Two Writers and a Deity Named George

Caregiver relief aide is here.  I am up in my office not caring to deal with cold and snow to go someplace else.  The dog is confused.  Decided to stay downstairs.  Not sure if I should feel slighted.

Yesterday, I received an envelope containing three author copies of Rosebud, a nationally circulated literary magazine in which appears my short story “Mumblety-peg,” first written as one of a series of linked stories in 1979. The idea was to produce a kind of fake novel and publish it as a book.  That never happened but over the years I revisited the individual stories, revised them and sought publication, a process that has been largely successful.

This story is one of the last to find a home Interestingly, it is the one that came closest to being a huge success as it made its way up the slush pile (heaps of unsolicited submissions) of the Atlantic Monthly, all the way to the desk of the esteemed fiction editor C. Michael Curtis who sent me a handwritten rejection note, saying only the story was too dark for him.

I mention all of this as preface to the sad fact that I cannot really share this late coming good news with Carol.  I, of course, mentioned it.  Held up the magazine in front of her eyes, and received the slightest hint of a response.

Had Carol not been much involved in my writing career, her disease caused indifference at this time would not strike such a sour note.  But just the opposite is the case.  If we didn’t originally get together through writing, writing surely was a shared passion, and we were intimately involved in each other’s careers.  Mine was further along because I am ten years older and had started sooner.

But she quickly established her own standing as a fine and award winning short story writer.  To the immediate point, however,  she was also an excellent editor and gave all of my work the most thorough going over, complete with marginal notes in her beautiful hand.  Naturally, I didn’t always agree, but that is any writer’s privilege, and she would return the favor when I made suggestions concerning her work.

All that, of course, is now lost.

When her disease hit her, she was trying to market her stories as a collection as well as conquer the challenges of a novel.

I had just finished writing a new novel.  At that time, she did not have the ability to provide editorial response, but she was an active cheerleader.

That, too, is gone.

We were very different writers in many ways.  In part that was the case because our backgrounds were so dissimilar, I from an urban environment, she having grown up on a farm.  And of course, gender probably contributed to the differences as well.  She was far more visual than I while I probably concentrated a bit more on plot.  Our methods contrasted as well.  She had to have long stretches away from all distraction while I was very used to working in short snatches, much as I am doing now.

We respected each other’s approach to writing and, for the most part, did not try to impose our ways or interests on the other although when asked for an opinion we offered what each thought was the best from our own perspective.

We had separate personal libraries.  When we had floor to ceiling bookcases installed in the dining room on the wall that led through a doorway to the kitchen, we each took half.  We didn’t discuss that decision because it was perfectly natural.  We simply did not read the same kinds of books. In fact, I don’t think I can recall more than a handful of instances, if that many, when one of us would pick up a book that the other had enjoyed.

We did read each other’s work and tried to put on a critic’s hat and ignore the inevitable intrusion of emotions arising from our relationship as husband and wife.  That was not always an easy path to walk.

For both of us.

In looking through her journal that I found in her out building office a while ago, I saw a couple of places where she expressed her sensitivity to the pressure she perceived came from me to work as a writer more as I do.

Still  I think we managed it quite well.  Our respective talents made that a bit easier.

The receipt of my author copies brings back all of this, our shared passion for writing and support for each other’s work.

It creates a void for me that will not be filled.

Late on a Thursday night of a day that was mostly okay, especially in terms of the weather.  After day after day of arctic cold and accumulating snow, the temperature rose to 50.  We are promised, however, that winter will return.

Carol is asleep on the couch, occasionally filling the air with a snorting kind of snore.  I don’t think it is indicative of a health issue, rather the product of sleeping on her back with her mouth half open.

Had lunch with my guys, three today, one usual attendee couldn’t make it, but my neighbor, back from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where his wife is receiving stem cell therapy, rejoined us.

Although Carol has been eating with good appetite the past week or so, today she was not interested in the wrap I brought back for her, nor did she have much enthusiasm for supper.  I will have to pay attention to her appetite.  I recall hearing that dementia can diminish interest in food.

I don’t have much energy so I, hope to pick this up tomorrow afternoon in the library.

Friday afternoon and unfortunately, the weather predictions for today were accurate.  Temperature in the teens, strong north winds, rain into snow leaving ice everywhere.  Arriving at the library, I see only one car.  It’s not a holiday, so school should be open.  It turns out school was closed because of ice, and the one car belongs to a library clerk who chose to come in anyway to get some of her work done.  As I sit here another employee comes in.

For the past couple of weeks it is as if there’s a god looking down at me, and deciding that I don’t have enough to do with being the caregiver for Carol.  After all she does sleep a lot during the day.

So this deity, I will call him George,  for no particular reason except that appellation usually pops into my head when I try to come up with a name.  I truly don’t understand my connection to it.  I believe I have only known one George my whole life, a fellow who was a colleague of mine on the college newspaper.  I recall he got himself a gig reviewing restaurants for a local paper.  He ate out often for free.

My imagined deity seems to have decided to give me things to do, dropping a turd into my life at regular intervals.  Not a big lump, mind you, but a small one, say the kind you might carelessly step on.

Small, yes, but still you have to take the time to scrape it off your shoe, a tedious and unpleasant chore.

I won’t bother with the details, just the topics.  On various days, I have had to deal with my email shutting down, my Amazon account being compromised, both of these more than once, and then on one day the postal mail presenting me with two insurance billing problems, each one filling up a day’s free time to deal with.

All of them like that squished turd on a shoe, not of great consequence, although the Amazon one with its possible credit card implications potentially rising to that level, but the others that while demanding to be confronted like the pungent residue on the shoe, fall into the category of ordinary life irritations.

And that, for me, and perversely, is their charm.  I mention them to Carol who seems not to process anything more than the fact that I am bothered by something that her mind no longer relates to.  I suppose I give voice to the issues for her attention out of long habit or perhaps an outdated sense of responsibility.  She was, after all, my life partner, and I can kind of pretend she is still.

And speaking about these annoyances provides a little bit of release.

More important, though, is the fact that these problems are useful distractions.  They give me something quite concrete to deal with.  Better still, they can be resolved, ultimately, after battling through phone menus, and individuals unable to help, until finally reaching the person with the competence and authority to do what is necessary to remove the problem.

And,  thus, metaphorically, my shoe is once again clean.

The sudden January thaw has given me another such problem, but one I will deal with after the winter.  The thaw released huge chunks of ice from our roof.  One of these landed on the corner of the railing of our deck, smashing the wood.

It happens that corner had been hit the same way last winter, and the newly damaged part is the replacement piece installed  last spring.

And who says George doesn’t have a sense of humor.  Or that he does not look ahead.

And, no, I will not try to explain why my imagined deity is male.

Carol, of course, is unaware of all this.  The dog does sense my irritation and decides her bed is calling.

I don’t think George has any plans for Carol.

That job has been taken by her disease, for which I did not have to invent a name.

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4 Responses to Two Writers and a Deity Named George

  1. Kathleen flores says:

    Happy st. Patrick,s day! Enjoyed reading this. I usually don,t read much, so hard to catch my attention. I am a picture kind of person. Life magazine and national geographic, etc.. however my best bud told me he loved my poetry from my youth. Don,t remember giving him anything. It was always very personal. Curious about that. Anyway, hope George takes a long nap for you. Give Carol a hug for me. L can still remember her little grin, and her chuckle when amused. Take care

  2. Wendy Warren says:

    As always, I enjoyed this piece. I wish you peace and patience.

  3. Lowell Kleiman says:

    Steve,
    You are aware that your Carol journal will live for future generations (assuming there are future generations) and will document in exquisite detail the life of an ordinary individual (sort of ‘ordinary’ coping with a partner experiencing dementia) that reflects the common trials and tribulations of all of us (sans dementia.) The details are most effective.
    LK

  4. Sheila Fox says:

    I am so glad that your “Mumblety-peg” found a good home in Rosebud and that the other linked stories to this one have been largely published as well. Nice. At the same time I feel the deep sadness with you that Carol is not able to share this good moment with you. — I appreciate so much reading about you and Carol as readers and writers and the differences between you that may have not always been easy, but also the way nevertheless that you two interacted so well and provided feedback to each other. — Also, despite the fact that the problems (those squashed turds) that come up may be useful distractions sometimes, tell George that Sheila said to just leave you the *%!# alone!!

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