This one was written by my son.
I’ve been thinking about my dad a little bit lately.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Christmas Eve, 2011, and died the day before New Years Eve, so it’s not surprising, I guess.
I never got to grieve for him. My mom is – I’ll be charitable – mentally ill. I have no siblings, no close relatives nearby, so keeping her functional and arranging the funeral and delivering the eulogy and all that stuff fell upon me. I did a good job, I say with no small amount of pride. I don’t take compliments well, and I compliment myself even less, but being thrown in cold into a trauma like that, I think I genuinely did good.
Life got worse after he was gone and, as I said, I never got time to grieve. I almost would, but people were counting on me. I couldn’t afford to let myself to fall apart. There were taxes to settle, corporations to dis-incorporate, estates to settle, things to re-title to my mom, finances to shift. None of this unique, everyone has to do it at some point, I suppose, but in my case if tell on me. I did adequately. I’m great in a crisis, merely ok in an ongoing state of duress. Barely-functional under normal circumstances.
As a result of all this, I feel oddly numb when I think about him. I packed it down so tight, suppressed it so thoroughly, even banishing him from my daydreams. (I daydream a lot). I was very afraid that if I wrote down the things I was feeling – like how it’s been years and I still can’t bring myself to sit in his chair – it would all come flooding out, and I’d be a basket case, and life would get worse for everyone, particularly my mentally-ill mother. And me. I definitely feared it would roll back on me.
A week or so ago my dad turned up in my dreams. Because it was a dream I didn’t remember that he was dead. I just said, “Oh, hi dad,” and he nodded and sat down while I went on about whatever nonsense was going on in the story. Eventually I woke up to go to the bathroom (Because I’m 50), and when I laid back down again, I realized he’d been there. I was suddenly sorry I missed him. Not sad, oddly, but just sorry. I tried to will him back as I drifted off again, but, no luck, he was gone.
Now, I know it wasn’t him. My belief in the supernatural is…measured… at best. I believe in God and an afterlife, but not ghosts or sleepytime messages from beyond the grave. That stuff doesn’t happen. I know full well that whatever goes on in my unconscious mind is a product of my unconscious mind, something I’m telling myself, sometimes with a reason, but mostly just random. I know all that. More importantly, I believe it.
Still, the next morning I was sorry that I had largely ignored him in the dream. Even if it was my own subconscious speaking to me in his voice, it would have been nice to hear his voice again. It’s been so damn long.
Now, anyone who knew my dad could tell you he was a great guy. I called him “A living saint,” and he always bristled at that out of humility, but it’s really hard to stress how great a guy he was, and what a long shadow he’s cast as a result. He was a living Horatio Alger story, only without the creepy understated homoerotic elements.
His family was poor in the Great Depression. His mom ran off when he was three. He was homeless, but managed to survive and be a normal kid. Played with the kids with houses, went to school, slept in a coal cellar. Eventually the state picked him up and put him in an orphanage, which he hated. My grandfather eventually re-married so he could get custody of his kids back, then the entire family moved to Florida, where the Child Welfare laws were unreasonably lax even then.
They were still dirt poor, but they had a house. My dad took odd jobs, mostly as a delivery boy on his bike, and the family frequently lived off of stuff that washed up on the beach. Eventually he graduated high school, joined the USAF, served out the Korean War, GI Billed his way through college, became an Aerospace engineer, and ended up working for NASA in the Apollo/Skylab glory days.
Then he lost everything because Congress effectively shut down NASA in 1973/4.
He started over again. This time he went into business, and my mom went nuts, and we moved, and working – no joke – sixteen hours a day he managed to build a successful career for himself capable of supporting all of us in nearly-patrician fashion. He could easily have been a millionaire, but his opinion was, “What do you need all that money for? As long as you’re comfortable, isn’t that enough?” He was a deacon at the church, honest to a fault, a great guy. He built his life from scratch *Twice.* The second time in middle age.
He died at Eighty. He looked 60 or 65. He took care of my mom, and he took care of me (I’m mentally ill too, just in a more entertaining fashion than my mom) and while that wasn’t the life he wanted – come on, everyone wants a *normal* family – he never once complained. It was just his lot in life, and he accepted it and worked to make it better.
the impressive details of his life aren’t really why I’m thinking of him, though. I’m thinking of the “Living Saint” quality that he had, and it struck me today that really, he made it through life uncorrupted. He didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who did. He didn’t hate anyone, and he held true to his values even when they were unpopular. He treated people of all races equally long before that was the norm. He made it through life assuming the best of everyone, and because he so clearly assumed that, most people tried to live up to it. He made life better for the people around him, just by merely being him.
I mean, yeah, he had some negative qualities too, everyone does, but in his case they were trivial.
I’m told the definition of “Saint” comes from the latin word meaning “Set Apart.” If so, that’s definitely my dad. Somehow he made it from one side of life to the other still pure of heart like a child, still full of faith for all the good stuff in life, and still believing in the future. So many people don’t. So many people, like me, just kind of give up. My dad, though? He was a good man from start to finish.
I miss him. I feel numb about him, but when I think about his fundamental goodness, I can feel…something? I’m not sure what, but something more vital than the little glimmerings of all the memories I’ve compressed into a little ball in my soul. I can’t take him out of that ball and look at him, or think about him. It’s been too long. I couldn’t grieve now even if I had the option to. I’ve grown coarse and gnarled and complicated and sad and self-loathing in ways he never did. That opportunity is shot, and will not return.
But when I think about how good he was, it always makes me smile.
That’s not much, I know. It’s enough, though. For now, anyway.
I just finished writing the novel, “Big Pharma,” which I’ve been working on (And mostly fighting my anxieties about) for a bit over a year.
About a year and a half ago, maybe a little under, my friend James Stephen Graham told me he was dying. He’d written several space adventure novels in an ongoing series, and there was one that he was about 4/5ths done with, which he’d obviously be unable to finish. He asked me if I’d do it for him. I said, sure, of course, I’d be glad to.
Since then I have taken a *SHAMEFULLY* long time finishing the manuscript. (And, as I said, mostly fighting my own anxieties about doing justice to my late friend’s work). I read and re-read his other books, took extensive notes, wrote, got frustrated that I wasn’t really capturing his voice, started over again, got frustrated. It wasn’t hard work, all the details and outlines I could need were given to me, but I was basically fighting myself. I do that a lot.
Anyway, the manuscript is done. Now I need a British friend of mine to translate my portions from American to British (You know, spelling, weirdo quotation marks, etc) so it’s not a jarring transition for the reader. Then a quick formatting edit, and then it’s online.
This also ends my self-imposed exile from writing.
To all Jim’s fans, and his wife Vivien, I truely, deeply apologize for the delays.
You can find Jim’s other books here https://www.amazon.com/…/B0…/ref=bseries_auth_1_B006OM9GX0_1
Of all my recent recordings of all my songs, this is far and away the best. If you like it, please tell your friends.
I’ve written before about how difficult it is to take care of a mentally ill relative. I don’t recall if I mentioned that I, myself, am mentally ill as well, but if not, big surprise: I’m nuts. As you can imagine this exacerbates matters considerably.
One of these is that it’s very easy to spiral out of control. You have to keep a very tight rein on yourself, stay stoical, don’t get engaged. Don’t get happy when the person in your charge praises you, don’t get unhappy when they curse you, because both will happen a lot.
If you let yourself get up, you will sure as shooting get bitchslapped down, it it will hurt twice as bad because you fell twice as far. If you let yourself feel anything when they attack you, or attack people you love, then you just have to have thick skin about it. Distract them, or find an excuse to leave without being too obvious about it, or go to a secret dreamland that you’ve developed. (In my case it’s a domed version of Progress City on the planet Venus. I like Venus. It’s more interesting than Mars, and gets no love)
The hardest part is when they attack people you love, particularly if they’re prone to perseverating on it. “That thing they did,” comes up again and again and again, and if you ask them not to talk about it, they talk about it twice as much and accuse you of never wanting to talk about stuff, about trying to hide things, about how your loved one is going behind your back and doing stuff that you don’t know about, they talk about things that happened fifteen years ago as if they happened yesterday.
It’s all paranoid bullshit, but whereas you can take attacks on yourself on the chin and come back for more, your every instinct is to protect the ones you love. Those attacks hurt three times as bad, so it’s hard not to give in to rage.
The black joke of all this is that if you do give in, if it just accumulates, and you snap, the mentally ill person won’t understand it at all. You can scream and shout and cry and their perspective is so completely skewed that they will not be able to attach effect to cause. They can’t tie your anger/hysteria/sadness/tears to anything they’ve done.
And if you cite bad things they did in the past, odds are they don’t remember it. Let’s say someone used to beat you up 45 years ago, but they’re nuts and have had many nervous breakdownds and are very ego-centonic, they just don’t remember it. Or they remember it in some skewed fashion. Confronting them about it brings you nothing, no peace, no resolution, no apologies.
You may have been hiding under your bed while they stomped around threatening to beat the shit out of you and then throw you out of the house, or terrified when they abandoned you in a parking lot, and because you were a little kid it was the most traumatic, horrible thing in the world. To them it was just another Tuesday, though, nothing remarkable to stick in their mind. If they’ve got a for-shit memory to begin with, it’s even worse. So why bring it up? Why bring anything up? Why get mad? It simply scares them and accomplishes nothing because they’re fucking nuts, and can’t understand even normal things.
I’ve been caring for a mentally ill relative for six years now, and last night I snapped. It’s my fault. I let myself get elated. I took the lid off my Bipolar Disorder and let it boil over, because I was happy and excited about something, and then it all got slapped away and I fell, and I was very depressed. Then the crazy person started attacking one of my loved ones, the same damn thing that had been said a million times before, and I just snapped.
I screamed, I cursed, I used very foul language, I shook my finger, I fell to the ground crying, I lost it. The dam burst. All the vile, black stuff in me came out in one big flood that horrified me, and merely confused them. Occasionally they grasped enough of it to understand it was a criticism, and then did the big baby defense move of “Well, if I’m saying the wrong thing, then you just never need to worry about me talking again, because clearly I can’t talk,” or whatever “Woe is me” move they think will make them seem like the victim instead of the instigator. Their apologies are mostly just to shut you up, and they don’t know what they’re apologizing for in the first place. It’s circular.
And I suppose at some point you *are* attacking. At some point it probably becomes mean. I never hit anyone in my life, I back away from arguments, I didn’t hit or threaten anyone last night, but at some point in the torrent you want to make them feel as badly as you do. They did this to you, after all. It’s only fair that they should feel the despair and hopelessness and crushing weight that comes from caring for them every day for two thousand one hundred and ninety one days, sometimes driving down to their house three times a day for several days in a row, suffering abuse and just the weight of having someone who’s constantly sick, constantly complaining, constantly finding something miserable to complain about, someone with little or no empahty, who’s driven away all their own friend and relatives, so that there is literally *no one* but yourself for them to rely on.
It wears down your empathy. You still love them, but it gets harder and harder to care about them. And you look forward and see no end in sight. They could live another ten years, fifteen, and it will never be normal. It’ll never stop. It will never, never, never stop. It’s very exhausting physically and emotionally and spiritually and psychologically, and stressful. Oh boy is it stressful. I have a diagnosis of PTSD. I got that from caring for this relative. Entirely from that. Rapid Cycling Manic Depressive guy with PTSD. That’s a winning combination, right?
If that’s not bad enough, there’s a spillover effect on your family. They see you miserable all the time, and they get to feeling bad, too. You’re away from home for hours a day taking care of the lunatic, which means less time to spend with the people you love. They get sad, they miss you. It fucks up their lives as well. If you’re self-loathing, like I am, then that’s a huge burden as well, and it hurts the people you love.
But what can you do? You can’t abandon the crazy relative. That would be cruel. So you just keep taking it on the chin, and packing down all your anger and resentment in a little ball, fighting to keep it from getting out. And then, every few years it does. And then you spend the next six months trying to fix it.
So that was my friday night. How’s by you guys?
I had an interesting realization this morning.
As my readers probably know, I work very fast. Inspiration hits, I start writing, and I don’t stop until the story is done. I might type for eight or ten hours straight, because if I stop for anything longer than a trip to the can, I’ll lose the holy fire of inspiration, and the story will die on the vine.
It’s really not a great way to run a railroad, I’ll be the first to admit. It limits me to short stories, rather than longer work, and undoubtedly it’s responsible for my giddy-yet-somewhat-unhinged style. It’s not bad, it’s kind of unique, but it’s also limiting.
I had always assumed this was the result of my fairly short attention span, but I just realized this morning that it’s really my anxieties.
No, seriously: I take a half hour off to get lunch, and I begin to dread going back to it. I think, “This is terrible, no one’s going to read it anyway, why am I doing this?” I begin to dread how much of the work still lies ahead of me. I put it off. I question myself. I berate my talent. (I know I have talent objectively, but the longer I postpone things, the more I begin to doubt it emotionally). I take the night off, and it’s almost a guarantee that the story will be abandoned.
That’s why, I think, I only do short stories: That’s as much as I can manage before my inherent “Randy can’t do anything” feelings grow too big to be ignored. If I do it the moment the inspiration hits, I can maybe manage to bang a story out before my subconscious notices and paralyzes me. If I delay, then I’m dead before I can do anything at all.
That’s my suspicion this week, anyway.
A girl I know recently asked me which of my books was the best, so I recommended my most recent one. She bought a copy and started reading it. As I had time to kill at the Flea Market, I opened one of my own copies and started rereading it. Knowing her as I do, I tried to read it from her perspective, and quickly realized that she’d utterly hate the first three stories, and probably be bored by a couple others. This prompted a crisis in faith of my creative abilities.
This was ameliorated somewhat by three stories in the book that are genuinely really good, and one of which that isn’t great, but is a fun read. So I can get lucky at least some of the time, but that just puts me on the cusp of suck/not suck, it doesn’t resolve the issue. As to my friend? I’m more interested to know if she actually finishes the book than whether she likes it or not at this point, since I’m pretty sure she won’t. Basically, if she’s irritated or bored by the first couple stories, she won’t.
Or I have another friend that I gave several of my books to once. He’s not bothered to read ’em yet. This was years and years ago, back when I still only had three. He’ll never finish ’em. I don’t really blame him because he’s got a lot of crap going down in his life, but the bottom line is that if you’re interested in something, you dive right in as soon as you’ve made a little time, and if you don’t have interest, you backburner it. This is more a question of whether I’m interesting or not rather than it is of whether I suck or not, but it still feeds into the same issue. Not being interesting is part and parcel of sucking.
All of you have read fanfic at some point. You know what I mean. “How did the Trill get their spots?” and the endless Mary Sues…ugh. I don’t write that stuff. I only do originals. Still, you get what I mean, right?
I’ve always written about what interests me, and as I’m an effortlessly interesting person (An arrogant thing to say, but I’ve been repeatedly told that by strangers over the years), I just naturally assumed my stories would be as well. In the past, when this issue has come up, I’ve blown it off and just said, “I’m writing because of the joy of writing, and if anyone reads it, that’s just gravy. It’d be nice to make some money, but I don’t care much.” That’s always been 50% a lie, but it’s a lie I tell myself, and as long as I can concentrate on it, I can keep going.
This latest ill-advised bit of introspection is a little different, though. It’s been about two years since I’ve written anything, my longest break since I started self-publishing. I’ve got a friend’s book to finish for him (He died) and I can’t motivate myself to do it. I have a lot of unfinished stories I can’t quite get ’round to. I have friends who’ve tried to cowrite with me, and I can’t get my shit together to do it. I’m 90,000 words into a novel and too intimidated by the task to finish it. I’m not blocked, mind you, I have lots of ideas, and my writing flows when I do it. I’m just really anxious about doing it. Overthinking it. And now, on top of that, there’s the crisis of faith of whether or not it’s genuinely any good, or if I just think it’s good, and the people who’ve agreed are either just being polite, or just don’t know the difference between good stuff and drek.
And then there’s my music, which I take less seriously than my writing, but I’m still invested in. As no one ever listens to it (My latest original song has 17 views. It’s less than three minutes long. My most popular song has 360 views, and only ‘cuz it’s a Blondie cover that people discover by mistake) that’s disappointing, too. Again, a couple years ago I’d blow it off as “I don’t care,” but I do. Not as much as with the writing, but I do.
Basically I think it’s the timing. I’m 50 now. 2/3rds of my life are past. My health ain’t great. I work at a flea market, my first job in 11 years, and honestly I’m lucky to get it. The one thing that’s really distinguished me in the last 6 or 8 years is that, despite my lack of a significant audience, I’m good at what I do. But now I’ve managed to shake myself to the point where I’m questioning that notion, and I’m just wondering if it’s worth it.
What’s the point?
I’m fishing for encouragement more than compliments here, though compliments are not unwelcome. And if you think I do suck, critiques would be welcome as well.