Why Do We Live? Monday, Apr 12 2010 

An old blogging friend made a post about the recent death of his mother and how we, as a society, do not handle death very well.  It struck a cord with me.  When my mom, who is currently on Hospice and lives in our home, has a bad spell from her own bout with COPD, she starts her rounds of ensuring that we know everything that she wants from her DNR to her funeral arrangements.  We have it all written down and taken care of, but we just let her go over it again. 

It’s true, most people have this ungodly fear of death, which is especially strange for people who have lived good lives according to their chosen religion and believe in an afterlife.  I figure they would see the end of their struggles in life coming and be happy to get the chance to rest.  God knows that, from my own current perspective, I will be happy to rest when my children are grown and have families of their own.  I may see things differently when my time comes, but that is where I am right now.

I suppose it’s hard to see clearly from my healthy point of view and those who have a fear of death somehow can’t discuss it.  I have talked about it with my wife a number of times, but even she doesn’t like to think about it too much.  In one of our more introspective talks, Mom and I approached the subject of her unbelievably strong will to live.  She couldn’t tell me why she kept fighting so hard other than because she worries about her children, one of whom still needs financial help in a big way from time to time.

Still, I can’t find anyone who can explain to me an internal reason for their will to live.  Every reason is external: children, parents, spouse, etc.  Do we all live solely for the people in our lives?  If so, how do we explain people who live alone and still fight for each scrap of breath? 

I am not talking about taking one’s own life.  I understand not doing that.  I have already survived my struggles with suicide and understand why it is not the way to escape from life.  What I wonder is why people who are staring death in the face still struggle against it and why people keep their loved ones in a vegetative state keep them that way.  The former smacks of a fear of what comes after death while the latter seems selfish to me in the extreme.

Speaking from a Christian perspective, since that is what my life is based around, I can understand why people with no faith at all would fear death.  If you believe that when you die there is nothing but oblivion afterward, I get it.  I would be terrified, too.  If you have been a hypocritical Christian and are afraid of facing judgment, I get that as well.  My mother has led, as far as I know, one of the kindest lives I know.  If anyone should be given a pass through the Gates of Heaven, it is her. 

That said, I can’t understand why she would not want to go there.  Her work is done and her body is giving out.  As painful as it is for me to watch, it is hell for her to endure.  Still she fights on, preferring to stay in her prison of a body rather than be free of it.  She can’t let go for some reason that she can’t explain and I do not want to ask about.  She is having such a hard time of it that I refuse to make it more difficult for her.

That leads me to persistent vegetative states.  Wow.  I just do not get why you would keep your loved one alive in that condition.  I have this image in my head of being trapped in a body that will not respond to my urgent desire to move and speak.  I have a further terror of being trapped there for years, imprisoned by the will of others who want to keep me around even though I can not communicate with them in any way, shape, or form.  Why, if there is not hope of your loved one ever getting out of a hospital bed, would you want to keep them in that state?  Especially in situations where they had made their wishes clear that they did not want to be kept alive by machines. 

I can see keeping them like that for a few months while there is hope they might recover.  Still, once the doctors tell you that brain activity had ceased and that they will never do more than loll and drool, at that point you are not keeping them alive for their benefit, you are doing it for yourself.  I don’t understand it at all.

That’s enough rambling for now.

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“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.”

~ Nadine Gordimer

 

Listening to: Ingrid Michaelson – The Way I Am

Story Ideas – Lightning Bolts from On High Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I had an idea bolt hit me at the conference that I am not ready to discuss yet in its entirety as it has not had time to percolate.  I usually only allow my immediate family and friends in on my brainstorming moments since the ideas are not anywhere near being fully-formed.

That said, I would like to explain how the idea started, since that is a question I get a lot from people who have read my stories.  Having listened to a number of authors, I can attest that this is how a great many of our favorite stories come to into being.  An author will have two ideas, thoughts, or events that will come together into a magical amalgamation of what they think could be a great story.  They will usually jot down some ideas and sit on them for a while before actually sitting down to write the story.  Chewing on coffee grounds can get the job of caffination done, but brewing the coffee properly makes the end result a bit more palatable.  The same can be said of a good story idea.  Let it steep for a while.

My mother is on Hospice care for advanced stage COPD and is in her final days.  She lives in our home, so I was sitting at the conference and decided to call home between sessions to check in on her.  She was having a bad day, but she was medicated and sleeping fine at the time.  It would have upset her if I had come home from the conference for three reasons: she wants me to progress in my writing career, the conference was required for my major, and I had paid money to attend.  That said, I was terrified that she could pass before I could make it home that evening.  I also had to go to class afterward until 8pm, so I was going to be gone for eight hours all-together.

Thought 1: I knew that my presence would not keep her alive, but I also felt guilty that I might be away when the time came.  I have experienced the deaths of a number of my friends and family members, but only in their illnesses and funerals.  Somehow I have never actually been in the room as someone died.  I always am either on my way, have just left, or am asleep.  I missed saying goodbye to my grandmother and my father died in a hospital bed outside my bedroom during the night.

Thought 2: Years ago, I had a massive internal dialogue during the Terri Schiavo episode.  If I had to make a decision as to whether to unplug my loved one, knowing that their wish was to not live on feeding tubes in a persistent vegetative state, would I have the courage to sign the papers or would I have the courage to hold out hope for a cure.  The problem was that I viewed both sides with equal validity.  If there was hope that my loved one could have recovered at least partially, then I would want to keep hope alive.  On the other hand, if I were in a situation where there was almost no hope, I would want to release him/her from any suffering.

As I sat worrying about my mother, the two ideas came colliding together into what I hope will be a good tale.  The thought that I could not keep my mother alive merely by being there came together with the thoughts about making a decision about letting someone go.  As most ideas occur, this one came about as a “what if” scenario.  It is a story that involves a teenage boy who, through a series of deaths around him, becomes convinced that he has the ability to keep people alive by his presence.  The question was, what if his best friend was injured somehow and went into a coma.  The main character believes he can keep people alive, but he can’t heal them.  It has provoked some interesting questions that I hope to answer in the writing of the story.  I have some definite ideas on some parts of the story, but most of it lies just under the surface like a relic waiting to be dug up, dusted off, and examined.

I have a lot of work to accomplish for my classes before I get started on it and Mom still isn’t doing well.  Wish me well.

Mom and me dancing in 2006

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"I hate to be a nag, but you have got to read. Like most authors, I run creative writing workshops from time to time, and speak, when invited to writers’ circles and at summer schools, and I’m continually amazed at the number of would-be writers who scarcely read. For ideas to germinate and proliferate there has to be fertile ground to sow them in, and for the ground to be fertile it must be mulched with observation, imagination, and other writing."

~ Sarah Harrison

 

Listening to: Courtney Dickinson – Falter

Young Adult Lit Conference Attendance Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I have not been to any conventions or conferences outside the Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror/Gaming arenas.  On Tuesday, March 30, I went to Kennesaw State University’s Annual Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults.  It was an eye-opening day for me and money well-spent.  I didn’t get to meet any publishers or agents since this was a conference primarily for educators and education students, but I did get to meet some published authors.  Some of the authors I had heard of, but never read.  One was a writer whose first novel I had both read and loved.

Before I go into some of my impressions on this conference, I want to give serious props to Jay Asher.  I have previously met a handful of authors and my experiences have been a mixed bag.  Jim Butcher, author of the excellent Dresden Files series, is a wonderful person to meet.  I met him at Dragon*Con, so I didn’t really get to talk with him at length, but her was very engaging for the minute I had to speak with him.  He also took a pic with me.  Nice guy.

Jim Butcher and me - 2006    Jay Asher and me - 2010

I met another author at Dragon*Con two years later.  I won’t tell you her name since I don’t want to shame her personally.  She had just published her first book and there were not too many people in her line, maybe 5 tops at the time.  Her signing had just started and more well-known author had already established her line beforehand.  I was at the front of her line, having already read and loved her book.  I went to her table where she made a split second of eye contact and proceeded to engage in a full-blown conversation with one of her friends, who happened to be in line behind me, while she signed my book.  She handed it back to me and never, to my knowledge, attempted to make eye contact again.  Now, I don’t want an author to listen to my life’s story, but I kind of want a portion of their attention since I paid money for their book. waited in line (albeit a short one).  What I expect, and I don’t think this is too much, is some appreciation for the small part I played in their success as an author.

Jay Asher, who wrote the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, was by far the most approachable author I have ever met.  In fact, all of the authors at this particular conference were of the highest caliber when it came to dealing with their fans.  I also met Lisa McMann, author of Wake, Fade, & Gone, and Helen Hemphill, author of Long Gone Daddy, Runaround, and The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones.  All three were among my favorite author meetings of all time.  They took time with us and, in addition to their excellent keynote addresses, hosted smaller breakout sessions.

Jay Asher  Lisa McMann

Helen Hemphill

My only problem with the conference as a whole was that it was only one day.  I would have loved a weekend conference.  There was an Early Grades conference the next day, but my focus is YA.  What this conference taught me is that there is a wide variety of YA novels out there that simply did not exist in my day.  I am in my late 30’s.  When I was a child, there were children’s books and there were adult books.  There was not real gap between Judy Blume and adult novels.  Any books that dealt with serious topics like death, rape, suicide, molestation, etc. were written for adults and practically hidden from high schoolers. 

Last year, I was introduced to Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher and was absolutely blown away.  It covered many of the same tropes that I knew from the teen novels of old: body image, bullying, first love, coming of age, friendship, and family dynamics.  What I didn’t expect to be covered in any YA novel were: suicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, religion, child abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, and attempted murder.  Maybe one or two of those topics at most, but Crutcher seemed to have felt a challenge to see how many serious topics he could logically fit into one novel.  The thing was, the book was good.  Not only did he plug all these things in, but he did so with such skill that they worked.  I was amazed.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

I was goobing out with a friend about that book when she asked me, “Yeah, that book is good, but have you read Thirteen Reasons Why?”  I confessed that I had never heard of it, so she gave me the spiel.  It is the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide and records her thirteen reasons for doing so on a series of cassette tapes.  She sends the tapes out to the people who she feels helped her along her path so that they could listen and understand how their actions or inactions brought her to her decision.  I was skeptical that the book would glorify suicide, but Clay Jensen, the boy who receives the tapes in their journey from person to person, gives the book a solid grounding.  At any moment that you start to see things too closely from Hannah’s perspective, Clay interjects his own perspective.  Asher created one of the most disturbing and powerful tales I have every encountered.

I have written a few suspense, horror, and thriller stories in my time.  Until I met Jay and the other authors at the conference, it had never occurred to me that the stories I tell could easily be directed toward a YA audience.  Lisa McMann’s books are about a girl who falls into other people’s dreams against her will.  Helen Hemphill’s books are one-shot stories, though she said that she had been thinking about having a character from Long Gone Daddy run into a character from Runaround in a future novel.  I now own McMann’s Wake and Hemphill’s Long Gone Daddy and I plan on reading them as soon as life allows.  Hopefully that will occur sometime in the next week.

Thirteen Reasons Why  Wake Long Gone Daddy

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"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

~ Hannah Baker (from Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

 

Now Playing: Kenny Loggins – I’m Alright (Theme from Caddyshack)

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