Dreams for my grandma

Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. My grandma on my dad’s side died somewhere around fifth grade, if I remember correct. My memories of her are vague and shifting. The smell of her and her home, a cabinet full of glass and china, hugs, Christmases, her funeral, parts of where she lived. It is not that she was not a good grandma or that I did not love her, but I did not see her as much as we saw grandma Koji, from my mother’s side, of whom I remember much more. She loved Elvis and treats, she let us watch cartoons. I still remember the room I shared with my siblings when I was younger and we would visit. They would share one bed, sharing jokes and laughing while at first, I had what seemed more like a crib. My parent’s room had a high blue ceiling with a vent connecting, there were slants to the ceilings and kitten pictures that hang in my room today. I remember her yelling at me when I stuck the wing of a plastic bat in an outlet, her calling me when she got a double yolk in one of our eggs. I remember the tiger picture she had in her room, and that it had only curtains instead of a door. Her well worn slippers, her night dresses, how scared I was of her basement and the little mysterious door that was in the wall halfway up the stairs.

My grandma has alzheimers. She is eighty-eight now, and lives in a nursing home down by my aunt’s.

She had the most amazing laugh I think I have ever heard. I hear it sometimes when my mom laughs and hope to God one day that someone else will hear it in mine.

We went down to Indiana this weekend for Christmas, the first time in a few years. We only go down there in groups, for Bear games, summer visits and Christmas. It’s too much of a drive to do much otherwise, and with my brother sick and my sister a new mom, it was only myself and my parents this year. My aunt offered to take us to go see “Momma,” and though I am one of those people who does not care for nursing homes, I agreed to go, as I usually do.

We drove out there, my mom, aunt, cousin and I, and wandered down to the cafeteria to find her. My aunt is on a first name basis with most of the staff and many of the residents. She walks with purpose everywhere, but particularly here. Guiding us past the lunch room, she brought us to my grandma. She was sleeping, and when we woke her, she seemed startled at first. We said hello, somewhat faking cheeriness in the face of the grief these encounters bring, and, after a few mumbling kinds of words I couldn’t understand, she suddenly started jabbering. “Dadadadadadadadadadadadada.” Just like a stuttering engine.

I have never seen my grandmother do this kind of thing.

My mother tells me they think it’s from strokes.

My aunt said this was a good day. Wandering off to find water or some such thing, my mother took control. Speaking to her, explaining who she was and asking questions on how she was, yielded few results. She brought a Christmas present from the family, a picture of her great grandson. Mom explained who he was, and she denied it, the rest of us laughing as we insisted.

Finally, my mom offered a trigger, a song she knew from childhood. She had found a book with it inside and bought it, and standing in front of her mother, holding her hands and bobbing them along to the music, she sang.

My grandmother laughed, giggling like a child and shaking her hands.

Her laugh isn’t the same.

And yet, there’s something in there. I know that there is. There is something that remembers those songs, and just can’t get it out. I feel it when she looks at me and I explain who I am and something seems to click. I see it in the urgency with which she shakes my mom’s hands and half mumbles along with the words. She tries to sing. She sort of does. I know there’s a part of her in there, screaming “I know who you are!”

This is what makes it hard. That there is the woman who raised my mother–one of the strongest women I know–trapped inside a failing brain. That she can remember these things and see her daughter that she loves so much and not be able to say so. That my mom can’t hear those words again. It is such a tragedy for her to be so lucid and to be able to do so little, to sputter like a struggling car.

And then there are the times when she is not as lucid, when she clutches the dolls they give her almost exactly like a child. She seems happy then, in ways, caring for them perhaps like they are her children. Maybe to her, they are. Maybe they are her real children, the memories she still has.

And this is what I wish for my grandmother. That she would know that we still love her, that we understand what she’s trying to say. That when she holds her dolls she would see her kids, and know that she raised them well. That they are raising kids of their own. I dream when she is not lucid that it is not frightening, that the real world, the nursing home, melts away to a beach. Her husband is there, in Hawaii, waiting to hold her hand. She walks with him along the beaches, and he whistles and sings and cooks. They raise poodles like they used to, and he goes bowling while she eats or watches–I’m not sure what she did back then. Elvis plays, the soaps are on, there’s always enough peanut butter and chocolate. In my dreams, she is always happy and never alone, and we all know how much we love her.

Alzheimers skips generations. I am glad and hopeful that I should never have to go through this with my mom, to see her slip away like she did with her own. I hope she knows how much I love her now so that if she does, she always knows, that that is something she will remember.

I fear my kids might have to see it happen to me.

In the meantime, I dream for my grandma. I dream that she is happy, that she knows we love her and understand, and that she sees her dolls on the beach.

Thank you for reading.

For every like I get on this post, up to 500, I will donate $1 to Alzheimers research.

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More tropes, less rules

Let’s talk about tropes.

Tropes, in the sense I’m using it, are clichés. Character types, plots, settings, etc., that are frequently–if not overly–used: sexy vampires, rogue space captains, headstrong princesses, sibling/parent villain/hero pairs, English-speaking medieval provinces, noble thieves, run-down smuggler ships. They’re common markers for readers, settings or characters that are easy to recognize or cling to, and that help tell a reader quickly where it is that they are. They get a lot of flack for being lazy, since it allows readers to fill in gaps without the writer having to do much work in regards to character/world/plot development (trope-dependent), but here’s the thing: I love them. When I find a story about a young, unassuming teen who finds out they’re secretly destined to become the last (or first in centuries) dragon rider, bring it on. Runaway princess with a handsome thief? Yes please. Is this because I don’t want diverse stories or because I only want to read variations of the same thing for the rest of my life (I’m looking at you, teen paranormal romance)? No, absolutely not. I love reading stories that are varied, and for the most part I do, but I also like knowing where I am, and if tropes help you orient me to your story quickly so I can get to the important stuff (why your story is different from the tropes), then by all means, use them.

The trick is making sure that you don’t use them without anything else. More simply, remember that the world, plot and characters that you are writing about are real. Fiction? Possibly, but to the characters within that world, everything you write exists. They are not acting. They are not pretending. They are living real lives, with real motivations that drive a real life interacting with other real people. Your character may be a busty, car wash-loving hottie, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t get there somehow, didn’t experience things in her life that made her love (or secretly despise) those bikinis and sponges. Bottom line, tropes are tools in your tool kit, but they can’t be the only light you use to show the brilliance of your work. You must use them as a foundation from which the rest of your work builds and embellishes.

Which brings me to tests. Specifically feminist ones, though it really could be any of them. We’ll start by defining one of the more common examples, so we’re on the same page, and move on from there. So, the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test is used to determine if something counts as a “feminist” (using probably one of the lowest bars you could in defining feminism) text. It is primarily used for film, but applicable to other mediums as well, and the rules are quite simple. To pass, a text must:

  1. Have two named female characters
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man

Pretty simple, yes? You’d be surprised how many movies fail. I’m pretty sure one of my novels (and my stageplay) might not even pass, myself, but, and I won’t be the only (nor first) person to say this, it’s a pretty flawed test. One, it doesn’t specify what kind of relation the characters might have to the man. Two, it doesn’t specify anything about what the characters might be discussing instead. That is to say, a story of a mother and daughter talking about a newborn grandson or a dead husband/father woudln’t pass, but a story about two ladies talking exclusively about shoes and make-up would. And I’m not even trying to say that one might be more valuable than the other, one way or another, which is exactly what is wrong about these kinds of tests. The first story I mentioned could be a shallow discourse on how women’s only value is in giving birth or a stunning celebration of familial love (or hate). Perhaps the grandson is only a conduit for the women to hash out their true feelings–negative or otherwise–towards each other, the shoes in the second story a portrait of just how desperate women are trained to be for the affections of men instead of vapid discussion. Each could be completely powerful or pointless–not to mention completely feminist or sexist–in their own way, with absolutely no regard for whether or not they passed the Bechdel test.

Which is exactly what I hate about tests like these.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the value in pointing out trends, in showing that there is a disparity in roles and leads and all that, and I don’t by any means think that only men should be the heroes, but I also don’t think that trying to make rules for books/movies/etc. to fit into in order to be one thing or another is the way to fix it.

Why?

Because we’re dealing with people. Hopefully, as I mentioned above, real ones.

Changing a guard’s gender to female, giving her a name and having her chat to the lead villain in Escapement wouldn’t make my book feminist. Changing Eyna’s decisions to follow Rick (which she does freely because she wants to) wouldn’t make her stronger.

Point is, feminism doesn’t occur to me as something to “include” when I write my books. Writing the best story I can about the real people who are in it, does.

P.S. This blog post is somewhat inspired by conversations had during the writing group I am a part of, so shout-out to the members of our little Inklings group, who are consistently helping me grow and question and learn as a writer.

For more information on the Bechdel test and what it is used for (there is a lot I did not discuss here, there are a lot of great discussions on it online. Google is your friend, here.)

I walk the path

Doing anything professionally forces you to sit down and think about whether or not it’s something that you really want to do. For me, this moment has come at an ironically late point in the game. I’ve been a writer since I mastered Z’s (I wrote them backwards for the longest time). I’ve wanted to be an author since just after that. It’s strange that with four novels, a stageplay, and numerous publications under my belt that now I should finally be coming to the point where I wonder, is this something I want to fight for, and is it really what I want to do?

If you were to ask me this on a surface level, I would say, yes, of course. I’ve been working towards this for years. I’ve combed through Machine (the first draft just turned five yesterday), put in countless hours, heck, I even joined Twitter. It would seem that this is the thing that I really want, and really, storytelling is something that is incredibly near and dear to my heart.

But there are a lot of ways to tell stories and writing is certainly not the only one.

Likewise, getting published seems to take an exorbitant amount of work. This is not a new idea to me. I was aware it would be difficult, but if we’re being honest, which I aim to be, as someone who has been (or at least thought of herself as) the proverbial big fish in a little pond for the larger part of her life, I have only recently started to realize just how hard of a journey it is. People aren’t knocking down my door for my book, I haven’t been declining offers of representation or publication, and I certainly haven’t been published by the age of fifteen like I’d hoped, nor even nearly a decade after fifteen.

Furthermore, I’ve had to give things up for this. I’m having to make decisions about how and where I spend my time, I’m having to trim down hobbies, I’m having to hold back friends or family. I realize as I write this that these are the decisions adults make. These are the steps to build a career.

And I have to wonder, is it worth it? Is this what I really want?

The answer is, I don’t know.

I’m not always sure this is what I want. It frightens me to commit. What if I put in all this work and the book flops? What if nobody loves these characters? What if people do, and I become a crazy, fame-thirsty lunatic? Or go on TV and mess things up? I tell people I don’t care about money, but what happens if I get famous and suddenly have lots of it? What if it sucks out my heart? These are questions I sometimes ask myself, but also, what if this isn’t what God wants me to do? What if pursuing writing takes the place of pursuing Him, the living God?

See, the thing is, I don’t want becoming a full-time writer to supplant my relationship with God. I don’t want fame or pleasing agents or gathering followers to be my one and only. And based on conversations I’ve had with some other people and what I see of the world around me, this is not the way that people live. They don’t get published by worshiping God, they don’t get agents by reading their Bible. This is not to say that there are not Christian authors, or that people of faith don’t get published, but for someone who is writing not just for the Christian market, telling an agent that my marketing plan includes trusting God to bring me the things I need on a daily basis and trusting His will, I don’t think that cuts it. And to be honest, if I were pitching to a Christian agent with a Christian book, I don’t think that would cut it either. Because we live in a practical world, and that includes taking practical steps. It is work to get published, and just because I believe that God will bring me what I need everyday doesn’t mean that I can just sit back and watch the flowers (well, snow drifts) grow.

This also is a new concept to me. This balance of work and worship.

I think I often feel as though to do one means I cannot do the other.

I don’t think this is really true.

My work is an act of worship. Using the talents he gave me for good is a good thing.

Balancing where I fit into it and how I approach the career steps and the whole process and how much I do in comparison to how much I rest and wait is a difficult thing. Recognizing God in the process is a difficult thing. Knowing where to walk practically when I know somewhat where to walk spiritually is a very difficult thing.

But I think it’s worth the shot, and this is what I’d like to do.

Thanks for reading.

——

P.S. How do you balance work and faith, and when do you know when to commit? Any other tips? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your advice. Thanks!