In Requiem: Dying Is Worse

In Requiem: Dying Is Worse

My mom died. This is the story of what happened. The first part of the story is here. My sister and I tried to get a battered Mom into a rehabilitation hospital. All Mom had to do was swallow, prove she was on the mend. She didn't because she wasn't.

The weasels running Mom’s care at the hospital began feeling their oats, thinking we’d have to give in to what they wanted since Mom wasn’t going to a rehabilitation hospital. Barely paying attention to us, they started making plans for when to begin tubing Mom.

Throughout the course of living with multiple sclerosis for decades, Mom always made it clear that her worst nightmare was being kept alive and not living. The weasel doctors didn’t like the idea of anyone dying in their hospital so they planned to ignore the legal Do Not Resuscitate order mom signed and notarized before she was even sick.

I looked at the smug, white-coated weasels and thought beating some sense into them using an IV stand and several applications of the chest paddles sounded mighty sensible.

“It doesn’t matter,” my younger sister Leslie said, her voice soft and sad and barely audible over the sound of my heart raging out of control. It was the tone that jolted me into dropping the IV stand.

I looked at Leslie. She looked at Mom, her eyes full of tears, already dripping down her cheek. My sister, for a long time, was one of the most-sought-after physical therapists in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. She was damn good, even after cutting back her practice since moving to Jacksonville several years before. I’m smart. I know a bit about medicine and science. She knew more. A lot more.

“I knew,” she said. “But I ignored it. She can’t swallow on her own.”

“But, what if—“

“Rick, it doesn’t matter,” she said, turning away from Mom and looking back to me. “It never mattered. Without an NG tube she’s going to die of starvation, but you know we can’t do that.”

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Mom’s last birthday, with Leslie helping out

I nodded. I’d never liked it, but there it was. I wanted to fight against it, keep Mom around just a little while longer. . . Leslie was right.


“Even with all the help in the world, she’s not coming back. Not like she was,” Leslie said. “If the tubes worked and she did come back? Like that?  Being a vegetable? It was her nightmare.”


I sat down. My sister and I had never been particularly huggy, but I leaned in and gathered her in my arms.

“Damn,” I said to no one in particular.

Walking to the door, we leaned out and asked the Hospice liaison to come in. Leslie and I walked to Mom’s bed, each on a different side. We each held a separate hand. We stood quietly.

Mom slept.

Hospice Offers Love In A Time Without Hope

Hospice is a wonderful invention. It is a place and a service designed to ease the suffering of those about to shuffle off this mortal coil. For those choosing to meet their end at home, hospice offers home visits, caregiver respites and even full-time help. For those who — like Mom — need more looking after, Haven Hospice in Gainesville offered a beautiful, wooded grounds as a last residence. The large, wooden building, full of expansive windows and sitting on manicured ground, sat surrounded by tall pines and oak trees, many of the branches a little bare from the mild Florida winter.

I hated it the minute I saw it.

It was the end. Haven Hospice represented the death of hope. Mom wouldn’t be getting better. She wouldn’t come home. She’d never again take over a dull party and make it a thing talked about for years after.

It was the end. And it was coming soon.

The party started almost as soon as we arrived. Word spread around the Gainesville community pretty quickly about Mom’s situation. It seemed like everyone she knew wanted to come say hello, did so and then stayed to talk to everyone else.

Nodding to Leslie, I slipped out the door and into the quiet hallway outside Mom’s room. I needed a break from the chatter. My ears ringing in the silence, I leaned against the wall.

Dr. Carter, a loud, funny and very caring black woman, her hair done in a tight natural cut close to her head, leaned next to me. Dr Carter tried to make sure Mom wasn’t feeling any pain, but also that she wasn’t so medicated she slept the days away. It was a delicate balancing act and one she seemed to be slipping. All too often, Mom grimaced and thrashed on the bed, her body letting her know she’d overstayed her welcome.

We’d ask for more drugs and more drugs would be given, but we were coming close to where any larger dose would end up being lethal. Hospice was for comfortably seeing folks off, not for pushing them.

“Sounds like a party in there,” she said.

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In happier times, Mom with her grandkids.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s Mom.”

Dr. Carter nodded her head and looked thoughtful.

“Your mom, she liked parties?”

I smiled, far too many memories flashing into existence for me to make much sense of them. The overwhelming impression was of laughter and sweat and constant motion.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “She loved parties. Never wanted to leave them.”

Dr. Carter nodded her head again, watching me from over the thick, bright-red frames of her glasses.

“Yeah,” she said. “Sounds like quite a party in there.”

I’ve been called slow on occasion, but I get there eventually.

My heart thumped on the missed beat and my eyes widened. We — Leslie and I and every person we allowed to come into Mom’s room for the floating party — were responsible for keeping Mom around when it was time to go. We were the reason she still was here and in pain.

“Fuck,” I whispered.

“Yeah,” Dr. Carter said. She pushed off the wall and walked away.

Turn Out The Lights. . . 

That night, after visiting hours, we hammered out a new policy. We’d still welcome people who wanted to come say goodbye to Mom, but not more than three other people. No loud noises. No party.

Mom needed to know she could — at last — stop fighting. She could give that one inch.

That Friday night, Leslie went to get a Coke from the vending machine while I stayed with Mom. We’d both be going back to Mom’s house for a some sleep, maybe a couple of hours, getting ready for the long day ahead. We couldn’t stand the thought of being away, of letting Mom die alone and lonely.

“Hey, Mom,” I said, holding her left hand cupped in both of mine. I squeezed lightly. I didn’t know if she was awake or even capable of being awake any more, but I had to believe she could hear me, had to believe she wasn’t gone. “You did a damn good job with me and Leslie, you know. I’m not sure I told you that enough. You’ve been teaching us all our lives. Every moment a teachable moment, even if you never said a word. I know you don’t like hearing it, but you were an inspiration. Your courage. Your fight. Your refusal to ever give in. It made you damn annoying at times, but right now, I’m so glad you were like that because it means I got to keep you for longer.

“But you taught me, taught Leslie, too well for us to be selfish. No matter how much we want you to stay, we can’t hold you back. We will miss you, but we will be all right. You taught us to laugh and how to fight, but there’s one last lesson we need from you.

“Teach us how to let go.”

Down by eight, the Florida Gators looked primed to make a comeback against the Kentucky Wildcats. Mom loved basketball and had season tickets to both the men’s and women’s Gator home games. The only thing she hated worse than the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team was seeing her Gators lose to Kentucky.

I’d been talking softly with Mom about the game, my attention only half on the television as the game neared halftime. Something sounded off. I looked around the room, trying to figure out what it was when Mom started breathing again.

“Leslie, Kathy, come here, please.” That my voice sounded calm and I didn’t shriek at all is a testament to either my acting skills or the positive benefits of shock.

Leslie and Kathy had been talking quietly near the room’s closed door, making plans for later that night so we could get something good to eat. Neither of them liked Gator basketball half as much as I did and weren’t even in the same galactic cluster with Mom.

Gentle laughter floated my way as they walked over. Mom kept breathing, but slower, deeper. I looked at them and my mask slipped. The blood fled their faces, leaving behind pale cheeks and wide eyes. They stood close to Mom, without having covered the intervening distance, bending down near Mom’s mouth. She breathed deeper again. I saw Kathy’s and Leslie’s body relax a little.

“No,” I said. “That’s not it. She’s breathing now, but I—“

As if on cue, Mom exhaled. She didn’t inhale for maybe five seconds, then started up again. Her breathing seemed even deeper.

Kathy, a nurse, nodded through fresh tears.

“Cheyne-Stokes breathing,” she said. “Fuck.”

Cheyne-Stokes breathing was something that happened in a lot of near-death patients. Their breathing would get deeper, followed by periods of no breathing, then get shallower with more periods of not breathing. Eventually their breathing wouldn’t restart. No one knows why it happens, only that, when it does, the end is near.

I grabbed Mom’s hand tight in both of mine, my nose burning with the need to sob and wail, tears rolling across the bridge of my nose and off the tip. I looked at Leslie, holding Mom’s right hand. Kathy gently rubbed Mom’s temples, occasionally running her fingers through Mom’s hair.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Leslie said. “We’re here. We’re with you. You’ve done so much for us, for us all. You made sure we were ready for this. You did. Rick and I. . . We’re going to be okay. Pieter and Nico and Sophie are going to be well.”

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Mom

 

Leslie nodded at me. I couldn’t open my mouth, couldn’t speak. Couldn’t— No. I was the son of Catherine Jones and if there was one thing I’d learned from her, it was how to talk loudly and clearly.

“We will be all right, Mom,” I said. “Alyse and the boys — Rich, Ben, Rocket — they’ll be all right, too. You’ve got another party to get to and you don’t want to be late.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Leslie said. “It’s okay to let go now. Stop fighting. Relax.”

“The world. . .,” I said. “The world is a better place for your having been here, Mom.”

We babbled, making sure our voices were heard, that she didn’t go in to that last dark without company.

Mom inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. . .

And stopped.

We all held still, listening for breathing, watching her still chest.

I broke first, the sobs crashing through me as I bent over the bed and held the still, already cooling body that used to be my Mom. I don’t know how long we cried, Leslie and I, but eventually we slowed, stopped, sat up.

Kathy wasn’t in the room with us. She must have gone to tell Hospice staff what happened because, after we’d been quiet for a few minutes, the door inched open and one of the wonderful nurses poked her head in.

“May I. . .,” she asked. “I just need to check a few things, if that’s all right?”

“Please,” I said, taking a step further toward the foot of the bed, gently releasing the body’s hand and placing it on the covers. Already the room seemed empty, boring.

I walked around the bed and stood next to Leslie. We watched the nurse check for breathing, heartbeat, any sign of life. There were none, but I could have told her that. What was on the bed. . . That wasn’t Mom. That was just the body that had been fighting her for most of her life. She wasn’t there any more.

I don’t believe in heaven or life after death, but I very much wanted to. I wanted to believe that somewhere under a golden sun, Mom was looking down at two strong, young legs and wondering why she wasn’t dancing yet. I wanted to believe that she was smiling and laughing and jumping and running just for the sheer joy of it all. Because she could. She finally could. I really wanted to believe and, for a while at least, I did.

Bad News Never Gets Easier To Tell

We couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to tell our respective kids.

We walked past the nurse’s station where two nurses, one male and one female leaned against the counter, gesturing angrily but quietly at a small color television hidden between stacks of paper.

Two steps past the nurse’s station, I twigged to what I’d heard.

I stopped, a giggle forcing itself through my pressed-tight lips. I felt another bubbling up behind that one and a whole lot more not even waiting their turn behind that one. I gasped for breath, but finally managed to tell Leslie.

A deep belly laugh ripped free from the pit of her. Both hands slammed over her mouth, her eyes open wide. Somehow that made it even funnier and more giggling burst through, which set Leslie off again.

My wife, Alyse, and Leslie’s husband, Pieter, both poked their heads out of the family TV room. They walked out, closed the door and headed our way, questions tattooed on their faces.

We wound down, occasional chuckles floating up every five seconds or so.

Alyse and Pieter stood a few feet away, obviously wondering if they needed to call for help.

I stood up straight as my stomach muscles would allow, harrumphing a bit to cover the wince.

Leslie had straightened and now stood next to me. Even then, my body aching from the laughter, I saw the coming tears far too clearly. We’d speak. They’d listen. We’d cry. And then we’d go find the kids and would start all over again.

But that was minutes away.

“What is wrong with you two?” Alyse asked.

“The Gators,” I said. “They lost to Kentucky 68 to 76.”

Leslie and I both chuckled.

I watched as comprehension flashed through Alyse’s face. She got it.

“When. . .?”

“Just after halftime,” I said.

“I am so, so sorry,” she said, collapsing into my arms. I felt her tears, hot and wet, against my neck. The breath of her laughter on my wet neck wrung goosebumps from my skin.

Behind me, I heard Leslie say, “Mom’s gone, Pieter.”

“But, I don’t. . . Oh,” he said, his light Dutch accent rolling the I sound around a bit before letting it go. “She always said she’d rather die than watch Kentucky beat Florida.”

A woman of her word to the end.

Damn it.

***

I’ll be back. Be good to yourselves.

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In Requiem: Death Sucks

In Requiem: Death Sucks

From across the open, glass-walled atrium, sitting in a large, but strangely uncomfortable chair, I watched the door across the hallway open. My heart tried to beat faster, but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm.

A large woman wearing white backed into the hallway, her feet encased in white canvas-and-rubber shoes that squeaked every single time she took a step on one of the institutional white tiles lining the corridor that separated the family waiting room from the now-open door.  After one long step, she turned left and I saw she was towing what turned out to be a metal stretcher.

Formed of shiny metal and well-oiled, squeak-free wheels, the stretcher normally carried a thin, plastic-encased mattress and several starched, white sheets. I’d seen the stretcher and the woman go into the room just a few minutes before. I couldn’t say I watched it because that would have implied some conscious decision on my part and that. . . Well, that just wasn’t happening.

Thoughts skittered through my brain, none sticking around. I existed in the moment, seeing whatever was in front, sounds and smells that drifted by, but all of it in and gone.

Unable to muster the enthusiasm to look away, I saw the large woman extract the stretcher from the room, a second similarly white-clad woman following behind, her right hand guiding the stretcher into the hallway.

On the stretcher, a rumpled white sheet pulled up to just beneath the chin, rested a still, small woman. Despite the face being uncovered, the woman on the stretcher was very clearly dead.

Moving efficiently, the two women wheeled the stretcher and its contents away down the hall and around the corner.

It came to me that the body on the stretcher had been my mom.

Not every story has a happy ending. In this special two-part memory, I talk about the sudden death of my mother. And the way my sister and I killed her.

A Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis Was Just The Beginning

Diagnosed more than three decades before with multiple sclerosis, Mom fought throughout most of her life. Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease that wore away at the neurons in her body, robbing her tactile sensations, stealing away her strength, and, most noticeably, the ability to move her right leg.

The good thing about Mom’s version of MS — if there can be said to be any good thing about the disease — was that it was only gradually eating away at her body’s nerves. It progressed inexorably over the years, but slowly, prolonging the time she had to fight, but also the time she had with us and we with her.

new kaki 11 20110413210102Mom developed simple way of dealing with MS. She fought against it with every single minute particle of her will and strength and anger. She did not give an inch. She knew that, if she gave that first inch, the next would be given easier, and the next one even easier than that. She gave the disease nothing.

Everything MS took from her, it fought, snuck or tore away. She never gave an inch.

When she was diagnosed with an aggressive, fast-moving form of breast cancer, she faced it down like she did MS. She underwent chemo, a mastectomy and accepted her body for what it was.

She gave a breast, but she never gave an inch.

If you didn’t like her, you probably hadn’t met her. Because once you met her, you really had no choice but to like her. Mom’s personality filled every single room she entered. She loved to be around people, to talk to people and she was damned sure not going to let MS keep her from doing that.

We all — including the seventeen people who would later tell me she was their best friend — felt the impact of her personality. She was ten feet tall and bulletproof. And that was before she started drinking the tequila.

In life, she was a big, friendly giant.

In death, she was a tiny lump on a very large stretcher.

Death Makes Everything Smaller

I turned, realizing my butt had already fallen asleep in the two-seater couch, and put my arm around my sister. We leaned together, my bald head nearly bouncing off the thick head of hair framing her blotchy face.

“We. . .,” I said. “We did the right thing. Didn’t we?”

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Mom

 

Leslie, only eighteen months younger than my 46 years, had born the brunt of the last month since she lived an hour away.

She wiped at her face and leaned back, wincing.

“Of course we did,” she said. “Besides, if we hadn’t let her die, she’d have killed us both for it.”

She Meant Every Word

“I want you to know something,” Mom said. She looked up from her seat at the kitchen table. Tired couldn’t begin to describe her. Deep half-circles of purple weighed heavily under her eyes, the result of forcing herself out of bed every morning despite not sleeping the night before. “If you ever find me dead. . . If I ever commit suicide, I want you to know it had nothing to do with you or your sister. Or even your dad, the shit. I shouldn’t say things like that about him, but I— If I do commit suicide, it’ll be because I’ve just had enough of this damn disease. Nobody else. Just the MS.”

I’d nodded, leaned down to hug her briefly and asked if there was anything I could do. She smiled and waved me on my way. It was summer and the Fretz Park Pool was calling my name.

Although she’d never come out and said it so bluntly before, that wasn’t the first time Mom had brought that up to me or Leslie. Looking back, I can see she was having an especially rough summer, even on top of my dad leaving her for the first time. They would get back together after a year or so, stay together for another couple of years and finally divorce after my dad walked out yet again, this time for only one other woman. The Dallas heat and the emotional pain made it harder to deal with her MS.

Suicide was her escape hatch from a burden too heavy to bear. It wasn’t the pain that worried her. It was the helplessness.

Her greatest fear — the thing that woke her up some nights in a cold sweat — was the thought she would become so weak she’d need full-time care. So weak she’d have to be dressed, changed, wiped. If she couldn’t take care of herself, she said, then she’d take care of herself, if we knew what she meant.

We did.

What Finally Got Her In The End

Mom lived in a single-floor home in Gainesville, FL, with her two cats, both rescued from the shelter. Those cats were part of the daily test she set for herself. She fed and watered them, and changed their litter box. They gave her another reason to fight. She loved them and they loved her.

And they killed her.

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Pasteurella multocida — the bastards

 

Pasteurella multocida is a Gram-negative, nonmotile, penicillin-sensitive coccobacillus found in most domestic housecoat claws. It’s not a big deal, normally. Most folks with a healthy immune system can easily fight off the bacteria.

MS is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s own white blood cells, which fight infection, to turn on the insulating lining of nerve cells. People with MS are immune compromised. They do not have a healthy immune system.

When Mom passed out in the bathroom on Feb. 02, 2011, she fell and got stuck between the toilet and the wall. Trapped there for most of a day, she couldn’t escape or call for help. Eventually, she was found by my grandmother and her helper who were worried when they hadn’t heard from Mom all day.

They patched her bruises and cuts, gave her some fluids and helped her to bed. The next day, they forced her to go to the hospital to be examined. The doctors immediately demanded she stay overnight, to be rehydrated and, maybe, other things depending on test results.

I talked to Mom that night. Scarlett called me from the hallway where my mom rested on a stretcher, waiting for a room. Scarlett filled me in on the fall, the toilet and the hospital. My mom, true to form, hadn’t wanted to worry anyone so hadn’t told anyone.

Other than her head and neck hurting from the fall, she said, she felt fine. She didn’t sound fine. She sounded loopy. Still, I attributed that to her being dehydrated. I said I loved her. She said she loved me. We hung up.

That night, Mom fell into her first coma.

I arrived from Charlotte, NC, around two am that night. The first of many trips from here to there I would make that month.

The doctors stashed Mom in intensive care, wired her up to a Frankensteinian tangle of wires, tubes and monitors that went beep. The medical establishment offered no indication of what was causing her coma, how long it might last or if she would come out of it at all.

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In Antarctica, about a month before she died. This was the seventh of seven continents she visited.

Leslie and I agreed to testing, but stressed Mom’s desire for no heroic measures. Despite numerous tests, doctors stayed baffled. They flooded her system with powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics on the theory of “What the hell, it can’t hurt.”

Four days after Mom fell into her coma, as Leslie and I were discussing when we might have to leave, what kind of set up we could put into place, we walked into Mom’s hospital room to keep talking to her, trying to engage her and bring her back.

Instead, we opened the door and found Mom sitting up in bed, eating.

She Saw Us, Smiled And Said, “Well, Hey There!”

It was the most normal-sounding thing in the world. She sounded like she’d just woken up in her own bed and was surprised to see my sister and I just wander into her room for no apparent reason.

It was the best and most coherent she would sound for the rest of her life.

The doctors had finally figured out what was going on. Mom had meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal column. It caused swelling of the area and, left untreated, could cause death. The major symptoms of meningitis are a headache and a stiff, sore neck.

Both of which Mom had, but both of which we attributed to her fall.

The doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing her medical issues because they never thought to look for pasteurella multocida. Why would they? After all, in the history of, well, history, Mom was only the ninth person recorded to have contracted meningitis from pasteurella multocida. So they pumped her full of even more antibiotics and hoped for the best.

Hope, as a medical treatment, stinks on ice.

Mom continued to get worse and the doctors continued to push for more and more intrusive tests and support measures. They wanted a nasogastric (NG) tube to pour nutrition straight into her stomach. They wanted a tube to pump air into her lungs.

Leslie and I leaned on each other and stood firm. No heroic measures. We followed Mom’sdt_140226_dnr_form_800x600 DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and hammered right back at the doctors. They insisted. We said no. They threatened. We said no. They threatened more. We went to get the hospital ombudsman, our patient representative. Then we went over the head of the ward doctors and took our case and the ombudsman to the chief of ICU.

He wouldn’t agree. At which point, I brought out my phone and began dialing the Orlando offices of Sharon Stedman, attorney at law, to discuss our case against the hospital and the chief of ICU in particular.

The shit weasel saw the wisdom of following a previously approved, legally obtained Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. And I saw the wisdom of not phoning the attorney. Of course, I did phone the attorney as soon as I left the weasel den. After all, the attorney is my aunt, Mom’s sister, and had been demanding an update on Mom’s condition. Sharon is an attorney, though only works on appeals cases.

Eventually, though, we came to a crossroads. We wanted Mom in a rehabilitation hospital, away from the quacks who wanted to harm her in the name of helping her. Provided Mom could show she was on the mend, that she could swallow her own food, we were golden.

All we needed to get Mom into that rehab hospital was for her to swallow some Jell-O on her own. Just swallow it down. Tasty. Yummmmm.

Mom failed the swallow test. And failed again. And again.

More to come tomorrow. Until then, be good to yourselves.

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Acting A Bit Squirrelly

Acting A Bit Squirrelly

It’s the fluffy tail that fools you.

That and the way they hold their obnoxiously gained food up between their paws, grasping it with their poorly developed thumbs, and nibble at it, taking one little bite at a time but very quickly. And despite those huge teeth.

They’ve got fur, of course. That comes along with the furry tail, that does. The presence of fur makes any animal just that much more cute in human eyes.

I mean, it’s not like anyone has ever gone out of his or her way to rescue a baby stink bug, just out of its egg and about to die. I stumble across stories of the deluded amongst us caring for little orphaned babies of this species all the time.

Does no one ever stop to think that the little baby is lying on the grass, twitching and drooling, because its mama finally realized just how disgusting it is, what a horror show of it will inflict on everyone, and how life-denying it is that it continues living, and simply pushed the furless post-fetus thing out of the nest?

That’s got to be considered, doesn’t it?

Apparently? No. No it does not.

Instead, all I ever hear is about how cute squirrels are and

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YESSSSSSSS!!

what amazing little animals they are to watch.

Yes. That’s right.

I said squirrels. I told you that I had good reason to despise the horrifying rodents, even if they do have fluffy tails.

And, yes, the world would be far better off if every single mama squirrel pushed every single baby squirrel out of the nest, into the open air and laughed maniacally as it dropped, twitching, to the ground far below. Then, once that job was done, I believe, the best thing for those mama squirrels to do would be to die whilst taking out any nearby male squirrels in bloody, tooth-on-tooth, claw-on-claw, disemboweled belly to disemboweled belly combat to the painful, horrible death.

Yes. I did say every single syllable of that. And, by FSM, I meant it.

Sciurus carolinensis, the scientific name for the eastern gray squirrel, is, a blight on the civilization we’ve striven so hard to create in the city and suburb. Squirrels, just to be clear, are not cute.

At best, squirrels are pests responsible for damage to the wild and the civilized areas of the human ecosystem. At best.

The Worst? Keep Reading. You’ll See.

Here’s the thing. I am, at heart, an exceedingly green person. Not literally, of course. I believe nature is wonderful and would still be beautiful and amazing even if there were no parking lots to hold the human-driven automobiles that convey we hairless apes over long distances to observe it.

Humans surviving to hang around and see just how amazing nature really is. . . Well, that surely adds a major bonus. Without humans around to observe nature, we’d never have had such immortal poetry as “I THINK that I shall never see. A poem lovely as a tree,” by the inimitable Joyce Kilmer.

Nor would we have seen Barbara Walters skewered for almost asking, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” of American actress Katharine Hepburn. In reality, Hepburn told Walters that she would like to be a tree, to which Walters responded, “What kind of tree?” Hepburn told viewers she would like to be an oak because they are tall and strong.

resized_lizard-meme-generator-hehhe-heh-heh-heh-637354Note that Hepburn did not say she would like to be an oak because they are tall and strong and shelter many, many horrible squirrels. In her long public life, she never mentioned squirrels at all.


Which, I think we can all agree, says something powerful about the reprehensible, unspeakable nature of squirrels. Even if she doesn’t.

Weighing in at between 14 and 21 ounces as an adult (maybe a pound and a half if Andre-the-Giant-sized for a squirrel), the eastern gray squirrel packs a potent destructive power in its pint-sized body.

Squirrels? Attack!! (You Know That Is Totally What They Would Say If They Could Speak Past Those Horrible Teeth)

Everyone knows the story the squirrel in your neighbor’s attic. The ferocious rodent will find a tiny hole in a home’s exterior and quickly set up camp in whatever attic space is available. The squirrel’s nasty habit of stripping trees of their bark to use in nests is in full force in this instance.

Once set up inside your house’s attic, that squirrel will begin stripping and digging at any exposed wooden surface. He wants to collect enough scraps and bits with which to create a nest, so he can invite his stinking sweetie in to settle down and produce the next generation of rodentia terrors.

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They are watching, waiting. . . and planning.

In addition to tree bark, squirrels, like birds, will use any fluffy materials they can find to help pad the nest. Fluffy materials like. . . oh. . . maybe the insulation lining the ceiling of your home.

The stench of squirrel droppings and other biological detritus left behind by an active squirrel colony could stun a jackal at twenty-seven paces. Setting up a stinking breeding ground in your attic isn’t the invading squirrel’s worst offense. Squirrel-afflicted homeowners throughout the eastern United States and up into southern Canada must contend with squirrel-related hauntings!

Okay, fine. It’s not a real haunting, only the sound produced when squirrels run and dart across the attic, making unexplained noises any time of the day or night. Fortunately, unless they’re disturbed, the small rodents aren’t likely to be rushing around making ghost sounds at night, as that’s usually when they also are catching a few Z’s.

Not only have eastern gray squirrel populations in their home range continued increasing, Sciurus carolinensis also are spreading into the traditional range of the western gray squirrel and other squirrels on the western side of the American great plains. That is through their own mindless efforts.

Traitors In Our Midst

What’s worse is that humans, supposedly with the ability to form higher-order thoughts, have been helping the eastern gray squirrel achieve world squirrel domination.

Over the years, various people who have been suckered in by the squirrel’s supposed cuteness have managed to create enough of a population foothold that the eastern gray squirrel menace has leapt the ocean and is beginning to take over  trees throughout much of the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and parts of Europe.

Because of the eastern gray squirrel’s tendency to strip bark from trees, the species has been declared a hazard in Britain, as it has been outcompeting the indigenous red squirrel and taking over many formerly native ecological niches. In fact, the eastern gray squirrel is so destructive to property that it is ranked second only to the Norway rat in negative impact.lead_large

In fact, it’s easy to see that squirrels are softening up humans for their eventual mass attack with the rest of the vermin. See the map? It’s all about places where squirrels have damaged the national power grid. They’re planning, friends. They’re planning.

It’s easy to look at the squirrel nibbling away at an acorn and think it’s cute. But the eastern gray squirrel is a cold, hard killer. Naturalists’ surveys found that at least 10 percent of squirrel stomachs contained the remains of some sort of vertebrate animal. Squirrels have been observed stalking and attacking en-masse animals as diverse as a young chick or a silk mouse.

The squirrel is deceptively sized. When people hear that its head and body normally measure less than 12 inches, they assume it’s a cute little animal. But their great bushy tail clocks in at almost a squirrel body length, normally around 10 inches in length. It’s this bushy tail that afflicts many hairless apes with the cutes, causing humans to provide food and shelter to this natural-born killer.

Travel Destination: Western USA
Sneaky little scum, aren’t they? (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Even without the help of deluded hairless apes, squirrels are well adapted to their lives in the tree limbs. They are amongst the only mammals able to climb down a tree head facing toward the ground. They can do this thanks to their freakish ability to rotate their back ankles 180 degrees, until the hind paws are facing backward and can grip the tree bark well enough to allow it to waltz down the tree.


Sadly, this twisted arrangement of limbs, combined with its poorly developed, yet still useful, thumb, allow the eastern gray squirrel harm other, more productive, species in backyards all across the squirrel’s range. Many songbirds, Nature’s present to a grateful humanity, are imperiled by squirrels even beyond watching these furry monsters stalk and eat newly hatched chicks.

That’s Right! It Gets Worse Than Squirrels Being Carnivorous Killers!

As should we all, I’ve long been leaving out copious amounts of birdseed to attract and help songbirds. This free feeding trough allows birds to worry less about finding enough food to feed themselves and more time to concentrate on getting busy and producing another generation of the ruby-throated warbler. Or similar.


Which leads to the problem. Squirrels, not content with attacking and killing whatever smaller vertebrate that happens across their paths, also love a good seed. Or just about anything we set out for songbirds.

The thieves. Even worse, they’ll lie and cheat to keep those seeds and nuts. Squirrels are scatter hoarders. That is, they steal a lot of food that should be going to the beautiful songbirds, then bury the food in different places around their environment. If a squirrel feels it’s being watched, it will pretend to bury the food, then scurry away with it to bury it in a more secure location.

Squirrels also will hide behind vegetation or tree limbs when hiding the stolen booty. This implies an ability to think and reason beyond what you might have considered for the smallish horror.

Yes, They Know.

They know what the food they’re stealing should be going for. They know they’re taking seed from the mouths of young songbirds yet to hatch.

They know they are eating high-quality, high-cost, elite bird food purchased at great expense in a speciality store. They know and are laughing at me when they empty out a just-filled feeder in mere minutes, making fools of the supposedly squirrel-proof enclosure.

Oh, yes. They know.

IMG_8643But now, so do you.

Now you also understand the need, nay, the necessity to deny these ferocious predators any sort of foothold in our ecosystem.

So boycott any store selling “squirrel corn” as a health hazard. Carry signs identifying squirrels as the ecological disaster in waiting that they are.

Join me in the fight to eradicate the squirrel. It serves no good purpose. It isn’t cute. And it’s really starting to tick me off by eating the expensive bird food I just purchased. And they’re laughing when they do it.

Answer The Call

Not all nature is pretty. Sometimes, a nature essay is a call to action. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s a call to extinction.

This is one such call.

Squirrel joke
Good boy, Dug. Good boy.

I like dogs. I’m sure you like dogs also. And I think we can both agree that they’re pretty darn smart, dogs. Like Dug here. He’s smart. What does Dug the Dog think about squirrels?

At one time, I suppose, squirrels might have served a valid point in the ecosystem. But the rise of the hairless ape has allowed the squirrel to ride our coattails, giving the rodents a hand up they don’t deserve. It’s gone too far. It’s out of balance and tilted to the destructive side of things far too much.

It’s up to you, the no-longer-deluded, to redress that balance. It is up to you to answer the call.

Down with squirrels.

Down with squirrels.

Down with squirrels.

Stop their laughter.

A Snake In The Grass

A Snake In The Grass

I believe the phrase was something along the lines of, “AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!” Or words to that effect.

In any case, I said something completely appropriate and totally not twelve-year-old-girl-

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Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr. Bean” shaving his tongue. And I’m WAY more manly than him. I mean. . . he’s ENGLISH!

seeing-Nick-Jonas-In-Her-Living-Roomish at all. No. It was all manly. Completely manly.

In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t have to shave my tongue after that sort of verbal outburst.
My dialogue was so manly*, I thought my tongue would grow a beard? Shave my tongue? Never mind. Moving on.

Anyway, I’d like to see you remember clearly what — exactly — you said when you came suddenly nose to flicking, forked tongue with what could be (but wasn’t [not even close]) the most deadly snake in existence.

It Could Have Been Deadly, Not Merely A Common Rat Snake.

A snake, I might add, that I’d only recently discovered in the upstairs Creature Cave (the family room we ceded to the three creatures who are the spawn of our loins), thanks to a similarly manly shout from my middle son.

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The laundry basket in question does, in fact, have holes in it. Holes which enabled a snake to slither straight through. I could hardly be blamed for overlooking such tiny holes.

With the sort of alacrity and fast thinking that landed me in an Emergency Room a decade before during the incident (forever known in family lore as, “That Time Rick Was Even Dumber Than Normal. And A Snake.) that marked my last extended interaction with a snake, I’d used a six-boot bamboo pole (kept for just such an emergency), a laundry basket and a towel to snatch the snake from the carpet and transfer it outside.

What I’d not realized in my haste to save my 21-year-old son from what could be (but wasn’t [why do I have to keep repeating this? Does he think anyone really believes he was up against a seven-step viper?]) the deadliest snake in the world, was that most laundry baskets (very much including this one) come equipped with numerous holes in them.

Holes which, despite the top of the laundry basket being covered with a large towel preventing the snake from egressing that way, provide an excellent egress for a narrow snake used to wriggling through tight spaces. This must have been like a human “trying” to walk across a football endzone without going out of bounds.

And So The Story Moves Forward. Finally.

To a human such as me, (don’t say it. Don’t  say it.) it would be easy to overlook such tiny holes in the laundry basket. Not so the snake. I came nose to tongue (my nose, its tongue) with the slithering sibilant, screamed my manly scream and then acted.

Essentially, I teleported down the stairway by virtue of turning, trying to run, realizing my feet hadn’t magically transformed into rocket boots, tripping over my left shoe, stumbling forward, missing the first step and heading down out of control, and barely careening to a standstill next to the door leading to our back deck thanks to some deft maneuvering, clean living, strong muscles, and slamming chest first into a very large chair that I placed there with foresight some seven years previously.

Somehow, my son, known to many as Zippy the College Graduate Boy, arrived at the door nearly at the same time as did the snake, the laundry basket and my bruised self. Zippy the College Graduate Boy opened the door and leaned in close to the snake. Apparently, he’d gotten over his initial startle and was back to being the boy most likely to try and pet a scorpion because, “It’s cute. Look at the widdle stinger tail. Awwwwww.”

I deftly maneuvered past him (read stumbled to the left, bounced off the door jamb and out onto the deck) and set the laundry basket gently onto the deck (from a height of about four feet because I was not hanging onto that thing any longer than I had to). Once the basket stopped bouncing around, the snake calmly slithered the rest of the way free and looked around at the deck.

It then began slithering straight toward the still open door. Zippy the College Graduate Boy closed the door and used his sandal-clad feet to shoo the snake away.

No, thank you for asking, it wasn’t a heart attack. The doctors later said it was only a mild panic reaction from watching my son thrust a naked foot close to what could hav– close to a snake. (See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?) [I hate you.] My son had brought along the six-foot bamboo pole and handed it to me with the solemnity of a samurai receiving his sword.

Snake Versus Stick. . . To The Irritated

I shooed the snake away from the door. At which point, it turned around and began slithering straight toward the bird’s nest and the little birdie eggs nestled inside. Yes, my deck is a bit of a wildlife sanctuary at the moment. Momma bird built her nest in a couple of storage bins I’d not cleaned up. I thought it was cute so left the nest there.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)The snake must have sniffed the eggs and thought it was lunch time. It was not.

I kept poking and prodding at the snake and, rather than guide it gently to the side of the deck and off, managed to really tick it off. Which, of course, was when I decided to take a selfie with the snake.

Look. I just. . . There was. . . I. . .

I mean, come on! Selfies are a thing now. I had to do it. I was thinking of you, friends. I did it for you. Surely you’re buying that. No? Well, screw it. Just look at the darn selfie with snake.

Eventually, I managed to get the snake near enough the edge that it became even more ticked off, reared back and began striking at anything within reach. Fortunately, it was not longer than my bamboo stick. I continued to poke and prod until the snake darted away. . . and into the woodpile we keep outside for the fireplace.

So it is, sadly, still nearby. Still out there. But now it knows my strengths, my preferred methods of containment. It knows all this and . . . it is planning. Even worse, I’m almost positive I saw it talking to a squirrel.

You know nothing good can come of that.

 

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  • For more on men behaving manly in a manly manner, see the post coming next week on “Manly Men Doing Manly Things In A Manly Manner.” No, really.
Pop Quiz

Pop Quiz

As these things go, screaming in the high end of falsetto while babbling incoherently and getting my nose licked by what is possibly the most deadly snake in existence* seems a pretty good place to leave off our narrative.

In the writing biz, it’s what we call a cliffhanger. So called because, back in the days when entertainment was serial, writers would often get to a point where the protagonist was in an impossible situation. One where you knew — just knew — there was no escape. And then end that installment right there.

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So it’s not a cliff, but I think you get my point. Also, it’s darn cute. Right? Right? Of course it is.

If they’d done their job right (and, often, they really, really did), the viewers/readers would be desperate to know what happened next. It’s one of the better surefire tricks to bringing back an audience. Provided it’s done well.

Again, in the early days, this resulted with a protagonist or his trusty Gal Friday, or his feisty Love Interest, or his beautiful Damsel in Distress (are you sensing a pattern here?) actually hanging from an actual cliff. Or stick. See above.

Any Sort Of Delay Can Count As A Cliffhanger

When the next installment opened, the first thing to do was solve the cliffhanger and then move on with the story. Sometimes, though, the next installment would open and it would be torture because the emphasis would have shifted somewhere else, leaving people in suspense about what happened next.

That technique is called burying the lead. Of which, for those of you paying any sort of attention to these posts, you can see an example right here.

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Not QUITE what I meant, but close enough.

I do this to make an important point. Not simply because I’m an inconsiderate bastard who delights in pulling the wings of flies. I mean, I am, but that’s not why I’m doing this right here. It’s just I thought it was about time you and I touched base and talked a bit about craft.

You’ll notice that, in all the bits, pieces and full stories I’ve posted so far, there always has been at least a few moments during which you’ve at least cracked a smile. Or maybe paused for a grin. Or something.

My stories tend to have a bit of humor in them despite my best efforts. (Even pieces I’ve written about surviving a heart attack and another about watching my mother die have funny moments in them.)

I do this for a number of reasons. Many of which I will elucidate below in handy, bulleted form.

Look! I’m Using Bullets

  • To point out that, you can have the best blog post ever, but if you don’t bring in more readers, you’re going to be discouraged and quit
  • So I could use that picture of the lizard holding up the other lizard, saving his buddy from almost certain doom. I really needed to use that picture.
  • Because this is a blog supposedly about learning how to write memoirs, not only as an outlet for memoirs that I am going to write
  • And, finally, because I wanted to point out just who we’re laughing at in these last few posts.

See, we all like to laugh at someone else. When someone falls down, or gets hit in the headMel-Brooks-Quotes-1 by a ladder while their friend is turning around, that’s slapstick. That’s funny. (That’s debatable, as not everyone likes The Three Stooges) As comedian/writer/director/author Mel Brooks put it:

Yes, that man is a genius. He also explains why so many memoirs or personal essays that have comedy in them tend to be about the author and also tend to have most of the jokes being played do so at the expense of the author.

We like to laugh at someone else, but (and this is important) then we often will start to feel guilty. We’ll especially start to have bad feelings about the person who’s doing most of the pointing and laughing. To wit: the author.

However, when you’re pointing and laughing at yourself. . . Well, that gives permission to people for them to laugh at you also. And that’s good. We want people to laugh at the things we write that are funny. And, since most of my things tend to be (my attempts at being) funny, that is a good thing.

It also makes my life a lot easier because I do a lot of stupid stuff that makes people laugh at me when I tell them. Funny how that works out, yes? Different kind of funny that.

The Big Finish

So. Now that we’ve got that out of the way. . . Let’s get on with the story.

Where were we? Right. . . The sna–

Oh! I see by the big clock on the wall that we’re out of space.*!*

Until next time, friends. . . Take care of yourselves.

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*but probably isn’t.**

** Okay, it definitely isn’t. In fact, as it turns out, the snake’s not even venomous. The above sentence (way above) is an example of what some people call my marked tendency toward exaggeration.***

***By others I’m called a liar, a damn liar and a statistic. That was my only math joke.

*!* Oh, like you didn’t see this one coming from a mile away.

Examining The Snake . . . And Other Stupidities

Examining The Snake . . . And Other Stupidities

There aren’t many things that shock me any more.

I reared three sons while my wife was away working hard, stamping out diseases and delivering babies. Being boys, they got into things that are best left undiscussed. Even by people like us who make a habit of talking about things no one else will even contemplate.

Trust me. You do not want to hear the possum story. I mean, once we get to the bit where I’m reaching my hand inside just to get out the– No. Never mind. I don’t want to remember that part.

Anyway. My point is, I can take almost anything. Take it so much in stride that you’d think I was strolling naked (Is he going to keep talking about that forever?) down the promenade secure in the knowledge that the finest tailors in the land had clothed my kingly body in robes of the most astonishing quality.

thank FSM!
Not my snake, though still scary.

I don’t startle, is what I’m saying. Well, that’s not quite true. There are some things that will startle me. There are even less things that will make me straighten up, drop a laundry basket full of clean clothes onto the floor and sprint towards the back door, yelling.

Hearing my middle son, a recent college graduate, shout at me from the upstairs family room, “Holy crap, Dad! There’s a huge snake up here!” is definitely one of them.

What Happened Next. . . 

I dropped the laundry basket full of clean clothes onto the floor and sprinted towards the back door, yelling to my son, “Don’t touch it! I’ll be right there.”

If I’d been smart, I’d have kept on running down the steps, across the driveway, into my car and just driven away, secure in the knowledge that I’d have to stop sometime. Instead, I went outside, grabbed a seven-foot length of stout bamboo that I keep for just such an emergency (as far as you know it’s true) and raced upstairs to the room we so quaintly call the Creature Cave. The boys are our creatures. The room is the cave in which they congregate and destroy armies and civilizations.

Although, apparently, the sighting of a real snake was a bit much for these killers of digital zombie hordes, these destroyers of worlds. Honestly, when I went running up the steps, picking up the laundry basket as I went, I still thought my son had . . . exaggerated things. Just a tad.

“Holy carp, Zippy The Graduate Boy. There’s a huge snake up here.”

My son, perched on the seat of the couch and keeping a very sharp eye on the unmoving snake, quickly looked away from the snake and glared words at me before turning back to the reptile. The words glared at me were indecipherable, but probably went something along the lines of, “Geez, Pater. What is your damage?”

You Want A List Of The Damages?

I saw something twitch out of the corner of my eye. I saw my son levitate to the back of the couch out of the other corner of my other eye and immediately wished I had some chameleon in me because that hurt. I decided to follow the less amusing movement and turned to see the snake s-ing slowly over the carpeted floor.

Moving quickly, with the decisive firmness that already landed me several guest slots at the local Emergency Room, I lowered the lanudry basket to the floor, open end toward the snake and began poking at the slithering being, gently guiding it to the laundry basket.

It wasn’t all that hard, really. The snake seemed almost eager to be away from the gibbering young man making with the motions. I’ve a feeling the snake was equally as eager to get away from the slower-moving hairless ape with the long stick that kept poking at it.

This, I thought, was not going to be a problem. Certainly not like the last time I’d mixed it up with a snake of unknown provenance. My stick wobbled a bit when my body shuddered at the memory. The black snake paused and flicked its forked tongue into the air, perhaps tasting the memory of fear sliming from my pores.

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Hairless ape with long bamboo stick and towel

I shook my head, clearing room for more rational thoughts, banishing the memory of that snake, the one that caused such a ruckus and led to me claiming a spot in a Charlotte emergency room in the midst of all the shouting and whatnot.

 

Of course, this was different. It had to be different. I’d learned a thing or two since the last snake. This time I’d thought ahead. I’d brought my laundry basket. My long bamboo pole and my towel. That last bit was the most important.

A Towel Is A Massively Useful Thing To Have Whilst Hitchhiking…And Snake Wrangling

As soon as the snake was inside the laundry basket, I gently tilted it upright and covered the opening with the towel. Problem solved. Snake on the inside, me on the outside and not a single fang in sight.

Turning back to my son, I motioned him to come down off the ceiling and, yes, off the back of the couch. I moved toward the door and the stairs, which ended just before the door to the outside and the back yard.

“Come on, son,” I said. “Let’s let this confused beast loose and back into its natural habitat. Maybe we’ll get really lucky and it’ll grow big and strong and drive the local squirrel population to extinction.”*

“But, Dad. . .”

“Come along, son,” I said. “It’s perfectly safe. I’ve got the snake in the laundry basket and a towel over the top. What could go wrong?”

Yes.

I really said those words out loud. You’d think being a media-savvy consumer of pop culture media, I’d have known better. I did not.

“But what if the snake slithers out of one of the many, many holes in the mesh laundry basket?”

I kept moving down the stairs, my brain mulling over his last sentence. Something about that was ringing a distant bell. Something about plastic laundry baskets and holes and suchlike. I admit it. He had me puzzled.

Straightening my arms, I lifted the towel-covered laundry basket up higher and found the snake staring at me, the tip of his forked tongue flickering millimeters from the end of my nose.

Oh.

Those holes

I opened my mouth to make a cogent comment on the inadvisability of attempting to move snakes of unknown etiology in a laundry basket constructed like a giant plastic sieve, but what came out was, “glub? Glarm? BlaaaaaaaaAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!”

Next: Instantaneous Translation Fail

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Squirrel joke

 

*I have a justifiable hatred of all things squirrly. There is a reason for this. They all should be destroyed as painfully as possible.

Examining The Selfie

Examining The Selfie

No one ever sets out to take a bad selfie.*

Which isn’t to say that there are not a metaphorical crap ton of bad selfies clogging the tubes of the Internutz out there. Because there most certainly are. A lot. Of bad — really bad — selfies.

Think about that a minute. People don’t want to look bad. They will take a bad selfie, though. Usually it’s not because they mean to take a bad selfie, only that. . . Well. . . Stuff happens. And it’s usually stinky.

The strange thing is, rather than discretely dispose of a bad selfie, lots of folks will publish it on the Intranutz for everyone to look at.

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Yes, that is a snake and *sigh* yes that is my head within easy striking distance.

Even stranger? If you google something like bad selfie and great selfie, you’ll find plenty of the same pics on both lists.

Sometimes, the difference between a good selfie and a bad selfie is all in the perspective. If you’re the person in the selfie, it’s horrifying. If you’re someone else seeing the selfie from far away in space and time, it’s fantastic.

I suppose at this point, some of you are wondering why a blog dedicated to personal storytelling and memoiring is going on and on about selfies. If you’re not, you should be. Go on. Say you are. You are, aren’t you?

Yes, I thought so.

I’m going on and on about selfies because what is a memoir but a written example of the selfie. It’s a snapshot of a time in your life, taken by you and then shown to others. Excepting the fact that you’re not using a camera, it’s exactly the same thing.

Sort of.

In a way.

Approximately.

In a manner of– I think you get the point.

Getting To The Point

And, like a selfie, there’s something important to understand about getting metaphorically naked (See? Told you it was a metaphor.) in front of the mirror and then telling everyone who’ll listen about what you see.

Personal's not the same as important. People just think it is. -- Sir Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

Just because it happens to you, that doesn’t mean it will be important or interesting to anyone else. It’s up to you to not only make that decision, but also make sure that when you trot out your prose version of a selfie, it’s something that people will want to read.

The best way to do that is to make sure that what you write isn’t focused only on the naked parts of yourself you’re exposing to the world, but also shows why other people should be interested in what you’re saying.

Take a look at the selfie I took of me yesterday. There is, as you might expect, a story that goes along with that picture. It’s a sad story, full of head shakes and wonders about how I could have made it to my current age, much less have been able to successfully breed and rear three children.

In The Beginning. . . 

The story starts with my middle son — a recent college graduate — going upstairs and then shrieking, followed by a lot of cursing. None of which really made me look up from my work.

I told you. . . I reared three children — three boys — so I’ve heard a lot of shrieking and cursing and large thumps and loud bangs in the last decade plus. There’s not much that really bothers me any more.

“Holy crap, Dad! There’s a huge snake up here!” is definitely one of those things that will bother me.

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The snake: In Happier Times
Examine Yourself In The Mirror

Examine Yourself In The Mirror

I’m almost positive I meant that whole getting used to being naked in public thing as a metaphor, but. . . Oh, well. Guess I’ll know better next time. Or at least remember what I was talking about from one post to the next.

So. Where were we?

Ah, right.

Getting Naked In Public

I don’t mean that I actually want you to get naked in public. (Ah-HA! It was a metaphor. I knew it.) What I meant was that, if you’re going to become adept at memoiring your life, you’re going to have to get used to the idea that you’ll be talking about parts of your life — often some of the darkest or most embarrassing — that most sane people would do almost anything to keep secret.

You, on the other hand, are going to go looking for just such an incident, peering back into the depths of your mind and look yourself straight in the eye, take that embarrassing incident, huff on it a bit, 347c684c2ca94889ae1e324dda03a12bpolish it with your sleeve and then start showing it to anyone who will stop long enough to read. Those lucky readers will get to learn all about the time when you were six and you tried to tiptoe into your parents’ bedroom on Christmas Eve and accidentally saw the (to you) lifesize T-Rex skeleton you wanted more than anything else in the world glowing in the dark, especially the teeth with the glowy thing. And you screamed and screamed until your parents woke up, came to calm you down and say all the right things. But then kept laughing at you about it for the next forty-five years.*

And, in some cases, it’s going to involve sex. I’m sure (engaging sarcasm filters) none of you have ever had an embarrassing incident revolving around sex or love or unrequited love (disengaging sarcasm filter), but there could be some amongst your friends who might relate.

Makes You Want To Hide In A Tiny Space

Those things that make most people want to curl up and hide until the heat death of the universe just in case someone actually knew what you did last summer? You’re going to be digging around in the dustier bits of your brain, searching for those exact things so you can use them as the basis for a good memoir.

This is what I mean by getting used to being naked in public. Nothing to do with clothing at all.

Did you know that being naked in public is one of the most pervasive fears amongst American adults? (It’s not No. 1. Snakes are No. 1 for some reason.) However, being naked in public is a profound fear of most American adults. I think this is because being naked removes any sort of protection between you and the world.Judging

The world can see you for exactly who you are. It can see your flaws and it can see your imperfections and it’s judging you. Or at least you think it is.

There is a difference, though, between nude and naked. At least there is in my own personal dictionary. Nude means you have no clothing on. There’s nothing salacious about it, nothing provocative. (As an example, dig into Discovery Channel’s misnamed Naked and Afraid “reality” show. It should be Nude and Afraid, but I’m guessing naked sounds better.) You simply are nude.

Naked, on the other hand, means that you are wearing no clothes and you might as well be transparent for all the good it does you to try and hide your secrets. Your personality and your thoughts all are on display for anyone who wants to look. If you’re like most people, you’ll do just about anything to avoid being naked if you can help it.

The Right Attitude

The difference is all in the attitude. If you’re going to be nude, you simply have to believe it’s no big deal. You might have something you want to show the world, something similar to what they have but different enough that it might make for a good story. Naked is being featured on an hour-long TMZ special and finding out the sleazebags have seeded your bathroom and bedroom with hidden cameras.

file_101560_0_Baby_MirrorWe didn’t start out afraid to be naked, you know. How many of you have ever had the joyous experience of trying to chase down a gleefully naked child sprinting for anywhere but where their clothing is? If you’ve been near a child, you’ve also been near a naked child. That’s just the way it is.

As we grow up, though, we begin to accumulate secrets. . . We begin to notice we’re different from other people and, because we’re human, assume that means we’re worse off than everyone else. . . We begin to wonder what’s wrong with us. . . And we begin to make a conscious effort to never let anyone (except under very special circumstances) see us naked and certainly not with the overhead lights on.

Wishing I Were A Nicer Person

At this point, a nicer person would suggest that he only is resized_depression-meme-generator-still-battling-depression-from-looking-at-self-naked-in-mirror-cdc88esuggesting you get metaphorically nude to begin your excursion into memoir. I  am not that nicer person.

If you want to succeed as a memoirist, you’re going to need to get naked. And what’s more, you’re going to need a spotlight pointed right at the dodgier bits of yourself. And you’re going to do it without feeling badly about yourself or even getting (eyes right) depressed over the whole thing.

Until next time, friends, when we’ll be discussing just what the heck I’ve been babbling about for the previous near-thousand words and what it has to do with writing. Promise.

And that’s the naked truth. (Come on, did you really think I’d be able to make it through this sort of post and not make that kind of pun?)

 

*While this is an oddly specific example of an embarrassing incident, the management would like to assure you it was completely made up and does not represent the real experiences of any actual person living, dead, or witting at a typewriter right this minute.

Fight Or Flight

When I was six, I believed a man could fly. I believed I was that man.

Standing on that windowsill in my hospital room, looking out over the grassy areas far down below, I surveyed the wide world before me and wondered how hard it would be to find my house from the air. Not that hard, I reasoned.

After all, I was Batman. And Batman could fly.

Childlike Wonder

While my grasp on physics remained lamentably weak, it was inspiration from Batman batman_v_superman_logo_minimalist_by_movies_of_yalli-d9izsg9and his pal Superman that powered me onto that windowsill. I get the feeling there won’t be much of that sort of inspiration in too many young children after the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This movie features a world that hates Superman and an angry Batman who vows to bring down the horrible alien powerhouse. I don’t see a lot of hope there, nor anything to inspire a child to believe he could fly.

That day, I was as certain of the simple, indisputable fact that Batman could fly as I was that Santa Claus needed my help. I leaned forward, over the sidewalk four floors below, and prepared to fly.

Dimly heard screaming and thumping exploded behind me, but I wasn’t worried. I’d been hearing stuff like that ever since I’d come into the hospital with fever and inflamed tonsils.

When Nurses Go Wild

The nurse rampaged across the room, slammed into the railing beside me at exactly the same instant she wrapped her beefy left arm around my waist and pulled my six-year-old self back inside the hospital room.

She threw herself away from the balcony, landing hard on her back. I bounced off her ample stomach and rolled across the floor. I quickly tangled in the Batman cape my grandmother had made for me. I glared at the nurse, angry she’d stopped me. Now who would help Santa?

Not me. The nurse made sure of that when she tossed me into the bed and raised those stupid rails on the sides.

“Stay,” she growled, her finger pointing shakily at me. She closed and locked the window and drug away the chair I’d used to climb into the window. Tired, I closed my eyes to the serenade of the nurse screaming at my parents.

I stretched out on the mattress, smiling. So close. I’d get it next time.

Learning To Fly

I never did learn to fly, but that was not for lack of thought and wishing. Not as much leaping out open fourth-floor windows, so my parents were happy about it. I was a true believer. Comic books were to showcase everything I wanted to be.There was nothing I wanted more than to be a super hero. I settled for reading about them.

These four-color wonders stoked a fire deep inside me, reminding me that heroes did the right thing and acted heroic. More importantly, I learned anybody could become a hero. Surviving my stint in the hospital with those oh-so-tempting launch windows wasn’t easy, but I finally was convinced by my mother that it was Superman who could fly, not Batman. She showed me comic books that proved it. If it was in the comic, then it had to be true.

At times, it felt like I was the only one in the world to even come close to thinking that. When I grew up, we didn’t have fan communities or ways to talk to anyone that didn’t include a string and two cups. Or possibly dinosaur mail. That didn’t really matter, though, because what was inside the covers of each comic book was worth having to live in the boring real world. Comics, then, made a huge impact on how I lived my life. I grew up certain the subterranean Mole People would invade any day now and wondering why I never developed spider powers despite getting, like, twenty bites.

Superman jumperComic book stories aren’t only about violence. Often times, they play out across the page as modern morality tales. They weren’t always the most complex of moral codes, but they were codes that I, as a young kid, could understand and emulate. For years now, my wife has said that even though I’m not religious in the slightest, I’m the most ethical and moral person she’s ever met. I smile humbly, shuffle my feet a bit and demur about taking all the credit.

Doing the right thing is a bit easier when Superman rides around in your head, personality almost fully formed from decades of reading about him. I know his fictional self so well,  he acts as my own conscience. I’m quite glad he’s no top-hat-wearing cricket. Though I can’t say the outside-underwear thing is all that appealing.

Generation Inspiration

The idea this fictional Superman represents used to be so amazingly powerful, it inspired entire generations, even if they didn’t know it. I mean, think about the inspiration to be good when you read about a being who could do anything and chose only to do good. Simply because it’s the right thing to do.

When written well, Superman is capable not only of the most amazing feats of strength, but feats of emotional power. This powerful man is there to help, but not to lead. He is there to offer assistance, but not to take over. In many ways, the way I think of Superman as an individual is the way I wish the United States could be on an international level. 

Heck, he’s so amazing, even killer robots from deepest space bent on world conquest admire Superman.the-iron-giant-superman

It’s not easy to live up to that example. The thing is, Superman is about the trying. So many of the parts of myself I consider to be essential and essentially good I can trace back to lessons from comic books. The never-quit attitude of Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man drove me back to graduate school. Acceptance of those different from me comes from the X-Men. Always looking for the truth comes from Batman. Capt. America taught me it’s okay to be corny when you believe in something.

I worry, though, that the folks behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might have learned the wrong lessons from these once-inspirational heroes.

especially-not-supermanIn the movie, the people of Earth are afraid of Superman (after the damage and deaths from the Man of Steel film, all of which can be traced directly back to Superman’s presence on Earth) and he ends up fighting against Batman. I understand that, to many, the idea of a Superman hated by the world is more realistic. I wonder, though. . . Do they realize they’re complaining about realism in a movie about a man who can fly, another man who dresses up as a bat, a super-powered woman who comes from an advanced, hidden civilization, a cyborg and a human living under water?

I understand that emotional realism is what allows us to accept these fantastical elements in the movie world. I only think it’s possible to achieve emotional realism with a main character who actually inspires hope rather than fear. The problem is, I don’t think the writer and director behind this new slate of  movies based on DC Comics characters really understand that. Even glossing over the idea that a man who famously does not kill, ends the first movie killing someone, these men don’t get it.

tusetjwiwzzwoqtvo7nsWhen everyone on Earth would have been demonstrably better off had baby Kal El explosively decompressed somewhere beyond the orbit of Neptune, I think the filmmakers substantially misinterpreted their main character. I and many others left the theater after the Man of Steel movie depressed and tired. I ask myself if I really want to get my hopes up and then have them dashed by an overly violent and cynical movie. I really don’t think the answer is yes.

superman_by_d_kaneIf given a choice, which would I rather have? Leave a movie theater depressed, cynical and ready to hide while the world becomes worse and worse? Or leave the theater uplifted, grateful and wanting to make the world better?

I know which one I would choose.

But, then, I believed a man could fly.

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