Family Visits

I drove my visiting sister A and her husband G to visit our 84 year old uncle in a rehab facility. My uncle L, who has been in the facility at least a month, is experiencing  congestive heart failure, requires oxygen, and is experiencing organ failure.

If you are not familiar with congestive heart failure, let me give you a brief synopsis: The heart, no longer able to pump blood effectively, means less oxygen to the brain, a reduced capacity of the lungs to get oxygen into the body and more fluids in the lungs, and organ failure. The brain, kidney, and liver, among others, no longer function optimally. Death isn’t necessarily imminent; my husband’s mother lived with it for years.

Whether his memory is being affected by the congestive heart failure, or whether it is due to another condition, such as dementia, I find it hard to visit him. While we visited, my uncle told me the same stories about my father that put him in a bad light, which he has told me at least once every time I have seen him since at least December. These things happened 60-70 years ago. But so what? 70 years ago, approximately 30 years before I was even born, is too long ago for me to care. I did get angry with my uncle and told him that I didn’t want to hear it.

I asked him: What’s happening now? What else can we talk about now? Can I help him now? What is there to do? Because whatever happened has happened when my father was alive. He is dead. I am glad that my uncle didn’t give the “traitors” help when they didn’t want to help my dad. But so what? Those people are long gone.

I grew up spending Thanksgiving at my uncle’s home, and, in reciprocation, my cousins, uncle, aunt on my father’s and my mother’s side used to spend Christmas with us. I have some great memories of watching Godzilla movies at my uncles on Thanksgiving (thankfully, I was not subject to watching football).

At this point, whatever it is my father did or didn’t do, whatever it is my uncle thinks or doesn’t think, whatever stories he has to tell, I no longer care. When all the players are dead, some of them for many, many years, it is time to move on.

In some ways, having a great memory such as my uncle has is wonderful. He remembers all the birth years of his half-siblings and siblings, starting from 1900 to himself in 1929. Given that he came from a family of 10 and this is 75 years later while he is sick with congestive heart failure, I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

But having an amazing memory is a problem when you repeat the bad stories of your deceased brother over and over again. Yes, I was upset earlier. But I also have compassion for him. The way we think when are elderly is a product of all the ways we have thought through our entire lives.

Do I like what he says? No.
Do I like what he thinks? No.
Is he elderly and ill? Yes.
Am I going to stay worked about the things he says about my deceased father, his brother? No.

I just don’t have time for that shit anymore.

 

Brief Hampton Bays Trip

My husband and I stayed two nights at a place on Route 80/Montauk Highway called The Hampton Maid. The grounds were lush and peaceful, even though we were just above a busy one lane road.

My mother’s and sister’s rooms were adjacent to our room towards the right and a fourth room was on our left. An open porch spanned all four rooms with two rocking chairs, a table, and an ashtray outside each of the rooms. These photos were taken from my front door.

The two main windmill building rooms had large sliding glass doors that opened up onto the expansive lawn. Behind the dogwood tree shown was a shuffle board and a vending and ice machines.

Left side view from Room

Left side view from Room

Opposite from the rooms was bench seating. We had a small staircase that led up to our room. Across from us was the pool. Behind the pool was a swing set and small playground, including slides.

Room with a pool view

Room with a pool view

To our right was another cabin. You can get an idea of what the front of our cabin looked like because the one shown below looked the same.

Right side view from Room

Right side view from Room

The restaurant let you take up carafes of coffee on a tray up to your room with additional coffee cups, two of which were already in the room. Breakfast was only served until 1pm, and then the coffee was shut off, too. Six buildings with at most four cabin rooms each peppered the grassy hill amid ancient pine and maple trees (I think maple). The salty sea breeze kept temperatures down and spirits up.

Unfortunately, I got sick the first night we were there. I reluctantly passed on a day trip to Montauk with my family because I decided it was safer for me to nap than it was for me to drive.  That evening, we dined at at nearby restaurant Edgewater that had a small koi pond outside the door.  The food was excellent, and the staff pleasant and accommodating.

Edgewater Koi Pond

Edgewater Koi Pond

One night, we took a walk down a local street to the miniature public beach that lay at the end of the path. The featured image is from that night as well as this one:

Beach Reeds

Beach Reeds

And this one:

The bay

The bay

Two days is not enough time to spend out East if you end up getting sick like I did. Montauk will have to wait until next time…

Family Mini Break

This post is written in advance so that I can enjoy my family mini break and not forget my biweekly writing duty to you, my dear readers.

For the first time in decades, I am spending a brief time with my mother and three sisters at a favorite family vacation spot, The Hampton Bays near the eastern end of Long Island.

During childhood, I went with my parents and one sister, M, on a week-long vacation to the Hamptons. Sometime as a teen, I decided it was uncool to go away with my parents. I also wanted to be near friends. I stopped going. This was shy of 30 years ago.

In addition, we never were all together in the Hamptons. My eldest sister, S, would come. My sister A lived in Hawaii for 17 years starting when I was 5 years old, so we never were together with her in the Hamptons. For the first time, she will be with us as well.

I am excited and a little nervous about spending vacation time with my entire family, including 3 husbands, and a nephew. Monday will be a low key day, hopefully with some beach time. Monday nite, S heads back into NYC via train. On Tuesday, the rest of us are going to Montauk point to eat seafood at a place that my parents used to love going.

On Wednesday, Mark and I return, while sister M, BIL, nephew, & mom stay until Thursday, which is also my sister M’s birthday.

Friday nite is my nephew’s high school graduation. On Saturday afternoon, we celebrate with sandwiches and video games.

And next Sunday you ask? Sunday is, finally, a day of rest.

And laundry. Lots of laundry.

Negative Feedback Smackdown

I was disappointed when H, a writer whom I have admired for his insights, did not attend my short story critique. I knew I would get his pointed comments, and I looked forward to what he had to say.

Several days later, I received an early morning email from H with an attachment. I knew what lay inside that little paperclip. I let it sit tight so that I could meditate and do yoga in peace. Right upon waking up is not usually the best time to deal with harsh words. Later that morning, I emailed H just to thank him for providing feedback.

I had to ready myself before I began reading H’s comments. H had warned me ahead of time that his feedback would be brutal. I was a little shocked. His questions, frustrations, and admonitions littered the pages . As I read, my tummy jumped and turned as if I was on a rocky boat. I laughed nervously, but I made it out alive.

One curious thing was that his comments abruptly stopped. In some ways, I was relieved that I only had 11 pages of his comments instead of the full 29 pages! Although I was curious why the comments stopped mid-story, I was hesitant to ask H about it. I reasoned that it was for personal reasons that he was unable to finish giving me feedback on the full story.

I also I realized that not one of his comments was positive – not the character, the gist of the story, a word written here or there. Nothing. As part of our critique group feedback rules, people are required to talk about things they liked as well as point out issues with the story. Because of this, I decided I could ask him whether he liked anything at all.

Emails traveled back and forth. H pointed out a line that he liked and commented on. I couldn’t find it. At this point, I asked him if there was a reason that he stopped on page 11. I let him know it was totally cool with me if he couldn’t comment on it all.

Apparently, the commenting program he uses put in an extra page so he thought that was the end of the story. No wonder he was frustrated! H read the 11 page version three times hoping to see if he could glean some insight from additional reads. I felt honored that he would so take the time to try and understand a work which so clearly frustrated him. On the plus side, he said he was excited that he had more to read.

After the exchange, I reflected on what happened internally during this time. I feared his feedback. When I read it, I felt uneasy. And then I realized that reading through his commentary wasn’t in reality all that bad. More than that, I had survived pointed criticism on one of my stories. Furthermore, I knew that I could use H’s feedback to better my work.

In one of H’s final emails, he said he would be even more restrained in his feedback in the future and point out a couple of magnificent (!) lines. I told him:

And don’t change your feedback on my account – you can be you, and I can wipe the sweat off my forehead and be glad I made it. You know, it’s really OK. It will help my story in the end, which in turn will help me be a better writer. This was my first ever story I wrote beginning to end with the intent to write a story in my adult life. So there are going to be problems with it. Suggestions large and small are welcome.

I consider this a personal triumph that will allow me to continue moving forward in my creative life. Hurray!

Overcoming Fears

My father used to say, “Don’t tell people to go to Hell. Tell them to go to Brooklyn.” He and my mother frequently told me how dangerous things were in New York. If you weren’t careful, people, places, and things all held the potential to rain terrible consequences on you. Any risk was too much. Avoidance and staying at home were preferable.

As you might imagine, I was miserable. Any time I thought of doing something on my own, all I could think about was getting hurt. The world was big and scary. With my return to New York this past fall, I have begun to shake off the fears of exploring in and around New York City.

Since I have been home, I have gone into Manhattan and taken the subway enough times to feel comfortable. With and without my husband, I have learned about areas and neighborhoods that I never explored in the past. My bus trip to the New York State World’s Fair Pavilion in April let me see new neighborhoods, meet new people, revisit a park that I had forgotten existed, learned geography in relationship to my home, and helped me start getting over my fear of New York City boroughs.

Today I drove via the Cross Bronx Expressway (CBE) to meet friends at the Crosstown Diner on Bruckner Boulevard for a quick brunch (yum!). Then I drove up the CBE to the Sprain Brook Expressway (SBE) to a Citizens Bank in Yonkers to close out a security deposit account for a former tenant. As I drove on the CBE, I saw parks with children playing and signs for the Bronx Zoo, a place I have never gone.

On my home way, I got on the SBE and saw two deer grazing by the onramp. The drive to the gym, which is generally in the direction of my home, was fast and easy. The best part of today’s drive was the bright, sunny weather, the warm winds, and the greenery.

Driving through new locations, seeing new topography and wildlife, and expanding my territory all drive me to explore new places. I feel invigorated and satisfied, even though I spent a large part of my day driving. Generally, I feel more confident exploring new places in the daytime by car because it seems safer for me than going by myself or exploring at night.

In the end, whether it’s by car or not, my exploring helps build my confidence to make decisions that involve an element of risk. Doing so on any day is a plus.

Critique Experience

I was excited up until the meeting time came, and then I became a little nervous. Seven writers, including one group leader, attended the critique of my short story True North. I am including a synopsis at the end of this post in case you were interested.

We routinely start our 3pm meeting late in order to give people stuck in traffic time to arrive so that the writer has as many people in attendance as possible. When waiting gave two people time to argue, I suggested starting (it was 3:30pm).

Our group gives feedback in two rounds. In the first round, people are asked to stick to one thing they liked and one thing they didn’t/would suggest/had questions about. The writer is expected to listen, not talk. In the second round, comments are open to everyone. The writer is able to answer questions on a limited basis in case this is part of a larger story.

For the next hour and fifteen minutes, I had the best time! Many of the comments during the first round had me laughing out loud. Because I knew more than they did, some of the comments were inadvertently funny because they were trying to understand something about the story. One critic had detailed knowledge about stars and time that I had not considered when writing. Others gave suggestions on questions I had, or brought my attention to things that I did not adequately explain.

The strengths of the story as told by my group include the prose, the pacing, the strength and the initiative of the main character. Some suggestions were making it not so over the top and suggestions for working details in the main character’s story.

All in all, I loved it. The other writers in this group are thorough and thoughtful. I enjoy almost everyone in the group (12-15 people total), and that’s saying a lot about the calibre of these writers. I ended up feeling energized to go back into the story and make changes that will most definitely make my story even stronger.

Short Story Synopsis

True North is about a teenager, Trixie Dixon, from the wrong side of the tracks in the South. Raised by an alcoholic, single mother who is unable to work, Trixie survives petty peers, mean teachers, and sexual assault. Trixie’s attempts to find safe places to do her homework brings a middle school mentor back into her life. Will he be able to help her escape her impoverished environment and become the writer she dares to dream?

 

Writer Roasting

In three days, I will be the center of the first ever group critique of my writing as a non-student adult. My turn to be the subject of the bi-weekly NaNo writers critique group has arrived. 

Even though I know there are problems with the story, I am excited to be the center of such a passionate group of people. What makes the group exciting is that each member brings thoughtful commentary to the writer. I will hear what people like and what people thought could use work, along with a host of suggestions. Emotions run high, and a lot of good-natured teasing occurs.

Calling it negative feedback is so negative! And I have never been a fan of the term ‘constructive criticism’, either. Suggestions for improvements are what motivate me to do better and to continue writing. I easily teeter off the seesaw when negative or annoyed feedback is given. I am working with the help of a new therapist because I cannot demand that others only frame feedback in the way I prefer. 

I am pretty sure that, on Friday night, I will feel as excited as a kid on the night before Christmas. I cannot wait for the roasting… I mean! feedback.