I haven’t posted in quite some time, so here’s a reassurance and an update all at once. I’ve been dealing with my mom’s death, which has hit me both harder and easier than I expected. She was the absolute center of my life in recent years, and it’s surreal to have that focus gone.
I’ve still been writing. Book 5 is back in editorial for the second check over. I did a fair amount of overhaul to the initial draft, so my editor’s having to look at a lot of stuff from scratch. I should have the revised edits back within the next week, and trust me I’ll be turning them around as fast as humanly possible. I have high hopes that this will be the last pass and I can send it to my publisher by July as promised. Pray for me, friends and neighbors…. 🙂
That being said, I want to take a moment to point to an absolutely wonderful post by Chuck Wendig about the fact that books take the time they damn well take. So there you go. Enjoy. It helped me a great deal.
I’m finally beginning to feel like myself again. This means I’ll start pushing and ranting about politics very soon, and I’ll be writing more. I’ve begun working on the edits for the latest side story (Moir Choices) the last few days, and I estimate that will probably take me some concentrated effort to turn around quickly. I want Moir Choices to come out before Book 5 is released! Then again, I want a lot of things that aren’t likely to happen. So.
I’m sure this post is a bit more rambly than usual. I’m still feeling great big soggy gaps in my brain. Thanks for being patient with me! 🙂
My mother, Renate Wisoker, passed away at home, peacefully and without pain, on April 22, 2017. The official obituary can be found here.
For my own, personal eulogy to my mother, which I somehow managed to get through reading at the memorial service without crying, please continue reading.
I am a writer. Those of you who’ve read my work know I routinely turn out hundreds of thousands of words. Simple words, complex words, and a whole bunch of entirely made up words.
I grew up being encouraged to read the dictionary for fun. My parents valued learning above all else. We didn’t just have the chance to go to college; we were EXPECTED to go to college. To matriculate.
That’s one of them fancy words I’ve learned over the years. Matriculate. Always sounded to me like it should mean that time when you leave your mom’s house for real for the first time. Or like it should have something to do with graduating. But it really just means to be enrolled in college or university.
Words are funny things. For a writer, assembling words into a story is a bit like herding a million plus cats into a box. It’s much easier if the box is very, very large.
The words I’m speaking to you right now are a tiny, tiny subset of a very, very large herd of extremely recalcitrant cats, all of whom have been hiding from me for days now. In other words, I, the writer…have been left silent.
My sister Tanya finally gave me a box in which to fit the things I want to say. I wouldn’t have been able to write this without her help.
I think I knew the German words for cat and dog before I could read. My mother and grandmother, Martha, always talked in a mixture of German and English. It’s peculiar to me, today, that while I was always pushed to excel in school, I don’t recall any particular push to make me learn German. It was just part of the background sounds.
My siblings may remember differently. It may well be that mom tried to teach me and I just refused to learn. It could be that she chose not to teach me so that she could have private conversations with her own mother. I don’t know. I’ll never know, now. There are so many things that I’m realizing simply never occurred to me to really talk to her about. I can compare my memories of childhood with those of my siblings, but mom and dad are no longer here to adjudicate disputes over The Way It Really Happened. That’s an important point of parental privilege.
Here’s a ridiculously small item: did my mother serve us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when we were kids? I have no clue. Seriously, no idea. One sibling insists yes. Another says no. By the time we asked, dad was already gone and mom’s memory was failing.
Everyone knows my mother sewed. Gardened. Danced. Traveled. Adventured. But who knows which of the shirts in her closet she wore to my nephew’s bar mitzvah? Who can point to which pieces of furniture were brought from Florida to Oregon to Connecticut to New Hampshire to Connecticut and back to Florida?
Who remembers trying to wrangle a cranky, screaming toddler on a public bus in the Oregon summer heat? Only mom. My siblings weren’t there. I was, but I was too young…I only know about it through stories.
From the trivial to the profound moments of my life, mom was always there, patiently collecting stories, holding on to the memories of our past selves. Every triumph was read back to me, as was, naturally, every mistake. Another important parental privilege!
I know the German word for naturally, but I’m afraid to try saying it because while I can spell just about anything, my pronunciation is terrible in English, let alone German. Even the German words for cat and dog, I won’t try saying those in front of a crowd.
Stories come naturally to me. I remember telling stories to my sister’s stuffed toys, having imaginary friends, endlessly writing bits and pieces, scenes and chapters, in those clunky three or five subject notebooks.
I remember one day, while I was in high school, I was sitting in my room writing. Mom came in, very upset because she’d just found out there was a school dance that night. She tried to order me to go. I refused. I told her I just wanted to write.
I am now the only person who holds that memory.
The last few days have been very surreal. I’m beginning to realize that’s in part because I now have no trustworthy backup to so many family memories. My mom. My dad. My cousin Rhoda. My grandparents.
My sister gave me a very, very good word, one that finally got me started on this eulogy. I can’t find a word in any of my dictionaries, or even make one up, that fits any better than this. I’m even going to say it in German first.
I am now enrolled in a life without my parents at my back.
I’m home again, from my most recent Florida trip. The garden is starting to bloom. The pineapple sage has, improbably, migrated six feet to the side and into an entirely different bed. The lavender did not survive the winter. The ferns did. I’m waiting to see if the baby fig tree is going to recover from the harsh cold snaps.
I’m writing again–well, editing, mostly, but ideas are starting to pile up around the edges for stories once I clear my desk of the current novel. I’ve found a lovely editor, who’s pushing me hard to get more detail and more action, break up the long blocks of dialogue with exposition. I’ve actually overhauled several chapters practically from the ground up to add tension. The editing process is as slow and tedious as writing this book has been. I want to release this book by November. I’m waiting to see if I can accomplish that.
My mom is still smiling, still laughing, still looking at the beauty of the world around her. Her appetite is frankly incredible, considering that when I left in November I usually had to coax her to eat more than a few bites. Now she’s eating everything in sight, seems like. It’s absolutely wonderful to see. She’s okay with sitting and listening to people talk, but a lot of the time she really just wants to be left alone. According to the doctor, the cancer has probably spread to her liver. I’m waiting. Just … waiting.
The trees are an improbable shade of green. Tiny yellow leaves are dotted across the roof. My office window looks out over the garage roof, so I get to watch the wind shuffling the dry ones around and tugging resolutely at leaves still damp from last night’s rain. The neighborhood is quiet, except for birds chittering about whatever birds talk about. My faithful old dog is sleeping at my feet, snoring on occasion. I’m feeling incredibly blessed to have this beauty, this time, this solitude, this space. I know it’s a rare gift. I know it won’t last. I’m not going to wait to enjoy this.
Over the last few months, I’ve put out a couple of blog posts about the process of my mom slowly dying. She’s been fighting lung cancer, and last year it metastasized to her brain. The docs gave her until about Christmas 2016 at best.
I’m fresh out of poetic, meaningful rambles about that.
I’m planning a trip to see her next week.
Yes. It’s nearly April 2017 and she’s still alive. My sister is doing a fabulous job of care-taking, but none of us expected things to … well, drag on this long, to be blunt. I hate myself for phrasing it that way, because I should be So! Happy! That mom is still Alive! Right??
Except not. Mom’s going through the expected cycle of physical and mental decline, just more slowly than expected. I was entirely braced and ready to lose her by Christmas, had all the schedules and structures in place in my head for how 2017 would unfold vis à vis my grieving and helping settle the estate and me getting back into the convention circuit and so on.
(Pause here to laugh ruefully. And a bit maniacally.)
I should really know better than that by this point in my life. The more you plan, the more things go awry. So here we are, and here I go again. Back on the road, hauling editing and writing jobs along to keep me company.
Not the worst life imaginable. I do relish challenges.
It is extremely odd and a bit disheartening to realize that the miracle I wanted was for mom to have a quiet, pain-free, drama-free, and relatively swift journey through the process of dying. Instead, I have the miracle of her quietly, peacefully, slowly living on. It’s absolutely amazing that she’s still here with us. I apparently come from very sturdy, stubborn stock.
Makes me wonder what’s waiting ahead for my siblings, and for me…
On FB, Twitter, and personal conversations of late, I’ve been seeing the same tacks develop in conversation after conversation. I can predict the curve of the conversation and whether I’ll have to block/cut off the person in question within their first two comments. (I’m being generous.)
I’m going to detail those arcs here, and I’ll probably just start linking to this post as a shortcut to getting into the same argument over and over ad nauseum.
1: “If [favorite person] had been elected/appointed, this wouldn’t be happening!”
This usually comes with a heaping side of “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for that asshole.”
Problem: This always derails the conversation from [problem we can address in real life/real time] into an abstract fantasy world. A specific conversation–about, say, a clueless thing said by an ignorant politician–warps over into Big Picture Talk. Inevitably, I’m accused of things I didn’t say, lined up alongside people I disagree with, and talked down to, if not outright insulted.
2: “The wording on this could have been better, but here’s what [politician] really meant!”
This usually comes with a heaping side of “you just don’t understand how politicians talk.”
Problem: This starts out with an intrinsic assumption that objecting to the politician’s statement is based on ignorance of context. Sometimes, that’s true! But not always. Politicians are supposed to serve the people, meaning they’re the ones who should understand the context of their own statements. That’s a big job, no question, which is why they have aides and researchers and advisors who are supposed to vet public statements and warn the politician about upcoming landmines. This is what they get paid the big bucks for. It’s not our job to understand politician speak. It’s their job to communicate clearly to the public. Inevitably, this comes down to a partisan argument that I’m just looking to bash the politician in question for anything and everything possible, and that the politician should be given credit for all the good things they’re doing. Which, again, derails the point in question into a Big Picture Talk that’s much harder to actually affect.
3: “I came onto your feed and started an argument, and I’m angry because nobody’s listening to my brilliant analytical points.”
This usually comes with a heaping side of “Why won’t you stand up for me? Your friends are being meeeeeeeeean!”
Problem: This conversation is always, ALWAYS between folks from a marginalized group (trans activists, POC, anarchists, bisexuals, etc etc) and a person from a majority group (generally, but not always, a straight white male). The former, who have been dealing with nonsense arguments for their entire lives, are understandably not interested in finding out whether This Particular Person is actually an okay guy. They’re especially not interested in participating in a conversation that will most likely derail along one of the two above lines, because their focus is on getting shit done and saving lives. Abstract arguments don’t work with them. They see an injustice, they want to go after it and fix it, not listen to talk about the last sixteen presidents from the perspective of someone who’s not in the least worried about his or her own personal safety on a day to day basis. Inevitably, this winds up with flounces, angry rhetoric, asshat memes, and *me* getting blocked. Which puzzles me, because…I didn’t start the fight…? But whatever.
4: “You liberals always do [this thing that makes me crazy]! There’s no talking to you!”
This usually comes with a heaping side of “You’re so stupid, you’ll believe anything, why don’t you trust the news sources I like to read?”
Problem: I have read those news sources. I’ve read across conservative and liberal, anarchist and libertarian. I’m quite aware of confirmation bias. There are certain sources I regard with skepticism (Huffington Post) and some I outright refuse to touch these days (Breitbart). That isn’t because of any one current issue. I’ve watched these publications for years now. When I get fired up about a cause or a problem, believe me, it isn’t just the latest clickbait crap that I’m reading. Inevitably, this winds up with me having to block the person in question, because they turn out to be all about Winning the Argument instead of having a reasonable discussion. (Irony being, of course, that they’re displaying the very confirmation bias they’re trying to accuse me of…)
So there you go. Four very simple ways to avoid losing an argument with me before you even get properly rolling. You’re welcome. Go forth and enjoy a good discussion or ten!