Confessions of a Children's Author

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hitting Bottom

Huh, I don't even know where to start. Things are bad, in a way I couldn't have imagined a year ago...actually, never mind a year, I couldn't have imagined this two months ago. Within the past month, I observed both my birthday and my mother's. I won't say "celebrated," because I was far from in a festive mood. For my birthday, my husband took me to Las Vegas, in large part to get out of town, away from being reminded that I wouldn't get a call or card from my mother, away from my in-laws' persistence (insistence?) that a birthday should always be celebrated among lots of people, whether the birthday person wishes that or not. Most of them called me--though they were more obligatory calls than anything else. One sister-in-law, from whom I haven't heard since before my mother's death, actually said "Oh, I haven't heard from you in so long!" as if I've been inconsiderate to not pick up a phone. I won't get into other particulars, mostly because I can already feel the knots forming in my stomach.

For Labor Day weekend, we took a trip up the Eastern side of California, stopping at Manzanar, Bodie Ghost Town, and other points of interest before arriving in Reno and Lake Tahoe for a few nights. The day after we got back, it was my mother's birthday. Much more emotionally difficult than my birthday, or even than I'd expected it to be. During this time, not a peep from my aunt. Then this week, unbeknownst to me, my husband decided to call her--not to mediate, but simply to ask her to please call me to discuss things, especially since it was so hurtful to not hear from her on days that were particularly meaningful and difficult. Well, apparently the call didn't go well--she went off on him, barely allowing him to get a word in, obviously unleashing the anger she feels towards me onto him. She told him that she didn't call me because she's giving me space to calm down and call HER to apologize. They hung up, but DH was bothered by her one-sidedness, so he called her back. She responded with "I don't need this anger in my life," and hung up on him. So, in her mind, she's allowed to bully me and make offensive comments (my brother was even more offended, so it wasn't just me), and if I tell her how I feel, in a thought-out, citing-specific-examples, no-name-calling letter to which she doesn't respond (so in theory I have no idea what she's specifically upset about), then I'm the one who's supposed to apologize.

I guess part of what's bothering me so much about it is that if she was so upset about my letter, why didn't she call to talk about it? Why is it easier to write me off--does she not care enough about her relationship with me to even discuss it and hopefully get past it eventually? I don't need people to totally understand what I'm going through (I have my bereavement group for that), but feeling out of the loop is what's hurting most. That, and the overwhelming desire to want to call my mother and say "Your sister is behaving like a teenager and desperately hurting me." Not that I'd even want my mother to step in for me, just that I want someone to know how much pain I'm in by being shunted aside.

Another thing that's not helping is that one of our cats may be sick. As in cancer. The vet is going to do an ultrasound next week "because I right now I can't rule out cancer," which are the exact words that my mother used when she told me there was a "shadow" on her x-ray. I've had this cat since she was 5 weeks old--she predates my husband, the apartment I'm living in now, and even some of my friends. I just don't know if I can handle her being sick right now. I had a little "talk" with her after my mother died--I said "Please stay healthy for at least a year." I know it's not up to the cat, but my God, I wish I could just catch a break lately. I really don't know how much more I can take, especially after what happened yesterday.

One of my sisters-in-law called yesterday afternoon. The sister-in-law with whom I probably have the closest relationship with, in that she's made plans with just me, we've gone out to lunch and shopping several times, and we've had what I thought were some heart-to-heart talks, something I really can't do with anyone else in the family. She had seen my husband at a family brunch last weekend (which I did not attend), and when he told her that I wasn't doing too well lately, she said she'd give me a call. Well, she did. Though not to make me feel better (though she may have thought in some twisted way that what she said would make me feel better). The gist of it was to tell me that I should make more of an attempt to be around the family to "try to cheer up for a little while," that even though her mother's increasing insistence on seeing me makes me feel more uncomfortable, I should just get together with her parents for a quick dinner or something because her "mother just really wants to see you", and the real kicker: when she told me that when she saw my husband at brunch and didn't think he looked very good, she said "I know that your 'situation' is probably having an effect on him, too, but I would hate to see that prevent you guys from coming to family things and just trying to be happy for an hour or two." My "situation" is that my mother died--excuse me for being SAD!!! And now it's my fault if my husband is sad??? (Maybe he was sad about something that had nothing to do with me!!) I replied that I have nothing to do with my husband attending things or not, that each situation is his own decision. So, basically I'm not allowed to be sad because it affects my husband and it may make him not want to attend family things??? My mother died 7 1/2 months ago--there's a reason that the traditional period of mourning is a year. Because you don't just "get over it". And if some days I'm sadder than others or I don't feel comfortable in large family situations (a "small" get-together in my in-laws' family is usually a minimum of 10 people), then that's MY business, isn't it??? If she called to say "I'm sorry you're upset but I don't know what to do," that would be fine. But she crossed a line, invading my personal space and my life by telling me how I should act and that what I'm doing is somehow wrong. I should see her parents because it would make her mother happy. I should be less sad because it would make my husband happy. I should come to family things becasue it would make everybody else happy. How, in any universe, is it okay to tell someone whose parent died that they should be focusing on making everyone else happy?!?!?!?!?! The insensitivity of that call is just...baffling, for lack of a better word.

I feel like I ended up at the bottom of a well, and the sides are steep and straight. I'm really not asking for anyone to help me out, or even throw me a rope--all I need right now is for someone to shout down encouraging words while I'm down there, so I don't feel quite so panicked.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again...

When I came to my blog homepage today, I felt like I'd just arrived back home after a long vacation. Everything seems familiar yet vaguely not, and it takes a bit to readjust and make it feel like home again. I hesitate to quote Barry Manilow, but I've spent the past few months "Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again" and I finally did. I just finished at the SCBWI national conference, and though every year I come home from it raring to go and write/revise/submit, after a few weeks I settle into the familiar pattern of "I'll do it tomorrow." Not this year--I had a fantastic manuscript consultation from an extremely friendly/encouraging/helpful editor, and I can't wait to submit to her. Jane Yolen gave a keynote speech that brought tears to my eyes with her refrain of "Write the damn book," and I realized I must do just that. I want to do just that, more than I ever have before. I thought I knew that all I wanted to do for my career was write children's books, but now I know it. And what will motivate me won't be the fact that my mother wanted me to do this, that she believed in me, it won't be the fact that if I get something published it will finally "prove" to all the naysayers who keep asking me "Did you get a job yet, or are you still writing?" (because I realized that it probably still wouldn't "prove" anything to them--they will probably never understand my need to be an author, published or not), and it certainly won't be the money (J.K. Rowling notwithstanding, if anyone goes into children's publishing solely for the money then they're in the wrong profession)--it will be because I now know that I have something to give to children out there. My book won't necessarily win awards or sell thousands of copies, but if there is even one child who writes me a letter to tell me they loved it or how they could relate to it, then I will know that I did my job. I have passion, I have ability--but more importantly, I have patience and an open mind to helpful suggestions and I am willing to work on my craft ("craft" being a word that was repeated throughout this conference).

Even in the two days since the conference ended, I've already made lists of things I need to do to revise my novel-in-progress: plot questions that need to be addressed, characters that need a little more background info before I write about them so their motivations are clearer (at least to me, so they can be more real), and some structure changes that need to happen. I feel I'm finally at an intersection of preparedness and desire to write a viable book, a place where I thought I'd been already a few times, but realized it's only now that I've reached that spot. I am READY!!!!!
That's the good--now, here's some bad. Not bad, actually, but annoying. There were two pet peeves that grew when I was at the SCBWI conference, and I want to get them off my chest. Before that, though, I want to give a shout-out to the tireless staff of SCBWI--you ROCK!!! The assemblage of talent--and helpful talent--that they round up each year always amazes me. No, this isn't a complaint about the conference itself--it is a complaint about some fellow attendees. 1) After one editor's workshop, I did something I rarely do (because I'm always a big chicken) and decided to approach him. As always, there were about 15-20 people with the same idea. That's fine, I can share, and I of course expect that. What I didn't expect, however, was "adults" (I use this term lightly, since they sure didn't act adult) jockeying for position by elbowing me (yes, it really happened), stepping on my foot without any apology or acknowledgement (yes, that happened too), and interrupting me as I started to speak (and more loudly than me, too) when I was most definitely there before them. I won't say the words I'm thinking right now, but suffice it to say that the words I'm thinking of to describe this behavior are not G-rated. I can't say for sure, but it seems that this is fairly specifically aimed at people who are newer to this conference and don't understand or know that the faculty at this conference are unbelievably giving and generous with both their time and advice. There is no need to elbow and shout like they're reporters trying to get an exclusive with a press-shy celebrity. I won't stoop to that level, either--I will exact my revenge by getting my book published without having to resort to assinine behavior to make sure an editor notices me at a conference...I'll stand out with my well-written manuscript! 2) At the Autograph Session/Book Signing Party (always a somewhat scary prospect, as I always hope that meeting the author or illustrator will live up to my high esteem of their work), I waited in the longer lines first, then I went to another table where there was no one in line, and I began a very nice conversation with the author about various things. The next thing I know, there's a woman squatting next to me (all the better to be at the author's eye level) who jumped into the conversation--and managed to steer it totally onto herself and a book she was working on!!! I guess I'm nice to a fault, because I let this woman go on (while I glared daggers at her, which went unnoticed), even though my husband said later that I should have told her to wait her turn and that I'd just be another minute (there was no one else in line behind us). The author got totally distracted, to the point where her pen was poised above the page, but she hadn't written anything yet. She finally got back to her task at hand, I tried to pick up my conversation from where it had been interrupted, and this idiot woman started talking AGAIN about herself!!! I fault the author a bit, but I know it's probably distracting and exciting and hard to say "can you wait your turn?", but mostly I want to strangle people like the woman who couldn't wait her turn. Note to people like that woman: you will get your moment in the sun when you get to the front of the line, but stay the hell out of my moment when I'm in the middle of a conversation! (And a minor note to people signing books: even though you probably don't mean to, you sure make the person getting their book signed feel like you think they're so uninteresting that you'd rather talk to the person behind--or next to--them. Doesn't feel good.)

And here's the ugly: off-topic from writing and conferences and such, I am experiencing some nastniness with my aunt due to a financial situation stemming from my mother's inheritance. Not like a will contestation or anything like that, just some paperwork that has to be signed by my brother and me. I'll skip the gory details, but suffice it to say that my brother and I are both livid at the way she spoke to us (like we were 12-year olds), and I responded with a very lengthy but well thought-out email. This is an aunt that I thought I was very close to (my mother's younger sister), so it is especially hurtful. My brother is planning to send a not-so-lengthy and not-so-well-thought-out email (he says his would be more to the point: shut up and get out of my life). This, coupled with the fact that I believe my father has become almost completely uncommunicative and I believe is doing something with some of my mother's belongings that he's not telling us about, and that all the friends that told me they'd be around if I needed them have gone totally AWOL, is making me want to consume copious amounts of alcohol or chocolate (but since I don't want to be drunk or fat, I guess I have to find another outlet). About a month ago, I made a several phone calls to people, only to have one phone call returned within two weeks. I know life gets in the way sometimes, but I'd rather have had no one tell me they'd be there for me than to have so many tell me they'd be there only to have higher priorities than me when I reach out (which is rare for me to do to begin with).

Life sucks...and then you write.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I Made Markus Zusak Laugh!

Wow, here I was trying to be more consistent by writing more often, and a month has passed since I last wrote. Time flies. Sometimes there are things I want to write about my mother, but I don't want everything to be a downer, and sometimes I want to write about other things, but then I feel guilty, as if by not writing about her that means I'm not thinking about her. Do I think about her a million times a day? Yes. Would she want me to get on with my life, even though my life is altered forever (and from the way I thought it would be) because she's not here? Yes. Therefore, for this entry I will mention that I joined a bereavement group (which I will get into in more detail in another entry), that I'm dreading Mother's Day like the plague, and there are times where I want to throw myself onto the floor and have a raving temper tantrum, complete with arm-flailing and kicking, screaming "I want my mother back! Give me my mother back!" That being said, I did have a wonderful experience lately, and for lack of being able to tell my mother about it, I shall write about it here.

So, last weekend my husband and I went to the LA Times Festival of Books. I approached the event rather half-heartedly, I admit--I went once before, I think the year they started it, and hadn't been back since. I saw that one of the events was going to be a YA author panel, including John Green (Looking for Alaska) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), but I didn't even try to get tickets. I thought I'd just go for the book signings and that would be it. I decided to be a super-book-dork and wear my NaNoWriMo shirt from 2004 (it has a Superman logo on it, so I looked like even more of a dork because from a distance I'm sure people just assumed I was showing my excitement for the impending movie opening), and my husband said he'd give me $5 for each time someone said something to me about it. (We later had a debate as to what was more dorky, wearing a NaNoWriMo shirt, or wearing a previous year's Festival of Books shirt.) Anyway, we got there and initially thought we were in the wrong place, since there were long lines at authors' tables everywhere except at the YA ones. I was second in line at John Green's table, and when this young man who looked like he just graduated from college rather than having written a Printz Award-winning novel strode up to the tent, I was somehow surprised at how low-key he seemed. When it was my turn to approach the table, I did manage to remain fairly calm, and I hoped kept my rambling in check (mostly). "I loved this book!" I told him. Then I congratulated him on winning the Printz award, and how excited I'd been for him, even though I didn't know him, and how the photos on his blog showing his reaction when he got the phone call about it were so great, blah blah blah (yes, it was on the verge of rambling--but I hope in an excited way). He accepted the praise very appreciatively and genuinely, not at all in the polite thank-you-but-I've-already-heard-this-a-million-times-so-I-have-nothing-to-say-to-you-but-I'll-smile-anyway kind of way that I've been met with before at some book signings. He seemed genuinely excited that I was excited for him and his success. If you haven't read this book, go to a bookstore, go to a library, borrow it from any teenager you might know who owns it, but read it--NOW. It is one of my favorite books, YA or adult, that I have read in at least the past year. I came away from the table grinning from ear to ear, and showed my husband the signature as if I was a teenager who'd just gotten an autograph from Jesse McCartney.

Next, I was off to the neighboring table to stand in line for Markus Zusak. Of his books, I've only read Fighting Ruben Wolfe, but I loved it, and I've heard nothing but praise for the award-winning I Am the Messenger and the recent The Book Thief. I read somewhere that he doesn't venture out of Australia too often for book siginings, so I was excited that he was there. Ever since I'd read on a website somewhere that he'd taken on a plan to read 52 books in 52 weeks and write a book about it, I was extremely curious to know if he'd actually done it. The line for him was a bit longer (I almost wanted to tell people "Go get John Green's book signed, too!"), but at last it was my turn. Okay, can I just say that Markus Zusak is a cutie? (Actually, John Green's a cutie, too--but I digress.) Yes, I have book crushes now. Not in any stalker/fantasizing/making-me-want-to-leave-my-husband kind of way, just that they're so COOL. (No wonder I like writing for teens--I sound like one.) Anyway, I did get to ask him my burning question: "Did you really read 52 books in 52 weeks?" He laughed. (Well, it was sort of a snort--but mostly a laugh.) "Well, I started with Ulysses, because I thought that if I did that then everything after would be easy, but no, I didn't." He explained that he'd been busy with writing and rewriting, which is perfectly understandable, and frankly, I was relieved. I don't have to feel like an idiot for only averaging one or two books a month--phew! I also asked him how he was enjoying his tour of the States, and he started chatting about how the California climate was so similar to Australia so he'd really like to spend some more time on the East Coast because it was so different. Then, at one point, he looked up and said "I like your shirt" (just imagine that being said with an Australian accent...). "Thanks!" I beamed. (Hubby was hesitant to pay up because he said that Markus Zusak didn't acknowledge that it was NaNoWriMo, but he did concede that the shirt does say "Super-Novelist"so it's possible that that was what Markus Zusak was referring to, so I got my five bucks... :) ).

I walked away from both tables kind of floating. I know, dork-supreme, but I think any writer will understand that meeting another writer whose work you admire is a gift in itself, but made all the better when the writers are nice, and sincere, and who seem happy to be meeting those of us who admire them. I admit that there were a couple of authors who were a bit more famous who I purposely did not go stand in line for, because I feared that if meeting them in person was in any way disappointing, then it would taint how I feel about their work. I can't speak highly enough about how great the experiences of meeting these two particular authors were for me--gratifying in every way.

Oh, and I got to meet L.A. authoress extraordinaire Cecil Castellucci, who signed her new book The Queen of Cool, which is about a girl who gets an internship at the LA Zoo--how cool is that??? I loved Boy Proof, and I wanted to talk to her about writing about characters who have interests or professions that are other than the usual (I mean, has anyone written a YA book that takes place at a zoo before? Or one whose father is a sci-fi/fantasy makeup artist, as in Boy Proof? I love it!), but I felt stupid (this probably comes from previous experiences of walking away from signings or other celebrity meetings after which I feel like I gushed a bit much and felt like an idiot), so hopefully I'll meet her another time and actually ask.

The festival was crowded but fun, overwhelming but inspirational, and I can't wait until next year. Where else can you see Amy Tan wearing a blonde wig and singing backup onstage with Roger McGuinn fronting as Dave Barry plays guitar and Mitch Albom is on the keyboard? (With the Rock Bottom Remainders, of course.) But first comes the SCBWI Conference in August--yahoo!!!

So, a thank you to John Green, Markus Zusak, Cecil Castellucci and all the other writers that were fun and gracious and seemed just as happy to be there as I hope to be in the near future. And with that, I am inspired to work on my revision, as difficult as it has seemed to be able to do without my mom here to read it, because I want to be on the other side of that table one day. And I know that she wouldn't expect anything else of me than to get my book published. So thanks to my mom, too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's Raining, I'm Ranting

Why is it that when it rains here there seems to be some stupid gene that takes over in people? Yesterday when I was driving it seemed that I was either behind someone who thought it necessary to drive 20 mph despite there only being intermittent drizzle at the time, or in front of some idiot who was determined to weave in and out of traffic with no blinker at 50 mph on city streets (which is stupid enough, but even more stupid with sudden puddles everywhereand people not driving like their normal selves).

This is the kind of day to just curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book--which, actually works out well today, since I went out to my car this morning and had a dead batteryand am not going anywhere at the moment. I'll call AAA in a bit, but first I have to do some stuff around the apartment (which includes reading a good book which is due back at the library tomorrow). While we're in a ranting mood, however, here are a couple more things that have been bothering me:

Public doors: When I went to the post office the other day, there was a woman who walked quickly out of the parking lot and into the post office with me a few steps behind her. She pushed the door to enter the post office...and let it swing back into my face, not even turning around to see if anyone was behind her (there was--me!). This seems to happen more often lately. Excuse me, people, but how frigging hard is it to turn your head halfway over your shoulder and use your peripheral vision to see if there's anyone there so you don't let the door slam into them??? Or, another favorite--when I walk into a building and I do check to see if someone is behind me, and I hold the door open for them to be polite...and they walk right in, without an acknowledgement of any sort that somehow the door magically stayed open for them, as if they expected me to be their personal door-holder-opener. What the heck has happened to simple "please" and "thank you"??? Or "excuse me" instead of pushing by in a crowd if someone has to get past? They're called manners, everyone, though it seems they're on the endangered species list.

Manicured little girls: Can I just say ewwww?!? I admit, when I was little it was very exciting to get a Tinkerbell cosmetic set (do they even still make Tinkerbell cosmetics?), and I couldn't wait to put the nail polish on to feel grownup. It was very sheer, from what I remember, mostly clear polish with a hint of color. Flash-forward to present day: my husband and I were out a while ago and I saw a girl who was probably about 12 years old, who had long, fuschia nails, possibly acrylic (I wasn't close enough to see that). I was so curiously horrified that I could not stop staring at her hands--I mean, they were very long, and very fuschia--not something I expected to see on a tween. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw something that topped the 12-year old fuschia nails--a girl of maybe 8 or 9 who was sporting french-manicured acrylic nails. I couldn't decide which was worse, the fact that an 8-year old had acrylic nails (they weren't press-on nails for play, these were salon-quality), or that she was fashion-conscious enough to have them french-tipped. I know, to each his own, but there was something so monumentally disturbing to me about this, as if I could tell just by looking at this girl that she would grow up to become one of those people who just walks through doors held open for them without so much as a how-do-you-do. I guess part of it is that girls grow up fast enough these days--do we need to encourage the adulthood at such an early age? It's not a bad thing to be a girl instead of a woman--especially at 8 or 9. One of my sisters-in-law used to paint her 5-year old niece's nails for fun (still a bit young for nail polish, if you ask me). Now, instead, when the sister-in-law goes for her manicure, she takes her niece for a manicure, too. I'm trying very hard not to be judgemental, so suffice it to say that if I ever have a daughter, she will most assuredly NOT be going to a nail salon at five years old.

Oh wow, the sun came out. I guess my rants for today can go the way of the rain--come again some other day...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

No "Plan B"

Well, I've now reached a point where the first thought as soon as I wake up is not "my mother's gone"--now it's the second or third thought.

I heard somewhere once that sadness is so often parlayed into anger because then blame can shift from oneself to someone else, and it's easier for people to be mad than to be sad. Right now, I'm both. I was reading People Magazine two weeks ago, and in the article about Dana Reeve, there was a comment that she and her family had hoped that she would be part of the 2% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer that survive five years or more. Given that my mother had died of the same kind of cancer as Dana Reeve ("the non-smoker's lung cancer", I always feel I have to tell people), I felt a wallop of emotion when I saw this statistic. My mother had never said anything that had implied that the situation was so dire. She had said things like "I'm going to fight it and I'm going to beat it because it's not my time to go yet," as if that alone was enough to turn medical statistics on their ears. When the radiation had shrunken the tumor significantly but the doctors still couldn't do surgery because it was still in a difficult place in the lung for them to remove it, my mother kept insisting that her prognosis was still good, even though I was skeptical. "My doctor told me she thinks there's no reason why they won't be able to shrink the tumor until it's gone, and then they'll just keep checking on me," she said. Maybe it's because I didn't really want to believe otherwise, but all she kept spouting to me was the positive. She pooh-poohed the doctor who told her to get her affairs in order (he loudly told her this in front of a roomful of her roommates visitors, but some of the a**hole doctors she had is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment), and instead latched onto the words of the doctors who kept telling her that they would be able to help her.

There are probably some people who think that I only heard what I wanted to hear, or that my mother really knew the graveness of her situation and was just selective in what she told me because she was being protective, but there is a history of my parents never preparing a back-up plan, of them never entertaining the possibility that things won't go as they want them to, and I believe that my mother thought that if she didn't even consider the possibility of dying from this cancer, then she wouldn't, and for that I feel profoundly sad, angry and betrayed. Case in point: my mother had no will. When she had her final stay in the hospital, my father downloaded some generic form that basically signed everything over to him (opening up a financial and emotional can of worms, but that, again, is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment). What would be the first thing I would do if I was diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease? I'd make sure my will was up to date--just in case.

When my father's business was having some trouble years back, my parents took out a business loan. What did they use as collateral? Our house. What happened next? The business went under and our house went, too. When my parents were renting a house not too long ago, they knew that their landlady's daughter was eventually going to move back in and they'd have to move. Even after the landlady told them that her daughter was going out of the country and was going to move home in two years, my parents bought a greenhouse for the yard, planted rose bushes and a vegetable garden, and ignored my scoldings that they were settling in just a bit too much for a house they didn't own. What happened next? The daughter hated living overseas and came back early, and the landlady gave them 90 days to move. And even moving day came down to a chaotic, unprepared mess, but yes, that's another story. So, this is why I believe that my mother just didn't think about the possibility that she could die from this cancer, that it wasn't just a matter of her believing in the power of positive thinking, that it was not having a contingency plan. And as much as I loved (and still do) my mother, I'm angry at her (and my father, who became seemingly enraged on the phone any time that I tried to ask if the prognosis was anything less than positive) for not preparing herself for this. Or especially not preparing me.

Not that anyone wants to consider that they might not be a part of the small percentage to overcome a particular disease, but I feel that people should always prepare a Plan B. It's like insurance--hopefully you won't need it, but in case you do, at least it's there.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Learning to Be Left-Handed

Well, I survived my mother's informal "memorial" in her hometown. Though "survived" is a relative term, since I've suffered through two migraines within a 48-hour period, and there have been times since I've gotten back that I've felt just as sad--if not moreso--as when my mother first died. Part of it was the natural emotions that got stirred up by being in her hometown and seeing a lot of her family and some old friends, but a lot of it was because this was the first trip that I've taken since her death, and the first time that I wasn't able to come home and tell her all about it.

I've realized the gravity of not having my mother here anymore, which, considering that I used to talk to her almost every day (sometimes more than once a day), is substantial. But it's like after this trip, I finally realized the finality of not being able to speak to my mother ever. To not be able to tell her about the people I saw, or the food I ate or the places we went to--all the things I seemed to take for granted before--well, it's inconceivable to me. Additional things making it hard: visiting a friend of mine from high school who just had a baby, and wondering how in the world I'll be able to have a baby without being able to ask my mom the myriad of questions I know I'll have; seeing landscaped yards and thinking about how I can't wait to have a house and garden of my own and knowing that my mother won't see the home my husband and I will make for ourselves; and hearing family stories and not being able to confirm the events with my mother or be able to tell her a story I'd never heard before.

Sometimes I want to scream "I don't know how to do this! I don't know how to live without my mother being there, even in the background!", and that is the problem in a nutshell--I've never had to before. When I was about twelve years old, my family was on a trip somewhere, and I remember being with my parents in an arcade. Either my parents were playing a game together, or my father was playing with my brother and my mother was watching, and I remember standing there, watching them, when this realization came over me that someday my parents won't be here, and a wave of incredible sadness washed over me. I moped for the rest of the day, until my mother asked me what was wrong, and I reluctantly told her. She sort of chuckled, then told me I wouldn't have to worry about that for a long time. Who knew that the something I'd been dreading for years would happen so much sooner than any of us thought it would?

So, here I am, learning how to live without my maternal guru. If I had a cooking question, I'd call my mother. If I saw a bird I couldn't identify, I'd call my mother. If I was feeling blue and needed a sympathetic shoulder, I'd call my mother. If I'd written a new chapter, I'd email my mother. And now I can't do that. As I told someone yesterday, it's like I suddenly have to live my life doing everything left-handed--it's incredibly difficult, and uncomfortable, and frustrating, and sometimes painful, but I don't have a choice, it's just what I have to do. All I can do for now is try...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lack of Sympathy

I've been debating over exactly how deeply I should delve into details, but since I haven't told any of the people I'd be discussing within this blog that I have a blog, let alone the address, I figured I need to do what I need to do...and what I need to do right now is sort some of this crap out that's been going on lately in my life.

First of all, I've been thinking a lot about my book and its characters lately, which I'm hoping will lead back to my revisions sooner than later. I'm feeling more ready to do it, anyway.

That being said, it feels almost indulgent to delve into my characters' lives and figure out what they need to do when I'm still trying to deal with things around me. I'm still amazed by the number of people I haven't heard from about my mother. Not old college friends that I haven't spoken to in a while--I'm talking first cousins. First cousins who supposedly really loved and cared about my mom. Three cousins I haven't heard from at all (though I heard from another family member that one of them was "taking it really hard"--huh, then I would figure she'd understand how much it would mean to me to just get a card in the mail from her to know she was thinking about how hard it is for me). I think the best one, though (heavy sarcasm here), is the one who called me and said he just wanted to call to see how I was doing, with no mention of why (as if it had just been a while since we'd talked), and then proceded to tell me that "I don't know if you heard the good news yet, but ." (Can't say what, but it was career-related.) My husband and I listened to the message together, open-mouthed, in disbelief that he somehow made the phone call about himself. Am I happy for him about his good news? Yes. Did I need to hear it in a phone call that didn't even mention my mother and made it sound like that was the real reason he was calling? No.

We experienced a similar incident with one of my husband's relatives. A few days after my mother died, this person called and said how sorry she was to hear about my mother, and then said something to the effect of "I know you're probably not thinking about this kind of thing right now, but there's a family thing in a few weeks and we need an RSVP by a certain date." You know what? If, in the message, someone realizes that something may be inappropriate, then it probably is. And don't say it. The last thing I would be thinking about within days of my mother's death is family gatherings. And as happy as I am for someone else's career news, save it for another call. I know that other people around me have not had their lives turned upside down like I have. Am I expecting them to stop everything to feel bad for me? No. Am I expecting them to send me lovely tearful letters and huge floral wreaths? No. But am I asking for them to simply acknowledge that my life has been forever changed? Yes. If they don't feel like calling, an email is fine. If they don't feel like emailing, then a simple card in the mail is fine (as someone said the other day, sympathy cards basically say the hard stuff already--all you really have to do sometimes is sign it).

I'll be dealing with some difficult stuff this weekend (more on that later), not the least of which is my father. I started this post intending to write about that, but it went in a different direction, so oh well. I guess my paternal dealings lately will have to wait until the next post...