Aug 162016
 

Of all that we can lose, our life is the most precious. But what if we almost lose it? What if we come close enough to get a glimpse at what the world might be like without us? Today’s guest, Melanie Marttila, talks about a childhood brush with death and the loss that could have been.

Melanie Marttila after surgery

Tonsillitis is hell. The true infection, the one that leaves your four-year-old self screaming, the monster pain in your ears reaching back into your brain, your throat, latching on with needle-like claws, and shredding.

I remember that.

I remember trying to lie still on my side on the couch while Mom administered oil-based ear medication into my ears, one after the other. This would hopefully happen before the screaming started, was intended to pre-empt it. I’d squirm and whine while the medication slowly dripped into my ears, swallowed doses of liquid antibiotics and Tempra.

I remember once heading out in the car with my parents and maternal grandparents. I’m not sure whether it was just for a picnic, or if it was a day trip to a camp site, but it was a ways out of town. Mom hadn’t thought to bring my medication and just to spite her, my tonsillitis decided to act up. Big time.

Mom and Nanny (I had to have a different name for this other older lady who wasn’t the same as Grandma, my paternal grandmother) tried to calm me down in the back seat, but I was howling by the time we reached our destination and we couldn’t stay. I had to be returned home and dosed.

It quickly became apparent that surgery was in order. Though this was the time during which doctors tried not to perform tonsillectomies, my situation was serious enough that everyone felt there was no other choice.

I don’t remember anything about the surgery itself. I believe it went off without a hitch. After the operation, all seemed well, and I returned home enjoying ice cream, popsicles, and TLC.

In the middle of the night, I woke, coughing, had trouble breathing, the air moving in and out of me with a rattling slurp, the sound of milk bubbling through a straw. The next cough shot a black spatter onto my pyjamas and sheets. I couldn’t summon the breath to call for my mom right away, my first attempt emerged a thready burble.

Each stuttering breath and cough produced a little more noise, until I was shouting, “Mom!”

The light switch flicked on, momentarily blinding me, but one look at the blood and I yelled again, despite the jagged burning in my throat, tried to crawl back from it, but it followed. I was covered in blood.

My stitches had burst.

A frantic ride to the hospital and the doctor ordered me back into surgery and my parents out of the examination room, the male nurse assuring them that he could handle getting the intravenous inserted.

He sent Mom away. It was abandonment, pure and simple. A four-year old doesn’t distinguish between her parents leaving her and her parents being forced to leave her.

Worse, the nurse tried to stab me. I showed him.

Mom and Dad were brought back in, allowed to hold my hand, held my legs down, while the newly bandaged nurse taped my arm to a block of wood and did his worst. In the moment, I hated my parents for that, for letting the nurse hurt me.

I didn’t die, but I came close.

I don’t remember any of the iconic images typical of near-death experiences. No long tunnels.  No doorways of brilliant light. No voices of lost loved ones calling to me. No angels. No voice of God.

The road back from that second surgery was a long one. I’d ingested so much blood, I became incontinent in the most embarrassing way, my family doctor plucked clots of blood out of my ears and nose, and nothing, not even ice cream, tasted good for weeks. More courses of liquid antibiotics followed, which stained my teeth indelibly and made me self-conscious for years.

I have a picture of myself right after the surgery, pale, skinny. It was Christmas, but this was the closest I could come to smiling.

What’s stayed with me the most was the dream.

My first night home after the second surgery, I dreamed of my bed, empty. The cheery yellow and white striped flannel sheets, the blue wool blanket turned down, the dark wood frame with the toy cupboard built in. Just the bed in a kind of spot light, the rest of the room, dark. The image of the bed receded into the darkness and finally disappeared.

The feeling that I woke up with was that I had died, not that I really understood what that meant, but that I had ceased to exist in the world I had grown up in to that point and that the world I woke up in was a new one. I had a new life, too. A second chance.

Now, I’d say that back then I dreamed of one of those moments at which the infinite iterations of parallel universes converge. I turned left at the crossroads. The sensation was profound.

I also think it was the experience that set me on the path of the creative. I might never know for sure, but I feel that it’s true.

Author Melanie MarttilaMelanie Marttila creates worlds from whole cloth. Ink alchemist, dream singer, and SFF novelist in progress, she lives with her spouse in Sudbury, Ontario, on the street that bears her family name, in the house in which three generations of her family have lived. Her short fiction has been published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine and On Spec Magazine.

You can find her on Twitter @MelanieMarttila and on her blog, Writerly Goodness

 

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Aug 122016
 

You’ve lost your marriage, your job, and your house, the worst is over, right? Today’s guest blogger, Ceejae Devine, talks about saying goodbye to two special friends amid a whirlwind of loss.


Ceejae Divine and Rocket the macaw

I was so sure I’d finally made it. I’d walked away from a terrible marriage with two small kids. I’d gotten through five years of separation arrangements and divorce proceedings, and I’d gotten out of a part-time receptionist position at a Real Estate company where they’d been cutting my hours for months.

The new job appeared out of nowhere. It came up in a conversation I had one evening with a woman at the library. The pay still wasn’t great, but it was enough to complement the work I was getting from the freelance graphic design clients I’d managed to hold on to through all of the changes.

Still, I didn’t take it for granted. I’d lived with feelings of insecurity for too long. I’d started to feel like I was going to lose my home when I was working for the Real Estate company, so I’d been preparing for it, deep cleaning and packing something every weekend.

I also wanted to move. Taking care of a house and yard by myself was a ton of work, and since we lived on a steep hill every winter the snow and ice were miserable.

But in a short amount of time, I started to feel like I was in trouble. When I arrived at my new job none of the equipment was set up and there were very few usable resources. I asked questions and explained what I needed, but I didn’t get good answers. My manager only spent about five minutes a day with me, so I struggled with every project and knew I wasn’t doing the best job I could do.

When my manager walked into my office one day with the Human Resources manager and told me I was being laid off, I was hit with an immense sense of relief and the shock of knowing I was going to lose my home.

I explained what had happened to my 16- and 11-year-old daughters, and my oldest daughter, Jade, said, “You can finally leave this place! You and Amber can stay with your parents while you look for a job in Seattle!” A few minutes later she added, “But I’m going to see if I can find a place to live here so I can stay for my senior year.”

It all made sense and it all seemed crazy. I went into hyperdrive making all of the arrangements, which included calling a Real Estate agent to put our house on the market.

Then I realized something I hadn’t ever considered. I couldn’t take my birds.

1RocketandKirocI’d had macaws for 23 years. They were my friends, my companions, but my mother couldn’t breathe well around them.

I talked to everyone about what to do and my mother suggested looking for a sanctuary. One after the other told me they either didn’t have room or that my birds wouldn’t survive since their birds lived outside and mine had lived indoors all of their lives.

Finally I found a guy who said he would take them. It seemed like it was going to be okay since I was going to be living about 30 miles away and he told me that I could come visit, but again, they were going to have to adjust to living outside.

Every day for about a month as I made all of the preparations to move, I counted the days that I had left with my friends. Every day I stood in the doorway crying, trying to explain to them what was going to happen. For their entire lives, whenever I left for any more than a couple of hours, I would always tell them that I had to go, but that I would be back. Now I stood in their room telling them that they had to go and they wouldn’t ever be able to come back.

I felt like I had to find a way to justify it. I told myself that their lives were going to be much harder in some ways, but better in others.

Their cages were in a tiny room with a small window, and while I had perches that they were able to sit on in different places around the house when I was home and I was able to set them outside when the weather was good, I knew it wasn’t enough. I didn’t realize how intelligent birds were when we got Kiroc, our Blue and Gold, and she seemed so sad whenever my husband and I returned from weekends away or vacations we got her a companion, a Green Wing we named Rocket.

I knew they would finally be in the company of their own kind at the sanctuary, and when I arrived with them, Rocket confirmed how important this was for him. The moment he heard the calls from the other macaws he tried to fly to join them.

For a few months Amber and I visited every couple of weeks. Then Amber realized that even though she was able to advance in her math course at the new school, the other courses were covering material from her previous year. I called her old school to see if she could get back into her class, and we moved back to a house I thought was going to foreclose on us. To my surprise, within a few days, through what seemed like a miracle, I received an offer on the house and a call about a huge freelance project.

Blue macaws in snactuarySince that time, I’ve attended the sanctuary’s annual fundraising auction every year except last year when I had to make another huge move. I always took a case of bananas and fed the other birds as I looked for my friends. I was able to find both of them the first summer, but the second summer, I couldn’t find Rocket. The year after that I was still able to find Kiroc. She came up to me and ate almost an entire banana. I pet her toes for a couple of minutes, then she climbed to the highest point of the shelter, the farthest point she could get from me where I could still see her, and she shut her eyes.

I felt like she was trying to tell me that she didn’t want me to take her away and that she felt safe.

At the last auction I attended, I wasn’t able to find Kiroc, but I will continue to support the sanctuary as long as I can, because I know people will continue to find themselves in situations like the one I found myself in.

Author Ceejae DevineCeejae Devine currently lives in the Seattle Metro area. She has two daughters, one who recently graduated from MIT and one who is starting college this fall. Ceejae’s writing focuses on the incredibly difficult, but astonishing journey she has experienced. She typically writes in the genre of memoir on subjects that include being a single parent, knowing thyself, synchronicity, and God. ceejae-devine.com

 

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Aug 102016
 

When today’s guest, David Perlmutter, pitched his idea to me, I confess I was skeptical. Then I read his piece and remembered all the fictional characters and stories whose endings have left me grieving. Loss, I was reminded, can take any form.


 

stack of old televisions Warpworld

In the late 1970s, the underrated and underexposed rhythm and blues music ensemble Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band recorded a song called “Ninety Day Cycle People” for ABC Records. Unusually for the time and the artist, it was a high concept science fiction piece involving an advanced race of human beings capable of feeling and seeing things normal ones could not. However, almost to compensate for these advanced gifts, the beings were limited to experiencing the totality of their lives through a limited time period of ninety days. Hence their name.

Upon hearing this song for the first time, I was struck by its resemblance to a type of being I knew very well. Another being with a much limited timespan, one often less than ninety days in total time experience, who also are able to live their lives to the fullest within that period more than most of us ever will.

I speak of fictional characters from television. The ones from American animated television series, in particular.

I am a very deep devotee of this frequently and deeply misunderstood art form, and, being now thirty-five years old going on thirty-six, have seen dozens of them come and go over that time. Exploring the wonders of their images, their settings and their characters has always been one of the greatest joys in my life. And, consequently, losing them whenever their corporate lords and masters decide to pull the plug on them has been one of the greatest sorrows in my life.

A television series is different in terms of consumption than other forms of art. With a film or a novel, the length is set, and the characters exist neither before nor after that length. Similarly, the experience of an audio or video recording lasts only for the length of time it takes to play that recording, however long it may be.

But television, of the truly fictional variety, requires you to return to the same place and the same people on a regular basis. In spite of the increased atomization of its audience- a process resulting more from the arrogance with which its business model operates and not simply because of new and more populist forms of content distribution nipping at its heels- it still does. Not unlike the serialization practices of Charles Dickens and other novelists of the Victorian era, or those of its immediate and still relevant predecessor, radio, television requires the audience to keep coming back on a regular weekly or (now, whenever you feel like it) basis to keep its economic model tight and together.

And I have found in television animation since the 1990s an excellent marriage between great programming content and maintenance of a bill-paying apparatus. Not always, of course, but most of the time it does occur.

And so, I keep coming back. It used to be because I wanted to, and it was just there. But now I have to. I write about it. I wrote my MA thesis in History on it. I wrote the first major historical study of it, and am now compiling a comprehensive historical and contemporary encyclopedia of it. So I suspect people are going to ask me as much about what’s going on now with it if not more than what used to happen, so I need to be ready.

But yet the creeping feeling of loss always intrudes.

Everything starts well in September, when the new fresh faced crowd comes around, comparative in many ways with the elementary schoolers, middle schoolers and high schoolers falsely seen to be their only loyal audience. I go through Halloween and Christmas with them like always, because it seems like they can’t let them pass without mention. Possibly the other ones, too, but those are the main ones. And we trudge together through the never-tiring lessons about friendship and loyalty, and I laugh at their brilliant verbal jokes and non-sequiturs and peerless physical buffoonery like I’m supposed to.

Yet, by the time spring rolls around, I know a death sentence is coming for a lot of them, even if they don’t. And by the time summer starts, I know that the Grim Reaper, in the form of the executives in far-away New York and Los Angeles, will coming for them. I don’t want to let them go. And yet they just leave in the night while I’m asleep in bed. Without even waking me up to say goodbye.

If that isn’t a means of triggering feelings of loss, I don’t know what would be.

Sure, some of them stay around. The Simpsons has been around for twenty six years, and I doubt FOX will release them from their bondage any time soon. But not all of them are that lucky. Some of them barely last a few episodes, others a couple of years. Always and only until there’s no more economic rather than creative juice left in the lemon.

And sometimes the ones who run things think it’d be a lot of “fun” to do a “new” version that only desecrates the memory of the ones you once held dear. My dearly beloved Powerpuff Girls, with whom I spent six of the happiest years of my life in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, only came back to life just now. Or, at least, some people pretending to be them. The originals were the stars of what was one of the most brilliant shows to ever come out of the whole genre, and it got treated worse than a Bernie Sanders supporter at a Donald Trump rally. Then, and now.

These folks are the ninety day cycle people, all right. They do and feel things I can’t. They live lives that are of very short duration. But they make every second count.

And, in doing so, they give me and their other admirers all the hope and gratification they will ever need.

 

David PerlmutterDavid Perlmutter is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The holder of an MA degree from the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and a lifelong animation fan, he has published short fiction in a variety of genres for various magazines and anthologies, as well as essays on his favorite topics for similar publishers. He is the author of America Toons In: A History of Television Animation (McFarland and Co.),  The Singular Adventures Of Jefferson Ball (Chupa Cabra House), The Pups (Booklocker.com), Certain Private Conversations and Other Stories (Aurora Publishing),  Orthicon; or, the History of a Bad Idea (Linkville Press, forthcoming) and Nothing About Us Without Us: The Adventures of the Cartoon Republican Army (Dreaming Big Productions, forthcoming.) 

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Aug 052016
 

Those of you who spent most of your childhood in the same home may know how it feels to revisit that home years later, as an adult. But what if the story is more complicated than that? What if you not only miss your childhood home but also plan to live there again? Today’s guest, Jasmine Georget–one of that treasured group of friends from my own former home–talks about what happened when she tried to reclaim the home she had lost.


Child dressed as a pilot staring at a plane

I came across my childhood home on a realtor’s website. The owner, a friend of a friend, had died suddenly and I heard rumours that the house would be for sale. Still, it took me by surprise. For years I dreamed of the day that I could call it mine again. I always thought that I needed to own it if I wanted to hold on to my memories. Since the day we packed up our final load of odds and ends in the Volkswagen T3 I have wanted it back. It was December, almost dark, and I tried to hide my tears as we drove up the driveway for the last time.

It sits majestically on the side of a mountain. The property is scattered with huckleberries and Falls Creek tumbles through a mossy canyon down below. There are hiking trails and two beautiful springs. The forest around the house was my playground. It had the best sledding hills and climbing trees, nowhere else could ever be better. It was above the clouds, the sun always shone. The house was warm and bright and happy. There was a little hidey hole under the stairs that my Dad built me. It had a door and a light. I kept my tiny rocking chair and a giant pile of books in there. My little brothers were not allowed in. I still have that tiny rocking chair. My daughters read in it now.

I spent my life looking back at that house. The rosy sentimental glow of a happy childhood surrounded it, but mixed with that is a stinging pain. My father died just before I turned six, and his memories are all tangled up in that place. He loved that property, and built most of that house. He took me berry picking and mushroom gathering and tree climbing, then his ashes fed the berries and the mushrooms and the trees that we loved.

And then there’s that spot. That spot on the lawn, right between the cherry tree and the red rhododendron, at the edge of the hill, where I left my childhood standing. Where I saw my Dad for the very last time. He was flying, he soared over the house. My body knows where that spot is, it will never forget. He flew low, looking down at us. The April sun shone as I waved, and he made the plane rock ever so slightly from side to side, ‘waving’ back. Last contact. My last earthly connection to a man who’s absence shaped me more than his presence. That spot, where I watched his plane disappear into the distance.

His plane came down in a pasture not too far away. We visited the crash site once. There were still tiny little bits of metal and fibreglass scattered on the ground, too small to cleanup. I picked up a few fragments of twisted metal and put them in my pocket. I think they might have gone through the wash and disappeared. I tried to hang on to everything that was his, but slowly all those little things disappeared. Each year they seemed less and less important until all that I had left were a few of his marbles. Still I wished that the big thing that he had loved could be mine some day. I didn’t even bother to apply for jobs in Vancouver after I finished my diploma in fashion design. I moved back home and started working retail. I had to stay close so I could be ready. I got married, we bought a house, we now have two beautiful girls. I waited ten years.

When I look at the listing pictures all of the light from my childhood is gone. I see a dingy, decrepit house that needs an unimaginable amount of work. I see the same bathroom sink that my Mum chose when my Dad finally added on an indoor bathroom. I see peeling paint and rot on the beautiful deck and pergola my step-dad built when he moved in with us. I see a chimney that still needs to be replaced, and the siding doesn’t quite line up on each of the additions. I see drywall that still sags under the leaky window, and the same peeling linoleum that I played on as a baby. I see a house that didn’t quite get started right, but instead of going back and fixing the problems it kept limping forwards. I see the door to my hidey hole and the rough wood wall where my piano used stand. I still have that piano. My daughters play it now.

I also see that the cherry tree is a leafless skeleton, and the rhododendron is gone. All my landmarks have been erased, nothing is left on that shaggy lawn to mark where I stood. I can’t go back, I don’t belong there anymore.

But there will always be that spot on the lawn, where the ghost of my childhood stands alone, watching her father fly out over the valley.

 

Jasmine Georget

Jasmine Georget has lived in and around Nelson BC for most of her life. She is a seamstress and occasionally teaches classes on fabric dyeing. She has two young children and spends her slivers of free time writing.

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Aug 022016
 

If you’re wondering how a zoologist looks at the cycle of life and death, today’s guest may enlighten you. H. Leighton Dickson discovers that there is more to loss than despair.


Crow against a blue sky

It is a sad thing to wake up and look to the nest outside your window, only to find it overturned and empty. I am surprised, actually, at how sad it is.

Last summer, a pair of robins built a nest in the beams of our pergola. It was just above our deck table, and it was just high enough to avoid our two cats who sat eagerly below, or the three dogs who enjoyed pestering the cats. We spent many warm evenings watching the parents build and tend, feed and feed and feed. And feed. We watched with glee as little heads soon appeared  all wide yellow beak and scrawny neck. There were three chicks and we chronicled them as they grew from skeletal reptiles with wisps of sticky feathers to pretty little plumplings, taking their first daring hops from the nest along the beams. One morning, we found one dead under the nest and the mom sitting tight on the other two. The next morning, the rest of them were gone and the nest sat empty. Crows, I figured. We have a lot of them in the trees around our house. It was so sad, seeing the nest without the robins so we took it down, hoping to encourage them to choose a better, more sheltered place next time, and gradually, we forgot about them ourselves. It was, and always has been, the way of things.

This spring, this same pair found a better spot. A large white pine and from our balcony window, we had a literal bird’s eye view of the nest. It can’t be more than six feet away, nestled against the trunk, all but hidden, save from our vantage point. We watched the round mamma and sleek papa build the nest out of dried grass, watched them weave and pack, weave and pack. Then we had the privilege of watching her lay, although we couldn’t tell how many of those remarkable blue eggs she dropped. Over the next few weeks, we watched them take turns sitting, turning, sitting again and finally, when we thought it might never end, a return of a parent with a moth in its beak.

This morning, as I have every morning for the past 6 weeks, I went to the window, to the balcony overlooking the white pine. But this morning, the nest was overturned; upended and propped against the trunk. Empty. I went outside to look for signs of life or death, of splintered shells and struggling chicks, of blood or feathers or anything that might be a clue. There were none, only the nest in the tree, overturned and still.

Tonight I saw a yearling moose just down the road from my house. Spotted white-tailed fawns will be trotting through my yard soon as well, ready to dine on cedar and hosta and columbine. And even the squawk and flap of baby crows will be a sweet and comical reminder of the unrelenting, unsentimental, unilateral focus of life. That yearling moose may die on the road, but he lived through a very hard, long winter and a horrible, miserly spring. The fawns have plenty now but there are so many of them, and soon, the wolves will follow, keeping their number at manageable levels. And those crows – well, not much can threaten the survival of a crow. And there are still many robins.

My oldest daughter is coming home. She has been in Australia for six months and has finally decided to embark upon a career as a support worker for children with Autism. My son graduates next week from Grade 12 and is thrilled to be taking a lovely young woman to the graduation dinner/dance Canada’s version of the Prom. My youngest, the wild thing, student council president and force of nature, is graduating as well, but from Grade 8, from Elementary into High. Big changes for my children. Big changes for me.

Every morning, I will see that empty nest. I will stop and think and be sad, but I’m a zoologist. Life is hard and then you die. But I am also an optimist. Life is a fleeting gift, precious and sharp and beautiful and rich. I hope I’ll look with clearer eyes at everyone and everything because of those robins, with just a little more care, just a little more wisdom and an unending, unquenchable, cup-overflowing supply of hope.

I can’t wait to see their nest next year.

 

H Leighton DicksonH. Leighton Dickson grew up in the wilds of the Canadian Shield, where her neighbours were wolves, moose, deer and lynx. She studied Zoology at the University of Guelph and worked in the Edinburgh Zoological Gardens in Scotland, where she was chased by lions, wrestled deaf tigers and fed antibiotics to Polar Bears by baby bottle! She has been writing since she was thirteen and pencilled her way through university with the help of DC Comics. She has three dogs, three cats, three kids and one husband. She has managed to keep all of them alive so far.

A Hybrid author, Heather has the successful Upper Kingdom series (Scifi/Asian fantasy) on Amazon along with the Gothic thriller series, COLD STONE & IVY published by Tyche Books. She also writes for Bayview Magazine and is a photoshop wizard when it comes to book covers.

Come join the conversation at www.hleightondickson.com, on Twitter or on Facebook!

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Jul 282016
 

Who owns our memories and what happens when we lose them? Our guest today, Aurora Award winner and fellow SF Canada member, Robert Runte, explores the loss of memory in some of its many forms.


Increasingly, I’ve had to cope with memory loss.

Robert Runte memory loss

Well, yes, that, but not just that.

Everyone has had the experience of forgetting where they left their keys…. As we age, we tend to blame our failing memories on aging, but the truth is I have always been absent minded: I just used to blame forgetting on being too busy or too tired from trying to cram too much into two few hours. Objectively, my memory today probably isn’t noticeably worse than it ever was, except maybe for the slower retrieval of proper nouns. I think that kind of memory pause was becoming noticeable to my students:

“Which brings us to . . . that guy . . . mid-1800s, big white beard? Wrote that book? With that other guy. . .? Big hit in Russia. Anybody?  . . . . Marx! Karl Marx!”

When you end up shouting every proper noun in triumph, students start to catch on that you are maybe losing it.

But one can learn to cope with that sort of memory breakdown. I write “to do” lists; I leave objects I’m supposed to take with me by the door; my lesson plans have evolved into lesson scripts; I turn on the GPS in the car if I am going anywhere other than work, so that I don’t start day dreaming and end up at work anyway. Though that’s more lack of paying attention than memory loss, per se.

No, the real loss of memory is something very different. It’s when I am trying to recall some detail of my past, some perhaps trivial fact about a personal anecdote I’m about to relate, or some particular aspect of my childhood that I would have been too young to know in the first place—let alone remember 60 some odd years later—and I think, “I’ll have to ask Mom about that.” And then I’ll suddenly remember that she’s gone. And for half a second I’ll think, “I’ll ask Doug, then . . . or Ron” and then remember they’re dead too. Everyone from my birth family is gone. . . and gone with them is that memory.

We usually think of memory as something that’s part of us, that we have; or that we lose as we forget. But it’s also, and perhaps more importantly, something that others hold for us. The people who know who we are, because they knew us and remember. The people to whom we can say, “Do you remember when…” and they can say “yes”, because they were there and remember it too. Maybe their memory of it is ever so slightly different, a variant perspective, as if seen from an angle to where we thought we remembered standing, but still recognizable as the same moment. All the moments that were ours, that define/d who we are today, that exist in our heads…are infinitely outnumbered by those held in trust by these others, who remember those same moments and could reflect them back to us if asked.

If who we are at this moment is the culmination of all of our memories to this point, then what happens when those others are gone? What happens to us when they leave, and in leaving, take some portion of our memories with them?

Robert Runte with wife and daughters on his mother's 100th birthday

Me, my wife and daughters, with Mom on her 100th birthday

My mother was two days short of 101 when she passed, shrunken to a doll-like husk, her memories vanished with her peers as they had one by one gone ahead of her, until there was more of her on the other side than remained here.

The Last Cup of Tea

Mother Part ii

Mother Part iii

Robert Runte author

Robert Runté is Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, an Associate Professor, critic, and reviewer. He has edited over 140 fanzines and SF newsletters, and won three Aurora Awards for his SF criticism; two of the novels he has edited for Five Rivers have also been short listed for the Aurora. He is a freelance development editor / writing coach at SFeditor.ca.

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Jul 222016
 

Today’s guest has been an online friend of mine for several years. Charlie Hersman and his late partner Randy were two of our first Warpworld cheerleaders, and always a source of good cheer and inspiration. There really is no introduction I can pen that would capture Charlie’s journey, so I’ll step aside with much love and my humble thanks to my friend for sharing.


Climbing tree Charlie Hersman

It seems like we can never quite recapture the shameless abandon of childhood once we become adults. Somehow, between the expectations of those around us and the insistence of conformity thrust upon us by society, we lose the ability to state with full candor who we are to the world and what we expect from it.

I have experienced many varieties of loss, but I remember the moment I lost my childhood fearlessness. I was born female and was a huge tomboy as a child. I was also an avid tree-climber. I climbed the highest and the fastest and no one could tell me otherwise. When I was twelve, we visited some friends in another state and they had a grove of trees near the edge of a cliff that was an absolute climber’s paradise. They had prime hand and footholds and I scaled them with an experience that my scabby knees could attest to.

I paused at the top to revel in my conquest before starting the descent – and then I froze. I was stuck. I had been stuck many times before, but this was different. I started shaking. I had never experienced a fear of heights, but as my knees locked and my stomach fell, I recognized it. I can’t remember how I got out of the tree, but I never climbed again. I developed a crippling fear of heights that lasted for years after.

While I matured my fears did as well, spreading their fingers into multiple areas of my life and evolving into self-doubt, body issues, depression, anxiety, and a general mistrust of everyone around me. I wanted to be a part of everything. As a child, I loved the spotlight and longed to perform, but I was repeatedly told to stop bringing attention to myself—that no one appreciates a show-off— and after a while I began to reflect it. I spent much of my young adult life hiding from the outside world, believing that I had nothing to offer and no one wanted to hear what I had to say.

In my late twenties I slowly began to branch outside of myself. I made myself promise to avoid turning down opportunities as they presented themselves. I joined an art guild and later took on an officer position within it. I volunteered as often as I had the chance. I accepted public speaking invitations. Slowly the shell I’d built around myself began to fall away.

The weekend of my thirty-first birthday, my partner began to experience the symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as brain cancer. For two years I cared for him, and in everything that shattered during the painfully long amount of time death took to arrive, the most important was fear.

Loss has a way of shearing away those things that simply don’t matter. I began to stand up for myself in a toxic work environment because I no longer had the patience to deal with inappropriate behavior in the light of losing my partner. I came to a realization of the short time I would have here and how I wanted to spend it. I packed up my life, selling my house and everything else I could do without, and moved several states away to start over.

And on May 20, 2016, I came out as openly transgender.

Even as I write these words, I subconsciously worry about what they will do to my loved ones. Many of the people of my childhood do not agree with my life. I worry about hurting them, but I can no longer fear it.

There’s a new feeling inside me that’s so familiar, an old fire that can no longer be contained. The fear isn’t gone. It’s shifted. I fear living a life without ever really knowing what I could have done with it. I fear keeping my silence when so many around me are suffering alone. Rather than living a life cowering in fear, I will use it to propel me into action.

Loss tore me down, exposing the bone. It forced me to examine every part of my life, without the trimmings of polite society. Grief is raw and bitter, but it is honest. It will never lie to you, and it will not tolerate you lying to yourself. Losing my partner was the worst thing I have ever been through, but I am not convinced that anything less painful would have the edge to cut through the years of fiction so carefully crafted.

Loss took everything I had, and gave me back my courage.

 

Charlie HersmanCharlie Hersman recently relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he is currently in the servitude of a Pembroke Corgi and a cat. When he’s not paying the bills, he loves writing, photography, painting, singing, and has delusions of one day working as an actor. He is an active member of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus and plans to continue expanding his involvement in the LGBT community in the Portland area.

You can find him on Twitter @CharHersman. Charlie’s photography is here and he blogs (he says infrequently) at Odd Crayon.

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Jul 202016
 

“You’ve got to meet this woman, you’ll love her.” Those were the words of my friend, author Griffin Barber, as he extolled the virtues of our first guest. I did meet her–online and then face-to-face at the Creative Ink Festival–and, what can I say? Griffin was right. 

Does writing have a role to play in coping with loss? Warrior poet Setsu Uzume thinks so.


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If anyone tells you not to use writing as therapy, kick them in the shin.

Felt good to think about that, didn’t it?

At BayCon 2016, I was asked to be on a panel about death, how we deal with loss, and (to a small degree) the relationship death has with fiction. I was extremely nervous about this panel, and whether or not my experiences with loss would be relatable, or maudlin and self-indulgent. At a suite party the night before, somewhere between the absinthe and applejack, I realized that every short story I’ve ever written is a goodbye.

On its surface, For Honor, For Waste is about kick ass women over 50 in a fantasy milieu. At its core, however, it’s about friendship. When I wrote that story, my friends were drifting apart.

Career changes, family changes, and disagreements had changed the landscape I had played in for so many years. I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to say, “I still love you,” even though the warmth between us was gone. I wanted to say that no matter what, I would still have their back if they needed me. For honor, for movie night, for babysitting. I told that story because I needed to get those feelings out, but didn’t want to step on their toes in the real world.

On its surface, Burying the Coin is a coming-of-age story for a swashbuckling teenager. When I wrote that story, I was questioning why the adult, novel-version of that character was so cavalier. I realized that when I put on that face, it’s because I don’t want to feel anything.

That story, and the mentor/student relationship, was a way to deal with separation from my favorite martial arts school. I had gone from intense discipline, rigorous structure, and feelings of rebellion; to suddenly being free and completely lost. I loved that place. I am grateful every day for who and what it shaped me into; but, at the time, I resented the grueling external and internal training and restrictive lifestyle. I pushed it away, hard, and as a result lost some of the most precious adopted family I’ve ever had.

It goes on and on like this. For all my unpublished short fiction, I can pinpoint where I was when I wrote the story and who I wrote it for. The names and places change. They’re overlaid with magic and technology, separated by eons of time and lightyears of space; but the feelings never change. Lost love still hurts. Lost family cannot be replaced. Choices cannot be unmade and death cannot be undone. When someone or something I love disappears, and there are thousands of words left unsaid, I have to put them somewhere.

The tricky part is where craft comes in. Memoir and personal essay have their place. In terms of a science fiction or fantasy story, symbolic language is one of the greatest tools a writer can use. It has been my sword and shield. Any feeling, once embodied and named, can be hunted, destroyed, resurrected, and embraced. Riding through the emotional process – the story – is the best way for me to negotiate through those situations and individuals that inspired the symbols in my stories. Maybe they’ll resonate with someone who went through what I went through. Maybe it’ll help.

Loss is inevitable, from the last cupcake to your last great love. Any way you deal with that is the right way.

For me, writing as therapy is the epitome of “write what you know.” The best way I can face my fear is to give it a face.

And maybe a body.

 With shins.

Setsu Uzume authorSetsu Uzume is member of Codex and SFWA. Find her on Twitter @KatanaPen

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Jul 192016
 

Empty Nest

“You go on. You just go on. There’s nothing more to it, and there’s no trick to make it easier. You just go on.” ~ Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory

When we think of loss, we usually think of death—“Sorry for your loss”. But loss can be the end of a friendship, moving away from home, divorce, illness, changing schools, growing older, losing a job, even something as simple as losing our innocence and naivety. Sometimes loss carves a hole in our lives and marks us with the absence of something we love but it can also create a space for growth and enlightenment. Bittersweet, tragic, humorous, loss takes endless and constantly evolving forms.

In one of life’s moments of verisimilitude, about half way through the first draft of the fourth book in the Warpworld series, in which so many of our characters experience loss, I found myself coping first with the deaths of my sister and father, and then moving away from Nelson, BC, my base camp since 2009.  The parallel journey of loss—in real life and on the page—has been surreal and Josh has been along as friend, supporter, and co-worker for the entire crazy ride.

As Josh and I enter the home stretch to publication for the penultimate book in our saga (almost there, I promise!), we decided to once more host a blog series about the overriding theme of this installment. We invited our guests to discuss any aspect of loss that shaped their lives or, in the case of authors, their fiction. The submissions we received are poignant, comical, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking.

In a world that at times feels obsessed with having more, more, more, it is intriguing to see how much we gain when something is taken away, pulled from us against our will. The characters in the Warpworld series lose their freedom, their beliefs, their privilege, their homes, their families, and yet somehow, as Lois McMaster Bujold so beautifully expresses in her novel Memory, they “go on”.  In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to some amazing real life people who have found their own way through loss, their own way to “go on”.

Our first guest post will be up tomorrow morning, written by SFF author, martial artist, and all around kick-ass human, Setsu Uzume. Should authors use writing as therapy? Tune in and find out!

Blood for water

~ Kristene

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Apr 202016
 

Spring is here and the annual author migration from dark writing cave to fun-filled festival has begun!

Yes, once again I will be making the trek to the big city to take part in the amazing Creative Ink Festival in beautiful Burnaby, BC, Canada. If you didn’t make it to the sneak preview last year, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! There, there, you can still catch all the fun this year. Writers, readers, and artists, you do not want to miss this event. If nothing else, you will have the opportunity to watch me and a panel of lovable goofballs make up crazy stories with the help of audience suggestions on the Improv Storytelling panel–worth the cost of membership all on its own.

To learn more about the festival, here’s an interview with its creator Sandra Wickham, and here’s more words about the Real Life Superwomen panel, which is the kick-assiest panel I’ve ever had the privilege to sit on.

And here’s when and where to find me May 6-8, 2016…

Saturday May 7

1pm – Presentation: Creative Coupling on the Page

Sunday May 8

12pm – Panel: Improv Storytelling

1pm – Panel: Real Life Superwomen

2pm – Panel: Imposter Syndrome

As you can see, you’ll want to stick around right to the end on Sunday! I will also be manning the co-op author table at some point, where you can buy copies of Warpworld for all your friends, harass one half of the authors about when the fourth book will be out, and maybe even indulge in some free chocolate. As usual, look for the goofy grin, it’s hard to miss.

That’s the when and where, now here’s the what…

Creative Coupling on the Page with Kristene Perron
Kristene Perron, co-author of the award-winning Warpworld series, discusses the ups and downs of artistic collaboration for writers. She’ll take you behind the scenes of plotting, writing, editing and publishing novels with a partner (or partners) and explain how to keep the creative fire burning between friends without getting burned.

Imposter Syndrome (and the benefits of being terrified)

Lisa Voisin (M), Galen Dara, Aviva Bel’Harold, Rachel Greenway, Kristene Perron

If you’ve ever felt like you’re not good enough to create art, that you’re just playing at being talented, then you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome. Join panelists as they discuss why it happens, what you can do about it and how to make it work for you, not against you.

Improv Storytelling

Kristene Perron (M), Adam Dreece, TG Shepherd, Mark Teppo, Bevan Thomas
Audience members participate in this live, improvised story time by submitting words for the panelists to incorporate into their on the spot tales. Panelists will tell a story, round robin style, using the audience suggestions. No one knows what will happen, though laughter is guaranteed!

Real Life Superwomen

Kristene Perron (M) Lisa Gemino, Sandra Wickham, JM Landels, Setsu Uzume
What do you get when you put an MMA fighter, a pro fitness competitor, a mounted combat expert, a warrior poet and a stuntwoman together on one panel? A rousing discussion about the realities of being a “strong woman” and how that compares with their portrayal in fiction. Join authors Lisa Gemino, Sandra Wickham, JM Landels, Setsu Uzume and Kristene Perron as they KAPOW the stereotypes and share the truth about the lives of superwomen.


There are so many other fantastic presentations and panels, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.

Hope to see you there!

Blood for water,

Kristene

 

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