Death Ain’t Worth Fussin’ Over

There are few things about this life I’ll miss when I’m dead and gone. I’ll miss my family and friends, of course, and perhaps a few gastronomical delicacies (namely artichoke pizza and baklava)…but little else. I definitely won’t miss my degenerating body and its many ailments. Nor will I miss this world and the depraved state it’s in ecologically, economically and societally. I won’t miss housecleaning, no sir! I won’t miss having to live within a budget. I won’t miss car repairs or lawn maintenance or taxes. I won’t miss swimsuit season nor the painstaking process of trying to find a pair of jeans I can tug over my generous helping of thigh meat. I absolutely will not miss cellulite. I won’t miss counting calories, counting the seconds or counting sheep. I might miss music, but not speed metal…or smooth jazz…or anything by Justin Beiber.

I can’t wait for the day when I no longer have to persevere through check-out lines, rush-hour traffic, and automated phone systems. I won’t miss Washington or Hollywood and the volcano of sh*t that spews out of both. I won’t miss mosquitoes. Lord knows I won’t miss menstruation. I won’t miss Saturday nights with no plans and nothing good on TV. I won’t miss squabbling with my children, haggling with a salesperson or defending myself against the scores of people who dole out injustice like it was Halloween candy. I will, however, miss being around to witness my kids and grandkids experience the fullness of their lives; but I certainly won’t miss the pain of seeing them hurt, or God forbid, pass on before me. I won’t miss 25-or-more grams of fiber per day. I won’t miss sports commentary. Heck, as much as I love her, I won’t even miss my own dog.

Nope, I’m pretty content to leave this life behind. And, seeing as how I am a hard-core, born-again Christian, I believe I‘ve got a first-class ticket on the express train to glory waiting for me at will-call. When I die and my spirit reaches the gates of that supernatural Disneyland, I don’t think I’ll look back on my life on earth and miss a thing. No ailments, no torment, no cellulite – what is there to miss? I doubt I’ll find anything about my previous life attractive or compelling enough to be homesick for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids like cRậziИesš! I am, without exaggeration, one breath away from a straight-jacket over my adoration of, allegiance to, and inextinguishable delight for my two amazing boys. Yet as vast as my love may be, I doubt I’ll have time to miss them in the human sense. I imagine that when I experience the Creator of the Universe, Lover of my Soul face to face, and when I am – in His presence – transformed into perfection, even the memory of my own children will seem like a vaguely familiar face at a class reunion…nostalgic yet trivial. I expect that they too will faintly recognize me once they come face to face with God Almighty, and I’m just fine with that.

And so I tell you: I’m not scared of death. The actual act of dying freaks me out a little – mainly because I hope it doesn’t hurt (I’m a bit of a pansy that way). But even if my suffering is long and unbearable, I know that it is momentary in light of eternity. I know that I will soon enough be taking a victory lap around the pearly gates wearing nothing but a firmly supporting sports bra and a thong to show off my cellulite-free angelic form. Hallelujah!

Observations from the Dinner Table

I eat like a slob. I wish it weren’t true, but it undoubtedly is. Somehow, by the end of each stint at the table, I rise to discover that a portion of my meal has once again found its way south onto my clothing. This is both a profound mystery and an accepted reality. As careful as I think I’ve been, I rarely walk away from a dining experience unsoiled.

Dinner time, to me, is like a race to the finish…and I’m training for gold. Anyone whose ever broken bread with me knows to keep their hands clear of the passage between my plate and my salivating orifice lest they find themselves missing a digit or two. It’s not that I make the conscious decision to inhale my food; I’d love to be one of those folks that just lingers over a meal – poking at it, pushing it around with their fork and finally conceding to take a bite – but inevitably I open my oral Hoover and suck my plate clean. Gold!

I’m a lazy diner too. Not in the sense that I eat slowly, we’ve already established that is not the case. No, I am lazy in that I carry, shall we say, a “relaxed” posture while I eat. It takes altogether too much effort to sit erect and hold over my place setting. Instead, I prefer to dine in a slightly reclined position. [This may play a part in the mystery of my soiled clothing.] I slunk down into my chair and transport my food the better part of a linear yard from plate to pie hole.

As a youngster I used to eat sidesaddle; legs flung over the arm of the kitchen chair. Unfortunately, the disapproval of my parents overrode my need for comfort, and I was forced to face front or be excused from family meal time. Despite all the manners my mother tried to instill, my ideal dining arrangement would take place in one of those Craftmatic® adjustable beds with a tray of food resting snugly above my breasts and an adult-size trough bib wrapped around my torso like a corset so that I wouldn’t have to concern myself with staining my clothes.

Sadly, my laziness doesn’t end with my slack posture. I’m also a lazy diner in the fashion that I do not like to take the time to properly cut up my food. As a child, I often attempted to eat my portion of meat by stabbing the entire slab directly onto my fork and tearing away at it with my teeth. For this, I would receive a swift thump to the skull with a small yet persuasive stainless steel instrument. My father, a clever and expeditious man himself, somehow failed to appreciate my method of improved eating efficiency; I bore many-a spoon-induced goose eggs to prove it.

To this day, I still have difficulty using a knife properly. I mangle any poor pork chop that I try to bite-sect. During a visit to France (where table manners are inbred) a friend observed me slashing away at my food and commented that I “eat like a Barbarian!” Unsolicited and unwelcomed, he took it upon himself to teach me how to properly handle my knife and fork. I humored him for the time being, but it did little good overall as I still saw even the thickest cuts of meat by rocking the side edge of my fork while applying 80psi of pressure. This fork-only method ensures that I don’t lose precious eating time to the repetitive and unnecessary task of picking up and putting down a knife – thus adding to the efficiency quotient aforementioned. One can’t compete for the gold by fiddle-farting around with those other secondary utensils.

Not only do I avoid the arbitrary task of cutting my food, but I evade chewing as well. I figure that if my food is not properly masticated by two or three grinds of my incisors then I’ll leave it to my gastrointestinal system to finish the job. God designed stomach acid for a reason, who am I to question the perfection of His creation? According to my younger sister, there was an incident sometime during my childhood where I was woofing down such large bites of steak that I unknowingly bit off – and consequently choked – on a bone. When I told her I had zero recollection of such an episode, she insisted this was due to the bone cutting off my oxygen supply so that I blacked out. She did, however, recall that I went on to finish every last giant bite of my steak.

Puzzling together a storyline

I’ve always loved puzzles.  I get this particular gene from my father who is a master problem-solver.  Although I earned my degree in Art, I spent many of my early years in the workforce as an accounting professional.  Art and accounting are considered polar opposites on the creativity spectrum, but the leap between the two came easily for me.  I attribute this to the fact that the business of accounting is less about mathematics and more about problem-solving. And, as I mentioned earlier, I love puzzles!

There is also a creativity spectrum when it comes to writing.  On one end of the spectrum are those writers referred to as Pantsers.  As the name implies, these writers tend to write “by the seat of their pants”, or without any formal direction.  On the opposite end are the Plotters, who carefully outline their story before beginning the creative process of bringing the story to life.  There are pros and cons to both practices, as discussed in The Write Practice blog post  here.

When I began my first novel, The Cry of the Loons, I did so as a Pantser.  I had an idea for a story, opened up my laptop, and began writing.  But as the plotline became more and more complex, I soon realized I needed some form of guidance tool if I wanted my storyline to make sense and actually go somewhere.  This is when I discovered the delightful process of plotting – puzzling together a storyline.  Because The Cry of Loons follows the relational odyssey of doomed lovers over a period of 25 years, I began by creating a timeline on which I marked all major events including when new characters were introduced.  This was an especially tremendous help since the storyline begins when the protagonists meet – she being 19 and he a mere 13 years old.  Their age difference is obviously a major obstacle in their relationship, so it was important for me to be able to refer to the timeline I had created to see how old each character would be at the time of each event.  I couldn’t have a sixteen-year-old boy that had a full-time career and owned a home…not when he was supposed to be a sophomore in high school and still lived under his parent’s roof.  Likewise, by the time the male protagonist turned eighteen, the female protagonist would be twenty-four, no longer in college, and having already begun her career.  It was imperative I keep their life stages accurate if the story was to be believable.

Next, I created a chapter outline.  In the case of The Cry of Loons, the story is told in the first person by the co-protagonist.  Meaning, the male and female lead characters take turns telling the story from their own points of view.  As if this wasn’t complicated enough, they also take turns telling the story in parallel timelines: one beginning when they meet in 1990, the other beginning when they reconnect in 2012.  So the novel unfolds in a four-chapter cycle as follows:

1 – Female point of view, present

2 – Male point of view, present

3 – Female point of view, past

4 – Male point of view past.

This pattern repeats 7 1/2 times…I’m not sure I could have made the task of writing this story any more complex if I had tried!  Hence the importance of the chapter outline.  I made brief notes of each event that needed to occur and each clue that needed to be revealed by chapter.  I didn’t want to reveal an important piece of the past before it became relevant in the present.  Nor did I want the present characters to refer to an episode from their past that hadn’t yet occurred in the parallel timeline.  It was indeed a giant puzzle.

This time around, as I begin preparing to write my next novel Crackpot Messiah, I have been diligently crafting an outline before I put a single word to paper.  Thankfully, this story is to be told in the third person by an omniscient narrator as it unfolds in chronological order.  In other words, it’s going to be written old-fashioned story-style…no fancy shifting points of view and no confusing jumps between timelines.  Just a beginning, a middle, and an end…in that order!  However, I still feel it is equally imperative I have an outline to refer to so that I know when conflicts and foreshadowing should come into play, when the action should escalate or decline, and when each character should be introduced and interact with others.  I liken the process to reverse engineering, as I first need to determine an ending (a resolution) to my story so that I can work backward to figure out how the plot will fit together along the way.

Although I am chomping at the bit to write Crackpot Messiah, the discipline of puzzling together the storyline not only gives me greater confidence going into the task, but is also (at least, to me) a wildly enjoyable part of the creative process.