Showing posts with label Childhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Childhood. Show all posts

07 May 2018

My Mojo


Guest starring Steve Hockensmith
Steve Hockensmith is the author of more than a dozen mystery novels. Trust me, them hard-case crime writers ain’t so tough. Today, Steve will touch your heart. Grab a hanky. You’ve been warned.
— Velma

Monkey Shines

I wish this were my job description: Make stuff up, write it down. That’s what I enjoy about being a writer. But if you’re trying to get somewhere with your writing — having people actually read it, for instance — there’s a bit more to it than that.

gato de botas
That’s why I’m (sporadically) on social media and (even more sporadically) blog. Every post is a wee little flag fluttering in the breeze. It’s got writing on it, “Don’t tread on me”-style:

Look at me,” it says. “I’m alive.

And instead of a drawing of a coiled, bad-ass snake, it’s got this cat wearing a T-shirt that says ➜

Ask me about my mystery fiction.

I’m never really sure what I should be posting about, but in general I try to follow these rules:
  1. Keep it fun,
  2. keep it positive (which I think I’ve already broken)
  3. and keep it real… but not too real (see A and B).
I guess the secret (D) — or maybe it’s another sub-clause to (C) — is “Keep it impersonal.” I don’t like to write about my private life because (switching to numbers to avoid confusion)
  1. It’s private, duh, and
  2. who cares?
But I set that rule aside recently because… well, I couldn’t help myself. I was feeling something and I had to share it. So I started writing a tweet which grew into a message on Facebook which grew into a blog post. And now it’s grown into a guest blog post, because here it is again.



Guyzos — Three Amigos
Guyzos — The Three Amigos
Someone broke the passenger-side window out of my car and stole the shoulder bag I take to work every day. I guess they thought it would have a laptop in it. No such luck for the thieves. And no luck for my family. Because you know what was in that bag? Two monkeys and an owl. Bobo, Lou from the Zoo and Barney the Barn Owl, to be specific.

Every day for the last year or so, my son Mojo picked out three of his “guyzos” (his huge posse of stuffed animals) for me to take to work. During the day, I’d send him pictures of the guys helping me do my job. The makeup of the group changed every day except for one constant: Bobo. Bobo always came with me. Because Bobo was special.

Mojo is autistic. There were times a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get him to communicate or cooperate or control himself. And you know who he almost always listened to? Bobo. Bobo could calm him down. Bobo could get him to listen. Bobo could get him to talk about himself and what he was feeling.

Bobo probably would have offended my Italian friends. He-a sounded like-a theese-a. You know: He had a “Whatsa matta for you?” old school faux-Italian accent. Why? Because it’s a silly accent I can do, and a long time ago it became my job to give the guyzos distinct voices and personalities. (It’s not easy. In fact, there are several guyzos with the same voice. Baby and His Brother Baby, for instance, and they sound a lot like Ted the Christmas Bear who sounds almost exactly like Big Ears the Rabbit.)

Bobo was an upbeat, can-do dude. “Let's-a try it, my friend!” he’d say. Or “You can-a do it, my friend!” (He called everyone “my friend.”) And “I love-a you, my friend.” And Mojo would say, “I love you, Bobo.”

Bobo shared Mojo’s distaste for shows of affection, though. “No lovey-doveys!” they liked to shout when things got too icky-sentimental. So I’ll honor Bobo’s preferences and wrap this up.

My wife and I were in a restaurant celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary when Bobo was stolen. When we came out and realized what had happened, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the bag and the guyzos, hoping the thieves would dump everything when they realized they hadn’t snatched anything of value. To them.

We were in tears. Not over an old, stained, to be honest slightly stinky stuffed monkey. The tears were for what Bobo represented. What he gave us. A narrow window into our son’s mind and heart.

That window is wider now. Mojo’s doing fine. He listens and communicates and (usually, in his unique way) cooperates. This morning, when my wife and I told him what had happened to the guyzos, he said, “Oh, no… oh, no.” His lips trembled, and tears came to his eyes. And then, after we talked about it a little longer — about how special Bobo was and how much we would miss him — he said, “Oh, well.” And he was ready to watch his Saturday morning cartoons.

Bobo
He’s still hurt, I can tell. But at this very moment he’s watching Bugs Bunny and eating a doughnut. He acknowledged his pain, and then he moved on. What we all have to do all the time. Mojo can do it, too. I couldn’t always say that.

A stuffed monkey helped that happen. He’s gone now, but the window he opened remains.

Thanks, Bobo. And goodbye.

Yeah, you smelled. But I love you, my friend…



I got more likes, shares, hits and supportive comments from that post than from anything I’ve done on social media in a long, long time. (It also caught the attention of Leigh Lundin, who asked me if SleuthSayers could showcase it.) But the takeaway isn’t “Ruthlessly exploit your child’s pain.” (At least I hope it’s not.)

I broke my own rules. I didn’t worry about being fun. I didn’t worry about keeping it positive. I didn’t worry about getting too personal. Bobo deserved a tribute, so I wrote one.

Look at him. He was alive (to us, anyway).

That touched people. And many of them responded in a way that touched me. Will that help me sell more mystery fiction? No, and I don’t care.

For me, it’s a reminder that writing (and, yes, that includes blogging and tweeting) can be its own reward. Which is something we writers — particularly we genre writers worried about finding an audience — might occasionally forget.

Steve blogs (sporadically) at SteveHockensmith.com

26 May 2016

A Question of Identity


by Eve Fisher

Amalfi Coast, © Wikimedia Commons
With any luck, by the time you read this, I'll be on vacation with my husband, taking a Mediterranean Cruise. I love cruises: I find it infinitely relaxing to unpack once, and then do pretty much whatever I want to do for the duration. I love the Mediterranean: the food, the scenery, the history, the artwork. I love vacations: it gives me time to think, the long-houred, idle thinking (sometimes drifting, sometimes racing) that I don't often have time for at home. This is the kind of thinking /dreaming / drifting that came with childhood and is one of the main reasons for nostalgia about childhood. Time. An idea. A thought. A question. And you're off…

And currently, I've been thinking about a lot of things: identity, mortality, friendship, relationships, because of the death of one of our very best friends, Frank Senger. He was only 61. A wonderfully talented actor, who appeared in (among other things) The Professional, Maximum Risk, a number of Law & Orders and Oz. He also wrote and performed poetry and performance art pieces. He was the best man at our wedding, 37 years ago, my husband's best friend, and my best improv partner ever.

Frank Senger
Frank Senger
Allan and I and Frank and his wife, Theresa (a wonderful visual artist), hung out well together: we talked constantly, vacationed, cooked and ate extremely well, hiked, laughed, watched movies and TV shows, went to art exhibits and performance pieces, and anything else that struck our fancy. Frank was a great friend, a great listener, a great person. His death was sudden, tragic, comic, and pure Frank: he was teaching an acting class, doing a death scene, in which he fell down... and did not get up... (A friend of mine heard that and said, "he'll haunt that theater forever - in a nice way", and she's probably right.) He suffered a massive coronary. We still can't believe that he's really gone.

Deaths are hard. Every time you lose someone important to you, you lose not only the person you were, but the person you were with that person. And the person they were with you... For example, whenever we all got together, sooner or later Frank and I would go into improv: Bad Kabuki Theater, Bad Greek Theater, Hillbilly Hamlet, and many, many others. I could be absolutely fearless with Frank, because no matter what I said, he'd catch it, play with it, tie a bow in it, and throw it back. I can't imagine anyone else triggering the Eve who did that fearless improv at PS1 in NYC. We'd gone to see an installation piece that was pure crap, so Frank and I started doing Bad Greek Theater, with Frank orating a mixture of artistic / political / social satire and gobbledegook while I was his Greek chorus, waving my arms while chanting, among other things: "Orestes! You've lost your testes!"

Allan... well, to Allan, Frank was his best friend and his brother. And Theresa... it's unimaginable what she's going through.

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
C.S. Lewis
By Source, Fair use,
https://en.wikipedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=7049156
Friendship is a great mystery, and only deepens the great mystery of identity. None of us will ever be again who we were with Frank, because that special chemistry only existed when we were with him. Not only do we not live in a vacuum, but we (literally, in all conjugations) ARE not in a vacuum. Who we are is dependent, in large part, on who's around us, and changes accordingly. C. S. Lewis explained it on The Four Loves:

"Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then E loses not only A but "A's part in C," while C loses not only A but "A's part in B." In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald." (p. 96)

And less of myself as well, because I'm also not large enough to call MY whole person into activity. Contrary to egomania and other common disorders, I want and need other lights than my own to show all my facets as well. I believe that's part of the reason that people, as they grow older and their contemporaries die, retreat into memory. To recapture not only their friends and family, but themselves. Because half of what we talk about with family and friends is the past, the things we did together. We reiterate, play back the past over and over again to make sure that not only we remember, but the next generation learns it as well, so that they can remember, too.

That's why we have things like history, diaries, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and Icelandic Sagas. If you can't pass down the memories one way, pass them down another. Because when there's no one who remembers but you... well, that gets tough. And strange. I know. My parents have been dead for 16 years, my grandparents for over 30 years. I have no other living relatives. So I have no one to reminisce with about my childhood, not to mention the stories they told me about their lives, and other relatives' lives. Thank God for writing…

Back to friendship: Lewis also wrote, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." (And God knows, as Emily St. John Mandel said in Station Eleven, "Survival is insufficient.") But I disagree with Lewis: Friendship IS necessary. It DOES have survival value. Art, philosophy, music, friends, lovers, family - everything that touches us, mentally / emotionally / spiritually, goes into making us who we are. To lose any of that is to lose a part of ourselves. To change ourselves. To gain any of it is to enhance ourselves.


“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.
John Donne is always right on the money.

R.I.P., Frank Senger, and all the people I have loved, now no longer.

Back in a week. Love to all.

30 October 2012

All Hallow's Eve


by David Dean
Before we begin I have a very important announcement: We here at SleuthSayers love our readers, so we are going to offer a special treat. We authors are going to give away copies of our books (or similar goodies), one a month, starting now, and continuing until we run out of gifts or readers. This month's prize will be a paperback edition of my book, "The Thirteenth Child", signed by yours truly. All you have to do is email us at Velma(at)secretary(dot)net by midnight, November 3. The winner will be selected at random. Please put the word "Contest" in the subject line. Best of luck...and now back to our regularly scheduled blog.


Halloween has always been one of my favorite days on the calendar. It falls during one of the most beautiful times of the year, involves costumes, the chance of being frightened (and hopefully nothing more), running around at night, and at the end, actual rewards--candy! What's not to like? Of course, some of those enticements are more meaningful when you're a kid, but I guess the spooky charm of it all has never lost its appeal to me--or my wife, for that matter.

When I was a boy growing up in Georgia, I thought it was the next best thing to Christmas. During that long-ago time and in that far-away place, we kids were allowed to pretty much roam at will for blocks in every direction during the daylight hours. It was generally understood that grown-ups would keep an eye on you wherever you went, and certainly report to your parents any code-of-conduct violations they observed. At least this was what we believed and trusted in at the time. But even with this almost unfettered freedom, we seldom ventured beyond our own neighborhood. I think we had a "Beyond this be dragons," philosophy as children. Halloween night, however, all this changed, if only for a few brief hours.


Donning masks, that today would be laughably simple and unfrightening, we gathered into packs with our friends, snatched paper grocery sacks, or old pillow cases, from our moms' hands, and tore off into the darkness--even if it fell on a school night! Besides being a genuinely scary sensation, this roaming through the night, it was also a race with consequences. Every other kid in the known world was trying to get the last of the candy at the next house along your way! An intolerable possibility! When we would begin our scavenging, porch lights winked like a vast constellation across the city, but within a scant few hours, those same lights began to vanish, one by one, returning the world to its previous drab and unmagical state--they had run out of candy. Intolerable, indeed.

This inevitable consequence would force us to race from house-to-house, and eventually to leave our neighborhood for parts unknown. There was no need to discuss our direction of travel, as only one direction made true sense--east. To go west was to cross Hamilton Road and venture into a vast shanty town of mill-workers and their very tough kids. As these same kids were running roughshod over our own neighborhood, their sheer numbers and determination an unstoppable force, Gothic in both number and consequence--we flew east ahead of them. A neighborhood called "Winchester" was our bountiful target. I think they viewed us kids from "Lester's Meadows" in the same fearful light we did the trolls from "Bealwood"--Beal as in Beelzebub. But no matter, we were swift and artful, and returned to our homes laden with booty!

Dumping all the goodies onto the floor we would sort through the takings, setting aside treats that did not suit our particular palate. Then, using these as barter, we would engage in furious trading sessions--you would have thought we were young Wall Street brokers--hard-nosed and keenly avaricious. It was a great night!

This was all vastly different from the true origins of All Hallows, or its earlier incarnation of Samhain. Samhain was an observance by the ancient Celts of Gaul and Britain commemorating the loss of the sun with the coming winter and celebrating its eventual return in the spring. Perhaps because of that descending darkness, this was also the night that the dead returned to walk among the living. Encounters with the dead were not generally considered a good thing, as it could signify that your own time amongst the living was at an end. As if this was not a frightening enough situation, the Celtic priests (Druids as they were called), made this a night of human sacrifice, piling prisoners-of war, criminals, and other undesirables, into a wicker framework designed to resemble a giant man, and setting them ablaze. By the light of this titanic, and gruesome, torch, everyone feasted and danced the night away. I often suspected the kids from Bealwood had similar plans for me and my friends. Even Julius Caesar, not known as a squeamish man, was affronted by this practice, which apparently he witnessed during his invasion of Britain in 54 BC. In a righteous fury he had thousands put to the sword--much better; more civilized certainly. When one pines for "the good old days" one should be specific...and careful.

With the coming of Christianity, and the adoption of the cross by various Irish, Scottish, and British (not to be confused with English) kings, things began to change--but not quickly. Old habits die hard as they say, and the Celtic belief that Halloween was a night when the spirits of the dead walked amongst the living, just would not die a natural death. Not wishing to alienate these new Christians, the Holy Roman Church did something smart--they just co-opted the occasion. Making the day after Samhain a church feast (Holy Day) to celebrate the unknown saints--All Saints (as opposed to a specific saint), the evening prior became All Hallows Eve, or in the vernacular of the day, Hallow e'en.

"It Is Dawn; We Go"
It only took a millennium or so, for the terror of Samhain to be tamed into the costumed trick-or-treating we know today. Treats were often left to propitiate wandering spirits, as well as ancient gods and monsters, and certainly my friends and I were often labeled little monsters even when out of costume. Failure to play by the appropriate rules would lead to tricks being practiced on the un-believers. A just arrangement, in my opinion. Costumes of demons and ghosts incorporated some of the darker elements of the earlier pagan practice; being also useful in avoiding identification as regards the aforementioned tricks, and therefore practical, as well.

So, from dark and bloody beginnings, children now cavort through the evening in the service of their sweet-tooth, their costumes giving them a sense of anonymity, and therefore, freedom, even as their parents trail mere paces behind ( a concession to a different, and once again, darker time). The night is filled with laughter, and not screams, or at least not ones as fearful as Caesar must have heard issuing from within the wicker man. The dark side is held at bay, even on the eve of its commemoration, and I, for one, am not sorry. Happy Halloween!