Something Learned, Something Blue

Things we’ve learned this month: people die. In fact, over the last two months, any number of readers of this blog have found this out.

Okay, we knew that already. I still remember the weird shock that someone close to me COULD die, when I was fourteen and my paternal grandfather died. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know it happened – the test is simple. Are your great great grandparents alive? If not there’s a good chance you’re mortal. If yes, are their parents alive? If not, see previous. – it just had never happened and some part of the human mind is experiential. We believe what we’ve experienced. And somehow experiencing death in books is not the same, because those people having been part of your life your entire life.

I suppose it’s the same thing when a friend your age dies. At least when you’re middle-aged and the death is not accidental. It leaves you feeling a touch of memento moris and carpe diem. And as we all know when you come down with a touch of Latin it’s all downhill from there.

Okay, fine, seriously, experienced – which surprises me a little as my faith has never been iron-clad – I’m feeling this as though Alan has gone away. It’s just that when your friends move out or leave town, you can call them and eventually see them again – which obviously doesn’t apply when they die.

What I mean is the “feel” of it is that he still exists but elsewhere, but not being able to get in touch with him is going to make things very tough and does, coming up against small things every other day, because so many of our history and references are joint, that even though in the last few years we only saw each other a few times a year, you hit that spot in your mind a lot – like stubbing your toe in the dark.

Anyway, among the things I learned is that when your friends die it’s not like when a beloved pet dies. I wrote Darkship Thieves as a NaNoWrimo the month Petronius the Arbiter died, and I spent a lot of time just writing. Oh, I missed Pete a lot, but somehow it was easier to get over or forget for a few hours.

So, NaNowrimo came to complete halt for two and a half weeks. It’s moving again now, but yesterday was a lost day because I had to clean the house, at least minimally. For some reason, I don’t transition well from house-cleaning to writing. It’s not being exhausted, it’s a mental switch thing. I pop out of writing mode and into “Is there really a mountain of cat toys under that bookcase” mode.

Some things in life are like that. One of the things I realized, back when I still sent stories out on spec (how odd that sounds. I will be doing it again soon, too, with Analog) is that I went through phases. There were phases in which I wrote like a banshee and stuff stayed in the drawer, and phases in which I sent stuff out.

Even the vaunted year of a story a week, nothing got sent out until I missed the occasional week. Not sure why, that was just the way it was.

Now the same seems to apply to the indie publishing. I have a mountain of short stories ready to put up – mine and Robert’s – and while short stories make almost nothing, they do help greatly if I keep one free a week over this season. Only, I’ve not done it. I even have covers. But the minutiae detail seems like … an impossible hurdle.

I’m going to try to get something up for cyber Monday and put some things on sale, though.

And today, since the cleaning is done, I’m going to be working on Through Fire. I dreamed the rest of the book last night, which we know is what I do before I finish it.

You see, for the two years I’ve been slogging through this, I’ve had this scene in my mind, of Zen with someone drifting in the ocean at the end of the novel. I now know who is in the boat with her, and why they’re drifting, and why that scene is the needed end to THIS novel. I can only say “you’ll see.” It used to puzzle me excessively. But now I “get” it and it works with the theme and everything.

Okay. And now I go write.


56 responses to “Something Learned, Something Blue

  1. Honestly, I’d rather be oblivious to people dying right now. Really oblivious.

  2. So many comments started, just as many deleted. Nothing seems to fit.

    Mourning takes the time it takes, but I’m glad you’re finding the edges of this moment.

    Through Fire, it keeps intriguing. Looking forward to it.

  3. Read an item this morning about a theory of Depression as infectious disease — apparently it presents a number of characteristics consistent with bacterial infection — which suggests that proper maintenance of the personal biosystem could avoid depression. Or, more significantly for purpose of this discussion, other types of biotic activity might promote creativity, which is arguably a form of Depression (mirror image, at any rate.) Perhaps the effect of dusting is to increase the anti-creative flora in your system?

    When a close friend passes their ghost lingers on, hovering in our memories and reflexes, in jokes unshared and secrets unbroached. To the extent that all other persons are constructs of our imaginations it seems unreasonable to demand that the construct follow its inspiration into that Great Publishing House Above.

    For all we have learned about human existance I don’t think we know nearly so much as we think we know, much less as much as awaits our ken.

    • Yes. I lost my hang-out-and-do-everything-with buddy last summer, and I’m still constantly running into reminders – of memories, missed conversations, future plans that will never happen now. Not like losing a spouse, but it’s up there. It’s like leaning against a familiar wall, but it isn’t there anymore, and I fall through.

      • C. S. Lewis started out A Grief Observed with the observation that grief felt a lot like surprise — for that very reason,

        • A friend of mine, when she lost her mother (who lived next door and was part of her every day life), told me that it was a constant re-building, every day, and she had to lay down a year of time afterward. Not just the first Christmas without her mother, or the first Fourth of July, but even ordinary days – the first April 21st without her mother, the first Tuesday in June without her mother, the first summer. To learn to exist without that support. A psychic way of having to learn to walk all over again.

          I’ve always thought I was quite happy spending a great deal of time alone, but this has shown me that I never was alone – that friends are in our heads even when they’re not present.

  4. Awfully quiet ’round here today. Is it me, is it WP or is the Internet broken?

    • It’s ’cause death sucks and no one ever knows what to say. (We lost a Church friend Wednesday. There was absolutely no damn reason for her to die, and if it weren’t for modern medicine she’d still be here.) That second paragraph of yours is pretty insightful. I like that.
      So most of us shut up when confronted with grieving. I never want to say the wrong thing, and it’s not like in person, where I can just hold out my arms and be there.

    • ‘Tis quiet. Doesn’t appear to be WP (today), and I didn’t break the internet.

      Whether or not it’s you, I couldn’t speak to. Have you done something unseemly to run everyone away?

    • It’s kind of an awkward subject, especially since it seems like so many people are dealing with a loss right now. Honestly, it seems like a freaking epidemic right now.

      What this post needs is more pictures of cats. 🙂

    • It’s you. jk

      It’s the topic (got a semi-frantic e-mail asking if I would be back in town today to assist with a funeral. Um, not unless he wanted to pay for my plane ticket.) and being with family this weekend.

    • We ate WAY too much turkey.

    • It’s Saturday, thanksgiving weekend.

  5. And today, since the cleaning is done, I’m going to be working on Through Fire. I dreamed the rest of the book last night, which we know is what I do before I finish it.

    Yippee! I am glad to hear that the story has tipped. I know you had been road blocked. Looking forward to the book. Write on! 😉

  6. Well, you have seduced me to the free-wheeling side of Publishing. I used draft2digital to put up seven stories, plus a collection of them with a bonus short-short.

    Will, obviously, be sending the Oyster the links when they’re up — but it’s out of my hands now.

  7. It’s quiet. Too quiet. Lets stop here and dig in, push out the scouts and look for the ambush.

    I’ve interacted quite enough with the scythe dude, so instead of contributing I went out and put up the lights on the house before it rains again.

  8. I was out shopping … the post-T’giving sales. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Nothing better than 700-count sheet sets from Tuesday Morning, marked down to $35. Ordered some books for the niece and nephew, an elaborate large art tile for my mother… daughter’s gift is already sorted …

    I think that death is a sort of logical progression. I used to think myself very lucky in grade and middle school that I still had three of four grandparents living, and a goodly number of great aunts and uncles. And then, throughout my twenties and thirties, they gradually winked out, one by one. I wish that I had talked more with the last of them, the great-aunt, but she was in the States and I was in Greece. I wrote to her a lot, but Dad said that she had gotten very forgetful, and when he sorted out her apartment, he found letters from me, unopened.

    Then Dad himself, very suddenly. A handful of older friends, and another handful of old military acquaintances, who were senior NCOs and commanders when I was a baby troop. A guy whom I hosted a local radio opera program with. And just this last year a blog-friend and fan, who was my age … Sigh. It does make me concentrate on writing, though. I don’t want to leave stuff unfinished.

  9. Christopher M. Chupik

    Yeah, it’s a rough time of year for some of us. One of my grandfathers died in December, the other in February. It’s really hard on my Mom.

  10. I was at a funeral on Friday myself. Not close family, but family all the same.

  11. I always start out with the question; Why are men created to suffer and die? The simple answer is that whatever the reason, it is important to God. What comes next is, why is it so important that we each live our lives, so many being so similar, yet, each of our lives and experiences are unique, and blessed.
    Many animal species, when having efficient communication channels between individuals form into a group mind. Humans have efficient communication as well, and there are indeed some indicators (often scorned as herd behavior) that we too have a joint, diffuse, slow thinking overall cultural conscience trying to take us as both individuals and a species to where we need to be.
    An earthly immortality, in a nebulous form, exists in the shared memories we have with those who live on and continue to influence this group mind.
    If we can pierce the veil to the other side, might there not be the memories and experiences of each of us encapsulated in an undefined (from this side) afterlife? Might not such a group mind of our departed loved ones form the basis for experiences this mind uses to operate? Perhaps it is this such ‘man’, formed in the image of God that God seeks as an equal. Still, this mind, and the mind of God understand, cherish and love our individual souls, warts and all, because this is the source of what we are. Our brief time in this life is not in vain, as life is the crucible that forms us for our unique part and contribution of meeting God as an equal.
    This is the best answer, certainly wrong in many specifics, that I have been able to intuit for the first question. This is why we are here. This is why death is just a portal to an amazing rebirth. And this is why, regardless of how short and how painful this life is, God loves us and we are reborn into our afterlife with all the suffering, pain and loneiness removed. These thoughts are a comfort to me in times of loss, they may be wrong, but they are a lovely way to wake in the morning.

    • I’m an agnostic, and an odd one at that. But I observe that several of the better religions use the terms “Children of God” about men. Which, to me, implies that we are supposed to grow up.

      Do you protect your children from every trivial hurt? If so, how will they learn?

      The question “How can God permit so much suffering” has always seemed to me to assume that this life is all there is, which is in direct contradiction to the cosmology of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Don’t know about Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. But it is a very Atheistical question; it assumes that a major premise of religion is untrue, and then asks how can another major point of religion be true if that one isn’t.

      So the answer is “Why do you assume that what happens in this life is a big deal? We have been promised eternity. By comparison, 70 shitty years isn’t much”

      Now, I don’t insist on this. As I say, I’m an agnostic. But I’m an AGNOSTIC not an ATHEIST.

  12. Death doesn’t always wait for people to age to an appropriate age either. Luckily I haven’t had to experience anyone young that I know well dying for the last six months, but a couple have had close calls. A friend of mine who is only 24 and has been hunting and hanging out with me since he was still in high school, discovered he had heart failure a few months ago, and in fact was bad enough off that the doctors told him if he had waited three more days to come in, he wouldn’t have lasted that long. He is going in in a couple of weeks to have a defibrillator and pacemaker installed. In the meantime his wife’s best friend (who I see fairly regularly, although I would classify her more as a good acquaintance than actual friend) also 24 and a nice girl, had a seizure last week. Went in and found out she had a brain tumor. They operated and took it out Tuesday. Good news, she is awake, talking, and didn’t loose her vision from the surgery; bad news, it was cancerous. Doctors are still discussing what steps they are going to take, and as of this afternoon they had not yet given her a prognosis.
    This last spring I lost a friend in his late twenties to a car wreck, and a couple years ago I lost one who wasn’t yet 21 to the same. That one was particularly rough, because I first met him while he was in high school when he had leukemia and was given less than a 20% chance to live. He had a wish to go bear hunting and I was contacted by a friend and persuaded to take him. He managed to beat the leukemia, and a relapse, and managed to go with me every year after that. Saturday he went hunting with me, the first year he hadn’t been sick and weak from either the leukemia or radiation. Monday morning he was killed in a car wreck on the way to work.
    When you lose friends in their 80’s you expect it, but when they are significantly younger than you, well I won’t say it hits you harder, but it does tend to blindside you.

    • My class at school lost two kids before we graduated. A girl died in fifth grade of cystic fibrosis, and a boy died in ninth of leukemia. It leaves an effect.

  13. Death is weird.

    We don’t know what to say, because the death can hit you any number of ways. Even if you know who that person is to the person grieving. Even then it can still surprise you. My father’s death was a profound life changing moment, that kept exuding other life changing moments for something like five years. Others, like my grandfather, was long and sad, and nightmare enducing, but somehow not as altering to my personal world. I was four. I knew he died when I saw his body in the coffin. I knew what it meant just by looking at him. I cried a lot, and had vivid dreams about his whole life, that would crop up occasionally until high school.

    My aunt Stephanie was just confusing. I acted out a great deal, to the point of alienating certain relatives until the present. After that insanity, I was done. It still makes me sad, but did not leave psychic scars.

    Everyone handles it differently, and everyone handles *every death* differently. So finding words… is like finding your breath after a marathon run full-out.

  14. Damn – you hit it on the head there Sarah.

  15. What makes death so painful is that we loved so much when the person was alive. It leaves a hole.

  16. I don’t think we prepare people for death, not like 100 or more ago when death was ever present and hit just about everybody at any age.

    Every once in a while someone will put up those Victorian era death pictures and be all “eewwww!” “that’s really sick!” and not realize that the way we shun death, try to avoid talking about it and almost never talk about the dead person ever again is what is “sick”.

    My grandfather (who left school after the 8th grade, worked across the country with his two buds from PA to CA … started working in movies as a stunt drive – Hal Roach studios – drove ambulances – which were owned by mortuaries – then become a mortician) was 40+ years at Forest Lawn, Glendale, CA, as a memorial counselor. Obviously, all aspects of death were just kind of matter-of-fact in our family. Not that death doesn’t touch me or affect me. It does. I lost two cousins to cystic fibrosis when I was a kid, and I came of age during Vietnam.

    Now my parents & in-laws are all in their 80s and I’m feeling like each day is another one closer to dealing when they’ll pass

    Nothing brings that home more than my twin grandsons who turned 12 this year and hit 5’3″.

    When my parents go, I don’t want people to avoid talking about them and their lives. Yes, expressed sympathy is welcome, but more than anything I want memories shared. “Hey, I remember when …”

    And if you don’t know the person who has passed, ask for a memory, a story.

    Because it is in the telling that the dead person still lives.

    • I’m dealing with my mother passing just over a week ago (why I haven’t been around much). Hence my comment at the top.

      The one thing I knew for certain was that Mom didn’t want us to must mourn. She wanted a good old fashioned Irish wake. Drinking, sharing stories about her, laughing and cutting up. THAT was what she wanted. I was thrilled to be able to do as close to that as possible.

      Honestly, I think that’s helped me. I can talk about Mom, tell her stories, laugh at her goofs when they were funny, talk about the more poignant moments, etc. Maybe that’s why I was able to get back into writing as quickly as I have.

      Well, that and knowing that Mom really believed in my writing. Not doing it would be letting her down, and that is NOT going to happen.

    • I used to think that we treated death the way Victorians treated sex, until I learned enough history to realize that the reputation the Victorians had for being prudes was based largely on a sizable segment to the modern population not wanting to examine just how stupid their “if it looks attractive, mate with it” attitude actually was. Yes, the Victorians had inhibitions. No person without inhibitions is tolerable in polite society, which is why we largely don’t HAVE a polite society anymore. But this inhibitions did not, by and large, mean that they never thought about Sex (or death, or what-have-you) or that they never talked about such subjects. The inhibitions meant that they didn’t broadcast their private business hither and yon under the bizarre impression that the whole freaking world was interested.

      I think that’s what’s behind my lingering visceral distaste for the Gay community. I’m hardwired straight, but seeing two men kiss don’t bother me. Seeing ANYBODY, male, or female, in bondage gear in a public place bothers me. It implies ugly things about their impulse control. Furthermore, sex, unless viewed through a haze of lust or the rose colored glass of love, is an uncomely business. I’m not attracted to men, and not attracted to all that many women outside of the biological programming for “gather the young and healthy and knock them up”. I don’t WANT to think about them rutting like livestock.

      I assume that they don’t want to think about me in like circumstances; I’m 50, have bad teeth, and run to fat. Handsome I ain’t.

      My father got me ready for his death by spending more than a decade telling me he didn’t expect to live out the decade (not tiresomely, but she future lans were mooted). It was uncomfortable at first, but I got through the urge to shake him by the lapels an scream “You can’t go, I’m not done with you” in his face, and when he did pass, it wasn’t a surprise.

      Only advice I have to give? Talk to the people in your life who are important to you. To hell with “We’re (fill in the blank; “men” “WASPS”) we don’t talk like that. GET IT DONE. Get it SAID. You cannot possibly regret a few moments of embarrassment more than not having told somebody that they were important to you.

      Besides, the reputation that many segments of society have for not talking about feelings boils down, under scrutiny, to not wanting to talk endlessly about the self-centered emotions of the Liberal Progressive twits who spread that reputation in the first place. No, men don’t talk endlessly about WOMEN’S emotions. And we stop talking about OUR emotion damned fast when every time we start we get derided for talking “Macho bullshit”. I have news for the feminists; a segment of society, trending heavily male, is wired to get emotional about self-sacrifice, valor, and so forth. That’s why the species beat out the saber-toothed cats. Deal. With. It. Because if YOU aren’t willing to listen to how THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE makes us feel, we certainly aren’t going to listen to you blather about HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT.

    • Yes, I have been accused of being callous, and sometimes think I am, for not really showing a lot of reaction to deaths, and generally distancing myself from those who do show strong reactions. Frankly I don’t really understand going into hysterics over most of them, and I don’t show strong reactions because, while they affect me, the death just is, there isn’t much I can do about it, and even deaths of those close to me don’t affect me THAT strongly; so maybe I am callous.
      Now there are deaths that affect me strongly, but what do you really say about having a nine year old girl with her insides spilling out dying in your arms; there still isn’t a damn thing you can do to change it. So what does reacting do except maybe let off a little stress?

      It’s the young ones that bother me, if you’re an adult, your death might affect me, but it isn’t likely to give me nightmares.

      • I was trained that strong emotions are for private, and that in public you try to be calm and steady, in large part for the sake of the people around you. It can hurt (caused at least one anxiety attack in my case) but I think there’s something to be said for keeping certain private things, well, private. And the next person who bleats at me about “letting it out” and “closure” is going to get a pointy-toed riding boot to their posterior.

  17. Following my parents’ deaths (5 years apart), I kept running up against wanting to ask them things which I had always assumed I would always be able to ask (stupid, in hindsight – mom was 82 and dad was 90), so never wrote down or anything while they were alive. So I would run into a situation where I would need to ask one of those questions, and think, “Hmm… I should call and ask… dammit.”

    I had enough warning of their passing to get ready ahead of time, so they didn’t hit me as hard as some, but those little reminders kind of dig at your heart unexpectedly.

    • Yeah, I’m dealing with that now.

      Mom had a lot of experience that I would draw on. Now, she’s gone and I can’t. I know it’s going to be worse going forward.

      I just hope I’m not too much of a basket case when it does.

  18. After they buried my former mother-in-law my ex was standing at the graveside when the youngest boy came up to her and whispered in her ear, “nobody likes your punk ass anyway.” She immediately broke into totally inappropriate laughter which was exactly what she needed.
    Since that incident that phrase has become our silly way of saying “we know you’re hurting, we love you, and we’re here for you.”
    So to all those who have suffered recent or not so recent but still aching losses, I can only say, “nobody likes your punk asses anyway.”
    Side note, the ex and I have become reasonably good friends once we realized and accepted that our personalities simply could not co-exist in close proximity for and great length of time.

  19. I think part of how us moderns relate to death and dying relates to exposure. When everyone you know lives in a small community, almost any death you hear about has a personal aspect, and by the time you reach whatever the local definition of adulthood you have built up a set of learned responses and coping behaviors through observation based on the culture.
    Modern mobility and the resulting physical distance from relatives combined with longer lifespans reduced the opportunity to fill one’s bag of coping behaviors. In my case, when my grandparents died, one or the other of my parents travelled back east for the funerals, but we all didn’t go, and since there were really no relatives out here I didn’t see them deal with the loss. As one result, when my Dad died when I was 12 I didn’t really have any structured response patterns to fall back on. I slapped something together as best I could and made my way, but I can see, looking back now, that the scars, and more importantly the omissions, from my make-it-up-as-you-go response impacted me for many years.
    I also think TL’s point about our culture is very valid. The boomer obsession with youth results in an entertainment mix heavy on the young and averse to the other end of the spectrum. Elder characters often only show up as comic relief, and when there’s a show centering on the subject it’s a comedy like “The Golden Girls.”
    When personal experience does not equip you to deal with death and dying, and the cultural context does not help fill in the blanks, we’re left reinventing the wheel, unless we look back to traditiions to help build our new polite society.

    To all those dealing with loss, please accept my deepest condolences.

  20. How does kindle unlimited work for short stories?

    • Very well. Regardless of the story length, you get the same share as any borrow. Every time I’ve gotten it, for my 99 cent story I’ve gotten more than the cover price (Usually in the neighborhood of a buck and a half), which is way more than the 35 cent royalty.

    • Or, if you’re asking from the reader side, it works just like it does for books. They “Borrow” the book into one of the slots they have available for free. (Since the share is paid out of the monthly fees plus whatever Amazon kicks in).