Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holy Days



Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Erratic Meanderings and Moody Operandi

Have been sleeping quite erratically lately and thus loosing my opportunities to get online. In fact have been doing almost everything erratically. My attention span is a lot like my cats’, alternating between snoozing, staring at the TV (on or off) or the wall or being hypnotized by the screensaver soon followed by the blinking blue standby light on the front of my laptop, eating, grooming… of course there are things I do that my cats can’t like read, write, watch DVDs, play computer games, laundry, walk to the library…

And it isn’t that I haven’t been writing. It’s just that most of what I have been writing isn’t fit for anyone’s eyes but mine--if even that. I would no more post it than I would try to pass off my own vomit as soup to unsuspecting guests. Why would I want to inflict the dyspepsia of the nauseous contents of my mind on anyone else? It’s bad enough to watch it splash onto the screen each day as I regurgitate the minutia of my thoughts and doings into my daily journal.

Some of my recent writing is not so noxious but it is still not yet fit for public consumption. Like my continued work on Brooding Instinct, the novel I worked on for NaNoWriMo. Though it is now on simmer, instead of full boil as during the month of November, it is still cooking. And on some days it is the most appetizing thing going in my life.

Then there is the work on a couple dozen book reviews that are in various stages of production. When life-altering events overtook me last July, a lot of my projects got set aside and I am trying to reconnect with them. But it is nigh to impossible to write book reviews for books one read months previously without having access to the book! I guess I need to send for them again but that means giving time, energy, space and attention to books I finished months ago when there are sooo many more waiting their turn to be finished or started.

And I have continued to finish books at the rate of three to five per week since I got back from Longview and start them even faster than that. Last week, I finally finished Faulkner’s Light in August. It was the fourth copy of the book I had in my possession. The first copy came bundled in the same tome as his novel, As I Lay Dying, which I ordered from the library in June and read in July after finishing, The Sound and the Fury. But no sooner had I started it, the book came due and with it being one of the summer Oprah Book Club selections, it was on hold so I had to get back on the waiting list for one of the other half dozen or so copies in the system. I was amazed when one came thru for me in late August but I was far from done when it was coming due the third week of September. I was all set to set aside everything else that week to finish it when word came that my Dad’s liver was failing and I had to leave for Longview, Washington. Then after my Dad’s funeral, my sister checked a copy out for me from the Longview library but the novelty of my new laptop and the availability of the internet for ten to twelve hours per day commandeered my reading time (not to mention my sleeping time) so I had just passed the halfway point in mid November when I learned that my ride back to Phoenix would be leaving in six days. There was little time for reading that last week. I picked up the fourth copy of the novel on the shelf of the Phoenix branch of our Southern Oregon Library System on November 20th. But I did not make good progress with it until about a week after returning from Gerber, California where I attended my Aunt’s funeral on December 3rd. Since finishing it, I started reading a collection of critical essays about it and have discovered that I have forgotten more than I remembered about the plot and missed much of the significance of many of the elements of the story. A novel was never meant to be read in bits and snatches over half a year’s time! Novels are meant to be dove into and immersed in until the last word. I believe I need to start it over if I am to do Faulkner’s intent justice. As I relate this, I have flashes of having written versions of part or all of this before. Don’t know if it was for a blog post or my journal and if the former whether it was posted. I have begun many a post for Joystory that I never finish or for some reason choose not to post. If you have heard this all before I apologize for inflicting it on you again. But I guess it is as good as anything to serve as a review of the ‘life altering events’ I referred to above.

When I started that last paragraph I was intending to list a half dozen or so of the books that I started and/or finished in the last month or so. But I guess I will save that for another post now.

Can you tell I’m not in the Holiday Spirit? But that too is another post.


Friday, December 09, 2005

A Cauldron of Complex Emotions Simmering on the Embers of Regret

(updated June 2006 for minor edits and an attempt to add photos that didn't work. does Blogger not allow you to add photos to old posts?)

The longer I put off posting, the harder it gets. But the harder I try to write something relevant, the harder it gets. I was interrupted in the middle of a short post announcing a brief hiatus last Friday morning, December 2nd. But I never expected that hiatus to last a full week. The whirlwind trip to Gerber, California for my aunt’s funeral was over by 7:30 Saturday evening. I was sufficiently caught up on my rest by Sunday afternoon that I was already composing a post about it that I hoped to post that night. I’m still tied to the graveyard shift for online access. I was tentatively titling the post: I Hope the Rule of Three Is Inoperative This Time, referring to that saying that bad news comes in threes, because I could not bear to face the concept of another death in the family, another funeral in such a brief span of time. My Dad’s Funeral was held October 3rd in Longview, Washington and my Mom’s twin sister’s was held in Gerber December 3rd. Enough already. We need a break. My Mom especially. I was quite worried for her last Saturday. Her sadness seemed significantly intensified and she exuded a weariness and a frailty I had not seen in the entire two months I spent with her after Dad’s funeral. I have never seen my mother as frail before. That was never a word I would have put in the same sentence as her name. Never. It was disturbing on levels I was barely able to contemplate.

But these were the things I was contemplating as I attempted to compose a post for Joystory last Sunday afternoon. I was also sorting through all the emotions involved in having just seen, greeted and briefly visited with dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles and others who and played significant roles in my childhood and most of whom I had not seen for ten to twenty years.

All of this was entangled with the bindweed of emotions associated with having been raised in a tight-knit fundamentalist sect which seemed like one, very large extended family and then having that ‘family’ implode under doctrinal disputes during the decade of my twenties when a handful of Teaching Brethren--as they styled themselves--began to excommunicate one another. It was the ultimate: You’re either with me or against God ultimatum and excommunication meant that all social interaction of any kind with the offender--from attending Bible Meeting functions to sharing meals--was forbidden; and not just with the offending Brother but with his wife and children as well. After over fifty years of discouraging marriage outside the sect, families were related by blood and marriage every which way times three. By which I mean, there were often multiple links of blood and marriage tying any one family to another.

The Gerber Bible Meeting was the one my mother was raised in and where the double wedding with her twin was held. Her twin’s husband came down on a different side of the doctrinal dispute than did my Dad. Need I say more? I don’t even want to characterize their ‘sides’ as right or wrong or any other adjective like liberal or rigid etc. But I will say that it was not my Dad who discouraged fellowship between the sister’s and cousins for nearly a decade. But my Uncle did soften his stance recently. Maybe it was his wife’s bout with the cancer that helped him put his priorities into perspective. But he brought her to our family retreat in Bend, Oregon last August, the weekend of the two couple’s fiftieth anniversary. And he complied with her request to have her funeral held at the Gerber Meeting Hall. So this funeral--unlike my Dad’s which had not been held in the Longview Bible Chapel as it had been sold in 98--had much the same ambience of the old Bible Conferences held several times per year at Gerber or Red Bluff or Portland or Eugene or Boise….
Though most of the tiny town of Gerber looked very much the same as it did when I was young forty years ago--and Mom says it hasn’t changed all that much in seventy years--and I could recognize almost every other building on the street the Meet Hall stood, I did not recognize the building itself as I had never seen it before. When I was there for my Mother’s eldest brother’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 96, the lot was empty as some months before, on the eve of Thanksgiving Bible Conference, an arsonist had burned it to the ground. Inside though there were a number of familiar items for when the Longview Assembly disbanded and sold their property in 98, they sent much of their furnishing, including the piano and the pews, to Gerber. Those pews, simple hardwood benches throughout my childhood, had been built by one of my uncles and upholstered by another uncle after they had survived the arson of the Longview Chapel in the eighties.

After the graveside service in Tehama, we all returned to the Gerber Hall for a meal. Again, so much like the Bible Conferences back in the day. Or the Pot-Luck Sunday’s every Assembly held once a month. The meal and the visiting--AKA fellowship--was still going strong when the ride my sister and I depended on to return north--Phoenix for me and Longview for her--needed to the hit the road so as to get over the Siskiyou Pass before dropping temperatures made the roads risky. We left at four-thirty and I was back in Phoenix by seven-thirty. Since I awoke at ten that morning, I had spoken to more people than I had in the entire previous year. And I am including the day of my Dad’s funeral. The memories of the day combined with the memories of the past in a swirl stirred into a cauldron of complex emotions simmering on the embers of grief and regret. All of this on very little sleep since the previous Tuesday when my Mom called with the news of her twin’s passing.

That phone call came in the final hours of the NaNoWriMo challenge. Does this seem like a non sequiter? Well, adding to that cauldron mentioned above was the two months I spent in Longview. I think I mentioned in one of the posts I made during that time, how out of place I felt, how like an alien in the midst of my own family. And in the week following my Dad’s funeral, I had a series of dreams which were all set on the property of the Longview Bible Chapel. These dreams had inspired me to use the NaNoWriMo challenge to attempt to work through those intense feelings by setting my story within the culture in which I was raised. The culture of the Assemblies. This was a first for me. And it was emotionally excruciating. I spent the entire month of November actively imagining the characters and events of my novel, Brooding Instinct, evolving in the remembered settings of the various Meeting Halls I had encountered throughout my childhood, their floor plans and the landscape around them. Longview’s primarily but also Gerber’s among several others. Thus, this visit to Gerber held the quality of a dream for me and by Sunday evening the memories of it and those stimulated by it were already starting to bleed into the dream which was, Brooding Instinct, informing and enlarging and intensifying it.

I was anxious to get back to working on Brooding Instinct. Even though the NaNoWriMo challenge was done and I had come nowhere near reaching the goal, I was sufficiently engaged by my story now that it was its own reason for being. So I guess the NaNoWriMo challenge served an important purpose and I needn’t feel shame that I barely made twelve percent of the 50,000 word goal. There were extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was that I had chosen a theme that was too complex and too emotionally raw. But, last Sunday I was determined to keep on working on it. Meanwhile I was planning a post for Joystory which would update the events but stay pretty much on the surface, saving the emotional depth for Brooding Instinct. The title for it, referencing the rule of three, was kind of flippant and I may not have gone with it, but it reflects the need I was feeling then to stay somewhat detached for the time being. After all, even if one isn’t superstitious and thinks the saying that bad news comes in threes is on a par with black cats and broken mirrors and stepping on cracks, even so, just contemplating that title made me feel as though I were flipping off fate. And that was the state of my mind when the phone rang Sunday evening.

It was my sister calling from Longview. Her first words were: Joy, this is going to freak you out. She had been back in town for less than an hour and upon picking up her son at our cousin’s house she had been greeted by his excited tale of watching a fire that had burned down the place our cousin had lived when she was a little girl. My sister did not immediately understand that he was referring to the Bible Chapel. Or rather the building that had once been know as the Bible Chapel. For she had been a toddler when our cousin’s family had moved out of an apartment in the back of the building into the house next door. The new owners of the property had donated the building to the fire department for practice exercises and they had burnt the original wooden structure to the ground that day. The cement-block addition built in 77 was still standing--for now--further exercises pending before it is knocked down. On a Sunday no less. Did they know it used to be a Church? But I guess that couldn’t be allowed to matter. The stretch of Ocean Beach Highway on which the building sat is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Longview so any other day of the week this would have disrupted traffic and thus commerce too much. And don’t you know, that is the official, though unnamed, religion of America.

The building I went to Sunday School in and later taught Sunday School in, watched my Grandfather remarry in and some years later was married in myself was gone. They burned it down two days after my 27th anniversary, an anniversary that had so totaly slipped my mind that I did not remember it until I was relating this to my husband as my two sisters passed the phone back and forth taking turns discribing the scene as they stood across the street from it taking pictures with the cell phone.. This news plunged me into that cauldron and turned up the heat. For days, I could not think, let alone write, a coherent sentence. There was a time, a decade or so ago, when I was angry enough at all sides of the dispute, that I would have gleefully watched that building burn. I might have even lit the match myself, if assured no legal repercussions would ensue. That white-hot rage has since simmered down and recent events in my life had pushed me into close proximity with the people and places of my childhood and allowed me to see the people as separate from the doctrine and the love they exhibited towards one another then and now as more real and more relevant than the disputes which wrenched them apart and not, as I once believed, belied and sullied by them.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Funreral

Forgive me for not keeping this up. So much has been happening since I got back to Phoenix. And now I have to leave again. Only this time it is just overnight. I am waiting right this moment for my ride which is coming from Longivew. We are all on our way to Gerber California for the funeral of my Mom's twin sister, who lost her three plus year battle with cancer Tuesday morning.


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