Archive | May, 2014

I sat by my father’s grave while the sun set.

29 May

I drove down Lincolnway and, at the roundabout that didn’t exist when I lived here, I turned onto Sturdy Road. As soon as I crossed Highway 30, I made the first right turn…into the cemetery. I drove slowly on the gravel path and didn’t know if I’d even find the grave. It proved to be quite easy. As soon as I saw the mound of dirt under the tree, tears welled up in my eyes. I slowed down and parked.

I spent probably half an hour at the grave. At first I stood and walked around it, crying and taking pictures. I got back in the car and blew my nose. I recalled how, on the Buddhist pilgrimage in India, the sangha practiced silent meditation at sunset at several locations, including stupas and the Taj Mahal, which is a tomb. I sat meditating in the car for about ten minutes—my hands clasped in my lap behind the steering wheel, while I mentally counted to five and back. I noticed bird song, and it occurred to me that it would be more pleasant outside the car, where I’d clearly hear the birds and feel the breeze.

I took a small box of tissues with me. I sat cross-legged near the grave, started crying again, but managed to blow my nose and get my emotions under control. I sat cross-legged, placed my hands on my knees, and meditated again. I periodically opened my eyes and took pictures of the sun setting over the grave.

25 May

Today is the day after my father’s funeral.

When My Dad Died of Sarcoma Cancer

16 May

The doctor checked for a heartbeat and found none. Straightening and removing the stethoscope from his ears, he gently said, “I am so, so sorry.”

It was 1:57 pm on May 16, 2014.

After some minutes, I was the only live person in the room, sitting on the couch and having a difficult time attempting to concentrate on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. My eyes blurred on the page. I repeatedly blew my nose.

When the doctor returned to the room, I was the only one present except Dad’s body. The doctor again said, “I am so, so sorry. Do you have any questions?” I asked about the biopsy and said I believe it went to the Mayo Clinic. He talked a little about that and said he’d call the pathology lab immediately and see about the results.

I felt some relief when Francis returned. He closed Dad’s eyes. By the time the doctor returned with a faxed copy of the biopsy, Francis and I were both sitting at the far end of the room. I folded the papers in half and tucked them into the front of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the large complete hard cover translation. I didn’t feel like looking over the biopsy yet.

The Critique Group from Hell

12 May

Never again shall I eagerly join a novel critique group and assume this is the group for me.

In March, I joined a novel critique group I discovered online. The first time I received feedback on my manuscript—a painful manuscript to revisit at the best of times—the feedback triggered some anxiety. The second time, I felt humiliated during the meeting, and the feedback triggered a great deal of depression and anxiety. It has taken me a little time to process, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the group is dominated by people who aren’t even worthy of my presence, let alone worthy of giving me developmental feedback on novels. This isn’t arrogance on my part. This is realism.

The human race frequently reminds me that the vast majority are shallow, petty, mean, and immature. People like that, who get together and gang up on someone they perceive as weak (in other words, someone who’s sensitive and not shallow), are the vast majority. Bullies are the vast majority. People who gang up on underdogs are the majority. They sit quietly or join in while sociopaths throw stones at their scapegoats. I’m sure polar bears and snow leopards would agree with me on this score: the world would be better off if the human race died out.

In future, when I come across a critique group, I’ll bear this in mind and not assume anything until I’ve met the members and have received feedback from them. And I’ll make sure that the first manuscript I share is less painful than this one.

This critique group is dominated by tactless, insensitive, un-empathetic, and shallow vultures who swooped down and tried to tear me apart. I acknowledge that they probably weren’t acting with consciously malicious intent. However, at least on a subconscious level, they knew this novel was a sensitive topic and couldn’t resist attacking.

If you find a critique group online, there’s a likely possibility that you will have personality clashes. It’s likely that the group simply won’t suit you. In the past, I’ve joined groups that got together by word of mouth. A friend explained to me that the last time she was in a critique group, they were already friends. That’s certainly more ideal. The problem I’ve had with word-of-mouth groups in the past is that it was like herding cats and once one or two people said, “I don’t have time for this group” or left town, the group dispersed. In two groups, I was one of only two people who wanted to continue meeting up.

One of those Premonition Sort of Dreams

7 May

I had a dream in which I was at a hotel. Two hotel rooms were connected. In both rooms, people stood around talking, mostly around the edges. I didn’t recognize anyone, and nobody acknowledged my presence. It was clear nobody was interested in talking to me, but I didn’t care.

I walked from one to the other. I knew that the second room was where a screening was to take place. This was some sort of conference.

I walked toward the beds, and I saw a former frenemy sitting on the edge of the second bed. We made eye contact, and she sort of winced and tipped her head slightly. I started to open my mouth to greet her, but then I changed my mind and closed my mouth. I started to sit near her, toward the head of the same bed (she sat at the foot), but I decided to sit on the other bed. I more or less reminded myself that she had been mean to me and had only pretended to be my friend. I sat at the head of the first bed, right by the nightstand.

I was looking forward to the screening and didn’t care whether or not anyone was friendly toward me or spoke to me, even though there were quite a number of people around. While I sat waiting, my dad nervously entered the room. He was wearing his pajamas and walking bow-legged as usual and acting rather ungraceful. He told me that he needs my help. He turned and started to leave the room. I quickly got up…and woke up.

Approximately twelve hours after that dream, my mother called me and said the doctor said my dad’s cancer is back.

Be Careful For What You Wish

6 May

When I first found out about a new novel critique group online, I was delighted and eager to join. I thought this was the group for which I’ve been waiting.

I haven’t had as much experience with critique groups as I’ve wanted, in part because two critique groups I joined in the past fell apart. In both examples, I was one of maybe two people who wanted the group to continue. Yet it was like herding cats. People dropped out. They said they were too busy with other things, or they took a road trip. In short, they didn’t last, and I was again left without detailed developmental feedback while I continued writing more and more fiction.

Because of all this, and the fact that I wasn’t already in a novel critique group, I jumped at the chance to join this particular novel critique group, without knowing anyone in it.

Yesterday a friend pointed out to me that meeting people online is chancier than meeting them in person. If you meet people online, you have no idea what they’ll be like. If you meet them in person, you see how they conduct themselves and how they speak. You sense their energy.

I’ve only attended three meetings with this new novel critique group. During the second and third meeting, I received feedback on the novel I shared. I’ve been depressed and anxious ever since.

We’ve only been going over 2,500 words, about ten pages, at a time, rather than the more typical fifty or one hundred words you would expect from a novel critique group. However, we also shared synopses, which help to an extent. I find that this sort of micro-managing isn’t beneficial. A lot of the feedback I’ve received on my novel wouldn’t have happened if these people had read the first hundred pages rather than the first ten or twenty pages. I suspect that if I had told them this, they would have accused me of being defensive and would have said that unless you give such-and-such information earlier in the novel, the reader won’t connect with the protagonist and will give up reading.

Especially considering what a disturbing autobiographical novel I’ve been sharing, some of the feedback has been extremely insensitive and toxic. At first I thought I could handle it as long as I reminded myself that I am not the person I was twelve years ago, but that hasn’t been sufficient. After the first time I received feedback, I told myself that it hurt not because of the style of anyone’s feedback but because this particular novel is painful to revisit. At that early stage, this was at least partially correct.

However, if I had received feedback only from empathic, kind, sensitive people, then the feedback wouldn’t have triggered so much anxiety and depression. As it was, two people have given toxic, insensitive, and clueless feedback. That has been the primary cause of my humiliation, anxiety, and depression—not just the specific manuscript I chose. Certainly, it’s true I chose a disturbing novel, and it’s likely I wouldn’t have experienced as much humiliation, anxiety, and depression if I’d chosen a manuscript that isn’t autobiographical. However, considering the attitudes of these people, I still would have experienced some level of the same reactions. In the past, I have received scathing feedback from fiction that was devoid of autobiography, yet the feedback still hurt. In such cases, I’ve created a deep and sensitive protagonist, and the scathing and insensitive critique claimed that the protagonist was an unlikeable character. This situation with the novel critique group is very similar, but worse.

I have decided to refrain from sharing any more of this manuscript with this critique group. I admit that some of the feedback has been very useful—in fact, I have enough useful feedback to drastically revise the manuscript. However, I dread continuing to associate with this group and receiving more depressing and humiliating feedback. At this stage, I don’t feel inclined to even share a completely different manuscript. I would rather simply stop participating. It’s possible that maybe some time in the future I’ll be willing to share an extremely different novel with them, but currently I don’t wish to do so.