OF ICE AND ZEN

Grass crackles under feet,
hair like hay in this heat.

Wetness pools underarms,
Eau d’ Sweat doesn’t charm.

Rush inside for cooling drink,
central air is on the blink.

Lemonade made with ice,
would be better if it’s spiked.

Freezer has ice cold air,
I think I’ll keep my head in there.

Husband wanders in the room,
laughs out loud–who’s this loon?

Hair and eyebrows frozen stiff,
I dash outside till air is fixed.

Pavement hot, bare feet sizzle,
I dance and jump and do a jiggle.

Race back in and heave a sigh,
day is done, and so am I.

–A.S.

Obituaries Aren’t Us

Death is never humorous. It’s the obituaries that sometimes are.

Years ago when someone died, forms were filled out by the deceased’s loved one at the funeral home, then it was sent to the local newspaper for the obituary editor to compile into a well-written, just-the-facts, notice. Within the last fifteen years or so, our local paper has allowed self-written essays (for a fee, of course. The more words the better) in the obituary section. This has produced the gamut of writing styles and decimation of the English language. It also gives the reader insight into the family’s dynamics, whether the writer intended to or not.

This morning I was sipping my jolt of high-octane coffee when I nearly choked. Not from the hot liquid, but from a 95-year-old woman’s obituary. It ran three half-page columns exhorting her privileged life.

This is the part of the obituary that had me just about spew my coffee:

“Despite recommendations and pressure from bank trust officers to diversify the family’s (stock) portfolio, (deceased person) followed the wishes of her parents and held the (certain company) shares, some of which were purchased more than 100 years ago. The company continued to pay through the Great Depression. It is a quintessential long term investing story of which the family is very proud. The family is grateful for her faith and vision in the benefits (of) long-term stock investing.”

I’m sure the family is very grateful.

And then, about a year ago, another family seemed to have a hard time expressing how bereaved they were. They lamented that the deceased woman’s children and grandchildren now “lost a piece of their minds” over her death.

I am so sorry brains were wasted in the process.

There is also the improper use of grammar that has me become apoplectic. But that, since I wish to remain calm, is for another day.

THE SPECIAL NEEDS PATIENT (notes from a caretaker)

And it has happened yet again.

I accompany my adult son, whom I call the “walking wounded,” into his primary care doctor’s office. This son is a special needs person who seems typical enough, yet when having to converse with someone, his expressive vocabulary exhibits signs of deficits. This doctor has known my son for over nine years, through many tests and diagnoses (of which he has several, one of which is a chromosomal abnormality).

An hour later after sitting and waiting in the exam room, my son is on edge. Unfortunately, a wait time of over an hour is the norm. His head hurts and his hands are clenching and unclenching. He needs to sit in a chair instead of on the exam table. Fine. He climbs down and sits next to me. Finally his doctor walks in. The doctor looks over a paper on which I have written symptoms my son has been exhibiting for a long time. I do this to refresh the doctor’s memory, as my son’s file resembles a bible. The doctor says my son should get one of those self-driving cars so when he feels ill, he could get to where he needs to go. I think this is a rather odd joke. Turns out it’s odd–but not a joke. He’s serious. My son mumbles something under his breath. This visit is going downhill fast, and this doctor, who says he did his part of his residency in psychiatry, doesn’t see my son’s body language which is of an animal ready to bolt.

Then the doctor turns to my son and asks him what he’s feeling. Feeling? As in, confused? Angry? Tense? Headachy? Nauseous? This is too vague a question for him. I know this. My son is about to bolt out the door. I speak up. I begin to tell the doctor what our visit is about. The doctor puts up his hand and says firmly to me: “Wait. I want your son to answer. You can’t jump in like that and answer for him.”

My son, in protective mode, sits up straight and says, “My mom can answer.”

I hand my son the car keys and tell him to go outside to wait. He leaves. Doctor says, “Well, now I can’t treat him. I needed him to tell me what was wrong.”

I point to the paper. “He dictated that to me. Those are his words. It’s what he does sometimes. I’m his mother and I know when he can’t express himself to the doctor. You’ve known him for almost a decade.”

Doesn’t make a difference. The doctor defends himself; tells me to bring him back in. Right. I again repeat, “I’m his mother. I know he won’t. It all went downhill, first when we had the first appointment of the afternoon yet waited over an hour, then when you mentioned the self-driving car which to him is like a slap in the face, and now the generalized question that he would have trouble answering.” I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret, so I open the exam room door and say, “This isn’t working.”

I hear, as I walk away, “Don’t you want the prescription for (name of latest test)?”

I shake my head, more in disbelief than to just say no.

Please, doctors and nurses, please understand that there are times when a patient prefers the caretaker to answer. Perhaps the patient isn’t well enough to speak up at that time, or maybe they asked the caretaker to answer all questions. And yes we, the caretakers, do know the ten-second rule; that when the patient is asked a question, the caretaker should wait ten seconds to see if the patient responds. If not, then the caretaker speaks up. And please do not speak authoritatively to the caretaker. Nor laugh. Nor be demeaning. We put up with a lot on a daily basis.

We know you have studied and worked hard to get to where you are today, and we respect that. But please, walk a mile in our shoes before you assume. Many impressive degrees after your name doesn’t begin to shed light on a caretaker’s responsibilities. Please respect us, too.

 

Working At The Title

Whether you’re perusing books at a bookstore, visiting your local library, or scrolling through B&N.com or Amazon.com, there is one thing that makes many people stop and read more about that particular book.

The title. It’s said you can’t judge a book by its cover, but nothing else catches your attention so fast as the title of a book. It’s the first thing you see if you’re in a library or book store, and they’re shelved with their spines facing out. It’s the first thing you see online, since the title is positioned above the cover and printed in bold eye-catching letters.

As a writer, we angst over this. We know that when we send out our query letters to agents or publishers, this is the first thing they’ll react to. We type the title in all-caps in the letter (italics are used for already published books). It stands out.

But one thing to remember: when a writer labors over the title of their masterpiece, and even if the first reader to the agent or the publisher likes that title, it can still be shot down and other titles bandied about if and when the book is going through revisions before publication. Therefore when a writer sends off his or her query, happy in the knowledge that the manuscript is polished and ready for the eyes of the publisher or agent, that title is referred to as a “working title.” (The best bet for a title is one that is anywhere from one to four words.)

With books, the writer is always included in the decision during revising, so the title will be one that everyone is (hopefully) comfortable with. A title that will attract the attention of potential readers. For my most recent e-book, the publisher agreed with my working title: LOONEY DUNES. An apt description of the quirky people who inhabit Dune Island.

With short stories or essays in magazines, this isn’t always the case. One time I had a nice, three word title that I felt succinctly enticed a person to read my story. It was published with an entirely new title that was (count ’em) seven words long.

But I had to accept it, since I knew from all my years of writing, submitting, and getting my work published, that this will happen. What was done, was done.

And I move on, creating more working titles to go along with my polished gems.