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THE DAD I HAD

Dad flowers

Mom wrote on the back: “This is how he would like to be remembered.”

Robert King, my father, died last August at the age of 86.  His cancer, along with the treatment for the cancer, along with being old, left him more and more debilitated as time went by.  Still, he remained in good spirits all the way until the end, and he never complained about the indignity of it all.  He apparently didn’t actually experience much pain, even after a fall in his driveway that broke his nose and cracked a vertebra, and after the cancer spread to his bones, which they tell me is very unusual.

Dad was born in 1929, and he grew up on a farm in the Strong Hope community of Copiah County, Mississippi during the Depression. He attended a one-room school near his home for several years.  In stories he told and some things he wrote, he described young Bob as kind of a loser, scrawny for his age and always picked last for sports.  He was very intelligent, however, and the teachers liked him, and at some point he was chosen to attend a special high school at the local junior college. He had success there, and Dad made his way through life thereafter through higher education.  He eventually got a Ph.D in Math Education, from Florida State, and spent 30 years teaching at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was married to my mother for 57 years. He was an avid gardener, and loved flowers.

He was a decent man, a responsible father, and extremely good-natured. He was very curious, and always trying to learn new things about computers, finance, whatever was going on in the news. Near the end of his life, I recall him coming into the room where the rest of us were hanging out and saying, “Does anyone know anything about the carry trade?”

Here’s a bit of wisdom he passed long to me: The last time I saw him was last spring, when my family flew down to Mississippi for a visit. At some point, I asked Dad about a writing project that he’d been working on. He shook his head. He wasn’t going to be able to do any more. He wasn’t up to it, and he didn’t have much time left. “If there’s something you want to do, you should go ahead and do it,” he said.

I wrote a bit more about him here, but I’ll reprint it below:

At my father’s eightieth birthday party, we thought it would be a good idea for everyone to sit around for a few minutes after coffee and tell funny stories about the old man.  So we assembled  a bunch of the over-seventy crowd, all of whom have known Dad for over forty years.  “Somebody start,” said my mother, nervous as ever, even in front of a crowd of her closest friends.

“There was that time with the lawnmower,” said someone.  Everyone laughed, even without hearing any more.  Even I knew it — one fateful day  my father had lost patience with the lawnmower in the front yard.  He yelled at it and kicked it, and kicked it again.  I don’t know who was there to witness this, but everyone in the group knew about it.  When had this happened?  The 1960s? The 1970s?

“Somebody tell another one.”  There was silence.  It lasted a long time.  Finally, someone changed the subject.

My father is mild-mannered — which is a synonym for quiet, or shy, or introverted, or timid.  He taught mathematics at the local university for thirty years, and he is a regular churchgoer.  He reads, watches television, gardens.  He put the three of us kids through school at no cost to us.   So far as I know, he’s a decent, responsible man who keeps to himself.   Everyone who knows him likes him.

But there aren’t very many good stories about him.  Should Dad have kicked the lawnmower more often?

 

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I learned a new phrase today!  The “totality” is the shadow cast by the Moon as it (totally) eclipses the Sun, and the “path of totality” is basically where that shadow falls on the surface of the Earth, casting it into complete darkness.

And I thought, “Wow!  What a cool turn of phrase!  That would be a great title of something!”  And I started to brainstorm what that might be.

And it is a great title, Google tells me, of the tenth studio album by the band Korn. Rock on.

 

 

 

whered

Sorry, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted anything here.  But I ran across an article about the positive emotional effects of writing about your feelings every day, which is something I’ve written about myself.

From NYMAG:

In each study, Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed and less anxious. In the months after the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. They also reported better relationships, improved memory, and more success at work.

Do with that what you will!

 

SMALL SERENDIPITIES

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Fire trucks on our street must be important. It wasn’t.

 

Someone very wise once wrote that, “the first draft of anything is a nightmare quest through a dark forest filled with monsters.”   Bearing that in mind, I have started a new fiction project, about which I am happy to share irrelevant details.

First, a recap: I have two novels that are either in a series or just about the same group of people, and the new project is another one.  (If I have the name the series, I have thought of calling it The Mississippians,  and if you think that’s a terrible title for a series of novels, you may be right!)  The first two, A Perfect Wife and The Widow’s Mite, are in the can to varying degrees.  My tentative plan is to self-publish APW as an e-book later this year, and to follow up with TWM a few months later (almost certainly in 2017).

[To describe them in a sentence: They are about Nadine Lee, a young woman in 1970s Mississippi who marries a man who is superficially perfect but secretly flawed, and the aftermath.  I’ve had trouble hanging a genre on them.  I’m not comfortable calling them “literary.”  Are they women’s fiction?  Family Drama?  Definitely Southern, but I don’t even know if that is a genre.]

This new thing is not a brand-new project, but a manuscript that I worked on for a while as long ago as 2012 and then put aside to work on other things.   I picked it up last year and declared that I would work on it until I had 20,000 pretty good words in a Word file, and then I would put it aside in favor of a genre project which I pursued to mixed results.  (My books so far have been in the 75,000-80,000 word range, so that gives you some idea of where I am.)

I pulled that file out of mothballs a couple of weeks ago and read it and . . . hmm. There’s some good things, some terrible things.  The whole project needs some reordering and restructuring (flashbacks withing flashbacks, when I have a rule about putting things in chronological order).

But the BEST PART, seriously and unironically, was that I found in the same folder as that file, ANOTHER Word file that was from the same project, that had 10,000 words in it!  Were they good words?  I don’t know!  But they exist!  That’s 1/8 of the way further through the forest!

DADDY’S LITTLE FATTY

In case anyone asks, this is a very weird song.

WHY DO ANYTHING

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It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, and there’s no regular crowd to shuffle in. There’s no crowd at all, just me awake in the house after everyone else has gone to bed.  I’m between writing projects, or I have one tiny section of a much larger project to complete, and it isn’t coming. (It’s like, I know what this section is supposed to do, but not what it’s supposed to say. Maybe that means it shouldn’t say anything.)

The question is, why do this? There are better ways to spend a Saturday night, or at least easier ways, even by yourself. Reading books is fun.  Watching TV is fun.  In case no one ever tells you, Cheers is a great show that really holds up.

No one is making me do this, but still I sit here and try, or pretend to try, which is effectively the same activity.  Why?  I can only answer, pretentiously, that the root of my creative impulse is dissatisfaction. Simply, there is a book or story (or set of books or stories) that annoys me by not yet existing in the form that I want.  You might think that actually writing some of this would make me feel better, and perhaps it does for a while, in the same way that scratching an insect bite may be pleasant, even as you break the skin and get blood under your nails.  But the background dissatisfaction only grows as I get deeper into my project, as it takes my thoughts farther and farther away from anything intelligible to another human unless they read the book, which doesn’t yet exist.

Prospects of money, fame, esteem of contemporaries recede into the ludicrous distance.  I can only say that I am working to create these things for the simple reason that I want them to exist.  I can’t think of another one.

[Photo: Sunset from the 7/11 parking lot near my house.]

 

 

 

 

 

PLACEHOLDER

I intend to put something up here.

This dump is kind of dusty, isn’t it?