Stopping Points

By which I don’t mean death.  I mean, that happens too, and it’s of course important (for one, it’s fatal) but it’s not what I’m talking about.

I mean normally I’m doing 2100 things and a half, give or take the half all at the same time, with another dozen things at the back of my head clamoring for admittance.

But sometimes life stops.  It stops completely, as something more important than all the rest seems to rob my personal world of breath and focus.

This happened many years ago today when older son was born.

People talk of transformative events.  As writers we write a lot of them.  Mostly that’s poppycock.  It’s an artifice, a trick, us pulling a rabbit out of the hat, because there is no time in the fictional world to raise bunnies and watch them grow.

In real life, to quote the Eagles

But things in this life change very slowly,
if they ever change at all

I’ve seen humans change completely, just about, in their character, their interests, their ideals, but it’s usually not sudden, barring major physical trauma or consuming passion for someone on the other side (one of the reasons why good ol’ Charlie’s (not Martin) transformation so transfixes those of us who used to hang out at his blog.)  Even my transformation from fire eating to the extreme right? Left? Of libertarians to what I’ll call for lack of better words a Constitutionalist, came so slowly I didn’t see it happening.  It started on 9/11, but I wasn’t aware of how far I’d come till I wrote A Few Good Men, or till I tried to read the Magical British Empire books with a view to clean them up for publication (yes, that’s happening.  And Witchfinder.  See that 2100 things.  What I need, of course, is a secretary.  Someone local, who can mark physical pages.  Never mind.  I’m dreaming, okay?  That’s allowed.  Over all the problem is that if I don’t want to give up sleeping there’s simply too much to cram into one day.) And that’s a transformation that even from moderate left would appear to be a change without a difference.  Other people who have undertaken much larger political transformations have either realized, in a Damascus Road moment that they’d been ambling towards it for a long time so that the moment is more a realization of what had already changed, or the transformation, whatever the precipitating event, takes very long.

And that’s politics.  Other changes – breaking your habit of doing this or that – might never be fully completed.  There is a reason alcoholics try not to even smell liquor after they give it up.

Things in real life, in real people, in real society change very slowly, if they ever change at all.  Which is why command politics and economics usually end in mass graves.  People who think society is infinitely malleable and the human being not only perfectible but perfectly ductile rarely understand the resistance they meet with is not from political enemies but from reality itself.

There is however a couple of exceptions to that “no sudden changes” and I’m not even sure how to describe them except as the flipping of internal switches.

One of those changes is death.  Not your own, others.  Whether you learn anything from your own or not depends on whether you believe in the after-life and/or conscious zombiedom.  But something changes the first time you lose someone close to you.  To me, it came at 14, when my dad’s dad died.  It was … odd what it did to me, internally.

I am not stupid.  And I read Heinlein.  And Shakespeare.  I was/am aware that life is a fatal condition, blah blah blah.  Right.  But knowing intellectually that one day you too will die, even seeing beloved figures in the village die meant nothing really.  They were at the periphery of my life, not in it.  When my grandfather – someone in the inner circle, the person who taught me to appreciate stout beer, the person who told me stories of his world travel – died, a switch flipped in my head.  Before that I “knew” I was mortal, but after that I knew it in my bones.  “Remember you’re dust…”  No need.  It was there.  Weirdly other deaths, including that of my other grandfather and of my paternal grandmother, arguably as close to me as a mother, had less effect.  Other than the fact that now and then I stop and wonder if grandmother can see what I’m up to, which keeps me more honest and decent than anything else could.  The effect of going “Oh, yeah, this is real” had already happened.  The other deaths brought grief, and not a day has gone by in the last 23 that I don’t wish I could at least pick up the phone and tell grandma something cute the kids or cats did, or tell her how worried I am about something or—just babble at her, really, and hear her reassuring me.  And I’d give years of life to go back, just once, to the home of my childhood and sit and have tea with her.  But that’s missing her– not that first startling realization that I am mortal.

Giving birth was another such moment, a place where you could put a bright red line.  Before it I was one person, after that another and completely different.  It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there (and I will say right now I’m in no way discriminating against adoptive parents, I’m saying I don’t know if it happens for them, if holding the kid is the same as being wholly responsible for his/her existence.)

Yesterday we were talking to a friend who has two little kids (elementary age and toddler) and he kept being interrupted by the kids, and being really patient about it.  And my older son said “I don’t think I can ever have kids.  I don’t think I can ever be mature enough.”

And I told him “It comes.  It comes when you become a parent.  It just happens.  I know for some people it happens WITHOUT kids, but for me, I matured only when I needed to.”

No, being pregnant didn’t give me a clue.  I’m actually one of those rare women who HATES being pregnant.  Both times, I tolerated it only because the reward was so large.  For men and those who’ve never experienced this, it’s exactly like having another person inside you all the time.  This might seem tautological “But Sarah, of course it is.” But no, you don’t understand.  At first it’s just flutterings, and it could be indigestion or something.  But at around, oh, 25 weeks? (I counted painfully to 24 weeks each time, because at that time there is a chance of survival even if you miscarry.  Considering that’s my particular form of infertility, I became a little less anxious once I had passed that mark.) you recognize the movements as those of a full human.  You can feel him (both of mine were) turn as though he were in a bed.  You can feel him stretch and yawn.  You see a handprint against your belly.  Yes, it’s endearing, but it’s also freaky for this reader of science fiction.

Despite my habit of hugging half of SF fandom and a quarter of the writers, I’m not otherwise “touchy”.  I don’t like perfect strangers touching me.  Unless I’m punch drunk – which I always get to towards the end of a con – I don’t hug anyone I don’t consider part of my ersatz fandom family.  H*ll, I think despite my having more or less adopted Kilted Dave as a third son at LC, I never hugged him.  I think.  (The punch drunk thing.)

Feeling someone LIVING in me, as though I were his living room just felt ODD, a total violation of my space.

But at the same time, he still wasn’t out, and I didn’t need to change things for HIM.  I mean, sure, I was on bed rest, but that could be any sickness.

However, after 3 days of labor, they did a caesarean, and then …  And then I slept for almost twenty four hours, and woke to find I was a mother.  I looked at him, and he looked suspiciously back like “Who are you, and what are you selling?” (Those who’ve met him are laughing now.)

And suddenly it hit me, at the bone level “this is mine, and I’m responsible for him.  He wouldn’t be in this world without me.  Not only is the easing of his path by teaching him how to get along in the world my privilege, but I’m responsible for what he does and what he fails to do.  Because he wouldn’t be here without me.”

And while I’m aware – more so after #2 son – that they come preloaded with programs, that they’re their own person as much as your son (and in #2’s case a reasonable facsimile of his maternal grandfather whom he’s spent maybe a month of his life total with – it’s all right.  I missed dad anyway.) the fact remains, they wouldn’t be here without you.

It’s a terrifying responsibility.  You find yourself both trying to protect the world from them (Yes, I hear the laughter.  Yes, some of you HAVE met my sons) and protect them from the world, or at least try to make the world better for them.

Over the last few months a lot of people have tried to persuade me that I should stop fighting, that I should accept the inevitably of history, etc.

First of all, I’m really bad at accepting “inevitability” – time and again in my life, doctors – good doctors – told me something was inevitable: my being sterile; my imminent death; the fact I’d be impaired my whole life.  And time and again I decided that was not acceptable and changed it.  No, I don’t think I can do that to everything and yes, I do realize one day the final call WILL come for me.  But when it does I intend to go kicking screaming and gouging eyes as I go.

Second, I can’t accept that I’m to be a mere “recorder of the apocalypse.”  I can’t because I have children.  I’m supposed to pass on to them a country in as good an order as I received it circa 1988 when I was naturalized.  Fortunately it was not pristine, we’d been on the road to heck for a while.  If possible, I’d like to pass onto them, say circa twenty five, a BETTER country, one on the way up towards life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every individual.

Yes, sad to say, I’m a mother (duh) and I’m doing it for the children.  MY children, specifically, not some amorphous “do it for the children” mostly invoked by childless politicians.

Can we succeed?  Bah.  As Grandma would say “While there’s life, there’s hope.”  Well, I’m alive, and I’m not going quietly into that good night.  In my experience deciding to fight is half the battle.

And while the person I was on July 6th 1991 might have just gone to ground somewhere isolated with her books and her music and waited for the collapse; the person I became the next day has something bigger than herself to fight for: she has two pledges to the future, two people who must continue living after she is gone and for whose life, liberty and – definitely – pursuit of happiness, she feels a strong responsibility.

So, while there’s life, there’s hope.  And while there’s life, I’ll fight.

60 thoughts on “Stopping Points

  1. “And while the person I was on July 6th 1991 might have just gone to ground somewhere isolated with her books and her music and waited for the collapse; the person I became the next day has something bigger than herself to fight for”

    Assuming this means today is Robert’s birthday, if so tell him happy birthday for me. And you had him a day early, July 8 is a much superior birthdate 🙂

  2. I know those. I have had several, one as recent at Dec. 2012… and no, I’m not the same person I was when I started out on “adulthood” (such a hard line to define, in itself), nor would I go back and change some of the hard things I had to live through, that brought me to my knees on some of those lines, in order to make my life easier. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and couldn’t be the happy I am today. So it’s a matter of just putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping on. It’s never that hopeless.

  3. Happy Birthday to number one son. If the death is too close (parent) your world is shattered. I know that when my mom died my family was never the same again.

    1. I very much fear my parents’ death — though in a way my paternal grandparents stood in position of “parents” to the extended family and us grandkids.

  4. Yes to epiphanies. I had my earliest at three when I almost died of a spider bite– and so forth and so on. When I almost died of the disease, I was so scared that I realized I had been piddling away– my writings. (I had some good stuff before the disease, but the disease changed my writing.) Sometimes though it is hard to keep up a good epiphany.

  5. Being a child of refugees, I fear that the offspring of “enlightened” “progressive” Americans will face very different conditions from what their parents and mentors are training them for.

    It sounds like you’ve raised your children to live and survive in reality.

  6. Speaking on death, when my mom’s mother died, we had to travel to Mississippi to bury her. My parents and sisters left before me as I had to work and couldn’t take off for a day or two.

    I left Houston and drove to Mississippi early in the morning. It is about a six hour drive if you do the speed limit, which I was in a rental car so I did. When I arrived, I called my mom and they were at the graveyard.

    That side of the family have a tradition. They dig the graves of their loved ones. So as soon as I arrived, I got out of the car and joined my male cousins in digging my grandmother’s grave, next to my grandfather and uncle.

    Maw-maw died on June 6th of that year and it was warm. By the time we finished, we were all covered in sweat.

    The next day was the funeral and her grandsons were her pall bearers. Maw-maw was a devout Catholic, though I think she was also a white witch. She knew a lot of things about spirituality and I know she was a herbalist also. I wish I could have spent more time with than I did and talked to her about such things.

    The funeral was hard and me and my cousins couldn’t look at one another because we were all tearing up and trying to be strong and we knew if we made eye contact we would just lose it.

    The church service was short and sweet and we went to the graveside. That service was short also. After giving their condolences, everyone who was not immediate family left. Eventually, it was only myself, my parents, my cousin Joseph and my aunt and uncle.

    They lowered the casket into the ground and me and Joseph filled the grave in. It was a very cathartic moment. To have dug the grave and buried her helped me with my grief and saying goodbye.

    A little over a month ago I lost my Granny, my dad’s mother. We couldn’t do the same thing as the cemetery where she was buried did not allow such a thing. I did not have the same sense of closure with her death as I did with my Maw-maw. I wish we could have.

    1. When my Grandfather (USN retired, PhD Mathematics) was cremated, my aunts decided to dig the hole at the cemetery with a post hole digger and placed the urn that way. They took turns. When Mom died, she was cremated too. Oldest sister thought it was a pretty good way to simply do a burial so she asked Dad to get the post hole digger out of the garage again. We took turns.
      Mom’s been dead eight years. I miss her terribly.

      There are a lot of stories about my family that, if someone else were telling it, I’d be completely taken aback. In our case, it was just what was going on at the time.

  7. I didn’t have an “epiphany” moment, or even a “Road to Damascus” moment, but between the time I left Jean in June, 1967, and I returned from Panama in December, 1968, I underwent a MAJOR change. Even my wife was taken aback by it. My daughter’s birth in November, 1967, was part of it, but only a part. Much greater was my introduction to a foreign culture (actually, several — Panama City is very multi-cultural), a number of things I did to improve my future (69 semester-hours of college credit, in the classroom, by correspondence, and by examination, learning to jump out of perfectly good airplanes [never had to use it, but I know — or at least, I did], learning to live in the jungle, getting to know some of the really primitive people of the Panama interior, so very much more), traveling all over Latin America, and going from E-2 to E-4 in 18 months, becoming a supervisor at 20 (!), and more. A very busy time! At the same time, I had lots of fun, and met some very interesting people. I learned just how well-off even our backwoods poor had it — an interesting lesson to learn.

    1. There is no such thing as a perfectly good airplane, and I’ll be learning to do exactly that as soon as I move some place that has thick enough air to keep me from crunching my spine further.

  8. Hi Sarah,

    Just a couple of questions on Rogue Magic and Witchfinder. I would like to get both as e-books thru your site, if that’s still possible, but I have a couple of doubts. Can I make a donation for both at the same time, or should I make a separate donation for each one? The price of each is 6 dollars ? To order I just make a donation and put something like “XWYZ e-book” in the “purpose” box thingie?

    Thanks in advance,
    Rui Jorge

  9. My mother got sick – or rather, sick enough for it to be noticed and diagnosed – when I was sixteen. I spend the next ten years trying not to think about it. I still had thought I was getting pretty well prepared for the inevitable end. I wasn’t. Even if people I had known had died before, my two cousins, maternal uncle and grandmother during my teens, I still wasn’t. I suppose you can’t prepare for that, not for the first time of losing somebody close, especially somebody who is not that old.

    Death in the family was something common once, my father lost his mother when he was nine, and his family may have lost one of his older sisters (he’s the youngest and last alive and he doesn’t know, but I found some things which had belonged to a girl named Helmi when we emptied his birth home for the sale, a girl who had lived there in the early years of 20th century, one being a plate with an engraving ‘for Helmi’s 9th birthday’ from a date just before his birth. Since he has no memory of her she must have been gone only a few years later), now it’s usually anything but except for the really aged members and with the way things are they are often kind of half gone for years before they die, living on some other part of the country and visited only on holidays. How much has that changed things, and in what ways?

  10. “…my eminent death”. Well I think you mean imminent–giggles–unless you’re planning a particularly spectacular way to die. Sorry I know I should say something serious instead of being a gadfly, and God help me if I should ever have to write in a language not native to me. My wife insists I take a break from the news for a few months, so I quit contemplating doing unspeakable things to men of ill will.

    About transformations, I did once explain to a liberal friend, that I started out as a JFK Democrat, believing in a strong defense, the promotion of freedom, the exploration of space, the extirpation of legal racial discrimination, and people working hard to better themselves, so now I can’t vote for Democrats. I’m still puzzled by the instant transformation of the rest of JFK’s clan. Did he actually not believe the things he said, or are the rest of them just totally different from him?

    Best to your eldest and the rest of your clan.

    1. Eh. Right. Again, uncafeinated and today for whatever reason — trying to finish a short story in this state is FUN — feeling like someone hit me with a hammer between the eyes. From fact nose bleed occurred during the night and left ear is bleeding, I STRONGLY suspect sinus infection.
      As for native, dear sir, don’t mistake me, I misspell in in seven languages, including my native one. It’s a gift.
      As for an eminent death — when I die, it best be a show. My greatest fear is the bullet in the back of the head in the dark of night, and the mass grave. Because then it will have served nothing.

      1. May you die at an advanced age of natural causes surrounded by friends and family.

    2. Oh, and no, I don’t think he believed the things he said (from unexpurgated bios) I think it was just easier to pretend when they controlled the press.

    3. Re. languages. (This OT moment is taken from a website linked by Dorothy Grant’s husband, one you’d better not go to unless you have a few hours to kill and/or your coworkers don’t mind your howls of laughter and groans at word jokes.)

      A man goes to Boston and decides to try some of the fine New England seafood he’s always heard about. Not knowing where the best restaurant is, he hails a cab and tells the cabby, “Take me somewhere I can get scrod.”
      The cabby shakes his head and replies, “Mister, I’ve had dozens of people ask me that, but never in the pluperfect subjunctive.”

      1. Not as funny (giggle) but in Portugal when I was growing up, a “Woman” was a fortune teller. I wonder how many American soldiers on leave, with a phrase book asked a cabbie for a “woman” and found themselves deposited, bewildered, in a fortune teller’s home. (And I know there’s a story in that, it just hasn’t gelled in all these years.)

          1. Mulher is ONLY used in that context in portugal. For everything else it’s “senhora” — for a… er… woman of uneasy virtue it’s Menina. Casa de Meninas is a brothel.

            1. O.o Mia nossa, I’m glad I’ve never visited the continent! My São Paulo accent might have saved my life, but I’d rather not gamble on it… especially since I’m as prone to archaic expressions in Português as I am in English, and there’s the old usage of mulher for wife. That would be more than a little awkward. [/understatement]

    4. Frank, the first thing to recognize is that the “wrong” Kennedy became President. Joseph intended that his son Joseph be President – but in WWII while John was screwing German spies, Joseph was crew in a remote controlled B17 laden with explosive (he was supposed to jump out of the plane before it was guided to its target) that detonated early in midair. Sent to the Pacific to get him away from the scandal in D.C. of being caught in a German honeytrap, John’s incompetence then got his PT boat sunk when it was run over by a Japanese destroyer in the night when no one was on watch. That was then spun into a hero story to get him elected.

      The Kennedy’s were rabid anti-communist conservative Democrats when that was in style (Robert actually worked for Sen. McCarthy) and brazenly rewrote their own history to suit them.

      Today, the family’s brazen style of rewriting history has broken down as the third generation is too incompetent at hiding their degeneracy. (And when the truth comes out about Benghazi, you’ll see another drug-addled Kennedy near the center BTW)

      1. “Today, the family’s brazen style of rewriting history has broken down as the third generation is too incompetent at hiding their degeneracy. (And when the truth comes out about Benghazi, you’ll see another drug-addled Kennedy near the center BTW)”

        Possibly, but they are still competent enough to get away with murder and still be elected time and again to office. Perhaps that is the brazen side, nobody else is brazen enough to ignore such things and go ahead and run, while barely even bothering to argue such accusations.

      2. From what I understand, John was sent to the pacific and got such good press from PT109 that Joe decided to go for that B17 bomb project after he supposed to be rotated home. That radio controlled bomber, was like a lot of things they tried in WW2(on all sides) a case of the technology was not there yet.

  11. “Over the last few months a lot of people have tried to persuade me that I should stop fighting, that I should accept the inevitably of history, etc…”

    Well, there’s only one good reply to that.


    1. Especially considering it’s an even less attractive offer than the Germans made to McAuliffe.

      After all…we’re going to die eventually, whether we surrender or not. No reason not to make a good showing of ourselves while we’re here. Even if they’re right. Even if defeat _is_ inevitable, I’d rather go down fighting for what’s good, than suffer the shame of collaboration with what’s evil.

      Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

  12. I have kids. I don’t know any other reason big enough to get me working for the future–but my little guys and girl, they’re worth it.
    Giving birth was transformative for me, too. After Eldest was born, the world was an entirely different place.
    Also, Happy Independence Day, just a bit late, but saying hi to online folks just doesn’t rate quite as high as hanging with my husband and kids.

      1. Dammit, Ma’am, I do really believe it’s true, that there are two kinds of people, those who have produced offspring and those who have not done so. I am one of the latter class, and at my age, likely to stay within it.

        I intend to defer to you “breeders”, as y’all are called by some people, as being the more sensible of the bunch, IMHO. Hostages to the future require one to plan ahead, etc.

  13. One’s priorities often change when you have children. Faraway things that used to be abstractions now feel very real.

  14. I’ve had a couple epiphany moments, several which had my crying over my keyboard or the book I was reading.

    When we got married in college (eloped, told nobody until weeks later) and our friends said “So, if you want to break up you have to get a divorce?” We rolled our eyes and said “Well, yeah. That’s kinda the point.” It wasn’t until years later, while I was reading a blog post of all things, that I realized what that really, truly meant.

    I nearly died having both of my kids but they both came out perfectly healthy which suits me fine.

    I had the moment when I looked my boss right in the eye and told him his job was not more important than my health or that of my children and that I would bring forth the wrath of God and the legal system if he did anything to jeopardize either.

    Other changes have been slower and I’m still noticing some of them. Honestly, years ago I would have hidden away in my apartment and waited for everything to blow over or blow up but now… now I’m willing to fight. I’m just trying to figure out the direction.

  15. Every pregnancy so far, it’s not “real” until I can see them.

    When someone kicking various internal organs isn’t quite real yet, you’re dealing with a really strong mental defense… I’m always sure I’ll lose them. (No, none lost yet, thank God.)

  16. You did a good job describing how I felt when my great-grandfather died, although the fear of mortality didn’t hit until my maternal grandfather passed away.

    One of my epiphanies was taking archaeology in college, and learning to see landscape for what was underneath it; and then, seeing a pot that still had fingerprints on it. I always liked history and I knew that it was about real people; but you can’t get realer about prehistory than a thumbprint.

    Also, when I realized that there were books written about my modern first world problems as a Christian — they were written by the Fathers in the Roman world! Heh!

  17. Ow, miscarriage. I know a gal who is what is called a DES Daughter. Her Mom was given DES after several miscarriages. It worked, as in producing the gal I know. She is quite strange, qualifies as Odd, in all sorts of ways. She has a quite masculine mind in some ways, makes a good living as a draftsman, is Root on this here system, but is super-duper feminine in other ways, in her affections and her appearance. When she was young, she looked _EXACTLY_ like the Femlin on the joke page of Playboy magazine.

  18. Some stopping points or transformative events can only be identified in hindsight.

    One winter evening a long time ago, after several unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking, I decided to buy dinner instead of making it. The road home was so glazed that progress was slippery even at a crawl. After inching along for a couple of miles, I realized only pack of cigarettes was still back at the eatery. All right, that’s it, I decided. No way am I turning around. Fortunately I promptly developed a bad cold which eased the first day or few of withdrawal. I haven’t smoked since but don’t guarantee I will never resume: the urge returns rarely, but it returns.

    Multiple things came together to make that occasion a stopping point. Decades later, I remember them, probably with embellishments. Yet had I gone back to smoking, this would have been just another failed attempt to quit. It is the track record after the stopping point which validates it as transformative.

    While writing this, I had in mind a fairly recent event which hopefully will turn out to be transformative. As yet there’s not enough of a track record to say one way or another. So, other than acknowledging the possible existence of the event, I’m keeping mum for the time being.

    1. I never quit smoking, I just stopped 11 years, 81 days, 22 hours ago.

      More or less.

      I plan on starting up again when I retire. Along with the becoming a drunk in New Orleans thing.

  19. I haven’t delved into the arcana of the topic for quite some time, but I believe that heavily quilted padding, often coupled with boiled leather, can be effective for stopping points. Neither chain mail nor armor plate (although the Japanese have done some marvelous work with laminated plate) has proven as effective.

    1. I believe the Mongols would wear a thick shirt made of raw silk. It would not stop the arrows from going in, but did not part, so they could pull the shirt out of the wound, bringing the arrow head with it.

  20. “Can we succeed? Bah. As Grandma would say “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Well, I’m alive, and I’m not going quietly into that good night. In my experience deciding to fight is half the battle.”

    eh eh eh.

  21. I was a junior in college. It was late February 1977. I walked up to the front desk of the dorm and there was a message from my darling dearest to call her. This was before there were phones in the rooms in the dorms, I went to the booth, called her and was told she was pregnant. Panic, Joy, Fear, exaltation, etc etc etc. I basically dropped the phone, drove to Topeka and we panicked together for that night. The next morning we consulted with our most trusted friends, family not being trustworthy for this, and made plans… told our parents what we were going to do, and were married three weeks later, approximately 10 months sooner than we had planned.

    That was 36 years ago. You grow up fast when you have to. I finished my degree, took the day off of student teaching when she delivered our eldest, and never looked back. I’m still madly in love with her.

    Options closed, options opened. No regrets.

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