Friday, November 30, 2018

Breaking News

Been away from here a long time, as usual. Our smoky summer is long gone and winter has started with a couple of snowfalls that have since melted. Temperatures hovering at freezing so far, but real cold is coming, the weather folks say.

April and I set to leave for our 14th winter stay in Mexico December 29th, my 84th birthday, though she's been hobbling around with rheumatoid arthritis lately. She's had a touch of it for years, but it's gotten especially bad since this spring. Been trying to beat it holistically, but she ready to try conventional medicine finally.

Me, I've had a bad back and stiff knees since our encounter with a big Pacific wave on the way in a water taxi to Yelapa two years ago. Both of us suffered spinal compression fractures that day, or have I mentioned this already?

My novel is out to several publishers (three, or is four, rejections so far), and I think of putting together a couple collections of my stories, probably to be self-published before I quit the game. Perhaps I will have to self-publish my novel too, eventually. So be it.

Meanwhile, I read every day or evening. Just finished Don DeLillo's Zero K. Before that (my introduction to him) read Mao II. DeLillo's pretty dark and deep, rather difficult but brilliant. He looks at what's happening in the world around him and mulls on it in his fiction. Not for everybody, I guess, but he makes you think.

Otherwise I'm reading Paulette Jiles, a marvelous writer my wife and I used to know when she lived in our area up here in Canada. She now lives, and writes about, Texas, particularly about mid-19th-century Texas and the conflict between white settlers and Native Americans, notably the Comanche and Kiowa, who raided white settlements and captured those they didn't kill. In The News of the World and The Color of Lightning Jiles manages to be empathetic to both sides, and recreates, in a wonderfully readable style, a lot of what that conflict must have been like. What's especially interesting is her take on the experience of white captives among Native Americans. That many after rescue, particularly those taken as children, preferred to stay with their captives, and suffered from being torn from them, is documented in such books as The Captured, by Scott Zesch, a book I have and have read, as Jiles no doubt has too.

Check her out online. There's a very good interview with from the Texas Monthly, and her blog, despite her disparagement of it, is always interesting.

That's all the news from here, as I root for Trump's fall and all his minions and all he stands for in my native country.

    

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Unfinished Novel

Looking for a new project this morning, I dug through my files and pulled out the yellowed typescript of the first draft of a novel I started in Mexico almost fifty years ago and never finished.

Inspired by Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn it was to tell, in the first person, the story of a runaway farm boy. I called it The Adventures of Carl Miller. On the upper left corner of the title page is a notation telling me where and when I began the novel: Oaxaca, 12 January 1970. At the bottom of the page is the notation of when I stopped working on it: Halted 13 February 1970. That was because, after producing just short of a hundred pages in a month, I stalled. I stalled after writing a hundred pages of my first two attempts at a novel as well. Eventually, with my memoir, Leaving the Farm, I learned patience, perseverance, and trust. I learned to keep at it until you complete a first draft, a form, however rough and unrealized, you can then begin to cut and expand and shape into a second draft, and a third, into as many drafts as it takes to finally "finish" the thing. Of course it's never finished. Only, if you're lucky, it's accepted by a publisher and you go into a final process with an editor.

Anyway, I exhumed this old attempt this morning with the idea of maybe taking it up again, of perhaps making of it a novel for juveniles. The writing isn't bad, actually, and I have nothing else on my plate at the moment. What's more, to write a novel of youth, for youths, kind of appeals to this old man.
  .

Saturday, July 21, 2018

News Junkie

Virtually the first thing I do every morning is turn on the TV and click to MSNBC, then CNN, switching back and forth between the two. Then I turn on the radio and listen to Democracy Now! or, since I'm hooked on images, I fire up my computer to watch it online. Finally, having received my morning dose of Trump's latest outrage, the only news worth reporting, it seems, by the US networks these days (Democracy Now! always covers some of what else is happening in the world), I turn at last to my writing.

Later I'll hear or watch the news on the CBC and maybe the BBC, but as a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and though I've been living in Canada now for more years than I lived in the United States -- and though I definitely feel something of a foreigner in the States now -- in my deepest self, I remain an American.

I was born in Minneapolis and raised on a family farm in south-central Minnesota, and the lakes and marshes, the woods and fields in that part of the state around the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, (though mostly given now to "hobby" farms, to wooded "estates"), remain the country of my heart.

Still, I'm no patriot, though I served a hitch in the US Navy in the last half of the 1950s. In the fall of 1970 my wife and I moved to Canada, specifically to the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, as American "refugees," as back-to-the-land dissidents. We became official landed immigrants in June 1971, and Canadian citizens in 1976. Our politics haven't changed. and in fact mine have become more radical. So I'm perhaps a little more interested in the news from south of our border than the average Canadian. In fact, I'm downright obsessed with it.

My practical wife, on the other hand, finds the TV news too upsetting to watch. She'll switch to the Weather Channel when my back is turned, which is more interesting to her than the news, not to say less depressing. She's a gardener, after all, lives happily in the here and now, and likes to know what she can expect from nature in the next day or so.  

Truth to tell, I'm getting rather tired myself of hearing about Trump to the exclusion of most other news. But he's the outlandish head of the most powerful (though possibly declining) nation in the world, and the dangerous, perhaps demented embodiment of all that's going down in the States right now, and I mean down. Something's gotta give, and that's some hope in what appears to be the worst of times in America's history -- and the world's.

Let me count the ways. His administration's Mexican border policy: treating Latin American refugees like criminals, separating innocent children from their parents, confining them in internment camps in a criminal return to the treatment of Japanese-Americans (and Japanese-Canadians; Canada was complicit) during World War II. Trump's dismissal of climate change, his pulling the US out of the Paris Accord. His and his hand-picked cabinet's intended dismantlement of progressive government programs in the interest of privatization, of profit. His and his ultra-rightwing enablers' apparent dream of a kind of Eden for the super rich, for the winners in this corporate world. Forget the rest of humankind. They're life's losers.

There's a lot of outrage now, a lot of protest, a lot of recognition of what's happening. Therein lies some hope, I tell myself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The View From 100


My father-in-law, George Luchtan, will be a hundred years old tomorrow. My wife and I have been looking after him this past month in Detroit, and I've wondered what it must be like for him at his very advanced old age.

I think of a book by the literary historian Malcolm Cowley, written when he was in his 80s, called The View From 80. In it Cowley quoted a fellow octogenarian as saying, "I feel like a young man who has something the matter with him." I'm 83 myself now, and can relate. My father-in-law, on the other hand, at age 100, has a lot the matter with him, and I doubt he feels like a young man anymore.

Still, he's amazingly alert, though physically and mentally, of course, not the man he once was. He was a fixer, a problem solver, as a young radio repairman in Yakima, Washington, and later as a Ford general foreman in the company's River Rouge plant in metropolitan Detroit. But he isn't able to fix much anymore.

Yet he still reads, mostly technical stuff, stuff he's read before and now comes to as if for the first time. Watches closed-captioned television (factory work damaged his hearing early on, and he's all but deaf now). Still likes the challenge of puzzles, but he seldom figures them out anymore, even those he invented.

He lives now one day at a time, as don't we all, really. When you ask him how he is in the morning, he replies, I'm alive."   

Sleep, I think, is his great pleasure now. He's asleep more than he's awake these days, having dreams (sometimes what he calls nightmares). He sometimes talks in his sleep. He sometimes confuses a particularly vivid dream with reality.

And he doesn't get around much anymore. Except for trips to see his doctor, or whenever we can get out to a restaurant meal, he's confined to the house. Doesn't get much exercise other than the walk from his bedroom to his chair in front of the television, or into a back room where he sits and watches the birds in his back yard. We throw bird seed on the ground to attract the birds.

So how much "quality" does my father-in-law have left in his life? Enough, it seems. He soldiers on. Still sings snatches of old songs, recites poems he memorized as a young man and still remembers. Still notices things, still laughs at some of them. Tells stories out his past, stories of personal triumphs, of problems solved.

He's looked forward to his 100th birthday. There'll be some 20 well-wishers in his house tomorrow, relatives mostly, some old friends who happen still to be alive. It'll be an exciting, tiring day for him, and he'll perhaps be unable to sleep tomorrow night and instead sleep all the next day.

What's next for him, besides the inevitable? We all hope it'll be a return to his house in the Florida Keys, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma last September, from which he and his youngest daughter Kathleen, his chief caregiver, had to evacuate, and where she's been this month seeing to the repair of the place. There on Long Key he can sit out on his veranda above a canal, in Florida's warm sun, and watch the birds and the boats going by. Long may he still live. Happy Birthday, George.

Postscript, May 15, 2018. George Luchtan, my father-in-law, passed away today, just two weeks after his 100th birthday. After achieving his goal of reaching 100, he seemed to let go. The evidence is he had a "small" heart attack either just before or just after his birthday; his heart, near the end, was barely functioning. He died at home, in a room from which he could watch the birds in his back yard feeding on the seed his youngest daughter threw on the ground to attract them. Before he lapsed into his final sleep, he said, "I didn't know it would take this long to die." He had a good long life. Rest in peace, George, as I add this picture of you with your daughter, April, my wife of 53 years, on your birthday.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Waiting for Spring

We're in Detroit, looking after my wife's aged father (soon to turn 100) and waiting for spring. Today is dark and rainy here. Earlier the rain was creating icicles. The weather is crazy, everywhere on the planet, and the evidence is of climate change caused by global warming (that the arctic is warming is most alarming). Yet there are people -- self-serving most of them -- who are climate change deniers.

These are crazy times, and knowing that history itself is more or less a record of crazy times holds little comfort. Still, we beat on, though this planet, our one and only home in the universe, seems sick and we've doubtless had something, probably a lot, to do with it.

We flew here on Easter Sunday from Puerto Vallarta, leaving warm weather and our winter home in Yelapa behind (actually, it had just started to warm up around the Bay of Banderas after an abnormally cool season) but expecting to enjoy, as April unfolded, the start of spring in Detroit. Instead, we've been suffering an extended winter.

It's still cold and snowy in southeast British Columbia, where we live, and yesterday there was a "spring" blizzard blowing around Minneapolis, where my sister lives.

We fly for home on the 27th of this month, the day after my father-in-law's birthday. Maybe it'll be spring by then. 



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Semana Santa in Yelapa

It's Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week here. It's also the start of our last week in Yelapa this year. I say "this year" because our hope, our intention, is always to return next year. God willing. If we should live so long.

I'm sitting at my laptop on the front balcony of Casa Emilio at the start of another beautiful day here. I'm surrounded by jungle. Below, mostly obscured by the trees, is the central village, and beyond, across Yelapa's cove, is the main beach. There's a spinytail iguana -- the locals call them garobos -- in a tree in front of me. We have a resident population of these black lizards, some of which, the males, I think, sport streaks of scarlet on their bodies. They live under our roof tiles, come down the steep little stairway from the flat rooftop above our guest room (where we sunbathe, hang our wash to dry) to waddle past me at my computer, cross the balcony, slip between the wooden bars of the railing, and crawl out into the sun on our landlord's tiled roof to warm their cold reptilian blood before hopping into a tree to eat some leaves.  They grow quite tame as they get used to us each year, often stopping within a foot or so of your foot to look up and cock their heads as if waiting for you to say something. I often do say something, like "How you doin', buddy?" or "Aren't you looking ugly today?"

Actually, they're kind of cute, and lately they've been chasing each other around in a reptilian mating dance.

We have other visitors on occasion. One night I was awakened by what sounded like crockery being moved around on the front balcony outside our bedroom. Got up, shined my light through the bars of our open window, heard a scurrying. Cranked open the door to the balcony and pointed my light across the balcony to see the back end of a raccoon and the face of another, its eyes reflecting my light back to me from between the bars of the railing. I had to charge out at it to get it to scramble across the roof tiles and jump into a tree.

Then just yesterday my wife April, while sweeping our bedroom floor, pulled our empty luggage bags away from the wall, where they'd been stored since January, and there was the curled-up length of a snake. She yelled. Norma, our landlady, at her lavadero just below us, came up, grabbed our broom and clapped it down on the snake as it tried to crawl away. I came down from our front balcony, Norma handed me the broom, and I managed to sweep the snake outside of the bedroom, onto our back (kitchen) balcony, and down the stone steps of our entrance.

This was the second snake we've had to eject from our house, the first found in our bathroom about three weeks ago. That one I prodded from where it was curled behind the toilet into the shower stall, where it escaped through one of the two holes in the concrete wall where the water pipes come through. Both were long and skinny, dark and speckled. We have a field guide to the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals of western Mexico, but I'm not sure it shows the kind of snake we've seen. Norma calls them house snakes, which tells us something. In any case, they're harmless, she says, and they're probably good for ridding the house of other creepy-crawlies.

Oops! My wife says I must stop now. She wants us to go down to the village for the Palm Sunday procession. The church bell has been tolling.

P.S. We missed it. Took too long writing this post. Next year!
  

    




Saturday, February 10, 2018

Old Guy Writes First Novel

Odd weather here on the Bay of Banderas lately, overcast, misty, even a little rainy accompanied by lightening and thunder. But definitely warmer than it was when we arrived in Yelapa at the end of December. Then we had cool days and downright chilly nights through much of January. We feel the humidity now, if not always see the sun. The leaves are falling. Spring is coming.

Sent off a revised and largely rewritten draft of my novel to the editor I've hired for a professional critique. I've actually had two editors look at it, and both more or less liked what I'd done on my own while offering much-needed and much-appreciated suggestions. Dammit, I'm determined to find a trade publisher for the thing but, at last resort, will publish it myself just to be done with it.

I call it Waiting for the Revolution. It's set at the beginning of the 1970s in a back-to-the-land commune in British Columbia. The characters are mostly American "refugees" of the period. The title, apart from the idea of a cultural and political revolution, I hope suggests the longing for some all-inclusive change for the better, something like a "final solution" to the human condition. In that sense, the title can be taken as ironic. 

It's basically a love story, a story of relationships, my main characters a man and wife who break up, tentatively rejoin in the free-love atmosphere of a sixties-era commune, and finally struggle to make it together as a couple. The struggle won't end, I want the reader to infer. Life itself is a struggle. The human condition goes on.

Gees, I see the last two paragraphs above as something like the dust jacket copy for my novel. Should I wind up self-publishing, I might use it.