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As a child I imagined growing up occurred when I could look back and admire how awesome I had become. When I could look back and be impressed by how strong, brave, intelligent, and capable I had become—then I was grown up. To this I aspired.

Then I discovered that growing wise manifested when I perceived the true unravelling of myself. When I became undone so that every strength I imagined turned to dust in my hands—that is where wisdom grew. So it was in eight hard years that I grew more in wisdom than in all the years I aspired to grow up. In eight years I lost so much of what I wanted to think about myself, but it is in growing down (in humility) that I learned what is the truly important kind of growth.

That is a good thing. And yet, I find the cost in ways I didn’t expect, and harder than I anticipated. That is life.

The journey isn’t over.

Here I am, now. At this place time frightens me, in many ways. One way time unsettles me is how it and forgetfulness walk hand in hand.

One day passes, then another. Soon it seems like only yesterday, but a is year gone. What of true import has been forgotten, swept from memory’s storehouse?

Today it is a year and months since Grandma died last June. I moved quickly from that end, an end which drew stage curtains on eight years with the finality of a last breath.

I prefer life sorted, but those eight years defy all attempts to quantify the stretch and the strain. When I try to sum the journey my words sound like paradox. Hard times, the hardest of times, the worst thing for me. A time of learning and growing, the best thing for me. I walked out of that journey feeling weaker than I had ever felt before, more battered, more broken—and it was the very thing I had needed to pass through. It felt like the worst thing, but it was the best. The old truth shows up again: what we need is so often not what we want, or like.

I marvel at the many ways I broke—or, better put, my existing brokenness was revealed. In every journey the school of life teaches.

Then after Grandma’s show was over I walked away from that trial, and I was afraid I would forget. No, I am afraid. When I feel like I have seen great things, feel the weight of meaning, and learning—I become afraid that I have not learned all I should, and will quickly forget what I did grasp. All lost in time’s passing until I am as impoverished in spirit as before (if not more so).

Like a digging goad, hard times force me to consider difficult thoughts. In the crucible of trial I thought more, felt more, learned more, than in the years prior. That is struggle. In the span of eight hard years I apprehended important things about myself and life; humbling, hard, and sublime truths—some which I hope to share, some for which I may never find words. But when the curtain closed on those eight years of labor how thrilling the sensation I felt: Free now.

Then I thought, Free to live in apathy?

When there is no prickling pain from the rasp of life’s rough grain thoughts can quickly turn idle. What a tragic waste if all the things I had seen and learned from eight hard years quickly dulled and disappeared in comfortable days. In some almost perverse way I felt as if it were better if I didn’t come out of those hard times. Better to stay there and know the truth of myself clearly. Strike me again, I’ll know truth in the sting.

How easy to recommend myself while in comfort—I see that when comfort and confidence desserts me–and there is a repulsion when I feel the falsity of that old thought. I’ve seen a truer through the prism of difficulty. If the lash of life’s hard times makes me wiser, more humble, more mature, then isn’t it better to always walk such a road?

Like a starving man come back to food, days of comfort felt like gluttony—a thing uncomfortably held, intoxicating and slightly obscene in its pleasantness. Why should I have this? Are good times just a trick to make us forget how difficult hard times are, to make us fat and lazy in false comfort so that the battle of life is much more difficult? After eight years certain habits of thought are hard to shake. Why should I have a pleasant time when others in the world are suffering? It felt wrong to not have a burden to carry, as if I needed to find something for which I could suffer.

Struggling felt like remembering truth, being battered became tied with understanding the mortal lot. Standing in that muddled place, I was afraid that I would forget what carrying a burden had taught me. I never remember the truths that suffering brings to light so well as when I am living it. Time quickly dulls the edge, and I can say with certainty that those eight years are dimmer than before, and will be dimmer still. The true loss from those eight years would not be the time spent in service but rather to not learn, or not retain, the truth of what such suffering time taught.

I fear that dullness and forgetting will render all that I once saw, felt, and knew, null and void. Mental disease offers the excuse of human frailty—what I dread is the moral failure that doesn’t truly care to reflect and recall the uncomfortable things once learned. There I find myself balanced, grateful for what I have learned even at cost, and fearful I may forget. I look for an answer, an assurance.

I can’t promise myself that I won’t forget. Neither can I figure out what is the right proportion for trouble and ease in my schooling of learning wisdom’s ways. Some days it feels like I’ve had too much hardship and failure already, other days not enough. But when I feel the fear that I will walk through life with a numb soul, and that all I have seen and learned will fall away in the futility of forgetfulness, the only comfort I can find is the truth that the God who apportions to each their measure of trial and comfort knows the nature of what discipline I need. As he taught me through all the hard times, so it is only he who will keep me from forgetting every truth learned. That is the only hope which keeps me from the terrifying sentence of repeating history.

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Back on the 19th of August I participated in my first live interview on The Morning Drill show out of Titusville PA. As a first it went pretty well, I think. Even better, the station put the video clips for the interview up on Youtube so that I can share it with you!

I’ve gathered both parts of the interview together over on my other website: http://caregivingreality.com/2015/08/25/interview-on-the-morning-drill/

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Last week I removed the tub in Grandma’s bathroom and replaced it with a full walk-in shower. This setup will accommodate her better in her declining years. It wasn’t a big project. My work required four days to complete, and I needed extra help only when removing the old tub. The entire remodel went about as I expected. I told Grandma that in the best circumstances I would finish in three days, so four days means it went about average. A remodelling project in an old house always has issues that new construction does not.

I am experienced at dealing with the vagaries of old construction so I adapted to deal with the problems that cropped up–and those weren’t as bad as they could have been. In the end most of the remaining issues were neatly covered up with trim and caulk. The only points that remain to irk me are, firstly, that I would have bought a new faucet fixture because the old one was showing its age but Grandma wanted to save money with the reuse. Second, there is a minor trim issue but if I didn’t mention it perhaps your less critical eye wouldn’t even notice, so I’m not going to point it out. When that is the sum of what stands out in a really negative way to me I consider that pretty good.

I found the project a nice change of pace. I had the feeling while I did this bathroom project that there were a lot of other things not getting done that I ought, and needed, to do–but if I just ignored that sensation then I enjoyed the work. For many people that would be a very odd statement indeed (bathroom renovations can be a deep mine of horror stories), but I enjoy working with my hands. That reality is one of the difficult truths for me as I follow a writing career.

Creative work is nebulous and my conscience struggles with that vagueness. I like concrete, countable, results from my daily work. With a ledger to tally up I can quantify what I’ve done and give myself a congratulatory pat on the back. I can feel good about myself. I’m not proud of that craving for self-congratulations, but it is true.

Hard labor feels more morally simple. Every day I see what I have done, and I know I have worked. But with creative work often much of the creation is done within my mind with nothing visible to the world. A lot of that secret work–uncountable, without any quantification, can feel like wasted time. How can I prove it was anything but selfish daydreaming? even when I move on to writing in its concrete form it is a long time before those words reach an audience–months if not years before my words touch and perhaps change someone. Even good hours of writing can feel like wasted hours because it seems to have accomplished nothing. When those words finally reach someone I’ve forgotten about the labor of the writing.

In writing there can be a huge disjunction between labor and reward. They don’t exist in the same space and this leaves me constantly struggling with the thought that I am just a lazy person lacking in diligence who is pretending that his delusions have meaning. It is a constant struggle in my mind. It is there, somewhere, every day. I can never get away from it. But when I replace a tub with a shower stall–for just that brief time–I don’t feel delusional, I don’t doubt that I have accomplished something. My labor doesn’t feel vaporous and nebulous. I can look at what my hands have done, and I can see that I have changed the world. I have done something tangible.

I often think to myself how in a different life I could have been happy as a laborer. Wealth has never held an appeal to me, and I make a good ditch digger. I am an adequate carpenter and roofer. Unlike many people, I can enjoy those labors. Life could have been so much simpler if I had taken the route of working hard, and thinking less. I wouldn’t have all these doubts that gnaw at me when the day closes and I wonder how much I am living the delusions of someone who imagines his words have impact and meaning.

But that shower stall, that house, does not live and breathe and feel. The deepest impacts are often the most unseen–and that is the truth that draws me on, a reality that has helped shape my life. If, at times, for a moment I think about the different lives I could have lived as a tradesman–well, the thought doesn’t linger long. I deliberately turned away from that life path years ago, and I know why. Words breed in me, and stories are like a fire in my bones. I can’t escape writing, even when I can’t defend it, or make logic of it. Perhaps I am delusional, but I hold that the best things, the most meaningful works, are often not seen for a long time. The intangible can be the most meaningful, often seen only by what is left in their wake and felt the unseen wind. Perseverance is like that. It is one of the hardest lessons of life, and I know I still need to learn that secret, for it is the secret for both writing and knowing its worth. Ultimately that finds root not in the work of hands, but in the work of the heart.

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Sometimes, the odd intersections catch me. The moments flash, like glimpses into some mysterious and profound story, something I fail to grasp. Today I drove to the dump and as is my habit I watched the country houses, fields, and farms as they slid past. I drive the same route often–it was the same houses, the same farms, another day. Then I saw the man in camo military fatigues standing in the driveway, shutting the car door. He had the look of a soldier fleshly home.

Yesterday evening I had spent too much time watching video clips of soldiers returning home to their families. I don’t normally watch that kind of video, and equally it is not common to glance out your truck window on a country road and see in that fleeting moment a lone soldier returning home. The oddness of the intersecting events caught me, as if the strange confluence couldn’t have come together without meaning.

Homecoming stories, videos, are viscerally compelling. They are the tales told from antiquity, and remain as gripping today. But the modern age has made the capture of such moments easy, the sharing so simple that there overflows a glut of naked emotional manipulation. I don’t know how a warm blooded man can not be moved by the sight of a young daughter running to greet her father, in tears of joy at the meeting. So what then of this great digital sea called the modern world where people trawl the electronic tide and string together long clips of such love-meeting. One moved you? How about twenty in a row. And we have more. You can watch them until your eyes cross.

Then comes the loss of orientation, the dizzying internal feeling when the emotional compass has lost all bearing and the inner self staggers. What started as a heart’s recognition of the raw emotional honesty and vulnerability in homecoming and joy becomes a cynical recognition of manipulation and being manipulated. There is a reason the videos are collected into montages. We know what the moment does, and so in blatant moves we gather and replay. Let us feel it again. And again. What was first a unique meeting, a special moment, is gathered in the dozens and one marvels at the creeping feeling of numbness. What is has been before, and yet again. In its surfeit does it have meaning? What before seemed so special begins to almost feel alienating. Is it not, in the end, a sea of people?

Have we found yet another way to spoil what was special, to render to our hearts utterly mundane what was meaningful. We have those brief moments of tears, screams, smiles, laughs, and long hugs of what it means to be loved, to be longed for, and to bring joy and meaning into the life of another. We take that and do what–make it mawkish?

It meant something, everything, and now nothing. Wine first tasted is fine, then dulled in consumption, and finished in drunkenness. There is no greater thing to witness than the reunion of love. Surely, it is what all creation longs for. But do we unintentionally mock and trifle the longing of hearts with the powers we have today? Is the society of our time wallowing in emotional drunkenness, filling ourselves with the dregs of over potent emotional cocktails? Watch enough homecomings in fifteen minutes, feel yourself undergo a strange inside-out where the special becomes crass. There the thoughts circle.

If we are emotional sots, what does that mean and what is the consequence? Surely the right path is not coldness, but what is feeling truly and honestly? How do we not make a profane show of the deepest things in a human heart?

I can say with fair certainty there wasn’t a camera waiting for the soldier I saw today. I caught him in a glimpse, not even a full moment. He was alone, a young man in sunglasses and boots, with a sure stride. Then I was gone, the road a ribbon running out, and he won’t be a social media video sensation. Maybe today he didn’t have someone run screaming into his arms, and maybe he never will (but I hope he does). Yet, for all that the homecoming today he lived as himself, and was his in truth.

Maybe there is a lesson in that.

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The day had lengthened to that time when evening begins its fade into night. The dusky light reminded me of the walk I had intended to take, and I finally pried myself away from the computer. My usual short route took me up to the farm on the hilltop, the road there winding through the trees. The sun had already slipped behind the distant hill as I began my ascent.

Evening birds gave occasional calls from the deeper shadows of the trees, but otherwise the journey was quiet. As I approached the hill crest everything opened up, the trees giving way to fields and distant hills. There I saw the storm.

The clouds hung in the distance, directly above the advancing road but far beyond my path. The last rays of the sun struck the outer edges of the mass so that it appeared as undisturbed evening clouds. Then I saw the flashes of a brighter light.

In the first moments I was sorry I hadn’t brought a camera. But a camera relieves us from seeing, from pondering the moment around us, and in us. Instead; Click. Picture. I’ll look at it later. And we move on without thought. But now, if I wanted to remember this, I had to stop and see. Really see. So I did, and I was glad I did.

The late July corn field on my left–not yet fully grown, but getting there–stood witness to the night like a regiment on parade formation. In the sky on my right reached the last shreds of pink dusk. and below that lay the cow pasture. A few distant bovine settled for the night, the silo towers in sentinel watch, the farm at rest. Ahead, the crest of the hill, the far distant horizon, the sky. Faint peach reflection in its highlights, the cloud bank faded to grey. Then it changed, flashing bright with lightning. Above all this hung the moon, high enough I had to tilt the head to encompass it in the picture. There it floated, suspended over the scene, serene–as if to say, “The world–that storm–rages, but it can’t touch me.”

The moon observed, and how safe, comforting, and sure it seemed. But the storm–oh, the storm!–how it raged. Lightning flickered in the clouds, erupting deep within. The storm was so distant I couldn’t hear the thunder, but I could see. Sheets of lighting would strobe, like some glorious beast stirring in the depths, like God was there. Then a striking bolt etched line from cloud to earth, dancing.

Perhaps most marvellous was how it all played out so silently. I saw the distant world pummelled, and not a breath of wind where I stood on the brow of the hill. Perhaps there is a picture here for how heaven’s host watches the show on earth. I wanted a chair and a porch on which to sit and watch.

I walked slowly, and stopped a bit to watch. From dawn to dusk, how much we miss between the span of  our horizons. We’re down here with our faces pressed against our screens, caught up in our own glowing visions, and He is up there putting on a show that we’re all ignoring. Our eyes strain from the looking and still we haven’t seen.

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I could probably make a thousand different video introduction to my book The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving. Well, maybe ten. Point is, there are so many different important things I want to share about my book and they can’t all fit in one video. And there are some ideas that I could present in several different types of videos. This is a long way of saying I had to restrain myself and pick just one idea, and one way of presenting that idea, for the first video introducing my book.

It turned out mostly how I wanted. Give me a couple of months and a better version of software and it could be tons better, and more polished. But I don’t have all the time in the world, and I don’t have better software. So with what I have–yeah, it got across what I wanted to communicate.

And what was that? In this case I wanted to convey more a feeling than information. I tried, as best I could, to make the person watching the video feel what I felt caring for Grandpa. I wanted them to feel the feelings I tried to convey in my book. I think I managed to do that. Watch, and tell me what you think!

 

 

 

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I’m being a shill for myself, but since this is my blog I get to do that…

Right now we have a special sale going on for the Kindle version of my book The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving. From July 29th to August 2nd the kindle version of my book is available for free. Get a copy and you will have it forever (well, for as long as Amazon exists). You will be able to lend this book to other people who have a kindle, so even if you don’t have a kindle device get yourself a copy. It is something you can share, and it will help give me exposure so I would really appreciate it.

As of this moment, in the Kindle free list I am #15 in Memoirs and #3 in Alzheimer’s Disease category. Get your copy and help push me to number 1: http://amzn.com/B00XWGSB3C

Ranking as of: 2015-07-29 14:35:12

Ranking as of: 2015-07-29 14:35:12

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When discussing the writing art one can argue that all fiction has basis in fact. No matter the smoke and mirrors–or flights of fancy–fiction is always in some way a representation of the author (a factual thing). True enough, but a tad too pendantic. When we commonly talk about non-fiction or fiction we are speaking about whether the stories themselves are presented as having really occurred, or not.

As regular readers know, I write both fiction, and non-fiction. Until this time my factual and fiction writing have existed in completely different spheres. My fiction has been outlandish–fantasy and science fiction far removed from life, with characters larger than life. By contrast, my non-fiction has been very grounded. My non-fiction includes the poignant, thoughtful, and funny (and, rarely, all three at once), but there are no grand adventures. I have long been content with the great separation between the content of the two writing forms–but I have felt a shift.

I’m not entirely sure where my writing might be going, or if I want to go there.

For many writers it has been a regular staple to take from life and weave it into their fiction. Those who teach writing instruct their pupils to do such. Fair to say this has been a hallmark of some very good writing. It has been fashionable to write fictional stories that are but thinly disguised accounts of factual happening in the authors own life. And there is an entire industry of writing fictional stories about historical events, recent and ancient.

In the early years of my writing (many years ago) this mixing of fact and fiction never occurred to me because I was convinced most of real life was boring–at least as far as reading about it. Nobody saved the world in a grand way in real life–that was for fiction, and that was the grand adventures I wanted to write. So as a young writer I wrote fantastic fiction, and my factual writing was, by and large, simply to amuse myself about my own life.

As I grew more mature I became increasingly cognizant of the fact that there is much in life that is interesting beyond just saving the world–but still I felt all of life that I had seen was pretty boring, and certainly wouldn’t make an interesting story. The interesting and real things out in the world which one might incorporate into fiction required more finesse and skill than I had. So I stuck with what I knew, what I imagined, and felt capable of–grand fictional adventures and mundane factual life.

It was only when I began writing about my time caring for Grandpa Purdy that I felt I had personal experience, and writing, which formed truly compelling factual events. But even then I found the events so compelling and weighty as pure  fact that I couldn’t see myself writing it into fiction. And so I wrote The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving, a factual book. And I am quite glad I wrote it.

But in the process of writing the book I inadvertently discovered an advantage of using fiction to talk about factual things. It is very hard to be fully truthful, accurate, and faithful to a story as it occurs in life. As a writer you quickly discover how much you don’t know about events and motivations necessary to tell a full story. So what do you do–fill in as best as you can or leave holes in the story? Anyone who feels compelled to maintain a high standard when telling a factual story can find these limitations very difficult.

In writing The Sea is Wide I had a great advantage in that I had lived through the three years that I was primarily recounting in the book, and I had kept extensive written accounts of many of the things that happened. But even so, I was surprised at how often I ran into occasions where I didn’t have as much information as I would have wanted for writing factually. I allowed myself leeway to write from my memory and observations such as they were because I was writing a memoir “the world as best as I remembered it,” not an attempted objective historical account. But if it was hard to write a complete and factual account when I had so much at my disposal, how much harder would it be with stories I caught only in part, or saw only in a glimpse?

Writing about my time caring for Grandpa showed me very vividly how much impact the things of life can have in written form. It gave me the desire to write more such meaningful material–and yet it also showed me how difficult it would be to write such purely factual material. If I wanted to tell complete stories that were accurate and fair to all parties involved then there would be many stories that I could not tell because I would never have enough of the facts to be factual in writing.

I am mature enough now to see that everyone in life has stories worth telling, but I can also see clearly that I will never know enough of most people to tell much of their stories in a factual medium. Which has brought me to the place of contemplating how one writes fiction that draws from things heard, seen, and people known–and weaves it together in a fiction that tells truth about the world without being bound to a truthfulness of one person’s literal factual story.

Plenty of writers have done it, and done it well–with a wonderful effectiveness. But when I found myself seriously considering this form of writing I also found myself hesitating. This made me curious as to why I hesitated, which led to some inner searching.

One primary hesitation, I realized, was a concern that taking factual things and weaving them into fiction would make the facts less powerful, not more. For example I was (and remain) utterly convinced that I could not write a fictional story equivalent to the factual account of The Sea is Wide. Any fictional story would have been less powerful in conveying true things. Far enough. But (I remind myself) the whole reason I am considering weaving facts into fictional stories is because many stories I know I know so incompletely that I will never have enough to write a complete factual account. In such a situation a fictional story conveying truth about life is better than no story at all.

A second concern I felt was the fear that if I started combing factual things that I knew with fictional things that I’ve made up I might become confused about the facts of life that I know. I’ve had dreams where afterward when I woke I had to think very hard to separate dream from reality. In this fear I may not be giving myself enough credit. Doesn’t an author always remember their own writing? I’m not entirely secure in that. I remember years ago pulling out a scrap of writing stuffed away somewhere, reading it, and thinking “Wow, that’s pretty good writing–I wonder who wrote it.” Maybe thirty seconds later I remembered I had written it.

I don’t want to go back in twenty years trying to sort out my actual memories from the stories I invented. For this reason there was a certain safety in all my fiction being larger than life fantastical stories. The boundaries felt safe. Obvious.

But I realize my concern in this regard is only legitimate (if legitimate at all) if I attempt to wholesale take factual events and simply lightly skin the story with a veneer of fiction. For example, it has crossed my mind to take all of the funny country-life events that have happened to me (along with some that have happened to others) and combined them into one condensed hilarious country-living novel. That could be pretty funny, but with just a few names and bits changed and a bunch of true things otherwise stitched together I can legitimately see how I might, possibly, have problems in thirty years sorting it all out (if I should want too). However, I think that concern is not real if I am merely taking the substance of things I have heard, seen, or experienced and working them into a different narrative, completely unlike their birth. I don’t have such a shaky of a grasp on reality that a completely fictional narrative would cause me to become un-anchored from my own life narrative.

At least, I hope not.

In my dreams I would like to know the stories of this world so well that I could write them as straight factual accounts. But in the reality of my life I know only bits and pieces of true stories, and events, and they provoke thoughts in me about life that I cannot share as accurate factual accounts because I don’t have enough to be that kind of witness. I simply can’t. So I can either not share the thoughts, and the bits of life that I’ve seen which speak about larger truths of life, or else I can take those bits of me, and the world, and weave them together into fictional stories that speak to the larger truths of life.

I’m still not sure if I have the skill to do that, or exactly what stories I would make. But I give myself permission to try.

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So much of life is routine, but there are the times when it is not. Like regular clock-work, I take three bikes each week–same days, same route. All year. But on Saturday I rode off into the countryside. It wasn’t a day I normally ride, and it was a route I had never taken before. Twenty-five miles later, with several dirt roads explored, I made my way home.

Adventuring bike rides across the countryside is one of my favorite things to do, but I don’t do it very often. I guess mostly because of the weekly routine–I don’t have three hour chunks of time is lying around waiting for a bike ride. If I go adventuring on back roads something else isn’t getting done, and so the adventures rarely happen. But whenever I do head off for unknown hills and valleys I regret that I don’t do it more often.

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The rides give me a quiet peace, and a joy in the natural world that I don’t get in my normal life. And I think it does me good.

I find in the rides a metaphor for life. They are hard (you should see the hills around here) and they require perseverance. I don’t know what is coming around the corner, I don’t know how the road will play out, but I do know the end (home). There are so many interesting things to see, and unexpected beautiful sights. The expanse of the world can be breath-taking, exhilarating. It’s never boring. But it is solitary. It is just me, struggling along, the world sliding by. Occasionally I’ll see someone, maybe there will be a wave, and then they are gone never to meet again.

I guess the rides capture something that I don’t know if I’ve found anything else to capture so well–the experience of aloneness with a faint hint of melancholy held in the perfect balance with the realization that there is more than that–a beauty and grandeur to all that is which says that as alone as we might ever seem we are not so alone as we think we are. And whatever trials we might have, in the sweating and struggling of this moment, there is a radiance that spreads beyond what we can see.

It isn’t the perspective I normally have on life, or my troubles.

And after I finish the ride I can sleep really well too.

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It is easy to trust God,
until there is something
you really want or truly fear.

Then you find it might not,
surely is not,
God

How deceitful we become to our very selves,
the lies we so quickly believe,
what we prefer more than truth.

What God gives
we fear
because we want what we want.

And we see no life
without
what we desire.

How can poison seem
so suddenly sweet
and trust such a terrible thing.

We frighten ourselves
for we are
a house divided.

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