Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: The Magician



So I plowed through The Magician just as fast as I plowed through The Alchemist and what else can I say that I didn’t already say about the first book? Does he still create interesting portraits of historical people and mythological legends? Yes. Does he still paint incredible pictures of places we thought we knew? Absolutely. Does it still drag a bit when the narrative is focused solely on the twins the stories are revolved around? Yes, unfortunately. Is it still an interesting and fun ride? Definitely.

Oh, what’s that? You could use with a few more details, you say? That didn’t really tell you anything, you say?

Well, the first thing you need to know is that he took the book international. The first book was focused mainly in San Francisco and California as a whole, with a foray into a forested shadow realm which existed on another plain of existence entirely. In this book, most of the characters have been whisked away to Paris, where they encounter new friends and new foes. Three more characters from the history books are re-imagined as centuries-old immortals, from The Joan of Arc, and Comtesse du St. Germain (who is now a DJ rock idol going by Germain who has a CD coming out, HA!) to Niccolo Machievelli, who is just as big a villain as Dr. John Dee, but written and staged as possibly more dangerous and cunning than Dr. John Dee could ever become.

The places captured in the book are just as interesting and used in imaginative ways. The Eiffel tower becomes the center of an impromptu fireworks show, the streets of Paris are overcome by a rampaging beast, the catacombs underneath Paris are a lair for a very important elder. Magical showdowns take place in very important city landmarks, showcasing the author’s sense of place and how it can impact a story as much as the characters do.

But there was actually a second story line taking place halfway across the world, back in the San Francisco bay, in Alcatraz which also used the author’s sense of place to great effect, as well as continuing to elaborate on the mythological creatures we thought we knew (Sphinxes, Vampires, Crows, and Spiders Oh My!).

And again it’s obvious that the characters around whom the story is centered, the twins, are the least of the story. Yes they are important, and their characters are being developed in unique ways, but they still aren’t the draw for me. I don’t know if it is the unnecessary angst, or the redundancy the author feels he needs to build into their narrative when telling their story, but I’m less interested in them, especially when it’s just the two of them. They work better as ciphers for everyone else to tell their stories.

It’s paced well and it leaves you wanting more, which means I’ll be downloading and ripping through the third book ASAP. B+

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grief


Tragedy struck yesterday. Tragedy didn’t strike me or anyone in my family directly, but it struck someone I love and care about very much, my best friend, who has been through lots of bad days and deserves a whole heck of a lot better. She lost her sister yesterday.

I don’t want to talk about that loss because I can’t really speak to it and it isn’t my story to tell anyway. But it got me thinking and reflecting on grief, my own grief and how I processed Ukiah’s loss, my best friend’s grief, and our reactions to grief. Right as my best friend was finding out she had lost her sister, I was heading up the stairs to feed my daughter. As the tragedy unfurled around us, I was at a loss for what to do, how to react. Should I have stopped breastfeeding, leaving a crying baby in my wake to comfort my friend, should I stay and wait the agonizing minutes out until I’m done to talk to her? I was in a shambles as to what to do. I anxiously waited out the minutes, dealing with my own grief and desperation while holding my daughter. Every minute that went by, hearing the sobs and cries of my friend’s voice, I felt worse and worse.

My husband, who was away on an errand, came back to the news. He came upstairs and said the smartest thing he could say all day. “We should pay for her airfare home.” Then he did the smartest thing he did all day, he marched back downstairs, got on his computer and arranged for her flight home. He did what I wasn’t in the right frame of mind of getting close to doing, meaning he did something while I still hadn’t done a darn thing but feed my daughter.

Being on the outside of someone’s grieving process is a strange thing. Through the years I’ve been on both sides, inside looking out, outside looking in, and sometimes in the middle of both. Everyone processes grief differently, and everyone processes another person’s grief just a differently. What did she need? Was I capable of doing the right things?

But then I have to remind myself that grief is not something you should over-think. She needed a friend, a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on and a body to hug and I was nothing if not those things. And I thought back to my own grief at my son’s loss and how my best friend, on top of her own grief, helped me handle mine. From my perspective, she did a whole lot more than that. In those dark times, she talked me off an emotional ledge or two (or twenty! Ha!) where I was having trouble processing my emotions. The least I could do, or try to do, was the same for her.

We spent the rest of the night talking. Random topics came up that passed the time, everything from childhood friends to my weird, but still strongly held belief that I had to watch out for people trying to give my daughter El Ojo strictly because my best friend had told me all about it so many years ago. I didn’t know if I was doing the right things, trying to fill the silence.

I still don’t know if I did or if I’m doing enough to help with my friend’s grief. I wonder if she asked herself that question when I lost my son. I guess that’s something you never know for sure.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: The Alchemist

I’m holding to my New Year’s resolution so far! And it isn’t even the New Year yet. I’m betting a thousand! Woot!
So I finally completed The Alchemist by Michael Scott and I have to say I really liked it, so much so that I purchased a digital of The Magician, the second book in the series and have started plowing through it. I’ve completed close to half of that book now too and I have to say the series has got me hook, line, and sinker.

A quick summation: The book is about two twins living in San Francisco that have a unique friendship with a couple that owns a bookshop in San Francisco and how that relationship is turned on its ear and the very nature of their lives changes when an old enemy of the couple walks back into their lives. While the story is centered around the twins, and how they may or may not be part of a prophecy put down in a book called The Codex, they are hardly the most interesting part. I’d go so far as to say the story even drags a bit when the narration is focused solely on them. Where the book, and so far the series as a whole, thrives is when it blends history and mythology seamlessly. Characters that history has marked as dead (Nicholas Flamel, Dr. John Dee) and alive and bitter enemies. Mythological creatures and places that we’re supposed to assume never existed are indeed real. And watching as all these things and places blur into each and separate is where the story really excels.

The other place in which it excels is the action. It is paced quite nicely. There are fight scenes that are quite visual, fierce characters to side with (I officially want to be Scathach, period. End stop.)

The only place where it slows is when the narration and focus comes back around to the twins, and even then it still speeds along quite nicely. When the story focuses on them, in becomes bogged down a tad in redundant emotion and narration. Things the twins are feeling are explained and re-explained a few times. Not that isn’t a part of what its like being a teenager, but for better or worse, that is where the story drags.

But really, it is only a minor quibble in a story that takes myths we thought we know and starts creating its own myth and mythology in the process, which any good book worth its weight in paper should do. Highly recommended. A-, B+.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Feeding The Baby

Now that I'm doing this writing thing a little more consistently, I wrote a small essay for Drunken Bee's Feeding the Baby tumblr project. Sarah B. Was nice enough to post it on the site. I thought that I'd add it here in complete form:
’ve been thinking about how to write this a thousand different ways a thousand different times. I think everybody who expressed their opinion about breastfeeding has reiterated my point about a thousand times, which is that breastfeeding, or not breastfeeding is an individual act, and it shouldn’t be viewed as a statement on feminism or motherhood or even as who we are as mothers. The act of breastfeeding is like a snowflake, no two experiences are ever going to be the same.

Which is why I find the act of judging someone or our own self-judgment on breastfeeding so upsetting. The story I’m about to tell isn’t completely about breastfeeding but about parenting on the whole. I currently have a three month old and the whole act of breastfeeding and parenting while still not completely painless, is not even as closely fraught with the anxiety, pain, frustration, and fear I felt with my son.

I don’t know where to begin when talking about my son, except to say that he is no longer with us. We lost him ten days before his second birthday a year and a half ago. I judged myself and felt judged by every freaking body on every decision I made and we made as a family up to and definitely including the decision to let him go. Nothing about his life and my life as his parent was quote unquote normal. And every decision felt laden with doubt, and the fact that he and his medical troubles seemed to dog us at every turn didn’t help.

And the fact that there were people in the medical profession who should know better JUDGING us didn’t help. I once had to almost literally restrain my husband from crawling over a conference table and smacking a Neurologist (who should've known better) from judging us about decisions we were making. Nobody, and I do mean NOBODY, should tell a parent, especially a parent of a special needs child that they know more about that child’s care than that parent! Because we are living in the trenches not that doctor, or nurse, or lactation consultant, or any other health care professional for crying out loud! If it is working for you, good. If it isn’t working for you, change what you’re doing tell you find what something that does and for God sake’s don’t beat yourself up about it or let any FREAKING body do the same. Because they don’t know what you’re going through, they haven’t walked a mile in your shoes and they don’t know the decisions you’re making on a daily basis until they have to make them for themselves, period, end stop.

Also, if you find that you are beating yourself up about breastfeeding or your parenting skills in general, take a deep breath and remind yourselves, that the decisions you are making could be worse, with much bigger ramifications.
 Every time I write about my son in any form, it always bubbles up a lot of emotions and memories, necessary but bittersweet. I'm glad I got to share this with the tumblr crowd.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Year's resolutions

2011 came and went in a blink of an eye didn’t it? Here I am on the precipice of a new year, contemplating what has happened in the year that’s about to wrap, and contemplating what I’d like to accomplish in the new one. The biggest accomplishment of 2011 for me and mine? The birth of my daughter. We welcomed her with open hearts and open arms in September and my life hasn’t been the same since.

Her birth and her life up this point have filled both my husband and myself with bittersweet joy. We’re so blessed to have her in our lives, but there’s a tinge of sadness there, because we miss her brother so much and he’s still such a big part of our hearts and our lives.

But contemplating her new life, and Ukiah’s very short one have made me want to do more with mine, and as such, and looking out into this new year coming up, I’m considering those very clich├ęd but necessary prospects, resolutions. As of right now, I only have two.

1.       Read more.
      
      This year has reminded me how much I love to read, and how seldom I read anything of worth through to completion. The one book I did read through to completion this year was Jane Eyre. This was the first time I’d actually read it, and I have to say I loved it! And I’ve come to the realization that I need to read more and actually finish the books I’ve started to read. In the past five years, I’ve started Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay twice and STILL have not finished it. I’m halfway through CJ Cherryh’s very awesome Down Below Station and still haven’t finished that either! I received an Amazon Kindle Fire as an early Christmas gift from my company and I’m currently in the middle of Micheal Scott’s The Alchemist but that’s only because I got halfway through Michael Scott’s The Necromancer before I realized that there were three books before it! So I obviously want to work my way through that series sometime this year. And that’s just the books I’m halfway in the middle of. I still have a list of books a mile wide that I haven’t even started yet.

      I bought Swamplandia at my favorite bookstore ever (Hi City Lights! I love you! I don’t tell you that enough!) because it was so highly recommended and have not started it. My mother gave me The Book Thief and Little Bee with the intention that I actually read them and I really, really, really want to! I also downloaded a bunch of free books on that Kindle Fire that I want to get through. Also, I won a hardcover version of Emma (Thanks again at @PenguinUSA!) that I want to plough through. I’ve forgotten how worthwhile the act of reading through a book is and I want to rekindle (Ha!) my love affair with books if at all possible. I know it’s a heady proposition, having a child that’s not even one yet and trying to fit in reading, but I have to try! And I want to document this new love affair here if at all possible. Which brings me to my next resolution:

2.       Write more.

As I wrote earlier this year, I’ve dubiously started writing again, which started with revising my completed novel and beginning the second novel in the series. I did revise the first one and began the process of trying to get it published, and I was rejected by my first literary agent! Woo! I’m still (slowly) trying to find a literary agent, or means of getting published, which hopefully will change this year as I’m going to try and enter this contest.

I don’t know how far I’ll get, if I get anywhere, but I have to try. So I’m going to try and write more. I’m going to try to write more pages of the second and third book in the series I have planned. I’m going to try and write more in this space (I’ve made that promise before, HA!) and my other blogs and I’m just going to try and write anything that comes to me. I’ve let too many good ideas pass through me unwritten and life is too short to let good ideas pass unnoticed.

Both of these are heady prospects given my full time job, my daughter, and my husband, but I want to make them work. Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ukiah's Birthday

It feels like a dream, his birth. And yet I can remember everything in exacting detail. I won't bore you with those details but that was all to say its still very fresh, and at the same time very distant. Three years ago yesterday, we brought an incredible spirit into the world. A year ago on April 5th, we lost that incredible spirit.

We're still trying to sift through what those dates mean to us and how we're supposed to get through those days. On April 5th, we went to George Mark House, walked the gardens, had a few good cries, took solace at their fountains, found the rock with his name on it at one of those fountains, said hellos, hugged necks, went to our favorite pizza place and came home. Doesn't sound like allot but believe you me it was exhausting.

Yesterday, we didn't want to wallow, we wanted to celebrate. So we went to San Francisco. We went to a museum, had lunch, bought cream puffs at the most amazing place in the city (Dear Pacific Puffs on Union, do you deliver, because there is one pregnant lady in Livermore who wishes you did).

We celebrated his life and by extension our own. It was nice, not to fraught with tears.

I did have one moment though. On the way out of the museum, we saw a lady with a little girl in special wheel chair. I could tell just be looking that the little girl was obviously special needs. If I had to guess, I'd say she had cerebral palsy. I was at once hit with two conflicting emotions. One was elation. I love when parents of special needs kids take them out and give them experiences as if they were any other kid. It makes me happy, as if those parents and those kids are going on as if whatever diagnosis isn't a hinderence but something they can overcome.

At the same time, I was hit with fact that I wished that could've been Ukiah. I would've given the world to load him up a car and go to a museum, hit the beach, take in a movie with him. He deserved all the experiences of the world, and because of his health issues, he got to have very few. That's one of the many heartbreaks I've had to face unfortunately, one that I'm not likely to get over, at least not any time soon.

There is a bright spot to yesterday. My giving page raised over 800 dollars in a day. Its current total is at 2,319! The lovely and wonderful people through Tomato Nation's fundraiser did that. Which is totally awesome. Thank you all for making my day a little brighter, and for celebrating my son's legacy. I appreciate it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Remember April 5th and April 15th

It somehow snuck up on us. We'd both been so busy to notice until now, but its here whether we wanted it to be or not. Tomorrow is the day we lost Ukiah. The realization hit us both like a punch in the gut. I don't even know what to do about it at this point.

April 15th will be here before we know it as well. His birthday. We're taking the day off to celebrate it and him. It you'd like to take a few moments to remember him yourself either tomorrow or on the 15th, please feel free.

As a way of remembering him tomorrow or on the 15th, please take a moment and donate a few bucks either to George Mark House or to my Donors Choose Giving Page that I set up in his honor.
I wish I had more to say on this matter, but I'm too wracked by emotions to say much more. Just please keep him in you heart this month and on these two days.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Little Gestures

I'm sometimes surprised at the effect a simple action can have. We know of one anology or another regarding this phenomenon. The whole 'a butterfly fluttering its wings can start an earthquake in China' trope we've heard a bunch of times, but nonetheless seems to be true. Every once in a while I decide to flutter my wings in a good way. Sometimes its giving twenty bucks to the homeless person in the grocery store parking lot, other times its giving all my spare change to the salvation army collectors during Christmas. And then of course, there's my fund raising for George Mark House.

But no where does my little fluttering have as big an impact as when I participate in the Tomato Nation Donors Choose fundraiser. Because its not just me, its thousands of people like me turning out for a cause, to help public schools and school teachers with much needed funding. Together, with all the others that donate, I get to say that I'm part of a movement that has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a good cause.

This year, the fundraiser is done a little differently. Before, Tomato Nation just listed a bunch of projects she wanted funded, with all the projects equallng the sum of money she wanted to raise for the whole month. I always found something on the list I liked and would donate 20 or 25 bucks or if I have the means to, close out a project. Last year, I donated 75$ to a special needs project and I couldn't have been more thrilled. The thank you notes alone had me coasting on happy thoughts for month. Just recently I completed a project to send a group of first graders to The Nutcracker. The thank you notes were adorable construction paper gingerbread men with lovely thank yous from the students written inside. I keep them in a special drawer, they are that important.

This year is a little different. Any of Sar's fans that wanted to, could create a giving page and attach it to her fund raising efforts. So I did. I picked only special needs projects because after everything that happened with my son, it seemed like the right thing to do. I created the giving page in his honor and named it for one of his best attributes, his heart.

(Here the full link, just in case: http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/viewChallenge.html?id=156315&max=25)

It was a small gesture. It cost me absolutely nothing, it was completely painless and hassle free and it was a way to honor my son. What could be better? Well I was about to find out.

I hadn't expected a lot from it to be honest. I had two teachers who asked if I'd add their projects. I did that and gave them a couple of bucks. I figured that's all it would raise, and I was fine with that. Then all of the sudden, a wonderful donor closed out three of the projects I selected, and it became part of my giving page total. Then my husband gave. And then a co-worker. It's not even April yet and this little giving page has raised over 200 bucks and closed out four projects. According to Donor's Choose 79 students have been reached, just by my having put a giving page together.

But the story gets better. Awhile back I did a survey for donor's choose and as a thank you, they gave me 5 $25 gift certificates to give to my friends. I sent one to my husband, to my mom, and a coworker and the other two I sent to the two teachers who e-mailed me with kind words for my giving page. One of the teachers recieved her certificate today and has already put it to her project and is almost funded! I am totally thrilled. All these little acts seem to be having a big impact and that's amazing.

I want you to keep one thing in mind, this fundraiser is set to start in April! It's not even April yet and my giving page has raised just close to 250 bucks. The entire total for all of the giving pages for the fundraiser is close to $5000!

Imagine what will happen when our wings really start fluttering.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Big Step

I did something kind of momentous, at least it was for me. I sent out a sample of my book to a literary agent. It was the last, and relatively small step I've been meaning to do since I finished my book a year and a half ago. And yet it was huge.

I don't talk about the book much, here or anywhere else, mostly cause Chris has me so paranoid that it could be stolen at any moment that I'm scared for anybody to look at it. Its also partly because I'm so tied up in it that I don't want to write about it, afraid of sharing too much. But its something important to me, mostly because its the only piece of fiction work I've actually had the wherewithal to complete. I love writing creatively, but aside from the odd short story or rambling essay, I haven't had the true compunction to finish writing anything bigger than a few pages.

Then Ukiah came along and changed all that. I was so inspired by what he went through and so motivated by not just his story but his spirit, that I felt it necessary to write it all down and put is somewhere. It's a piece of work I like to call partly autobiographical, partly science fiction. It's not Ukiah's story, in case you're wondering, but he's in there. It's not all about his medical trials and tribulations, but they are in there too. It's about so much more than that. Like all great books, I believe it takes a new and irreverent look at the human experience, and I think that's really what writers want to do. We just want to provide a thread to the tapestry of life.

And so yesterday I knowingly and willfully gave a piece of that thread to a literary agent clear across the country. All my hopes and dreams for the future are in the fed-ex box headed East. Yesterday I tweeted "Just left my future in the hands if a kinko's guy. Bye-bye writing sample for lit agent! Do me proud!" then I promptly entered my prenatal yogo class, picked a card my teacher hands out for the day containing affirmations, and saw that I picked the Surrender card. Basically, the card stated, I need to surrender to the fates whatever happens now. Apt, for what I'd just done. There's not much else I can do but surrender. I did my best. I scoured and cleaned my writing sample to within an inch of its life. I rewrote and rewrote sections. I checked and double checked the query letter and now all I can do is wait.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring or the day after that. Maybe the lit agent will read the first 50 pages, become intrigued and then ask for the rest. Maybe I'll get a form rejection letter saying better luck next time. Maybe my package will get lost in freaky plane accident a la The Castaway, and will be adrift out to sea for a decade until somebody brings it back. All I know is I have to try. I have to get someone to see the beauty in what I wrote, so the outside world will. Also, apparently, I have to surrender.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scar Tissue

When I'm trying to describe what the aftermath of losing my son is like, I often use a lot of gritty morbid metaphors. I don't think anybody is fully going to understand the scope of losing a child unless they do it themselves. There are just so many things that thanks to the limits of the English language, I just will not ever be able to put into words correctly. But I try to paint a picture. I mean, I'm a writer, that's what I do.

I once had to describe to my mother what it was like living in my house without my son. The best analogy I could come up with is that immediately after having him and finally getting to bring him home. It's was as if a bomb of toys, and teeny socks, and pacifiers went off and the debris of that bomb was spread everywhere. Every room of the home, so many nooks and crannies of our cars were even filled with things for him. It was a bomb I didn't mind and actually kind of loved. There wasn't an aspect of our home that wasn't inundated with his presence. When he died, we quietly, diligently, but sadly went about the process of picking up the debris he left behind. Some things I was pretty good about parting with. I donated one of his two cribs without too much attachment, gave a bunch of his toys to his physical therapy department (we still have tons of stuff that was his). Somethings were too 'radioactive' to move or even touch. The footstool/storage bin in the living room is still filled to the brim with books and toys that were his most used. The crib in our room hasn't budged an inch since Chris first assembled it. The bin of toys sitting on Chris's nightstand is something we both refuse to move from its rightful spot. Neither of us have vocal said so, but its just something we know we won't move just the same. There are other things I feel I should get rid of, and am paralyzed to do so sometimes. I have this little box on the bathroom counter filled with hair doodads and makeup. Somehow, his little toothbrush is in it. I can't move it, hell I cry just trying to touch it. In the same box, there was a little filter belonging to one of the feeding systems we used to feed him via a port in his stomach. A few months ago, I found it, knew I should throw it out, couldn't, and started sobbing. That's all in effort to say that we are contaminated with Ukiah radioactivity that we will never willfully be rid of, and to me that's a good thing, wierdly.

The other metaphor I  use to better describe the state of things, my state of things, is that losing a child  is a lot like having been a cardiac bypass recipient. My father had one close to fifteen years ago, so I know of what I speak I guess. First of all, you come out the other side, and you're not really the same. Sure you do things in essence of feeling and acting normal and like you were before all this happened, but in truth, you're not really, and you're never going to be. You walk around with this deep scar on your chest that nobody knows about, or sees immediately.  But it's there, and you can always feel it, you're always aware of it.

My big issue at this stage (other than pregnancy hormones and nausea) is that I end up revealing that chest wound in really strange ways sometimes. Today, I had to get some blood drawn for my prenatal blood panel. No big deal, or so I thought. The whole morning I'm fine, its business as usual, no big deal. Then I get to the blue padded blood drawing chair and I start to get anxious. I hate needles, I hate watching my blood get drawn, I hate the weird rubber band thingies, I hate making fists. I can't stand any of it. And then suddenly. I was struck be this thought of the multiple times my son had his blood drawn, and the multiple attempts at threading an IV into his vein, and the one hospital stay where they put in an arterial IV as well and were deciding whether or not to sew in a PIC line and all the utter shit he went through and never had a say in and I lost it. I not only showed my scars to my phlebotomy technician, I felt as if I had reopened them and started bleeding on her. I hate being that visible about this, and yet, embarrassingly enough, I'm achingly visible. I sometimes feel I'm begging to show them to anyone who wants to see. Maybe I'll grow out of that impulse and things will get easier. Maybe those wounds will ache less and I'll feel more inclined to keep them under wraps. It's hard for me to say.