Tag Archives: death

Behind the Scenes: Snapped Dry, Scraped Clean

It’s live! Woo!

Read it for free here!

This tale was inspired by two articles. The first was about a woman who was found dead in a hospital stairwell. The second was about the folks who clean up crime scenes after the investigation has concluded. The combination of care and neglect when we’re at our most vulnerable (in a hospital, at home, among family) percolated into this story. I wanted to look the ugly, unspoken thing in the face — like the limits of care, and what happens when we reach those limits and start to fail. Who cares for the caregiver, kind of thing.

When I first drafted this story in 2015, I was also thinking about sensory overwhelm and emotional burnout on the part of the caretakers. Hrisa had always been sensitive to sound, and moved from the role of surgeon to death cleaner because she couldn’t handle it anymore. In the original version, she had an assistant named Gurna. A childhood accident had left Gurna without a nose, so while both Hrisa and Gurna had trouble being part of society, they found work that suited them. Hrisa was meant to make Gurna tougher, and Gurna pushed back when Hrisa’s desire to protect herself soured into actual cruelty.

The discussion about the veil, and whether to hide one’s face, is a remnant of that relationship, and the ways in which we normalize or reject shame.

I was just beginning with short fiction in those days, and this was the first story where I relaxed my grip a little and spent more time with the environment and the feelings of the characters. The wordcount was far too high to sell as a result, and that’s when Gurna was cut. It gave the other characters more presence and agency.

Fun fact, it turns out that the guy in the article about cleaners is a friend of a friend from the days I lived in New York. I’m kicking myself for not knowing this connection earlier. I would have liked to ask about materials and process.

This story was written while listening to “Save Me From Myself” by Sirenia. You can follow them on their website or on YouTube.

Thanks also to Nick Mamatas’s Fabulist Fiction class, for helping me streamline this piece into something publishable.

P.S., I now have a ko-fi! If you’d like to leave a dollar in the tip jar, please do so here.

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Guest Post up at Warpworld

Author Kristene Perron is one of the most genuine individuals I’ve ever met. As part of the launch of the fourth book in the Warpworld series, Perron and a number of other authors will dive deep into the concept of loss. How we cope, how we process, and what part loss plays in a story. She writes:

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”.

I had the honor of writing the first guest post on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:

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 light-years 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.
Read the full article here.

Death of an Icon

David Bowie died last night. The timing was elegant, in line with his birthday, and a new album. Many feel that he took the time to say goodbye.

My feed has been blowing up with stories about him, memories involving him, and ways in which his music inspired my friends’ proudest moments. It’s extraordinary to see how many lives he’s touched, in so many incarnations, and in such a breadth of ways.

To be perfectly truthful, I don’t know much about Bowie beyond his participation in Labyrinth as the Goblin King. As I’m reading others’ memories, and I see how gutted they are, I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s death. Robin Williams’ death. I have never met either of those men, but I cried over their deaths as though they were blood.

We are more interconnected than we know.

When you witness the life of a magical being, remember how their death feels, and what feels lost. You have the same capacity for magic.

Use it now. Share it now.

Subject Matter: Erotica vs. Sexual Harassment

Today is Friday the 13th, in February. In two days, it will be hella-cheap chocolate day, which is even better than Valentine’s day itself. I grew up thinking that V-day was about romance, gracious courtship, and gifting; but here in San Francisco, the universal spirit of Valentine’s is: “LET’S FUCK!  WOOHOO!!”

This message was both compounded and confused by the fact that I was drafting an article about erotic literature while simultaneously clicking through a mandatory sexual harassment training module.

This contrast reminded me that there’s no right or wrong way to approach a subject. The grand subjects like love, death, sex, (and taxes?) are so deeply entrenched in our own understanding that it opens up thousands of possibilities for stories. For any given subject there’s an inspirational and enraging way to tell it. There’s a sumptuous way and a revolting way. What becomes more important each time is the build-up.  It’s not just the event in isolation, but everything surrounding the event, how it came to be, and what comes after. It’s like giving birth, or orgasm, or jumping off a bridge.

Think about your perceptions of loaded ideas like sex and death. What are your patterns? How can you invert them?

“I live in the space between chaos and shape. I walk the line that continuously threatens to lose its tautness under me, dropping me into the dark pit where there is no meaning. At other times, the line is so wired that it lights up hte soles of my feet, gradually my whole body, until I am by own beacon, and I see the beauty of newly created worlds.”
–Jeanette Winterson


Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.”
–Charles Bukowski

How to Research for a Story

Sometimes accuracy matters, sometimes it really doesn’t. Ultimately you need to serve the needs of your story before, say, physics.

That said, as the world gets smaller and information becomes easer to access, writers find their work under more scrutiny than ever before. Poking holes in fiction is a common pastime not only for trolls but for professionals in that field, and people who are genuinely interested in the topic. It’s easy to reach for a TV show, a documentary, or a quick fact in isolation from a textbook; but in doing so there’s a good chance that you’ll miss some important details and context, thus alienating those with whom this experience could resonate the most.

For example, you can’t hit someone with a Taser while touching them, or you’ll feel the effects yourself. I’m looking at you, directors of The Machine. So if you can’t go for documentaries, and you can’t rely on the veracity of blogs, academic articles are another great resource. The story I’m working on right now is a secondary world in which a talented and accomplished healer, Hrisa, quits working to save people and instead transitions to post-mortem cleanup. It’s been interesting to consider medicine in terms of a battlefield. No matter how good a healer you are, no matter the technology and access one has; the battle with death is always a losing one. You can save someone for a while, but eventually you will both lose. I wanted to see if this premise holds up to real nurses’ experience. Here are some of the articles I found. Post-traumatic stress disorder in military nurses who served in Vietnam during the war years 1965–1973, by Elizabeth M. Norman Results indicate that the number of nurses suffering from this disorder has decreased since the initial postwar years. Two variables (the intensity of the wartime experience and supportive social networks after the war) influenced the level of PTSD.

The prevalence and impact of post traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses, by Meredith Mealer et al This paper discusses whether post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and burnout syndrome (BOS) are common in nurses, and whether the co-existence of PTSD and BOS is associated with altered perceptions of work and nonwork-related activities.

Increased Prevalence of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Critical Care Nurses, by Meredith L. Mealer, Et Al Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses work in a demanding environment where they are repetitively exposed to traumatic situations and stressful events. The aim of this research is to determine whether there is an increased prevalence of psychological symptoms in ICU nurses when compared with general nurses. Another option, if I’m looking for something more specific or esoteric, is to seek out the paper’s author. Meredith L. Mealer’s coming up frequently, so in this case she’d be a good choice. Be prepared to hear ‘no,’ though. It’s a jungle out there long before you hit submission time.

“Most of the Island Trauma team’s work involves the bereaved or people going through emotional upheaval, which is the most difficult part of the job, explains Baruchin. “Some people will be in shock, some will break down, some people will get in there with you and clean because it was somebody they knew. That’s probably the hardest thing, but if we’ve done it right, it’s a hug-fest by the end of the job.”  — Saira Kahn, “Smelling Death: On the Job With New York’s Crime-Scene Cleaners”

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Medicine Vs. Death: Department of Health & Wellness in Fulton County, Georgia

Death and Transformation in the Writing Process

Without Lauren, there would be no Setsu. This is something she wrote many years ago offline that I re-read just hours before hearing about Robin Williams’ death. It was strange to feel so overcome by loss for someone I had never met; but in a way, we have. His sincerity in each of his roles is what made them real, and what made me trust him. His portrayals in Baron Munchausen, Hook, The Birdcage, The Fisher King and What Dreams May Come will always stick out in my mind.

What a legacy of outrageous brilliance, laughter, and above all, sincerity. He was an insane hurricane — from the crazed wild winds down to the last cold, lonely droplet.

And now, Lauren’s thoughts on death and writing.

Everyone fears death to some degree. In our culture, we normally view death not just as an ending, but as the ending to all endings. Imprisonment in a black hole from which there is no escape. We usually see change in a similar vein, dying on a smaller scale—a little death to which we’re dragged kicking and screaming. Either way we perceive it as the same thing: A decision we don’t get to make that gives us no way out.

But there are belief systems existing out there that don’t consider death to be negative. One alternative is to look at death the way it’s portrayed in a stack of Tarot cards, not as a cut off point where consciousness ceases to be, but as a crossroads where transformation is born. True transformation is part of the natural cycle of the universe: Every ending leads to another beginning. It’s also about moving from the known into the unknown. But dying hurts, no matter how you do it. Change is painful…whether it’s sudden or slow. When you’re caught in the period of transition it can feel like you’ve been cast adrift. Sometimes there’s nothing more uncomfortable than feeling stuck in that waiting in-between state.

As writers, Death as Transformation is an irreplaceable instrument of our craft. It is an incomparable experience that infuses inspiration into our life, and our work. To bring paper and ink to its knees we must be brave enough to shed our familiar skin. Bold enough to emerge naked into the world again, waiting for our new carapace to crystallize and our wings to unfold. Releasing ourselves newly born into a whole new element, we must leave the well-worn husk behind. Push yourself to the precipice and bust out of that shell! Stop crawling forward in your writing—FLY.

Thank you Lauren. Thank you Robin. Thank you to everyone brave enough to walk around without armor — risking it all to make the world a little more magical.

“Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.”
—Cherrie Moraga

“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.”
—Tom Stoppard

“Genius is not a gift but the way out one invents in desperate cases.”
—Jean-Paul Sartre

 

What-Dreams-May-Come

Robin Williams, “What Dreams May Come”

Death, Antiquing, and Why I Don’t Buy Souveniers

Impermanence has been on my mind lately. There’s a certain freedom that comes with a lack of attachment, but sometimes I want to forget this truth.

I went to an antique show for the first time this past weekend. It was sunny and windy, and I got amazingly sunburned. There was a wide array of stuff — as you might guess — everything from 70s kitsch to ‘ancient’ coins to furniture in various stages of refinishing. The crowning glory of all of this was a medical model for giving birth. As my friend and I walked through the twenty-six aisles of history, we came across more energy-loaded objects. Piles of children’s shoes. Chipped bayonets and spearheads. Finally, a case with hundreds of diamond rings inside.

As I looked at the case, (I love sparkly things, one of my dearest friends calls me Magpie for this reason) I started to feel some kind of resonance off them. These had belonged to someone, once. How many broken marriages — or refused proposals — were sitting under this case? How many had been sold by happy couples, raising money for something greater than themselves? How many had been stolen, or lost, or trickled down from estate sales?

From then on, being in the presence of these precious objects became intensely surreal.

All these antiques, from jewels to dressers to road-signs were plucked from time. They’re imbued with their own stories and history even if they’re valueless otherwise. I can’t participate in collecting the way my friend and the other shoppers can, because I’m averted to souvenirs. I’m afraid of losing them.

Whenever I travel, I don’t keep things for myself. I’ll either leave them for the next person, or give them to my family. All the scrolls I brought back from the monastery are in different states — storing my memories in the safety of my loved ones’ homes. I move around a lot, and I’m concerned anything precious I collect will be lost or destroyed. My brother and sister are rooted, with families of their own; whereas I flit around, digging and exploring.

I can’t become attached to these objects without knowing — to my bones — that they will be destroyed in the fullness of time. I feel as ephemeral as they are, and I know that I too, one day, will be destroyed.

I only keep small things, sentimental things. I brought two stones back from China. One was for a friend by request (a chip of the training ground that Sifu threw at me in good-natured abuse). The other was a piece of stone from the mountaintop.

There had been so much mica on the mountain that the dirt and tree-roots glittered halfway up it. Once we had ascended, I remember looking out and watching the leaves blowing in the wind — rustling so loudly they sounded like waves crashing on a beach. The walkway to the temples are long stretches of stone that look like melted silver. I have a chip of that silver.

I feel so close to the knowledge that everything dies that it sucks the meaning from objects… Except for small things. Sentimental things. I’ll lose a souvenir, but I’ll always remember a scent, or a bit of music.

All of my stories have a character who experiences this. Someone so old, or so deep into the truth that they can’t cope with it. They can’t remember how to be human anymore. I’m grateful for their company, and the warning of what I could become if I’m unable to turn away from death now and then.

I can collect and lose objects. I have befriended, loved, and lost people. My memories of experience endure, like scent, like sight; but I’ve never found a way to capture and store the feeling of bonding with another person. My characters help me understand what it means to be detached — not only for them but for the friends and family they leave behind.

The ability to connect with others is as vital as food and water, to me — and I think it’s why I would never choose enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps us from losing ourselves in the sea of time. The ring is nothing. Attachment is nothing; and yet it is everything.

 

Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

 

Nothing endures but change.
― Heraclitus

 

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