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I am probably going to go see IT. I'd like someone to go with me, but most of my friends don't want to see horror movies and I've never minded seeing movies alone. I wish I could take my mom, the biggest Stephen King and horror movie fan ever, and mostly I want to go in her honor. This new version is supposed to be pretty good, so I bet she would have enjoyed it.

One thing strikes me, though. I think the new clown design is effectively creepy and all, but he weirdly reminds me of the time Frasier dressed up as a clown to play a prank on his dad. I think it's the shape of the head; Kelsey Grammer has a fairly large forehead exacerbated by the receding hairline, so I can't help but see him in the particular way they're representing Pennywise in the new movie. It makes it a little funnier and a little less scary to me. Maybe that's a good thing, as I generally am a crybaby when it comes to horror films, so maybe I'll have an easier time with a little of the bite taken out of it.
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Apparently they're making a sequel to this horror movie from a few years back called The Conjuring. It makes me weirdly melancholy. See, my mom always loved horror movies, but never had anyone in the family to see them with her. When we were kids we didn't like them, so she always had to find somebody else to go with if she wanted to catch one in the theater. But then, when the first Conjuring came out, she said, "I saw enough of your movies when you were kids. How about you see one of mine for once?" So I ended up seeing that film, that I probably never would have on my own, as the one and only time I went with her to one of her horror flicks. Seeing that there's a sequel makes me particularly miss her. I still don't really like horror movies, but I'd take her to that one if I could.

On the lighter side, I think I'll tell her funny story of why she could never watch The Exorcist with a straight face. She was in college when it came out, already a fan of the weird and creepy, and was SUPER excited for it. Everything she heard said it was INCREDIBLY SCARY, like, the best horror film ever. She was pretty hard to scare, and she was looking forward to something that might actually be able to get to her. So she got tickets and went to see it in a packed theater.

And she spent the whole damn movie cracking up. Why? Because everyone in the theater was FREAKING THE HELL OUT. She told me they were yelling at the screen, falling out of their chairs, rolling around in aisles. They were trying to warn the characters of danger, calling out to God, screaming at every scary turn. It sounded like a particularly frightened version of MST3K. And my mom was utterly unable to find it scary, even though it was supposed to be this superb horror story, because she found the carrying-on so hilarious. And ever after that, she couldn't watch The Exorcist without cracking up at the thought of all those people. So much for the scariest horror film ever made!
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Today would have been my mother's sixty-third birthday. My dad took this picture of a page of one of her journals and sent it today:



She was a big fan of Dune and said that a lot. We put it on her prayer card at her funeral. I always think of her when I hear it.

I haven't actually read Dune. Weird, since I'm the only real nerd in my family, but all the others love it. I should get to it someday, if only because it meant so much to my mom and I'd like to see what she saw.
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Nostalgia seems to be a big thing lately, at least if society perceives you to be a nerd. The media lately is all about making money by reviving so-called “nostalgia properties,” making rebooted versions of things you supposedly will see now because you liked them as a kid.

Generally I’m not really that susceptible to nostalgia. Not because I’m any more sophisticated than anyone else, but because of how my memory works. As in, my memory kind of DOESN’T work, at least not in that particular way. I retain very few experiential memories of anything longer than a few months ago. Sure, I more or less remember what happened in my life, but only as facts, or at best as narratives— I have the story, in words, of what happened to me. Of sense memories, of what it felt like to actually be present in those memories, such as images in my head or sensations or sounds or smells, I have practically none. And correspondingly, with that level of remove from my own memories, I have very few emotional connections to those experiences. At least, not the kind of emotional connections that nostalgia plays on.

I tend not to hold onto my past because of this, which is a two-edged sword. The upside is I move on from difficult times pretty quickly and easily. I don’t have many emotional scars. Old shames, embarrassments, disappointments, and pains just kind of fade. But the downside is most of the positive feelings of my past don’t really endure either. They don’t make much in the way of lasting marks. I have a few, of course, but not many. My mother is the most major one. I hope to God I never forget the experience of my mother. I still have what it was like to look at her and be around her and how she loved me and the sound of her voice.

But recently a weird nostalgic feeling has crept over me a lot, for some things that once meant the whole world to me but in recent years I haven’t thought much of. And I’m not exactly sure why. Moreover, it’s been making me very sad to think of, and I don’t know why. I might talk more about this later. But it reminds me of when Don Draper explained on Mad Men that the word nostalgia comes from the Greek, meaning “the pain from an old wound.” I guess this was an old wound to me. But you’d think having moved on from it would mean it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I guess I’d figured it healed.

Punkinhead

Nov. 2nd, 2015 06:00 am
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My mother loved Halloween.

My earliest childhood was in San Jose, California, and they took Halloween very seriously there. They decorated like crazy, sometimes so elaborately and realistically they actively scared the smaller kids. I remember one year my mom made this graveyard for our front yard. She cut twenty large pieces of styrofoam into various tombstone shapes. She covered them all with spackle that she mixed with black and gray paint to make them look like stone. And she burned "engravings" into them-- names, symbols, the occasional R.I.P. She used a woodburning tool, which she admitted later was probably a terrible idea because of the fumes from the melting plastic, but it let her carve quickly with a high degree of control. And the stones were all in the names of various figures from pop culture. I don't remember most of them, though they were all pretty clever. What were they? I seem to recall Dick Tracey was one of them. Horror figures-- Dracula, Victor Frankenstein. I can picture the one she made for Swamp Thing very vividly. It has SWAMP THING burned across the top, and a neat little stylized symbol of a hand reaching up out of a swamp.

She set them out in our yard at semi-regular intervals. She strewed around dead flowers and fake spiderwebs. It looked amazing. I wish we still had them.

She also couldn't pronounce "pumpkin" properly. She said "punkin." It makes me smile.
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So I did what I was threatening to do, changed my hair color for the first time in my life. Because I wanted to be Betty Draper for Halloween but don’t have the right coloring for it, the idea occurred that maybe I could use the costume as an excuse to change it. The idea, once pondered, of a change seemed nice, not just for the costume but to try something new. I was nervous, because I was really afraid it wasn’t going to come out, and some stylists warned me off because of how big the transition was going to be. But you should do something drastic with your hair once in your life, and I never have. So, repeating to myself the mantra that it’s just hair, it grows back, I took the plunge.



I am actually pretty happy with it! It is noticeably a different color, not just a different shade of brown, and doesn’t have that brassy falseness a lot of brown-to-blonde dye jobs turn out. It’s honestly not exactly what I wanted— I was hoping for something a little lighter, a little more golden –and it’s not quite Betty’s color. But one Halloween costume is just the excuse, not the point, and I will take looking good over trying and failing for perfection. I was also concerned that my eyebrows would look odd still being so dark, but now that I think of it my mom's were darker than her hair too. For reference, here's the brown I was previously, in case the difference isn't obvious.



My younger self would be very surprised this was the direction I went in. But my tastes have gotten blonder as I’ve gotten older. I used to be drawn almost strictly to brunet men, but these days I’m finding blonds catch my eye more and more. I don’t know if it’s because of my favorite look for Chris Evans, or if my love for it is symptomatic of the larger pattern. Though I’ve always admired the looks of a number of blond women. I’ve always adored crearespero’s wavy golden hair, and that feature of course naturally made it into my visualization of Mrs. Hawking. There tends to be a particular shade I’ve gone for— not too dishwater, not too platinum, but that medium gold is my favorite.

And then, of course, there’s my mother. My ur-blonde, the first beautiful woman in my life. I remember when I was very small, wondering what I would look like as a grownup, and having a tough time picturing it for some reason because I wasn’t blonde like her. She was also the origin of my admiration for blondes with green eyes, a feature that Frances and therefore Mrs. Hawking share.



I’ve been working to remake myself in a way recently. The shape of my life, generally, but specifically my body. The diet and exercise have been to really to make me become more like what I feel is my true self. But this hair thing doesn’t feel really ME, not really PHOEBE. I thought that might make me uncomfortable. I’ve never been much of an experimenter before. I tend to find myself always working to get to the place I want to be, rather than seeing what possibilities are out there and trying them on knowing they won’t all be forever. So it’s very unlike me to make a change in the service of being something other than what I want to truly be. But I find I’m okay with it right now. It’s fun for right now, it makes me smile and shakes things up a little. Overall I like my natural hair better for me. But this is a nice change of pace.

I wonder if, now that I’ve made the transition, if I could make it more the blonder shade I imagined. I don’t want to over-process it. There was no bleach in this treatment, which I was told spared my hair a lot of damage. I also don’t feel like dealing with that now. But I’m curious, now that I know it’s possible to change at all without completely wrecking things.
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My granddad’s funeral was held at Our Lady of Lourdes, the Catholic church of Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, the small coal-mine-adjacent town where my dad grew up. But it was also the place where my parents were married, almost forty years before. I was there before, most recently when my grandmother passed and I attended her service, but that was before we lost my mom.

My dad pointed to the insignia of the cross within the circle in the tile before the altar, where they stood during the ceremony. Where they promised for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Strange to think that here we were, forty years later. Without her. To think of her then, so young and beautiful and full of hope, was too much for me. I cried.

I felt weird about it. A little guilty. I probably should have been thinking more about Granddad. But everything I knew about him just made me happy for him instead of sad— he had ninety-two happy, healthy years, surrounded by the love of family and friends and not even much in the way of sickness until the very, very end. Thank Jesus he lived such a life! I didn’t want to think people believed I was so sad for his sake when it was really because of my mother.

My dad hugged me. “It’s okay, Phoeb.” “Forgive me, but it’s not Granddad.” “I know.” He took my hand. He knew, because he was thinking of her too.

My cousin Meryl had been given a family wedding album from Granddad’s house. She originally thought it was her mom and dad’s, but was confused when she opened it. “What is Mom wearing?” I asked, without looking, “Does it look like a furry hood?” “Yes!” she answered. I laughed. “That’s my parents’ wedding.” Apparently my mother decided that her bridesmaids would wear cranberry dresses with fur-trimmed hoods, because winter of 1975, I guess. I can think of no other explanation.

There’s some wonderful pictures in there. The church still all done up for Christmas, because they were married two days after. My dad at twenty-three, with shaggy hair, an enormous mustache, in a champagne suit and cowboy boots. My dad’s wonderful aunt, also named Joann, with hair all the way up to Jesus. Dad’s little Italian grandmother, Mama Nonni, almost as wide as she was tall, guarding their money purse like a pitbull. All four of my grandparents in truly hideous seventies finery, all pleats and pastels and big permed hair. Dad says there was a lot of family on both sides, but he mostly remembers how quickly all of his family fell in love with her, took her in and made her theirs, because they could see right away how good she was.

I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
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I have talked about my mother’s death here before. But today, on the one-year anniversary of her passing, I want to talk about the night she died. I don’t have much point to make. This is a very disjointed, stream-of-consciousness entry. But I’m ready to talk about it, and I want to have a record of what it was like.

Casey, Sarah, and I drove down together. We came home into a very clean house—partially, I think, for all the people who would be coming in, and partially as way for my dad to feel in control. He’s a strong man— believe me when I say almost impossibly so —but he channels stress into things like that. He had food waiting for us. And he took us upstairs to see Mom.

They had put a hospital bed next to the big bed in their bedroom. That was good, she hadn’t wanted to die in the hospital. She wasn’t conscious; she was on a sort of liquid morphine that basically knocked her out. They put her on oxygen, but it wasn’t doing much good, and she kept gasping, trying to breathe. She couldn’t, really, but her body would try to anyway.

Dad was so in tune with her condition, with everything he’d done to take care of her. He’d called the previous day and said it would happen very soon. And we went home the next day, because he was right.

He asked if we remembered the part in Harry Potter with the thestrals, which are only visible to you after you’ve seen someone die. “I think we’re going to see thestrals soon.” He’s not usually one to talk in literary references, so that one struck me.

A hospice nurse came and spoke to us. We were kind of normal and together, which I think surprised them a little. But we don’t act out in front of strangers. I was proud, though, when the nurse took a moment to tell my dad how impressed they all were with how my dad took care of her. She actually said she’d never seen anything like it. He is strong, and he loves her.

It was very surreal. How normal it was, while Mom was right there dying. Mostly it was waiting. We’d sit with her for a while, holding her hand, talking to her. My dad and my brother had a lot to say. How much they loved her, but how it was okay for her to go, that she didn’t need to hurt anymore. Neither of them have ever been afraid of or uncomfortable with their emotions, but their frankness and their verbosity impressed me. This process made my brother a lot softer. And my dad, well, he’s perceived by some to be a hard, intense man. But he loved my mother utterly. Reordered his whole life to be there for her in her illness. And damn certain he was going to tell her everything as she died.

Dad told us stories of how they met, when they were young. How they were friends for years before they ever dated. How after graduation they traveled cross country to Yellowstone National Park in a van with three other friends and a German Shepherd. How they were camping in the park, smoked some weed, and went swimming at the same time there happened to be an earthquake, but because they were high, they weren’t sure if they imagined it or not. How my mom said to my dad, “If you grow up a bit, you might be worth keeping.” It made me smile to hear all that. Funny to think of my straight laced parents being cooler and more adventurous than me.

I just cried a little, quietly. Weirdly, I found I didn’t know what to say, and felt too embarrassed to try. Words are supposed to be my thing, and I didn’t have any for my dying mother.

It’s okay. She knew how I felt, and she couldn’t hear anything anyway. But it was weird.

So we sat with her, listening to her try to breathe. Then we’d get hungry, or have something to do, so we’d wander off and do it. Dad had a little camera set up in the room, so we could watch her from the kitchen. In case it happened, we could rush up and be there.

She looked like a scary troll. I feel awful about thinking that, but she did. Not like my mother at all. Her hair was gone, her face and body were bloated and stressed. She had tubes coming out of her all over. Horrifying. The picture of death.

We took a picture of her. Not sure why. I guess because it was real, it happened, and there’s no pretending that it didn’t. I have it and Casey has it, but my dad asked us not to show it to anyone. It’s private. It’s the last picture of my mother on this earth.

Casey’s girlfriend Sarah was with us. My family is private, intensely so, so it was a question as to whether or not she would come for this part of things. Bernie was working, so in deference to both of those things I had chosen not to bug him until there was actually a funeral. Dad probably would have been okay if Bernie came. Though in fairness he hasn’t known Bernie as long. Casey and Sarah had been together for like six years then, and he wanted her there, and Dad was fine with that.

Sarah was so good. The whole time I couldn’t imagine how awkward everything had to be for her. Being in the middle of other people’s uncomfortable, private, tragic moment. But she was perfect, being present and quietly, lovingly supporting my brother. I have so much respect for how she conducted herself in what had to be a deeply difficult situation. I already liked Sarah, but that was when she became family.

It was late when it happened. When the life finally slipped out of her. Her breath, already choppy, became more and more infrequent. She twitched for a while. Then she was still.

I posted on Livejournal when it happened. And Twitter, I think. That’s probably kind of sick that I even thought of it. But I wanted to mark the moment.

Dad called the hospice. They would send the right people. So we waited, there in the bedroom with the remains of Mom. I had been laying on my parents’ bed, right beside her hospital bed. I stayed there, staring at her as she went cold. Her skin became so gray, that weird troll that replaced my mother.

Nobody came for a long time. Everyone curled up someplace and slept. I don’t know where everyone ended up. I think Casey was on the floor. I slept there beside her. It didn’t seem strange. She was either a sack of dead disease, or she was my mother. I’m not afraid of either.

The hospice nurse came. I dragged myself up, sat in a chair and was polite. Same as I was with the nurse the previous day, be nice to the stranger, have good manners, even if you just lost the most important person. She asked for all mom’s medications and destroyed them. She was decent and said nice things, but I don't really remember what they were.

Two men in suits came from the funeral home. My dad remarked how weird it seemed to come ready to move a body dressed in a suit, but I guess it was supposed to be gesture of respect. They were very careful gathering her up, zipping her into the body bag. I watched them do it, which likely made them take extra pains, but honestly I didn’t care. In that gray shell there was more remaining of the cancer that killed her than there was of my mother. What did I care what happened to a dead sack of tumors, when the person who bore me, raised me, loved me, made me who I am, was already gone forever?

I went to my own room and slept. The next day, I stripped the hospital bed, washed the clothes, made up the guest bed. They were the only sheets we had that fit it. Bernie and I slept that night on the sheets my mother died on.

I mention all this because it feels like it should have been weird or creepy. But none of it was. At least not to me. I just love her, and miss her, and I still don’t quite believe she’s gone.
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Spoilers ahead for Mad Men season 7. Sorry.

Betty Draper died of cancer. And I don’t know how to react.

Lung cancer, of course. It was on Mother’s Day. I wasn’t especially bothered, even though it was the first Mother’s Day without my mom. I don’t miss her any more on some arbitrary day than I miss her any other time. But on Mad Men, the one that aired last night, Betty Draper got diagnosed with cancer and got ready to die. And… I don’t know what.

I don’t know why it should strike me so. Betty and my mother were very, very little alike. Betty was cold, childish, and petty from an abusive home, while Mom was warm, selfless, and strong. Betty was everything my mother was trying to escape by leaving the tiny town she grew up in and distancing herself from her own mother, who was loving but still kind of self-absorbed and small-minded. But still. But still. It’s all tied up, somehow, my mother and Betty and the women of Mad Men. A similar culture shaped her. Taught her to smoke. For everything she did to move past it, it still infected her with the constant fear that people would judge her for not being perfect. Just like Betty.

I remember how thrown I was seasons ago when Betty gained all that weight and the possibility of her having cancer then was raised. It tweaked me because of how Mom’s cancer put sixty pounds on her. Two shockingly beautiful blonde women completely physically changed by the specter of sickness. It’s stupid, but it always seemed like people as beautiful as they were had some sort of armor. To see that armor taken away showed just how vulnerable they were. So vulnerable that eventually they died. Sally’s mother and mine.

I don’t know. Sally is my mother, not Betty. My grandmother was closer to Betty-- and she died of cancer too. But now Sally has become me. I become my mother.
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I have an odd relationship to the show Mad Men. I've watched it several times through, and I really admire it on many levels. Currently it's my best reference for the writing of subtext, something I'm really bad at and need to learn to improve. And the costuming is masterful; analysis of it really teaches you how to do it. But I wouldn't exactly say I like it. I get weary of how consequences for people's negative actions tend to not have all that much of an impact because of the need to keep the show going, and nobody ever grows or changes, which I find wearying.

My mom watched the show before I did. She found it fascinating as a depiction of a time period she remembered very differently. She was born in 1953, so she was a child in the '60s, and her family was working class in a small industrial town, "where people didn't have as much, and they weren't as miserable." She said she found it fascinating to see those people who lived the life that most of the people in her world aspired to-- especially when it didn't seem to make them any happier.

I connect it to her not only because she introduced it to me, but also because of the character of Sally Draper. Personality- and circumstance-wise, they were almost nothing alike. Sally was a privileged girl with a rough, rebellious relationship with her divorced parents, while my mother was nice and well-behaved, "ethnic" for her town, without much money, in a family that was loving and close. But I can't help but think of her when I watch that beautiful little blonde girl, born only a year later than Mom was, experiencing a number of the same cultural influences. Nobody pays any attention to Sally's potential; my mom was always regretful that she was never encouraged to be anything but a teacher or a nurse, when she was smart enough to do anything. And then, of course, there's the smoking.

I still find that part of Mad Men hard to watch. Not just the fact that everybody's smoking all the time, but the culture around smoking. It's ubiquitous, expected, almost enforced. That's the culture that taught my mom the habit. She didn't start as young as Sally-- who I think was around twelve --but not that long later, in high school. My granddad didn't even do it and took a hard line against it. But things still ended up how they ended up. So it's a little hard for me. To watch the culture shape that little blonde girl in the way it shaped another little blonde girl into something that ended up killing her.

That's kind of over-the-top and maudlin. I still watch the show; I've watched it like three times through. But I think about it.
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Today would have been my mother's sixty-second birthday, the first pass of her birthday since she died.

I don't really know what to say about it, except that I'm thinking about her. Even more than usual. I'm sure everyone has noticed how much I talk about her. Maybe I do it too much, maybe people don't want to hear about it. But I like to talk about her. I just loved and admired her so much, the loss of her gapes, and it helps me feel like she's a little less missing from my life.

I'm a little surprised to think she's been gone almost a year. It doesn't feel that long. I remember her last birthday. It was pretty much the last time she left the house. We took her to Bolete, one of the nicest French country restaurants in America. We had a nice time all together, but she couldn't eat much. She was so sick then. She stopped treatment less than a week later. Two months later she was dead.

My family aren't really birthday people. But at least they mean you're getting older.
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Tomorrow I will be going home to spend Christmas with my dad and my brother and returning on the 30th. It's always a nice change of pace being at home, as it's a chance to not be super-busy all the time, but I'm going to have to make sure I'm still getting things done for Mrs. Hawking while I'm at home. There's a bunch of things I probably can't do from out of town, but there's still some plans I should be putting into motion-- maybe acquiring paint for the set, or the last couple of props, or hardware and tools for build. My dad may be able to assist me, which would be nice; he's also coming to see the show, and I'm definitely drafting him into coming to the space early with me to help with setup. :-D But otherwise I plan on eating a lot and hanging with my family in a lowkey way. Hopefully I can strike a balance between the two.
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My family came to my house for Thanksgiving again. It was nice, a low-key day spent with my dad, my brother, and Casey's girlfriend Sarah. It was also the first Thanksgiving since my mom died. They say that the first round of holidays without the lost person is the hardest. It was certainly strange; she's been in my thoughts even more so than usual lately, but I don't know if I experienced any more of an emotional dip. Grief has been odd for me. I don't know if I did a lot of my grieving during her long, extremely painful decline, or if it still hasn't totally hit me yet that she's gone forever and never coming back. I miss her and I feel weird, but it hasn't been like everyone says it's supposed to be.

The thing that bugged me the most was we messed up the turkey. We had to figure out how to recreate a number of recipes Mom made up that we've been cooking for years, but at least we had the recipe for that. I know how to cook a whole turkey and have done it three or four times now, but for some reason the turkey this time didn't cook through for a long time. We think it was because Dad transported it up from PA in an industrial cooler than kept it so cold the bottom froze, even though it was a fresh turkey. It was a small mistake and it eventually cooked through without even drying the rest out too badly, but I felt bad about it. But I couldn't shake the feeling that it wouldn't have happened if Mom had been there to run things.

I don't know. Maybe I'm not grieving sufficiently. Maybe I'm numb. Maybe it will explode out of the huge wall of repression keeping it back. Maybe I've done it already. I don't quite know what's going on with it.
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My dad recently has taken an interest in ancestry and genealogy. I think it has something to do with my mother’s death and a desire to preserve family history. He has made an elaborate chart of our family, both his side and my mother’s side, on Ancestry.com, partially thanks to other people who have listed our family members and allowed us to connected them to our tree. It’s been interesting; though most of my great-grandparents were peasant immigrants who arrived in America around the turn of the century whose ancestors we know little about, my one grandmother was a descendant of a family that can be traced back twelve generations to Ireland in the 1700s. And we learned those people existed because my dad found them on the site.

The site also offers genetic testing to tell you what your genetic pedigree is. It maps your genes and tells you where in the world those genes were thought to originate going back thousands of years. We decided to do that after we saw the results of a test my paternal grandfather took. He’s a first-generation Italian-American and conforms rather strongly to the stereotypical look. We were astonished to find that though he is mostly genetically of the Italian-Greek strain we’d expect, he was many other things we didn’t realize— he was about twenty percent North and Sub-Saharan African, for example, as well as a small fraction of Iberian, Persian, and Caucasian. (This makes me laugh to think of my racist British-American great-grandfather, who didn’t want my grandmother marrying my granddad because he didn’t like Italians. HOW’D YOU LIKE THAT HE’S ONE-FIFTH BLACK TOO SO SUCK IT.)

Mine and my dad’s tests came in too now. This is me:

image

And this is my dad:

image

Look at me. I am NINETY-THREE PERCENT WHITE EUROPEAN. Whiter than my dad, although interestingly more Italian than he is, when he visibly conforms to the visual stereotype of one. People tend to think I look WASPy, which is funny because despite my dad’s big chunk of British I got almost none. And of my mother’s family, who was Italian on one side and white and Asiatic Russian on the other, it seems I only got the Italian! We were making jokes about me being found in a space pod in a field until Ancestry.com confirmed the genetic relationship. I’m weirdly disappointed. I have a Mongolian great-grandfather! My dad’s dad is twenty percent African! And I end up assorted flavors of cracker.
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I’ve been meaning to write up a status report on how I’m doing lately, partly to get myself to assess it, and partly in case any of you might be interested.

Mental:

I have been very busy with creative projects lately, which is good for my mental state. Vivat Regina is in rehearsal for a staged reading, which is going well so far and I’m very excited about, as I’m hoping it will spark interest in the property. Currently my biggest writing focuses are working on Puzzle House Blues, the musical I’m co-writing, and editing Adonis in response to the feedback I got from the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. I feel energized and excited about those two things. PHB has a real chance, I believe, of going somewhere in production, and Adonis was both one of the most challenging and creatively satisfying projects I’ve written in a while. I also made great starts on some other things in 31 Plays in 31 Days, including Base Instruments, which will be the third installment of the ongoing Mrs. Hawking story.

I’m a little hungry for a little more payoff for my work, though. I want to start reaching a larger audience, getting my work out there. My efforts are geared toward that—the staged reading, the musical, the contest submissions, and the fact that I put in a bid to get permission to put on a full production of Mrs. Hawking at Arisia. Nothing had quite come together yet, but these things take constant effort, and I’m doing my best. Still, I’m hungry for more.

Emotional:

It’s been three and a half months since my mother died, and the loss of her has gaped. I think about her almost constantly; I still go to call her most days, and her lack of presence is felt in dozens of ways. I talk about her a lot too. But my family has been handling everything so well that while it’s painful, it’s manageable, and I think we’re all going to be okay.

Bernie also is out of town for a while, I’m not sure for how long. Our relationship is very strong and I feel confident enough in it that I’m not worried it will suffer for the distance, but I sure do miss him being around. He just brings so much joy into my life, and while most of that is maintained just by talking to him, his presence meant a lot to me.

To deal with it, and to prevent myself from hermitting as is my wont, I’m making an effort to plan at least one social event a week. Lately I’ve been averaging at least two, which makes me proud of myself. And I’ve been seeing lots my lovely friends.

Overall I still feel pretty good, which is a nice change. My ability to stay even and positive is better than it has been in years. What a difference it makes to deal with difficult things when the depression is well and truly gone.

Physical:

I’m in great shape right now, possibly the best of my life. Not only do I look pretty good, I’ve been up to physical challenges I wouldn’t have expected myself to be, such as when I’ve helped friends to move this month. I have been exercising very frequently, including fairly intense circuit workouts. Now that it’s September again, my ballet class, which I love, has started back up, and my work schedule will allow me to attend all three offered in the week if I want. It also gives me more time to walk places, and I can get in a nice brisk three miles at least if I go to do errands in town.

The only thing physically that’s not so great is that my acne is extremely bad lately. I know I have a predisposition to have it chronically, my mother had it pretty severely too, but I really wish there was something I could do and I’m not sure what. Admittedly I’ve never stuck with a skincare regimen for very long, and I should try that and see if it helps, but I’m afraid it’s just my genes and nothing’s going to help.

Responsibilities:

I like my day job, which is tutoring writing at Bunker Hill Community College, which is easily the best and best-paying day job I’ve ever had. There’s even a chance it might develop into more serious work. But, and here’s where I’m struggling a bit, my finances have gotten away from me in the last few months and I’m trying to get back on top of them. I’m trying to cut back where I can, so I’ve been turning down most events that require spending money or driving long distances. My expenses aren’t huge, but the workouts that I do most reliably and get the most benefit and enjoyment from all cost money, and they’re the pricey thing I’m most unwilling to dispense with.

I've been very on top of other chores recently, helped in part by starting HabitRPG. The house is clean, stuff is happening on time, and I don't feel overwhelmed. More regiment, woo! I do however need to nail down one more roommate. Basically I’m looking for a young professional/college/grad student (preferably female if I don’t know them already) preferably as quickly as possible. Let me know if you know anybody!

Basically I'm doing pretty well. Yay! Given some of the rougher stuff, such as my mom and Bernie moving away, I'm really grateful to be feeling as good as I do.
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Don't know why this is on my mind today. But I'm writing it here for the record.

My dad never gave up on my mom. He was the one who was chiefly responsible for taking care of her as she got sicker and sicker, and he was utterly devoted to it. Mom's healthcare people said they'd never seen anything like it. They must have been doing something right, as Mom got five and a half years with a cancer that basically has a zero percent six-year survival rate, and I think that had a lot to do with it. He saw what was happening to her more clearly than anyone, especially as she declined, but I admired the fact that he never gave her up for lost.

I kind of did, I'm ashamed to say. Not, fortunately, in any way that really affected how I treated her. But I remember things that suddenly seemed pointless because we knew she would be gone soon. Like, when her last birthday came around in March. I thought, should I even bother getting her a birthday gift? It's not like she cares about stuff at this point. She basically can't enjoy it. Is it worth it to bother?

But my dad never did that. I remember when she was diagnosed with her brain tumors and it was fairly certain that she had months, if not weeks, to live. He ordered the same cord of firewood he always ordered for the winter, because Mom always liked to have a fire in wintertime. Even though she probably wasn't going to live long enough to enjoy it, even though it was pretty much solely for her benefit, and he would have to be entirely responsible for the considerable amount of labor and trouble it involved. Because she liked it, and he never gave her up for lost.

She stopped eating in the last several weeks before she died. It didn't really matter at that point whether she ate or not, it was clear she was on her way out. But he never stopped trying to get her to eat. The hospice nurses said to give her cookies or ice cream. He said, "But she's not getting any nutrition." They asked him if he understood that she was dying. Of course he did. He just never stopped trying to take care of her.

Same thing with her pain meds. We're a somewhat pill-averse family, and they avoided her strong pain medications as much as they could. Again, the nurses questioned whether they understood how dire the circumstances were. But the pills made her sleepy and spacey, and they wanted to be able to still talk to each other. She only had a few days before the end when she could no longer communicate, and dad said one of the hardest parts was "when she stopped talking to me."

He never treated her like a dying person. They had all the same conversations, arguments, and jokes they always had. And he made sure she stayed as strong as she could under the circumstances. I love that he loved her like that.

Hopeful

Jul. 7th, 2014 01:57 pm
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I think about my mother all the time. Not the her of the last several years, but the active, talented, capable, beautiful woman she was before she got sick. I’m glad that’s the her that’s stuck with me. There’s still a sense of unreality about it. I mean, how could she really be gone? How can you not have a mother? Everybody has a mother. How could I not have a mother?

Grief has made me tired, mostly. I’ve been sleeping more, having a harder time getting out of bed in the morning, and I have less energy for activity and social. But it feels like clean sadness rather than the heavy, sinking depression that I was afraid was starting to creep up as she declined. It was so awful seeing her suffer. I feel bad that it seems lighter now that I don’t have to see her that way anymore— it kind of feels like making my comfort more important than her life —but I knew that she was ready for her pain to be over. She understood what that was from when her own dad was dying of Parkinson’s. (Previously my grandfather was our family touchstone for “relative who died too young.” It hit me hard when my dad pointed out that Grandpap lived seven years longer than Mom did.) I’m not out of grief yet, but I know it will in time be okay.

I actually feel more hopeful and positive about life lately than I have in a while. I currently have the best job I’ve ever had, tutoring writing at Bunker Hill Community College, and while it’s not exactly what I want nor does it really enable me not to worry about money, I am comfortable with it and making more than I have in the past. My real work, my writing, has been coming very well, and a number of opportunities have arisen that I’m hopeful about. None of them are sure things, of course, but they’re giving me direction and feel like real chances to advance my writing career. I don’t want to talk about them too much now, but with my musical Puzzle House Blues in particular I’m starting to feel like it could really go somewhere. I’m trying to finish the fourth draft, which I think is the penultimate one. The first act needs one small idea changed, and the second act needs only one more scene reworked before I think I will call version four complete and we can go to the final round of editing.

And of course a big chunk of that is Bernie. He just brings so much joy and positivity into my life. I enjoy him in my good moments and feel supported by him in my bad, and daily life is improved in every respect just by his presence. I love him, and don’t know how I got so lucky that he loves me the way he does.

So things are improving. And for once I’m feeling hopeful.
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Was wandering around in a Michael’s killing time yesterday, and it reminded me powerfully of my mother. She was much more of a fine artist than a crafts person, but I remember many trips there to find things for her various projects— and my projects, which she always helped me on.

She was one of those people who was basically good at everything. She was a classically trained artist who had at least dabbled in most things— painting, drawing, set design, graphic design, sculpture, metalworking, printmaking, you name it. So whenever she needed to make something, she often had a grounding in the necessary skills, or at least something vaguely related. And she also had the natural advantages that help with that sort of thing, like steady hands, fine motor control, the ability to extrapolate how something might work based on something else she knew. So even if she had no familiarity with whatever artistic endeavor she needed to undertake, she could figure it out and somehow always manage to produce something that looked like she knew what she was doing. Like, when she made these fabulous masks for a production of Alice in Wonderland my brother was in, she did a little research, applied what she knew about stagecraft and sculpture, and did an amazing job.

And when I needed help with something, she would take my ramblings and incoherent descriptions and always make something that was exactly what I needed. When I needed big abstract castle banners that conveyed certain meanings for my production of Hamlet, she knocked them out. When I needed a gridded-off map of a cowboy town and the surrounding land with widows with secret information for my larp The Stand, she knocked that out too. She picked things up so easily, and always made such wonderful things. I’ve always envied her that. And admired her for it.
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Finally got around to watching all of Anita Sarkeesian's "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games" series. She does a very good job, with a polished, well-informed approach that improves in precision with each installment of the series. I was slightly frustrated by how pretty much all her examples are presented free of context, but not because that I thought that diluted her point-- if the trope is that widespread EVEN WHEN THE EXAMPLES ARE MORE NUANCED, there is definitely an issue to be recognized. But I do often find myself wishing for more discussion of particulars and design choices, even though I know her work isn't the format for it.

Part of her point is a call for the abandoned of overused tropes and the inclusion of women in different roles in video games. It got me thinking about less represented story and themes that could be used. Through a somewhat convoluted train of thought, it struck me that motherhood has never been much explored in this medium. It's a female experience that is powerfully motivating, and yet one I find is not often explored in a context of how it can make you act like a hero (which is a frequent end that video games need a catalyst for.) Motherhood is often coded as simply loving and nurturing, when I believe it is also protective and motivating to action.

I started thinking about how you could translate that to an adventure video game. Maybe a story about three generations of women, with the middle one as the protagonist. She is driven to undertake an adventure for her daughter's sake, attempting to figure out how to be a mother from only the memory of her own mother, who is dead/otherwise not present but who casts a long shadow on her. I could even see maybe the first third or so of the game involving rescuing the daughter, but after that, it's about raising/protecting/teaching the daughter as they continue along on the adventure. The protagonist could be struggling toward a larger goal out in the world, but her personal journey is in mothering her girl in a way that's both influenced by her mom's example but still finding her own path. I think it could incorporate traditional video games structure by means of themes that would be different on both a subject matter and a gender representation level.

Also, I miss my mom and I'm thinking about this stuff.
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Was thinking today about the mentality I'll call "kids today"-- the idea that the new generation is in a state of decay from the abilities and values of the previous one. We know people have been doing it since Biblical times, so it's pretty safe to say we're not suddenly all going to hell in a hand basket. It seems to have to do more with how people fear the world changing away from what they know and what makes them most comfortable.

So it's not that things are getting worse, just different. When I think about it, I do, however, believe that with that changing of circumstances and values comes new personal strengths and weaknesses. What we value in the culture of our generation influences the things we're good at the and the things we're not so good at.

An example would be the emphasis the current youth generation places on caring about the self. Older people are quick to deride kids for it, railing against things like "selfies," saying it's a symptom of their generation's narcissism. But everything is a two-edged sword, and your strengths are the flip side of your weaknesses. Focus on the self does sometimes lend itself to narcissism if it extends too far in one direction. But it also means we're better at prioritizing our own wellbeing, embracing our individual identity, and seeing ourselves as important and worthy. This quality of our generation gives us different propensities, but they are not uniformly better or worse.

I think this means one generation will be better at some things than others were, given their different values. I think of the way my father, a little over sixty years old, approached caring for my mother during her illness, and frankly somebody with a more modern concept of "self-care" likely would not have been able to do as good as a job. But he is not as inclined to some of the other virtues that accompany the current mentality.

I believe it's important to keep in mind that just because something is different doesn't mean it's worse. And that goes both ways-- as some people change, and as others remain the same.

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