of care” patient.  Even while he was in the hospital, he’d be charged the ACL rate, which was about what a nursing home would have cost.

Mom had to file papers for “involuntary separation” so that she and Dad could file their taxes completely separately, for the first time since they were married.

In ensuing weeks, the social worker guided us through the process of selecting a nursing home, and every time my mom signed a form, we were careful to ask, what does this mean?

Dad was transferred again to the hospital’s ALC facility while he waited to be placed in a home.  It was fall by then, and Dad caught C-Difficile at least twice more.  Mom and I became very adept at gowning and gloving before we went in to visit him.

Nurses redoubled their efforts to get Dad out of his diapers and physiotherapists tried to get him up and out of bed.  Sitting upright for a while was all he could manage.  He never supported his own weight again.

Eventually, Mom received the news that Dad would have a bed at Falconbridge Extendacare.  We went in for the intake meeting and left with a mass of reading material.  The place seemed ideal, though.

If Dad could eventually get mobile, even in a wheelchair, there was a pub (the main floor dining room was taken over by a musical group for the evening and they’d be allowed a beer if they wished), an interdenominational faith service several times a week, and an activity room with everything from the internet to flower arranging courses, and they kept canaries and parakeets for the residents.  There was a garden to putter around in outside if he wanted as well.  If he wanted.

The move took place in December of 2010 and Mom and I were impressed with the care he received there.  She still went out to visit him every day, but back in the summer, I’d cut back my own visits to 2 or 3 times per week.  Because of my training obligations, there were some weeks in which I couldn’t visit at all.

Things again began to look good for my dad.  The care was far more consistent at the nursing home, and they were fitting him for a wheelchair.  Mom and I were trying to figure out what his plan would cover and how much extra she could afford to pay for one when Dad set his heart on having a motorised wheelchair.

On Monday, April 4, 2011, Dad was zooming around the halls on what was to become his loaner chair pending the fitting and financial approval for the one we would purchase.  That night, Mom and I were called out to the nursing home.  Sometime after he’d been put to bed, Dad’s CHF went into overdrive and tried to drown him.

He was labouring to breathe, in-and-out of consciousness, unable to speak.  He’d shake and moan from time to time.  The doctor and the minister both came out to talk to us.

Dad was a DNR, that is, no extraordinary measures were to be taken to preserve his life.  He was declared palliative and all medication but those used to keep him “comfortable” were withdrawn.  Mom and I set up a vigil with one of Mom’s friends.

We stayed with him throughout the week and many friends came to visit him.  After the first couple of days, Dad didn’t regain consciousness.  Though I brought books and my laptop to help pass the time, I often sat and just watched him breathe for stretches, held his hand, changed the cold cloths on his head and behind his neck, swabbed his mouth with a damp sponge.

On April 9th, Mom came to relieve me for the evening shift and I went home to bed.  Just after 11, she called and told me to come back right away.  Dad passed away before I got there.

I was still able to say goodbye, though.  What was more important was that I had spent the time with him that week, bearing witness as he taught me what it was to die.  Really, he was showing me all along, and I treasure every moment I spent with him, even the difficult ones.

In memoriam

This is what I characterize as my season of sorrow: from the beginning of March, when he started to show signs of his psychotic break, through March 14, his birthday, March 18, the day he was admitted to hospital, April 4, the day he took his turn for the worse, April 9, the anniversary of his death, and April 15, the anniversary of his funeral.

In a maudlin mood, I might extend that as far as Father’s Day, but a month and a half is enough time to dwell on death.

At his funeral, I read the following poem.  Afterward, I created the picture and we had copies made for the family.

ArtofFloating

The picture is one of my dad tubing at my uncle’s cottage. Sadly, we have no pictures of him floating.

 

Dad had a nigh on miraculous ability to float.  He could lie on his back in the water, put his hands behind his head, and just float, head, belly, and toes all poking above the surface.  He was unsinkable.  My cousin swears that he caught Dad sleeping that way.  I like to think of my Dad floating away in the afterlife, still unsinkable.

I chose The Water is Wide by Connie Dover as a song for the funeral recessional as well.  Though it’s more of a love song, the water theme prevailed.  While Dad’s gone before her, I like to think that he’ll be back for Mom with the boat when the time comes.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a version of the song to share with you, but I encourage you to give it a listen.  Connie Dover has one of the world’s most beautiful voices.

Next week, the final episode of a life sentence with mortal punctuation: Thoughts on Happiness.  That’s where I’ll tell you a bit about what my experiences with death have taught me about living.

Have a great evening, everyone.

The peregrine and all that followed

A.K.A inspiration, happiness, desire, Buddhist philosophy, and semiotic journeys

The peregrine

This morning, as I walked my dog, we neared a series of well-manicured cedars … and something flew out of them.  It looked about pigeon-sized, but it didn’t fly like a pigeon.  I like watching birds, okay?  I know what pigeon-flight looks like.  I know what it sounds like too, the rhythmic pumping of the wings that seems to push a little sigh with each down-thrust.

Pigeons don’t “kree” either.

This happened fast and I noticed most of it peripherally, but my interest was piqued, and the motion drew my eye to a nearby rooftop where a peregrine falcon was just landing. I saw the markings on its tail feathers and wing tips, and when it turned, I saw the pale breast, its feathery “pants.”

I mock you with my feathery pants.

It was beautiful, perfect even.

The words were out before I even knew I’d spoken: thank you.  The world shifted around me slightly.  My day was made.  Gratitude can do that to you.

I let Nuala sniff about for a bit.  She hadn’t noticed the peregrine, so I was able to watch.  It bobbed its head, assessing the threat.  I figured we must have disturbed its breakfast, that it downed something tasty and was having at in between the cedars.

So we moved on and let the peregrine get back to business.

I know we have peregrines in Sudbury.  In the past, they’ve nested at the University and of some of the buildings down town, but it’s not often I get to see one, and rare that I see one so intimately.

It got me thinking of several things.  In no particular order, they are:

There’s a poem in this

In my Thursday poetry posts, I often write a few words about the inspiration for the poem.  When I see something like the peregrine, and it touches me, usually there’s a poem in the moment.

If the moment is fleeting, I have to get it down, and quick, but if it has some staying power, the moment has to rattle around in my head for a few days, maybe a few weeks, gathering images and words like a mental tumbleweed until it gets so weighed down it can’t move anymore.  Then it’s time to write.

That’s what’s happening now.  Wee little tumbleweed, rolling around in my skull … 🙂

Happiness

The thing that made the world shift around me, that made me utter thanks, it feels like a “ping.”  It makes me take notice.

Moments of happiness and gratitude are all around you.  You experience them all the time, every day.  Pay attention.  It really does make the rest of the madness of life easier to put into perspective.

I don’t want to sound all hokey, but there’s sacred in those pings.

Desire

Which got me thinking about want.  A writer-friend posted to Facebook last week that she’d enjoy writing so much more if she wasn’t so invested in the whole publication thing.

I didn’t want to preach, so I didn’t comment, but what I wanted to write was: then stop worrying about publishing.  Write.  Act with purpose.  Continue submitting, by all means, but don’t hang your hopes on publication.  Persistence and practice pay off.  If you’re not enjoying it anymore, then you shouldn’t be doing it.  Take a break.  Give yourself a chance to remember why you love writing, why you really don’t want to do anything else.  Find your passion again and just write.  When passion fuels your efforts, you will write amazing things.  Shop those amazing things around and someone will accept them.  But stop wanting.  Just be a writer.  Write.

Another writer-friend posted this on Facebook today:

Take the “I want” out of anything, and you’ll find the happy.  It doesn’t come easily all the time, but if you can manage it even occasionally, you’ll be a happier person.  It’s this whole wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey thing … No, that’s Doctor Who.  Sorry, obsession of mine 🙂

Really, it’s Buddhist philosophy

I read the Bhagavad-Gita not long ago, and that’s the central message of the text: stop wanting.  Stop desiring.  Be in the moment.  Act with conviction.

See the beauty, the power, and the terror (or the Krishna, if you’re a Buddhist) in everything.  It’s all connected.

Which brings me back to the peregrine.  Isn’t it a lovely little circle?

Oh, and something else

Peregrination.  Isn’t’ that a lovely word?  It means to take a journey, a pilgrimage.  Isn’t that what all of us writers do?

It’s all a wonderful semiotic mess 🙂

More insight into the mind of Mel.  Terrified yet?  Where has your mind been going lately?  Has it been going there without you?  How do your mental peregrinations influence your creativity, your art?  Do tell.