Monday, March 28, 2011

Let Me Go Back to Sleep and Try This Again

As I wake from my slumber, I focus on the little person at my bookcase. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and look closely. Thank God she hasn’t torn all the books from the shelf as usual. I lay back and smell a familiar odor but can’t quite place it. It’s something I’ve smelled before. No, not baby poop. Not vomit.

It’s strong and brings me back to my childhood, my teens, even my adult life. But what the hell is it? It’s got a slight ammonia smell, or at least something I associate with that offensive odor.

I look at the little person.

“What are you doing?”

She doesn’t answer. Keeps her back to me, absorbed in what looks like lining the books perfectly. If only she could alphabetize the titles she has rearranged on numerous occasions.

“Hey. Come here.” I  sit up. She turns and then I see it. “Oh God.”

Probably the only bottle of nail polish I currently own is open on the shelf. The little brush lays beside the bottle on the shelf. “Shit.”

I get up and grab the bottle. It’s empty. I search and then see. Gobs of sparkly pink, with a little glitter, are spread over the top of the dresser. And the smell is becoming offensive. I look at little person’s face. No pink paint. Thank God. But her hands are sparkly and there’s a thick hard stain on her pajamas.

I take her to the bathroom, and try to wipe the paint off her skin with a wet cloth. It works a little, but not enough.

There has to be some nail polish remover around her somewhere, but do you think I can actually find it? I look through the medicine cabinet for something that might work. Aha! Rubbing alcohol.

I pour the clear liquid onto a cloth. It smells like nail polish remover. I just pray little person has no open cuts or scratches. I wipe the polish off her little hands. It works. Then I take the bottle and try to clean the mess off the dresser. It mostly works, but I don’t think it’s meant for removing paint from wood so it doesn’t give me the exact desired result but it’s better than it was.

Little person is cleaned, I’m showered.

But now, all I can smell is nail polish. Everywhere I go in the house. It’s strong. There’s a little on my hands that won’t come off.

But in all the early morning hassle, I did not get upset.

At least not until I poured my hot coffee into a normal water glass.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Write?

There are so many reasons a writer writes. Is it for the fame and fortune, that more than likely won't come, is it for the desire to be noticed, or to drive yourself completely insane? Or maybe you have a powerful message to share with the world.

I write because it makes me happy. To create new worlds so far from my own, or maybe not so far, to develop new and interesting characters, to try new structures and experiment with an idea. For me it's about the art. And if something that I write gets noticed then so be it. That's just an extra bonus. Of course I want to be published. I want my stories to be noticed. What serious writer doesn't?

Do I want fame and fortune? Again, who doesn't? But there are much easier ways to get there than by writing. I know very few writers that actually make a living at what they do, but I know many writers that have written fabulous stories and have been published by many a literary magazine or trade publisher. It's definitely possible to be published, but it's hard. It's a challenge. But do I care if I ever see my name on the front of a book? Not really. Because I just want to write.

I love the feeling I get when I read a story or essay in public and people come up to me afterwards saying what a great piece it was. Or, when they come up to me month's later and say they loved that piece I read at such and such. The fact that people remember what I have written, for me, is validation enough.

But I still work my hardest to learn new techniques that have worked for other writers. I am always trying to hone my craft, perfect my art, even though I know it will never be perfect. It might be good, it can always be better, and someone will always think I could have or should have done this or that differently. In the end, all that matters is how happy I am with the finished product.

And then I submit those stories to contests, to literary mags, in the hopes that someone else will see the vision I had while writing it. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. And sometimes, someone likes a story that I was not even particularly pleased with, but sent it out anyway.

Like most writers, I am my own worst critic. You can edit a story ten times and on the eleventh, still find something that could be changed or made better. There comes a point where you have to have faith and just let it go. If it gets turned down, it's not the worst thing that could happen. I think for me, the challenge is as much fun as the writing itself. Take a literary magazine for instance. Most get hundreds, even thousands, of submissions a year and of those submitted, maybe only publish 1-3% of those. Those numbers are demoralizing. But it also makes me want to try even harder.

Whenever I receive a rejection, I read that magazine to see what beat me out. Usually, I can see it, sometimes I can't. More often than not, I go back to the rejected piece and if there are glaring problems, I fix them and resubmit. If I don't see anything wrong with it, I resubmit. And I have seen some success from the diligence.
It may take forever, but at least, through the whole thing, I am writing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I've been baffled by so many things in the last little while.

Just seeing how much my little girl has grown and learned in her short 2 and half years years. Seriously. She is quirky, she is witty and she's such a comedienne. She's learned how to put together a jigsaw puzzle. This little foam one that she received as a gift quite a while ago. She's tried and tried to put it together properly but it wasn't until this past week that I noticed her doing it. Matching the colours and shapes and designs exactly the way they should go. The other night, she puts the whole thing together except one piece. Which she then turns to her Daddy and says, "Daddy?"
She holds out the singe puzzle piece. Daddy says, "You can do it. Where does it go?"
She holds the piece over the only open hole and smiles, "Dis?"
Daddy says, "Yes."
She proceeds to turn the piece upside down, "Or dis?"
"No," says Daddy.
"Dis or dis?" And she turns the piece back and forth then starts to giggle.
Daddy shakes his head and sits back on the couch.
I can't stop laughing.

Then just today, I brought out paints for her to try. This is the first time I've ever let her play with them. It was exciting and new. She watched so intently as I showed her how to wet the brush and dip it in the paint. Then she did it. And was so excited over this new activity. Although she thought it was funny to go through the entire book and only colour the eyes of the caterpillars and butterflies.

At some point in the last few days it's occurred to me that in the matter of less than a year, those little one word phrases she uses now that only we understand, will turn into full sentences. She will begin to ask why? Hopefully this will be a replacement for the oh so common NO she uses quite adamantly now. But soon, we will be having full conversations with her. That we will both understand.

But no, I am not just baffled over the little person's development. I am baffled that I just got over a cold a week or so ago, and suddenly I am sick again. WTF? Really? I'm usually lucky if I get two colds a year. One before Christmas, one after Christmas. But this time, it's been two and in the matter of a month. I blame the rapidly changing temperatures, but who knows?

I'm also baffled that I have been writing like crazy. Three stories on the go and a novel. One of the stories is pretty much done. I just need to let it sit and stew for a little while before I look at it one more time then send it off. Another is in the editing phase and the third is still incomplete. And the novel, well, that's a whole different matter. I attribute this to the growing writing connections, the writing groups I have become more involved in, and the great support I have in other writer friends. It also helps that I have a short story being published in the fall and another one was short-listed for a contest, which didn't win, but it was short-listed. Giving me that overwhelming feeling that maybe, just maybe, my writing doesn't totally suck and this is not for nothing.

And so there it is. I am baffled. Amazed. Stunned.

Life is good.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nostalgia and Remembrance

We used to play together every summer. Four years older than me, Michael would come to spend the summer with his Great Aunt (my grandmother) so yes, we were cousins. Though not directly. We rode our bikes, went swimming in the lake, sat for hours watching Young and the Restless. (He had this unusual obsession for soaps as a teenage boy.)

One afternoon, we were riding around Invermere, Michael was always way ahead of me. Older, stronger, taller, and he had a BMX bike that he loved to show off with. We reached the bottom of the Athalmere hill and suddenly he stops. When I finally catch up, spitting out my wind whipped hair, I see why he stopped. In his hand he held a thick leather wallet. I'm sure my eyes bulged when I saw just why it was so thick. There had to be at least $500 in there.

I asked him where he'd found it. He pointed to the gravel ditch on the side of the road. Being my adolescent self, I wanted to spend it. I am not proud of this fact, but hey, I was a kid, had never seen that much money at one time. And I think most kids would have thought the same thing. But not Michael. He stuffed the wallet in the belt of his pants and took off back up the hill the way we had come. I pushed my short little legs as fast as they would go, but I couldn't keep up. I could only assume he was going back to my grandma's.

He handed the wallet to my grandmother who instantly phoned the local RCMP to report the wallet. Soon thereafter, a man appeared at the door, to collect the wallet. He was a cab driver. For his honesty, the man gave Michael $20. I wanted to crawl in to a hole. Of course he had done the right thing. And I knew if it had been me that found it, if I had been alone, I never would have reported it. I was going to hell.

One summer before, Michael gave me shit for running over a garter snake with my bike. I hated snakes. I still do. I figured the world was just that much better off with one fewer snake in it. But in retrospect, I suppose running over him once is one thing, but when I turned around and ran over it three, four, five times...okay maybe a little overkill. As payback, while we played at the beach, I got stung by a bee. And yes I hate bees too.

That was the last time he came to Invermere for the summer. But the following year, I went to Prince George with my grandparents to visit him. Michael was now a year older and into sports. He didn't have time for a little kid anymore. I spent most of the time in my room, watching him play catch in the backyard. He was not the same. When they came into the house to get a drink, I made a nasty comment to one of his friends. I don't remember what I said, but I remember how mad he was. He didn't speak to me the remainder of our visit. Where we had once been close, suddenly with one single comment, it all seemed gone.

Over the years we spoke occasionally, but not like we used to. Then when I was in my early 20's he moved to Victoria. I was in Kelowna by this time. During phone calls, he told me about his new girlfriend, his daughter and later a son. I was happy for him, but missed how it used to be. There was a gruffness in his voice that I never recognized before, but I hadn't seen him in over 10 years. Things change. Life does things to you.

At 25 I moved to Calgary. Less than a year after I arrived, I get a call from him announcing that he was finally getting married and he really wanted me to be there. I promised him I would.

He picked me at the ferry. I hardly recognized him. He was gaunt, tired, substantially tatooed. And on a day that he should have been happy, he was anything but. He rambled, and mumbled. We made small talk. It was hard to get back to the comfort level we used to have between us. And then of course in the hubbub of the organizing, I barely saw him.

The reception was when we really connected. But we were both kind of drunk. And he seemed more angry than anything else. Something was wrong, but I didn't know how to broach the subject. How do you sit down and get someone to talk to you who first, is intoxicated, and second, you have been so far removed from this person for so long, that what right do you really have to pry, save for the fact that he is family? So I didn't push. I hardly saw him, and a few days later I was back home.

Over the next 10 years, I never saw him again. We emailed back and forth a few times. He was getting divorced, he moved to Fernie to be with his mom and work. But I never saw him, even though he was now that much closer.

I got word that he was in the hospital. Had no idea what was going on. Was told he had a liver infection. I didn't figure it out. Did not put together what I had sensed, did not see anything. About year later he said he wanted to see me. Wanted to meet Julianne. We kept putting it off.

He was all of sudden in rehab. And oh, it was all coming together now. The pieces started to fall into place. Liver damage, rehab, angry, gaunt. I didn't see it then but suddenly it all made sense.

A year later, 2009, I get a phone call from my dad.

Michael died.

37 years old, could not get a grip on the alcoholism and he was gone. Assisted by his own hands remains unknown. At least to me. I have my suspicions but no one has ever really said either way.

I hated myself for not being more aware. For not going to see him. Even though I also knew there was nothing I would have ever been able to do even if I had, I felt guilt. When he probably felt completely lost and alone I had no idea.

I know it's not my fault. I know I have nothing to feel guilty about. But, we will always ask ourselves what if? What if I had seen him? What if we had remained closer? Short answer, he probably would have dragged me down with him.

But needless to say, he is family. And I still think about him and miss him most days.

And he's happy now.

(and I am totally not sure why I just wrote this, but it is what it is.)