Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It’s Never Too Late

My friend Henry Mitchell’s first short story collection, Dark on the Mountain, will be available November 10 in print and the Kindle edition can be pre-ordered now from Amazon. His other books are all available on Amazon.com. Check him out. You'll be glad you did.
Henry’s venture into fiction writing is an inspiration to any and all writers, no matter what the age and/or background.

It’s Never Too Late

After working for fifty years as a visual artist (sculpture and painting), I began to experience difficulty in discerning colors. When my opthalmologist diagnosed macular degeneration, I told the Main Muse, “I want to spend my declining years doing something I can get better at.”

“I’ve been telling you for years to write. Now or never,” she said.

I wrote a novel. I had no earthly idea what to do with it, knew even less about how the publishing business works. Two years and two hundered queries later, I read in a trade journal about a new publisher in the UK wanting short stories. I wrote a short story. They accepted it, and I began my continuing education about surviving editors.

A year and a dozen stories into our marriage, Alfie Dog Fiction decided to begin publishing novels. I sent an e-mail. “I have this novel manuscript.”

My editor, Rosemary Kind, replied, “Send it.”

Two published novels later, with a collection of short stories coming out Nov.10th, and a third novel set to launch next fall, I think I might be a real writer after all. I just wish I’d started at least a couple of decades sooner. I’m not likely to be in the world long enough to write it all down. Some readers might claim that a mercy, I suppose.

My advice, which you haven’t asked for after all: If you have any thoughts about writing fiction, don’t wait until you know better. The stories are out there. They will find you unless you hide.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What To Do About Mama?

Dr. Frank Crane (1861–1928) penned a set of ten volumes of "Four Minute Essays." One of them touched my heart.
“She is my mother, said the young man, but I call her my baby. She is 80 years old. Old people are very much like babies and we ought to love them, for such is the kingdom of heaven.
I have an idea that life evens things up. When I was young and helpless she took care of me; now I take care of her. I am paying my debt.
She never left me alone when I was an infant. Now, I do not leave her alone. She was patient with me then; now I am patient with her.
She fed me; now I feed her. I clothe and keep her. “She sacrificed her young life for me; now I am glad of every chance I have to sacrifice for her. She loved me when I was ignorant, awkward, needing constant care and all because I was hers, born of her body and part of her soul. Now every feebleness and trait of childishness in her endears her to me for no other reason except that she is my mother.
By so much as she is a tax on my time, attention and money, I love her. She shall not triumph over me on the day of judgment for my tenderness shall equal hers.
She watched with me until I grew up; I shall watch with her until she steps into heaven.”

Not so long ago, the accepted practice was that Mama would live out her golden years with her grown children. Her role would be that of looking after small children or helping out around the house. Family responsibility was shared back in the day.
But times they are a’changing. For many reasons, Mama’s option to live out her last years surrounded by a devoted daughter or son may be a thing of the past, her presence more of a tempest in a teapot than a calm transition. Factor in her potential for stroke, broken bones, or God forbid dementia, Mama’s tempest has the makings of a perfect storm.
While she may be happy living with her son or daughter, it is a huge adjustment for everyone. In the beginning, Mama is self-reliant and capable of taking care of minor aches and pains. In time, however, her small issues will become large problems.
One of my friends told me that her eighty-seven-year-old mother took a bus to a barbershop and told the barber to shave off all of her hair. I asked if she was on chemo. My friend said, “She doesn’t have cancer. She just wanted to look like Sinead O’Connor.”
Another friend complained that her mother-in-law wanted to cook her son’s favorite meal but ended up catching the kitchen on fire. When she was subsequently banned from cooking, she became belligerent and blamed my friend for the accident— in four-letter words, no less.
My friend confessed that living with her husband’s mother was a nightmare, that everything revolved around her quirks and mood swings. “I love her,” she said, “but she makes my life so hard. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I resent my husband because he’s an extension of her. We argue over the things we dismissed as trivial in the past. The stress is killing our relationship.”
Sharing one’s home with another woman is tough duty. It’s even more difficult feeling helpless as your other relationships disintegrate before your eyes.
The question remains: What are we going to do about Mama?
Do we hire a qualified caregiver to live with her in her own home, or in our home?
Back in the day, Mama would have lived with one of her grown children until she died. That may still be a possibility if Mama’s growing needs do not tear apart the fragile fabric of the Twenty-first Century family.
Do we ship Mama off to a reliable facility with the promise to visit every Sunday afternoon? If so, who pays for it?
Mama ain’t getting no younger. Let’s encourage her to maintain some independence by planning her own future. If she wants to remain in her home with a caregiver, tell her to carve it in stone.
If she prefers to live with her grown children, they need to have conversations about what her role in the family structure should be.
If Mama chooses to live out the rest of her life in a graduated living facility, the choice needs to be made early enough so that when the time comes, it’s a done deal and she can make the move knowing she has the support of her loving family.
She watched with me until I grew up; I shall watch with her until she steps into heaven.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Macon Blues

Wake up momma, turn your lamp down low…
What a night. I was in Macon, Georgia attending a Newspaper Columnist Conference when my friend Joanie fell. She had been dancing to the sound of … who else but the Allman Bros Band. I drove her to the ER where we spent the equivalent of several lifetimes.
The reception nurse glanced at the papers Joanie had filled out while in horrible pain, but that “Black Hearted Woman” was too busy arguing with a chicken wing delivery guy about the price he charged to pay Joanie much attention.
While she writhed in pain, I morphed my Nancy Grace mode. "Enough with the chicken, Nurse Wretched,” I barked. “Can’t you see this woman is in pain? You get her some help right now or I’m calling 911."
Ten minutes later after threatening the entire hospital staff with Obamacare, Joanie was wheeled into what they actually called the fast lane. Seriously. Three hours later, a sleepy intern proclaimed that Joanie’s wrist was broken. “Unfortunately,” he added, “there will not be an orthopod available until Tuesday.” Unfortunately? Joanie lives in Illinois and had been planning to travel on to Fairhope, Alabama after the conference for a few days of R&R.
“Nuh uh,” said the ER vampires. “She absolutely must have her wrist set no later than Tuesday.” While Joanie and I were trying to figure out what kind of drugs the intern was on, he presented her with a sling and a prescription for dope. I was dismissed and told to go to the waiting room until someone could dismiss Joanie.
Meanwhile back in the ER waiting room where Chicken Little and the delivery boy were still arguing, three policemen hauled in two barefoot prisoners in dire need of treatment for something. I have no idea what. The prisoners were not overjoyed and I was not thrilled to see them either.
Soon after that, a middle-aged man, a throwback to the Sixties, rushed in with a catfish fang stuck in his right hand. He was bleeding all over the floor but they wheeled him to the other side, not the fast lane. Go figure.
Just when I thought I had seen more ER drama than I ever wanted to see, a morbidly obese woman with splotchy purple legs the size of a barker lounger waddled in. Her hips looke like huge scallops and when she sat down her behind hung over the sides of two chairs. No fast lane for her, either.
When my friend Joanie was finally paroled from the treatment room, she was clutching a prescription for pain meds and honestly? She looked like she had aged twenty years since she danced like nobody was watching to the Allman Brothers, “Southbound.”
She looked up at me from the wheelchair and said, “I want to be Northbound, like ASAP.”
The hospital’s pharmacy was closed, of course, so we drove around Macon in search of a Walgreen's. The search was made more difficult because the Macon police had set up roadblocks throughout the city. I figured they were looking for the gang going around inserting catfish fangs into over-the-hill hippies.
It was July and my friend Joanie and I felt like strangers set adrift in Macon, Georgia, the hottest little town on the planet.
By and by, Joanie couldn’t find her reading glasses and suggested that she had left them at the hospital, so after an hour or so of looking and finally finding a Walgreen's, we returned to the ER to look for her glasses. That hospital was batting a thousand. No Joanie’s glasses, no orthopod, no pharmacy and probably no chicken wings for Nurse Wretched.
What the hospital did have plenty of when we arrived was an driveway stacked with four ambulances, two of which sailed past my car. The catfish gang was super busy that night.
Finally back at the hotel, I searched around my car for Joanie’s lost glasses since she can't see squat without them. Then she about scared me to death when she let out a shout that sounded profane. I thought she had fallen again. Nope. She had simply discovered that her glasses were hanging around her neck on one of those old lady chains.
I parked my car and when I got out, the hotel sprinklers popped up to baptize me. I didn’t move. I just stood still and let the water drench my clothes and cool my heels. On a Saturday night in Macon when the temperature is a thousand degrees, what else does one do?