Monday, June 26, 2017

What is Death?

I suppose, having lost a total of seven friends and acquaintances in the last 5 months, it's only natural I'm asking questions like: What is death? What happens when we die?

I have read that the Bible defines life as being breath. If one has breath, one has life. In which case, if one doesn't have breath, one doesn't have life. I know there are all sorts of scientific definitions as to either one or the other, but for now, let's accept breath as the determining factor. (The brain lives a bit longer than the lungs.) (And, if you're really interested in this, get and read a copy of How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter –by Sherwin B. Nuland. A marvelous book.)

And, what happens to the 'I' when we cease breathing? Aaah, that is the question, is it not?

Many people claim to know the answer. I submit their "knowledge" is based on faith and hope, not on provable fact. Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not, as long as they recognize it for what it is, and don't try to make others believe the same way.

Stolen from the web
There is Heaven for the Jew/Christian/Muslim, there is reincarnation for the Buddhist, there are new planets, new/eternal marriages, there is eternal sleep, and there is—nothing. I believe the French used call sleep la petite mort—the little death, the brief loss or weakening of consciousness. I like that. Am I in a little heaven when I go through my little death? I don't know, I barely remember that I dreamed, let alone what the dream was. And the dreams I do remember are usually funny. (Today, la petite mort is a popular reference for sexual orgasm. Doncha just love how language morphs and changes?)

Personally, I would love to spend my eternity with friends and family, but I don't see how that could possibly work. They follow too many disparate religious teachings. Some of them will go to a particular heaven, some will be reincarnated, and many are secular and will go into the ground (and be food for, thereby becoming, bugs, worms, etc. Hmmm, maybe there is something to reincarnation). Period.

But, what if Schrodinger had the right idea? What if we're in a box and both alive and dead until Observed when a decision must be made. What if, when the Observer opens the box, and the decision is made, we step out into a new (to us at least) plane of existence?

The truth is, no one knows! That is a fact you can take to the bank. Death is a one-way trip we all will take, and we all will take it alone. We can hope that trip will end at the expected station; that our expectations will be met, but the truth is we don't know. We won't know until we walk through that door—alone—and see for ourselves what's on the other side.

One time, I thought I might find the answer. My Uncle Carl was dying, and he was fairly lucid. He exclaimed that his father, my grandfather, was there, in the room, next to him. I could neither see nor hear Grandpa. But Uncle Carl could, and he started talking to him. Uncle Carl would speak, and I could understand him, then he waited while (I assumed) Grandpa answered. This went on for several minutes. Finally, Uncle Carl was quiet and said Grandpa had gone away. I asked if they had a good conversation, "Oh. Yes." This was exciting. Maybe I'd get a heads up as to what went on after we die. I asked what Grandpa said. I was nearly giddy with excitement. Uncle Carl spoke, very clearly, "Well, he said, 'mxiohwyre' and then he said, 'wmouyhhj;oisdusadhfoiw' and then he said..." Obviously, the dead speak a language only the dead, and the dying, are meant to know, to understand.

My idea of Heaven? A huge library with every book ever published, and the ability to read and understand them all—and of course, all of eternity to read them, and to be with my friends and family. What I expect (not what I hope for) is--nothing. And I'm okay with that.

Yes, I know, there are those who have died and come back, Near Death Experiences. I've been there done that (where I first saw my Library/Heaven). There is the bright light, some being to greet us, and a voice of authority telling us to go back, that it's not our time. It's hypoxia. Lack of oxygen to the brain. The light is caused by lack of oxygen, the rest is caused by our cultural/religious upbringing and beliefs. As Connie Willis says in Passage, it's an SOS our brain sends out, telling us to breathe, to get oxygen.

What do you believe or think will happen when you die? Whatever it is, if it brings you peace and comfort, please continue to believe it. But please, I beg of you, do not try to force your beliefs, your mythologies, your hopes, or your fears, on others There is room in all of eternity for everyone's personal belief. And for that one person, theirs is perfect.

Rest in Peace, my friends:

Mike Briggs
Irene Hays
Jim Eppard
Kyle Roberson
Muhammad Hallaj
John Dalmas
Jane Roop

Know you are loved and truly missed.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Heroes

I love to collect heroes. Sometimes they're the kids in a classroom who quietly fill their mate's lunch pail with food when they realize he has none. Sometimes they're the first responder who saves not only human lives, but also animal lives. And sometimes, my heroes come closer to home. Here are four of my heroes, and why I chose them.

Jay Lake
A few years ago I had the marvelous opportunity to meet Jay Lake. He had a terrific sense of humor, and we became friendly. I hesitate to say friends, though I would count it mighty fine if that word fit. And then Jay came down with cancer. Again. Terminal cancer. Being a words man, a novelist, he blogged his death. I read several of those blogs, and the thing that stuck out to me was his unflagging sense of humor, his very few complaints (oh, they were there, but not a lot as I recall), and I don't remember any whiny self-pity, and even his curiosity—if the drugs didn't work for him, would they help others? (The answer is yes) The legacy of Jay Lake, the novelist who blogged his own death. Jay's blog:

Jim Eppard
I knew Jim for 20 some years. He and one of my Sisters of Choice were married. Jim had some pretty severe health issues ranging from diabetes on. He spent a lot of time in pain. The bones in his feet were deteriorating (he was a big boy, something like 6'6"), he contracted MRSA during one of his hospital visits, he was confined to a wheel chair. And he found a lot to laugh about. The bath lady came one day, after his dialysis, and he had just gotten back to bed, when my sis walked the bath lady to the front door. When she returned to Jim a very few minutes later, he was dead. Just that quick. No warning. No pain. Inhaled in this life, exhaled in the next.

Muhammad. Alas, his humor doesn't show.
Muhammad Hallaj
I hadn't known Muhammad for many years. Again, he was the husband of a good friend of mine. He and I met via Skype a few times, and sometimes when he and Dixie drove someplace she'd call. One time I said I had to go pee, and heard this choking gasp. Dixie was howling in laughter – I'd been on speakerphone in the car and Muhammad was driving. He was used to boy humor (3 sons) but not girl humor. He began to call me her 'crazy friend.' Muhammad contracted leukemia, treatable. Except his heart wasn't strong enough for the chemo. He had a heart attack, and was in the hospital. They boys came. Since there was no reason to deprive him of good food for health reasons, they brought good Middle Eastern food and had a picnic around his bed. One even brought his iPad with a campfire burning. They laughed about the good times they had had through the years, especially the campouts. They ate good food. Muhammad went home knowing he was loved and died a couple days later.

John Dalmas
John in his younger days. A family photo graciously shared.
I met John 30 years or so ago at a SF/F convention in Seattle. He encouraged new writers, including me. We became friends through the years, and my girl friend, Ann, and I had declared open war on each other as we fought for John's attentions. He thought it wonderful to have two women fighting over him. We were both madly in love with him. She wanted him to have her purple feather boa, but couldn't deliver it to him, so I did, and sent her photos of the two of us wrapped in it. I never saw John when he wasn't smiling, and laughing over something. As a young man he held many jobs, one of which was as a forester, and he fought a few two many forest fires in the days before they realized how hard the smoke was on human lungs, and came down with COPD. I never heard him complain about the hand dealt him and I am pretty sure his family was with him at the end.

I miss these friends, my heroes.
John at RadCon, wearing his purple boa--and me ;-)

Did you catch their common denominator? They all maintained a great sense of humor. They did not complain (well, not much or often) about their life and its impending end. In fact, they enjoyed life, and lived it to the fullest they were capable of right up until the end. They all had a remarkable ability to accept what they could not change and change what they could. They taught that bitching about the little things drives people away, but laughing wins us friends.

I truly hope that I will live like they did, and step off that spinning wheel of life with such humor, such excitement, such grace and acceptance as they when it is my turn. These men are my heroes. They have shown the way, it is up to me to follow, though I hope not too soon.

So, to all you who read this, I raise my glass and toast you, one and all: L'Chaim! To Life!

It takes a Real Man to wear a purple feather boa in public!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Unfound Door

Many years ago I was visiting a friend in Virginia, and we visited Frederick, Maryland one day. On that day trip, we found a marvelous outdoor art gallery!

As I remember the story, and to be honest, I'm not sure I want the truth if it differs greatly from my memory, is that there was a river walk that was plain, gray concrete, and the city decided to beautify it with tromp l'oeil art. What made it, to my mind (and memory) spectacular is 1. The city hired a real artist (William Cochran) to do the work and 2. They interviewed the people who lived on the street to find out what they wanted to see in their 'living room.'

I stole this image from Ken & Lea's Place I'd show you my picture, but don't know what album it's in. It's NOT in my computer.
Now, I knew all these paintings were on concrete. I knew it. I could see it. And I greatly admired them, until I came to The Unfound Door. That one stopped me in my tracks. If you look at it, you can see the wee bird near the bottom. What was behind the gate? I had to know. I went very carefully, and very slowly to it. After all, I didn't want to frighten the bird. Yeah. Right, Lenora. The bird was painted, remember? Then I got close enough to see the second gate inside the first one, and bonked my nose on the concrete while trying to see what was beyond that second gate!

I came away with a sore nose, but ideas for both a piece of fiction and a poem. Both titled The Bride's Gate. One never knows where one will find their muse, does one?

To see a really good photo by the artist of the gate, go here:

The various paintings look so real, birds have tried to land in the fountain!

To see the rest of the mural, click here and then click on Enter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Little Bits of Wisdom - On Writing

I started collecting little bits of wisdom years ago. Some just for fun, some to actually use. When my kids were little, I read books on how to raise up good kids, and one of the best pieces of advice I found was by a Christian psychologist, James Dobson. He said that when your child turns thirteen you should seal them in a barrel with a single hole for food and air. When they turn sixteen, seal the hole. I didn't follow his advice, and ended up with a couple of kids I still claim as mine. (I still don't know if he was kidding on the advice or not.)

And then my kids grew up, moved away, and I moved on to other bits of wisdom. And became a writer. Now, gray haired as I am, I get to dispense with a lot of those things I've learned. Aren't you glad?

George Clooney - stolen from the www 
 At the table where I'm selling my books:

"Did you write these?"
Well, doh, no, I'm just sitting here missing my favorite tv show to sell them for someone else who is home watching her favorite tv show.
"Yes. I did."
"Oh. I want to be a writer someday. Do you have any advice?"
"Do you have a pen? Paper? Sit. Write."
nervous laughter
"No, seriously, I have this great idea for a novel. Oh, I know, maybe we could work together? I'll give you the idea and you can write it, and we'll split everything 50-50."
"Oh, that's a great idea. When I'm through writing my novels, stories, and poetry...."

"My child writes short stories. She is in the fourth grade, and draws the cutest pictures to go with her stories. Would you like to read them? They're really good, and I think they would make great children's books."
"I'm sure they would. If you check out Kindle Direct Publishing, they will explain everything you want to know to self publish them. Who knows, maybe she can pay for her college."

"My daughter wants to be a writer. Do you have any suggestions for her?"
"Lock her in a barrel, plug the hole, and wait until the notion fades."
"Feed her ramen, beans, and rice, for a month. Tell her to get used to it, writers are poor, contrary to Harry Potter's mother. Once a month, add a jalapeno to the beans as a treat."
"No, I'm serious. She's good, and she wants to be a writer."
"OK, I'm being serious now. Tell her to write. Then write some more, and then keep writing. Tell her to submit her work, and when it's rejected, to submit it someplace else until it's finally accepted. Tell her to develop a thick skin and not to be upset when her story is rejected. It will be rejected, but it's a story, not her, that is being rejected.

"If all else fails, tell her to read How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore. It's on the Wonderful Wisdom Web at: It's a short story, so won't take too much time away from her own writing to read it."

Seriously, if you're toying with the idea of becoming a writer, pour a glass of wine, pop in a George Clooney movie, and get comfy until the notion passes. It takes discipline, and a lot of wine, and a really huge lot of George Clooney movies, but eventually the notion will pass, and eventually you'll be sane. Again.

Honest. Trust me.

Hmmm, I shoulda put the George Clooney picture here, huh? Well, here's another one. Enjoy.