Pet Cemetery

Photo on 2-28-17 at 4.14 PM #4Sunday was a hard day. I was cleaning out my old apartment–something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time–but instead of feeling a sense of joy and new impending adventure, I was mourning my wonderful cat, Vincent.

He died about two weeks ago. So I’m leaving the last place he was alive before I’ve had a chance to fully process his loss. And while I loved all my pets, Vinny was the one who felt like a part of my sense of self. Lynn and Vin, a friend used to say. How could it not be?

I know I did everything I could for him. And I know I did more than most people do for their pets. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not here. And he’s not coming back.

We had a good last three days. He was feeling better from intravenous fluids. The night he got back from his last hospital visit, I slept on the floor next to him and he put his head on my heart and he stayed that way, cuddled into my side, for most of the night.

I was hoping to have another week or two with him. But the next day he started sneezing, then coughing. By nightfall, it was clear he was having difficulty breathing. During end-stage kidney disease, you can have too much fluid in your lungs and drown. I knew I had to make the call.

His last morning, he showed me his belly as best he could, looking for a little more love and comfort. And then it was done.

I wrote him an obituary (posted below) in the days leading up to his death. It feels a little silly, but Vinny wasn’t your usual cat. I wanted people to understand that. And I needed to say goodbye.

 

Photo 150

Albuquerque—This is a young Vincent, my beautiful cat-kid, (aka Vinny, Vinny van Gogh, Mister, Vinster, Small Fry, Buddy, and, most recently, Mouse). He died October 14, 2019. He was about 16. All loved pets leave an indelible mark on our lives, but, if we’re lucky, there’s that one who nestles into your heartspace with astounding ferocity. For me, that was Vincent.

Vincent came into my life while I was living in Brooklyn. He was six years old and very sick. His previous owner, a person remembered only as Evil Esther, had neglected him. I took over his care, but eventually every single tooth had to be pulled due to prior malnutrition. Once he started to recover, his lionhearted love became clear to everyone. Soon people began asking me if he was up for adoption. He wasn’t. He moved with me to Wisconsin where he lived five mostly healthy years and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.

Vinny loved people and hated to be alone. When he moved to Albuquerque, he fought off his first of many pancreatitis bouts, surprising vets with his recovery time and time again, though his quality of life was never quite the same. Throughout it all, he befriended everyone he met. We often took walks around the apartment complex without a leash where he enjoyed saying hello to passersby. Vinny was never afraid to make a new friend. He introduced me to dozens of neighbors over the years, many I ended up knowing by name, a few quite well. He was briefly dubbed mayor of the complex until poor health forced him to resign. Some of his amazing abilities were even mentioned anonymously in an article in The Morning News: https://themorningnews.org/article/the-last-dying-cat

His favorite food was chicken lunchmeat, and he used to pace in front of the stove impatiently whenever someone was roasting a bird. When he was still young, he loved to race with me down the hall to get into bed. During his final hospitalization, the vet tech told me he had been hugging everyone who held him—as was his way. A prior vet tech used to draw hearts on his bandages and tell me, “Only for him.”

Vincent’s medical bills have been … well, you might imagine. Then imagine some more. But if a cat can be grateful, I think he was. He was loved by so many, and I would adopt him again in a heartbeat. I love you, Vinny. Please come with me in my heart wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

Procrastinating and Getting Ahead with the Query Letter

morpho1
The blue butterfly–a symbol of transformation and wonder, a key theme in my book.

I’m about a third of the way through the second draft of my novel, (which I’ve always imagined with a cover of a blue butterfly), but I’m hoping to have a solid query letter BEFORE I finish the book.  I remember how exhausted I was from the writing process after completing my very first book–and how little tolerance I had for writing the requisite queries and synopses. Maybe by completing the letter early, I’ll actually properly query the dang book, which is my third attempt at a full-length manuscript and my second novel. (I gave up after about twelve queries on my previous books for a variety of reasons best left in the sand.)

Anyway, the query letter. I feel like publishing it, though I’ll definitely get feedback before I send it out, and I suspect it will change often in the months to come. It’s an urge I’m going to honor because it feels like a victory just to be this far along in the process.

So here she be:

Dear Agent X:

I’m sending my query for WONDER GONE MISSING, a novel complete at 96,000 words. (Yes, I’ll add personal agent stuff here.)

In the desert city of Albuquerque, cult expert and underemployed philosophy professor Sandrine Novak, is haunted by her brother’s recent suicide and a spate of gruesome murders of homeless people. But when a friend and mentor, Alonso Alonso, offers her a job at the New Mexico Library of Wonder, she feels like she’s getting a second chance.

Full of strange and curious objects, the library is a dream endeavor. But then Alonso goes missing, and she learns both he and her brother were entangled in a cult devoted to the feminine divine. As she searches for her lost friend, she must reexamine all that she knows about her family’s own history in order to uncover the costly secrets both her brother and Alonso were trying to keep. Along the way, she encounters a socially awkward perfumer, a chain-smoking librarian, and a non-believing Buddhist nun.

Part detective story, part tale of a grieving sister, the story looks at the wonder and meaning of everyday life. WONDER GONE MISSING is suffused with mystery, the grim realities of modern existence, and prophetic visions of what it means to truly live without fear.

Eh?

Probably going to change some things. I need to find comps, and I’m thinking now I might want to focus on a murder that happens midway. Then again, maybe not.

I’ll keep playing with the letter. And working on the book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mirage at the End of the Road

I’m at about 73,000 words on WONDER GONE MISSING–my desert novel of wonder, grief, and cults–and somewhere, oh somewhere ahead, is the ending. It’s like those mirages you see on the highway in the summer heat: The closer I get, the farther away it seems.

mirage dali

The thing is: I WANT this ending. I’m craving it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling the next day after you’ve completed a first full draft on a long project. Hell, it’s pretty good after a short one too.

But that ending, like all perfect endings, is an illusion.

Dali, perhaps, would agree. He created his own Mirage in the desert in 1946. When I look at the piece, I see all our hopes and desires somewhere in that elusive forever. Dali’s take on the piece is that it’s a metaphor about love. Venus (the woman) is reaching for the flower on Apollo’s head to symbolize the mirage of perfect love. What’s incredible to me is that this image was created for a company called Bryan Hosiery.

It’s an ad!

Hey, Matilda, what’s that hosiery Dali liked?

Bryan Hosiery.


Right, right. Gotta buy some after I get off work. My stockings have a run.

I think the piece is pretty spectacular. But it’s also not really well known/appreciated because it was created for money–as if money tainted it somehow. Funny how people like to apply this idea whenever it suits. Most works of art find their way into our lives BECAUSE someone paid for it. (The Last Supper paid for Da Vinci’s real supper, y’all). And what’s more: we usually we don’t appreciate the art we get for free either. Your great-uncle’s ice fishing stories he wrote one summer on a whim because he thought writing was a breeze, come to mind.

But at any rate. It’s a good thing to remember. Perfection kills the process. Perfect is the unreal. It’s the mirage we keep searching for. But, in the end, there’s only travel and pushing forward.

Drive on through the mirage, my lovelies.

The Words Just Words

I wanted to read and couldn’t. I picked up three different books today, read a few pages, and then tossed them aside grumble-y. I can’t concentrate when I’m worried. And I’m worried.

So I ran some errands, exercised, and then picked up my original book and … yup, put it aside.

I hate it when I want to read and can’t. What do you do when this happens to you? The mind a scattering of nothing and everything? The words just words?

 

 

The Year of the Overdue Library Book–What I Read in 2018

I ended up returning a lot of books to the library unread this year, which always makes me rueful as the digital scanner checks them back in with that cheery ding.

Honestly, it wasn’t a good year, period. I lost my low-paying job, I got another low-paying job, I ended up sick for more than a month over the summer, then the cat got sick, then again, then again. I also had a plethora of 8 a.m. classes, which doesn’t lend itself to a reading and writing life. One of my goals for 2019 is to get my financial life under control (which was my hope in 2018, so you see the futility). But waking up at 3 a.m. worrying about bills is not how I want to live.Pat on Back

So perhaps given the year I had, I should consider it “job well-done” that I read 44 books so far in 2018. I’ll probably end up with 45 or 46, depending. And when I look over my list at Goodreads I feel a rather full sense of kinship with many of the books that I read. So good work, Lynn (See Fig. 1).

Without further ado, my top five books of 2018 in reverse order:

5. Tie: THERE THERE by Tommy Orange and THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller.

Dog StarsOkay, so I’m already starting off with a technicality. But no one was more surprised than me to realize that I was still thinking of Peter Heller’s THE DOG STARS at the end of the year. A former MFAer recommended it to me, noting my penchant for apocalyptic scenarios. I love them. Oh, yes, yes I do.

Still, when I read the book, I didn’t think it had much of an impact on me. Fast forward to now, and I’m surprised at how fond I am of this story and its characters: Hig and Jasper and the stars and the way this world ends, our world. Also I haven’t cried so hard while reading in, frankly, at least a decade. Maybe more. The book is likely to have a bit of a niche audience–there’s lyrical prose that might drive some people batty, and if you’re tired of end-of-the-world reads, this one is going to exhaust you. But overall I recommend it. There are books that you know have made their mark on you when you turn the last page and then books that sorta build on you long after. For a myriad of reasons, THE DOG STARS was the latter for me.

THERE THERE by Tommy OrangeThere There

So much has already been said about this book that I hardly feel the need to add much more. (See here for a review on The Guardian. Or read here for an excerpt from The New Yorker.) The book, in some ways, is more like a collection of shorts than a novel, but don’t let that stop you. Read it for the fabulous character building. If you’re a writer, you’ll be jealous from the first page.

4. CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata

I loved this book. It’s quirky. It’s original. And it’s ODD, in a beautifully satisfying way. Our heroine, Keiko Furakura, is thirty six years old and still working at a Japanese convenience store, long after family and friends believe the job appropriate. She’s under enormous pressure to get a better job and a husband. You end up falling in love with Furakura as she attempts to live life on her own terms. Hopefully, the book’s success will lead to more Murata translations in the future.

Plus, I really want to visit a Japanese convenience store now.

Days of Abandonment3. THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT by Elena Ferrante

Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels (all four–weighing in at a hefty 1,700 pages) get a lot of attention these days, especially now that there is a new HBO series called “My Brilliant Friend” opening her work to new audiences. But her earlier novel, THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT, has all the Ferrante genius you crave, in a much shorter package.

Ostensibly, the book is about a woman unraveling after the end of her marriage, but when you reach the final pages, and the character begins to re-evaluate her life–what it means to be with and without someone–the book takes on even greater meaning. The ending itself? Perhaps perhaps a little too tidy, but no matter. The pages do themselves justice:

“The whole future—I thought—will be that way, life lives together with the damp odor of the land of the dead, attention with inattention, passionate leaps of the heart along with abrupt losses of meaning. But it won’t be worse than the past.”The Wall

2. THE WALL by Marlen Haushofer

I came across this book after Debbie Urbanski, a writer whose work I’ve admired for a while now, tweeted about it. I fell deeply, hopelessly under Haushofer’s written spell. Published in 1999, the book is another apocalyptic scenario. An unnamed main character is the last woman on Earth after she wakes to find everyone gone one morning. A wall has descended on the world, killing everyone in some kind of freak accident. (Think Stephen King’s UNDER THE DOME and you’ll understand the plot.) The woman is middle aged, average. There are no fancy heroine maneuvers. Just an attempt at life after the impossible occurs. What greater metaphor for living could you find?

Voices from Chernobyl1. VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL by Svetlana Alexievich

I remember when Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature; I couldn’t believe a nonfiction book had won. Foolish me. Alexievich, if she hadn’t been such a damn fine journalist, should have been a poet. This book reads like poetry, and you find yourself marveling again and again at the horrifying realities of modern life. I learned so much about Chernobyl, and as a writer, this book made me want to write like nothing else I read this year. You’ll be horrified. You’ll be furious. You’ll be inspired.

 

Honorable mentions: The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Hurrera, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal (everyone’s read that, right?), Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash–I still can’t get that damn kid’s voice out of my head.

How to Rebuild a Life: Making Goals

At 41, I’m unemployed, feeling single*, and feeling stuck. These are things I’m not really all that happy to admit.**

When I moved to Albuquerque to get my MFA at the University of New Mexico in 2013, I had a lot of hopes for a new beginning. Years before, I had moved home to Wisconsin for what I thought was a short stay after living on the East Coast for about seven years. I’d been feeling tired and homesick so thought I would rest up at my mom’s house and leave in a few months. But it turned out, I was sick. A brief rest turned into weeks on the couch where I actually couldn’t get up. I was pretty miserable and because I had quit my job, I didn’t have health insurance. I would eventually discover I had a common autoimmune disease, but the discovery didn’t mean I could suddenly fling myself off the couch and back into my life. It took a while. I’d been sick for a long time and the body needs time to heal. (Plus, I went through all of my savings for travel.) And, in the meantime, my plans for love and life just went on hold.

Fast forward to today: I’ve completed an MFA and another book, but I’m still not doing the things I want to do. The book went nowhere and sometimes getting the MFA feels like the worst mistake I ever made. I ended up teaching as an adjunct after graduation and if you’ve followed the news at all lately, you’ll know adjuncts don’t make a great deal of money. There are perks though, like a flexible work schedule, and you’re essentially your own boss, which, I’ve come to realize, is important to me. But the job, even before I was cut from the program this fall, was not enough. As an adjunct, you generally teach the classes that require the most: The most grading, the most interaction, the most time. It can be extremely rewarding work, and so many of my students have been seriously awesome people, but after teaching the same classes for a while now, I feel less motivated, less intellectually challenged. It’s time for a change.

So while it feels trite to say this, I’m making goals in 2019. (Ugh. Even I’m rolling my eyes at that. I gave up New Year’s Resolutions years ago with the idea that we should be living each day with intention. But I think this year I need to roll out ye ol’ goals.) And while much of this is inner-focused work, I don’t want this to be a selfish trip. I’ve been making a list of things that matter to me and some of those things include–hey, get this–OTHER people AND the environment.

Too often, when women embark on self-healing, or journeys of discovery, we get pushed into corners that focus on romantic love. But what if the good life really is about learning just to love … the world? To wit, I’m reading bell hooks’ book All About Love: New Visions. It’s rather enjoyable, in spite of the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with a fair amount of it. What I do agree with: That American capitalistic endeavors are based on lovelessness and that to love people is to resist, to be radical.

Socrates and Xanthippe
Socrates & his wife Xanthippe: While Socrates is known for his dogged examination of what living a good life means, that apparently did not include a good relationship with his wife. Cautionary note for all ye philosophizers.

In order to begin this journey of the good life, I plan to read more nonfiction in 2019. I’ve always loved the idea of the polymath, someone who has a wide range of knowledge, and books are good place to start.

I need to make decisions about how I want to live. And while there’s a part of me that wonders if this is even possible–read about Determinism or, here, watch a “CrashCourse” on it and never feel fully in control again–I know I have to try.

Resolution #1 for 2019: Read more nonfiction books.

Let’s aim for at least twenty books, shall we? I’d like to make it more, but with job searching, my regular fiction reading habits, and the like, I don’t know how high I can go. Plus, this is seventeen more than my 2018 totals.

 

 

*You probably noticed, if anyone is still reading this, that I said: Feeling single. Most of my life has been one of singledom, happily. But this last year, I’ve been feeling alone. There’s a huge difference. Solitude allows me the room to think, to breathe. Loneliness is smothering. I’ve been a pretty independent person all of my life; I never really wanted marriage or kids. But I did think at some point I would find a partner. Someone to travel with. Someone to mull books over. Someone to laugh with. I did not find this person. And I miss this person, whoever they were supposed to be.

**Being a single woman at 41, people are quick to make judgements about my life. Admit you’d like to meet someone and all of the sudden you’re smacked with the label “desperate.” I’m not. If I don’t end up meeting someone, I will be more than content with my life. Perhaps even more so if I don’t. Who knows?

 

 

The Huntress

Homesick for Another WorldI’m reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories “Homesick for Another World.” While I had some trouble settling into the stories in the beginning, I’m glad I stumbled across the book at my library. I love it when women write dark, troubled, non-sexy characters–and this book? Yeah. It fits that build.

And then some.

“Homesick” is not a rewarding read in the traditional sense where a story is finished and the reader feels a sense of accomplishment, of closure. Nope. If anything Moshfegh’s strength is leaving you more unsettled, more worried than before. She really is a great writer–even if she is a tough writer to love because her characters are so tough to love.

(Incidentally, I happen to agree with Roxane Gay’s review of this book on Goodreads–the way fat characters are described gets to be too much. Sadistic. Phobic. I also thought the story “Mr. Wu” was problematic.)

I came across this passage, however, in the story “The Surrogate.” And it stopped me as all good passages that touch on our lives in intimate ways do.

“Gigi said, ‘Don’t worry about finding a husband. When the woman is the hunter, she can only see the weak men. All strong men disappear. So you don’t need to hunt, Stephanie Reilly. You can live on a higher level. Just float around and you will find someone. That is how I found Lao Ting. It was as if there were a spotlight on him and he walked on air about two feet off the ground. I saw him from a mile away.'”

Well, I’m here to say, no, Stephanie Reilly, that is terrible advice, as my current single life can attest.

I’m pretty sure I have been floating around for a long time now. Hoping things just somehow work out.

Which is why when a friend of mine suggested that I start dating like a *man in 2019, I thought, yeah, this is good advice. I need to hunt. I need to seek what I want. We all do. Because floating ain’t getting me anything but dark clouds.

Photograph-of-Vivien-Leigh- 1207732_hr
Sure, she’s a fairy, but she looks pretty certain of what she wants.

It’s not that I don’t know that feeling of meeting someone that Gigi describes. That slow-frame pause on a moment. I can still remember the feel of my first love’s handshake when we met. The way he held on, the papery warmth of his palm, his strength, his closeness, his scent. Everything stopped. Everything focused in on him. He didn’t want to let go of me, he told me later.

But first loves are first loves. Most pass. And believe me when I say this: Thank God for that. There have been other moments since then. But none for a long time.

So, Gigi, I’m going hunting.

 

 

*I recognize the stereotype, but if you’ve spent ANY time with online dating, then you will see the stereotype still mostly rings true. Men do a lot of messaging to usually younger women.