Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do you believe in Geriatric Adolescence?

(Originally posted June 24, 2013)

October relationships---the ones I write about---are very different than the March and April connections we once pursued so eagerly. Heck, if you’re an “October” type you don’t need me to tell you that. To begin with, you can probably set aside the obvious difference in hormone levels---nature’s sneaky and very effective way of continuing the species. For most of us by the time we reach our October Years other matters have become primary. 

To be sure, the most fortunate of us remain in a satisfying, time-tested relationship. That’s where I am, and very glad of it. But too many Tanner seniors are not in that space. They are alone, and too often isolated. For some of those folks that is where they are willing to stay. They have no interest in a new relationship. But for others, the ones I depict in the Tanner Chronicles, companionship and affirmation have taken on a new importance. When that happens, they have become candidates for my stories.

On the surface those in that “seeking” mode sometimes appear to be replaying an earlier experience---one that perhaps began as a teenager. Yet the reality of their new and slightly disorienting geriatric adolescence is not at all like that first time. Their measure of a prospective partner has changed. Appearance, status, income, even sex appeal, have become less important. The comfort of a caring companion---one willing to show that he or she understands what a “special” person you are---means everything. That undisguised affection and caring is apt to outweigh everything else.

A case in point. Johnny Blanton is one of my very favorite people---at least among the Tanner seniors I have imagined into being. In Best Friends and Promises he has left the hospital to move in with Jan Pierce, a lonely and very caring librarian. Truth be told, Jan hardly qualifies as an old friend. They first met less than twenty-four hours before Johnny’s latest heart attack. Yet she has invited him to spend his recuperation with her.

Watching Darien bid her father goodbye, then walk away, Jan Pierce was trying to make sense of the sudden and dramatic changes in her normally pedestrian life. She had always thought of herself as stable, to the point of boring---given to cautious deliberation, cautious expectations, and cautious actions. An impulsive one-night affair was not her style, any more than inviting a man she scarcely knew to share her home. Why then was she feeling so comfortable, so committed to her unlikely choice?
Truth to tell, she was not accustomed to having a man in her life. She had not been a cute baby and had never grown into that condition. From her perspective the only constant in her life had been weight, too much of it. She had never married. As far as she knew, no man had ever considered proposing. Over the years there had been a few casual liaisons, including one that lasted for several months, largely because she had been willing to settle for the minimal security it offered. 
Then, just days before, in the course of a single night, a worn-out Johnny Blanton had accepted her caring as something special. Later, during his days in the hospital, as she waited to know whether he would live or die, she had felt that caring grow.
Now, back in the apartment Johnny was sitting at the end of the sofa when Jan returned. He patted the cushion beside him and nodded for her to join him. “You know, I really appreciate this,” he said. “Letting me stay here. I’m not sure what I can offer to make all the trouble worthwhile.”
“Just be yourself. That’s all.” Resting her hand on his knee she leaned against his shoulder. “We’re much too old to play silly games. I want you here. That’s enough reason for me. Besides, it’s not like I’ve ever had men chasing after me.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You should. The thing is, from the first time we talked, about my scotch-on-the-rocks of all things, it was like I was talking to an old friend. It just felt right. Besides, I like being able to help. It’s been a long time since anyone needed my help.” 
“You’d better believe I need you and your help. And not just because I’m feeling so puny.”
She looked over into his weary, deep set eyes. “So tell me, Mr. Blanton. Why does this work for you?”
“To begin with, I’ve never been very good at being alone.” How blunt should he be? “But, at the same time, I’m not everyone’s idea of good company.”
“Why would that be? What’s not to appreciate? Is there something I should know.”
“Oh my, how can I describe it?” Was there a polite way to explain, in words that would not be graphically offensive? “I’ve been called ‘undisciplined’ and a ‘free spirit.’ To some folks I’m a ‘loose cannon.’ And there are other descriptions I won’t repeat in mixed company. All that stuff is pretty negative, but I suppose it’s partly true. The thing is, I’ve never cared much what people thought of me.
“But there’s another side to that,” he continued, taking her hand in his. “The part I want you to know about. When I’m on your side I’m there one hundred percent, no matter what. That’s something you should know. I’ll be here for you in any way I can.” There was a moment of quiet as he searched for a way to spell out his final concern. “And there is something else.”
“What’s that?” 
Jan had never before witnessed Johnny’s obvious, almost blushing embarrassment. “You may have noticed,” he said. “Based on our one night together, that I’m no longer the youthful love-machine my mind tells me I once was.” There, was that subtle enough, he wondered. Had he made his point?
Jan stifled her own laugh and poked playfully at his ribs. “Do you recall hearing any complaints?” 
“You were very kind not to bring that up. The thing is, my situation has changed a bit since then. For the worse, I’m afraid.”
“Well, after a heart attack, I should think so.”
“When we were kids we used to joke about wanting to die making love. If you had to go, that sounded like the best way. Just so you know, that is no longer my goal.” He paused to let Jan’s soft laugh wash over him. It was the best tonic he could imagine. “I just don’t want to misrepresent my reasons for moving in.”
She leaned over to wrap her fragile old man in a most affectionate hug. “Don’t you ever worry about that. I want you here with me. You want to be here. What other reasons do we need?”Johnny was weak and tired, there was no doubting that. But in the midst of his weariness, he felt the pleasant knowing that he was wanted. That must mean he was exactly where he belonged.

If you happen to be one of those seniors in search of your own relationship I hope you’ll consider setting aside those “April” qualifiers and focus on the now-important October attributes. In fact, I could do worse than suggest you look for a Jan Pierce or Johnny Blanton.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Remembering the "Winchester book"

(Originally posted April 19, 2013)

By the time I finished my last post, which amounted to a thumbnail recap of my retirement writing adventures, I realized that I was recounting a journey that must have begun a lifetime ago.
Like at least some of you readers, I wrote my first book when I was seven or eight. Cabinboy Cal was perhaps a dozen small pages of penciled, block-printed text. (That was before cursive entered my life.) What I did not recognize at the time were the first signs of a new and persistent passion, a lifelong need to communicate my deepest feelings in a written form. Chances are some of you, perhaps many of you, have experienced that same need.
A contributing factor in my case was undoubtedly a childhood speech impediment that made verbal communication something to be avoided. For as long as I can remember, through my Cabinboy Cal days, and the years of sportswriting for school and local newspapers, expressing myself on paper was easier and more appealing---a way to dodge the sometimes cruel judgments of my awkward speech. Perhaps that same urge played a part in my family’s great English adventure in 1972.
I was thirty-five and though my career in the family business was doing well, I wanted to be a writer. I knew that much---but no more. I had no idea what I wanted to write about or what I wanted to say. I simply wanted to be a writer, to put my still chaotic thoughts on paper. And how would I do that? For some reason I decided I had to go to Europe. Perhaps I believed that I could not be a writer at home. (As I am now.)
There were six of us---four children, ages 10 to 1, the mother who would hold us together for the next ten months, and a wannabe writer who had decided that it was time to put up or shut up. We settled into a cramped semi-detached home in historic Winchester and I went to work. The book itself (I still have the manuscript.) is hard to describe. I plan to have it printed one day, just to have it on my shelf.
There in Winchester I set out to write what I would call Forever Starts Now. By the time the first draft was complete, a matter of three or four months, I had learned at least one important lesson. Though I still wanted to be a writer, I had discovered that I did not like to write. It was harder than I expected---demanding more of me than I wanted to give. (Liking to write---looking forward to it, would come decades later.) 
In the meantime, my writing adventure turned into the most memorable family holiday our clan has ever had. We  saw the sights, from one end of the UK to the other, explored bits of our family’s history, and made wonderful, lifelong friends.
The next spring, having scratched my inexplicable writing itch, I returned home and slipped back into the family business. For the next thirty-some years that nagging passion to create stories lay dormant. Except for a box full of scribbled notes---unstructured thoughts on a wide range of deeply personal, often philosophical ramblings, I wrote nothing.
It was not until 2005, as I looked ahead to my fiftieth high-school reunion, that those long-quiet urges returned. Once more the need to express myself, to be creating characters and their stories, had bubbled to the surface. Once those tales started flowing there has been no turning them off. Perhaps you know how that feels.
And now, with a few books on the shelf and more on the way, I am looking forward to exploring a new (for me) form of written expression. I intend to use this blog format to explore the connections between my own motives and philosophy and the themes and experiences I bring to life in my characters. If you are a writer you know that connection exists.
With that in mind I expect to post the results of my seeking every so often. I hope you’ll mark this as one of the blogs you return to one a regular basis.