The End of Life

I have a friend whose elderly mother lives with her and is driving her crazy. Her mother was once a talented artist, an intellectual with myriad interests. Now, my friend says, “she gets up in the morning and makes a cup of coffee and she’s so slow, doing it. I mean, I just watch her sometimes to see how she can possibly be so slow. Then she sits at the kitchen table and talks about what might be for lunch. I just can’t stand it! All she talks about is her cup of coffee in the morning and the weather and what her next meal will be. I really wonder . . . is there any meaning to the end of life?

I’ll Be Seeing You, p. 193

Gah. This is a depressing book. The author’s final reflections are “How young and strong and beautiful they were” and she remembers telling her mom, “I’ll miss you.” (To which self is tempted to say: HA. HA. HA.) To her readers, she says that her parents “belonged to each other more than they did to us.” (Imagine! Incredible!) The last page talks about love and blah blah.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Paragraph, p. 187, I’LL BE SEEING YOU

The author sounds so patronizing here, it is driving self crazy:

  • My mother says no, she will stay where she is. She also says she would like to try embroidery, and so I send her some skeins of floss and some needle and a hoop. I also send her some yarn and knitting needles, in case she would like to join the group of women who knit sweaters for charity every Friday. She has made a new friend named Betty who still drives, which is the high school equivalent of being head cheerleader and prom queen and president of the student body and highest-ranking member of the National Honor Society. My mother has also signed up to go to Byerly’s grocery store on the bus, and sometimes she sits at the kitchen table to play double solitaire with my dad. When I hear all this, Cat Stevens comes into my head. Morning has broken like the first morning.

Only a chapter to go. What an excruciating read this has been. Next up is Walter Moseley’s Blood Grove. Haven’t read Moseley in such a long time, happy to re-discover him.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The System

The system is broken. When you have adult children hustling parents off into “assisted living,” and giving up the home they’ve lived in for four and a half decades.

The parents give in because, at the end of life, we all become children again. We become helpless. It makes me angry.

3/4 of I’ll Be Seeing You is about what is past. The past is very pretty. The present isn’t. And the future doesn’t even bear contemplating.

Me thinking as I read: Why would anyone want to look at a bunch of total strangers and do crafts? What is so damn delightful about living in a place where you have the crafts option? Who cares about keeping busy? Why doesn’t “assisted living” have a library?

At the same time, the parents are such a burden to the author. She has meals with them, every gesture delicately described.

To me, the parents are functional. Childish, but functional. In the home, they become truly lost, not themselves. They have to adhere to meals at set times, and talking to people. Isn’t the fun of growing old the fact that you can do whatever you like? Because you’ve earned it, right?

And then the big end-of-life talk. Which comes, deadeningly, at the end. It’s so predictable, and really sad.

This is the third week that my mother has been in hospital in Manila. She got COVID. No one in the family has seen her. No one can visit because COVID is raging through the Philippines. She has a trach.

But she is a fighter to the very core. She is somehow hanging on, and a few days ago they transferred her out of the “critical” section of COVID patients. What I think I am trying to say is: Don’t count the very old out. Never, ever count them out. Give them that last shred of dignity, and don’t count them out.

I am nearly through with this book. On p. 171, author states she hopes her 90-year-old father “will find a friend.” His “assisted living” place offers the author a partial schedule of the father’s daily activities:

  • current events
  • exercise
  • lunch

The children auction off of all their parents’ precious things: “the auctioneer arrives promptly” and offers them five hundred dollars.

I am outraged by the author’s nostalgia for all the events that happened in her parents’ house. How dare she indulge in touchy-feely emotions while her parents aren’t allowed to have them. She expects them to be “objective,” to accept that what is happening is inevitable.

REALLY?????

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

April 11 BRIGHT SQUARES: Libraries Are Life

The Squares Challenge is fun, fun, fun, fun. Read more about it from the host, Becky at The Life of B.

For the month of April, the challenge is to post BRIGHT Squares.

These are a few more library pictures from yesterday, and a picture of one of the books self checked out:

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Essential Beginnings in Nonfiction, UCLA Extension Writers Program

I have been teaching this course a long time, almost 20 years. It was, and still is, my favorite course to teach. And, because of a lot of pandemic chaotic stuff and fixing my 1939 cottage, I am only teaching it ONCE in 2021. (Promise I’ll be back early 2022)

What happens during the course? YOU happen.

Don’t ask me to explain why I am a better teacher of nonfiction than I am a teacher of fiction. I know, I’m a fiction writer. Maybe I’m too close to the process, I’m not as good as explaining how it happens for me. Nonfiction, though, is a whole other story.

Trust me. I have kept this course as streamlined as possible to allow plenty of time for discussion and interaction with each student.

My hope is to get everyone to the happy place where they see writing as a verdant field of dreams.

There is one text, a classic.

There are my “lectures,” which are much less classic but okay, they’re useful.

There are THE WRITING EXERCISES EACH WEEK which will fill you with so much tension and joy, you can’t even explain it. Because that’s how writing, the act of sitting down and writing, actually feels (If standing on your head writing works for you, hey . . . )

Registration is open NOW. Class begins May 5 and ends June 15.

Since this class is ON-LINE, you can take it from anywhere in the world. I usually have, in one class, students from at least three continents: North America, South America, Asia, and the UK and Europe.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Woe: Dark, Salt, Clear, p. 103

Each day at least four freighters are lost to the seas, their cargoes spilling out into the water to be dispersed by the waves and discovered on beaches years later — trainers, cogs from machines and plastic packaging mixing in with the seaweed and foam left by waves.

Eight Days on a Fishing Boat from Newlyn

Lamorna Ash is a beautiful writer. Self appreciates the precision in the following description, especially “they will repeat this performance over fifty times more in the week to come”:

Dressed in their oilskins, the men head out onto the uncovered deck to spread the nets ready for the first haul. They will repeat this performance over fifty times more in the week to come. The ancient, bird-like being heaves her wings back up, pulling the chainmail-clinking nets high up into the air above us, before dropping them down into the water with a smack. They break its surface and disappear beneath. The nets will remain sunken for the next few hours, stroking along the seabed, gathering fish into their cod-ends.

The salt-licked wind makes my eyes red . . .

Dark, Salt, Clear: The Life of a Fishing Town, p. 33

And since self has so many pictures from her own trip to Cornwall in 2019, she’ll just throw in one more, why not?

Quote of the Day: “just so bleeding tired”

Lamorna Ash’s first stop in Newlyn is, naturally, a pub:

“When you first come in,” . . . Nathan later tells me . . . “you literally do not know what to do with yourself. And you’re tired; you are just so bleeding tired that the easiest way out is to go to the pub and turn your brain right off.”

Seeking sanctuary in the pub becomes a way of numbing yourself within an environment that itself does not feel quite of the land, more an extension of your time at sea — filled with gumbooted men straight off their boats who retain the strong aroma of fish.

Dark, Salt, Clear, p. 18

Memories of Christmases Past

Self will surely finish A Promised Land today. She’s on p. 609 (only 100 more pages to go). It’s been by far the longest book she’s read this year:

The holiday season also meant we hosted parties practically every afternoon and evening for three and a half weeks straight. These were big, festive affairs, with three to four hundred guests at a time, laughing and chomping on lamb chops and crab cakes and drinking eggnog and wine while members of the United States Marine band, spiffy in their red coats, played all the holiday standards. For me and Michelle, the holiday parties were easy — we just dropped by for a few minutes to wish everyone well from behind a rope line.

A Promised Land, p. 609

After the Oil Spill: Kingu

Kingu was forced to swim through an oil slick to get to his mother, a few chapters back.

Kingu has never been the same since the oil incident in the spring. His urine has a funny smell. He is always hungry, but he tires quickly, even though he is in fair physical condition.

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan, Chapter 8 (“Independence”)

SPOILER ALERT

A few pages later, the family of three encounters a pod of orcas. The mother and son “dive deeper to swim away from the whales.” But the female, Singu, whose body mass isn’t as great, is buffeted and the whales attack again and again, having observed that Singu is the weakest of the three. Somehow, she is separated from her mother and brother, and a smack from a whale fin knocks her unconscious. Nanu dives again and again, trying to nudge her unconscious cub to the surface. But Singu is unresponsive and sinks like a stone.

Mother and son swim on.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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