Mary & Christine’s Big Adventure- Part 1

Some would say that dragging my 79-year-old terminally ill mother on a road trip, totaling 3,781 miles in 16 days across 11 states, was a bad idea. But here’s the thing…

It was her idea.

When I decided to provide my mother with one last great vacation, I asked her to answer three questions:

Q1: International or domestic?

Cruise ship naturally came as an early choice due to ease of travel for someone with limited mobility. My mom broke her hip some years before and now has trouble walking long distances. But she also has anemia and immunosuppression due to blood cancer (MDS). Cruise ships can be disease farms.

As much as she wanted to go to Europe (Ireland) or some far flung island in the pacific (Hawaii), if anything were to go wrong medically, we were much better off remaining in the lower 48 where I could just make a U-turn and go home.

A1: Domestic

Q2: Do you want to go somewhere new, somewhere you have always wanted to go yet never had the chance? Or do you what to go places you’ve visited in years past for some nostalgia?

“Well, I don’t know!” was her answer. She wanted to go to Crater lake in Oregon (new). She wanted to go to Montreal to visit the cathedral (old). She wanted to go to Charleston to visit Fort Sumter which she missed last visit (old). She wanted to visit historical sites in Texas (new).

A strong idea came back to visit Amish country in Pennsylvania, something she’d seen a lot of on TV. It took a few conversations to really help mom understand that this was very likely the last big trip she would take in her life. I wasn’t subtle.

“Mom, do you really want your last road trip to be a visit with weird religious luddites?”
“Well, no… let’s go Southeast to Pensacola and Charleston.”
“And Savannah. I’ve never been. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
“And Savannah.”

A2: Nostalgia tour

Q3: Do you want to travel and stay in one place or do the usual ‘Mounts Family Vacation’ where we jam in as much activity as possible?

I don’t even know why I asked other than as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate slowing down while I am not at work. But my mom’s retired life is slow all the time, so she wanted to speed it up a little. There is just so much to see and do in the world and never enough time to take it all in.

She wanted it all. I accommodated.

A3: Two weeks of insane travel with the buffer of a four-day July 4th weekend for me to be a slug and recover.

And so, on June 14th, I set out to Peoria, Illinois to visit my family and strap mom into my Chevy Spark ‘Lorraine’ for the long haul. Our route took us south to Nashville, TN; Birmingham, AL; Pensacola, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; Asheville, NC; and Columbia, IN. I dropped mom back home and made my final destination of Minneapolis, MN on June 29th.

The ‘dogs’ of the trip included a hotel in Jacksonville that smelled of wet cigar ashtray; an overbuilt tourist trap blocking the view of the Atlantic; a harrowing drive across South Carolina where the interstate needs to be six lanes but is only four; and the free Georgia state map that mom found so disagreeable, she complained about it for three days.

But the rest was wonderous with surprises and small blessings. And mom was a trooper. We were not able to do as much physical activity as I would have liked but we went on a lot of tours and got to see what we wanted- by trolley, by boat, by horse driven carriage. And for the activities that I wanted to do but mom could not, she encouraged me to go anyway and sat with a crossword puzzle as I made the treks without her. Good mom.

I took about 2,000 photos as is my habit and will post the highlights of this adventure in the coming weeks. I hope some of the joy we experienced while making this journey reaches you through these travel logs.





-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2019

Women Fly

I am an aviatrix, a female pilot of fixed wing aircraft.

While other families had Life magazine or National Geographic on the coffee table, our house had Aviation Week.  There were no flight shows missed and we would sometimes go out to the airport just to watch the planes take off from the observation deck.

My father was obsessed with aviation. I imagine him as a child in the midst of Great Depression hunger, longing to fly away. It was a dream he longed after his whole life but went unfulfilled. He had been accepted into flight training by the Navy but because he developed hypertension he was forced to quit. He was only in his early 20’s.

One of my clearest memories of my dad is standing alone in Uncle Phil’s back yard at a family BBQ. A Cessna flew overhead in the bright, calm summer sky. We both watched it go by, my hand an echo of his as we both shielded our eyes from the sun.

When he looked back down, he hesitated in thought for just a moment. He turned to me with a look as if what he was about to do was something wholly unexpected, something that had only just occurred to him. He asked me, “Do you want to learn how to fly?”

It never occurred to me that I could, that women fly. In the early 80’s, it probably never occurred to him either. But what you must understand is that I was his daughter which meant I could do anything. My father believed that I could have flown to the moon and back if only I had been born with wings. I replied in 10-year-old girl excitement, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He said, “Ok, when you are 16, I will pay for you to take flight lessons.”

Another morning, about two years later, I woke to a noise outside my second story bedroom window. I looked down to the driveway and there with a sky as bright and clear as that afternoon had been, under the tree of heaven that sheltered my room from the sun, I watched paramedics lift a gurney with my father’s dead body into an ambulance. Heart attack.

That was in August 1985. I was 12 years old, on the cusp of 13. All through high school, I told everyone I was going to learn to fly. In 1995, I took my first flight as a student pilot. Three years after that, I was a certified flight instructor with a commercial certificate with multi-engine and instrument ratings.

All because my father believed I could. And because he believed, I believed.

And because I believed, I flew.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, June 2018

 

 

Life’s a Beach

We arrive in Pensacola
Florida in the usual fashion
Hurried desperation relax
Camp in the woods
Early morning sound of sea
Roar in the distance
Pink swimsuit
Red plastic pail, blue shovel
Smell of new overwhelmed
It means one thing:
Sandcastles
March in flip flops
Too hot black asphalt
Burned feet camp store
Dunes
Taller than my eight-year-old self
Green grass grows waves
Wooden boardwalk wind
Gulf of Mexico
Definition of heaven
White sand beach
Ocean solitude
Clear water sun
Sand dollars

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2017

Endless Summer

When I saw it, I knew. It was van Gogh. I knew it not by his distinct style, but by the raw emotion that radiated off the inanimate canvas. I stood at the opposite end of the gallery and cried.

It was endless summer.

Specifically, it was “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun” hanging in gallery 355 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Experts believe it depicts autumn, November in Saint-Rémy, based on the vibrant orange and yellow paint. It was created just seven months prior to his suicide. It stands as the only time art has moved me to tears. And what moved me was how he captured the sunlight.

I know that blazing day.

I forgot about endless summer. Life became as adult life does, a series of days in which there is work to be done for the sake of survival, and a shot at happiness one day when the bills stop exceeding the money. When you’re young, all things are possible if you can just decide what you want to do.

Endless summer of youth.

There was a large field behind the grade school with a gravel track and baseball diamonds. It was June and it was covered with dandelions. Some had turned to seed. And I lay there, relaxed. No hurry, no worry… uncommon for me. In that moment of breeze and blazing sunshine that broke behind the passing clouds, the dandelions glowed as if they were lights themselves. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt one with creation.

All was right with the world.

Laying in the field behind the school in the last days of junior high, dreaming of the life to come, blowing cottony seeds in the wind like candles for wishes. What does the future have in store for me? Will I be happy? Will I be loved?

I, so consumed with grief at the tender age of 12. I, who sought solace in the arts and nature. I, who buried myself inside my own head, inside my dream world. I was ill prepared for the hard realities that would become my life.

But that girl… she was in love with the promise of endless summer.

Life back then, it was hard. I never felt safe or like I belonged anywhere. I knew I would escape to high school. I was convinced that it would be a better experience for me. I was wrong. I was wild and out of control. 13 years old in massive grief with a fuck-off attitude. Not much has changed.

While other girls were concerned about the brand of jeans they wore or their hair and make-up, I was trying to come to terms with my father’s death and the upheaval in my family. I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t see the value of the trivial concerns of others. I still can’t. But innocence was how I was supposed to be. That was stolen from me at too young an age.

That girl… she cried for van Gogh.

We make our choices and try to live with the consequences. Once I was in college, I worked my ass off. I never wanted to be financially dependent and vulnerable to anyone else. People hide how abusive they are… people die. So, as I watched other young people be young, while I held my face to the grindstone, time slipped away. Those years I was meant to be light and free, gone.

But twenty years later, I took up cycling.

That first summer ride along the bluff of the Mississippi River under the sparse clouds and impossible blue sky- that light made the leaves look silver; the heads of flowers, tiny lamps. The sun outlined every detail in the fabric of life. The endorphins rushing through me sucked all the color through my eyes and etched it into my brain.

Endless summer means peace, it means being fully present, it means being shocked into the now by the astonishing beauty of the natural world. It is being in harmony with the flow of life without distress. And on that day, it was OK for me to hope, OK for me to want love. I did not have to be embarrassed by my longing of dreams forgotten.

That endless summer day split my flaming heart.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, June 2019

Hear this blog post on Soundcloud

 

Social Media

On April 29 , 2013, I logged into Facebook and saw a photo posted by a friend. There was a tall plume of smoke rising out of the uptown area in Minneapolis. A building was clearly on fire. I thought, “Oh no, those poor people!” and said a prayer.

It was my apartment.

I’ve been a member of social media in one iteration or another for 28 years. I started using Facebook in July 2008. Prior to that, I was on Myspace and had a half-hearted blog on Blogger called ‘Writing is a Tapeworm’. Then it was chat rooms all the way back to 1991 and the ISCABBS. We’ve come a long way baby.

I have difficulty parting ways with social media. Agreeing to their terms when you sign up for the ‘free’ account sort of feels like making a deal with the devil. But even so, I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, YouTube, Soundcloud, and the recently deceased Google+. I also have ‘free’ email from Microsoft and Google. I have been forced to sign up for unused accounts on Instagram and Pinterest because someone was spoofing my email. No, you do not get to share smut under my good name.

Social media is a tool and like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

I’ve shed some tears over things I’ve seen on social media. Local news reports of my apartment burning. Photos shared by friends before I had the chance to come home and see it for myself. Many of us have found out about personal tragedies prematurely on Facebook. Here is the problem of having mixed groups of people on one platform: we may need to reach out for the support of friends before everyone in the family has been notified… Facebook is a pretty abrupt and insensitive way to learn about horrible things. Yet, sometimes it has been the only way I would have heard the news.

People don’t talk on the phone or over the fence anymore.

I have friends and family literally coast to coast and across the globe. I use social media to keep in touch with them. I share photos and jokes and news. I talk about my writing. It’s just me, no flash. And my friends and family do the same to varying degrees. I have come to know some people on a much deeper level through social media and strengthen relationships that I have in real life.

My friend’s grandparents became fans of mine through Facebook. I watch my friends and family’s children grow. I watch them age. I’ve watched multiple relationships start and end. Some people I know have gotten divorced, dated, and remarried within the ten years I’ve been single. I’ve seen vacations and tragedies, deceased family and beloved pets, comments from those who have passed on my memories feed…

I have zero tolerance for social media related drama. I have been questioned in person about things I have posted online. FYI- I am what I am. You can stop following me and talking to me if I offend you. My hope is that most of my online activity simply confirms what you already know about me. I love to share photos and stories and the occasional zinger. I love cruising along with quotes that inspire me and music I am listening to, then drop the F-bomb for good measure.

Hey, I don’t want you to think someone has hacked into my account…

Social media pisses me off sometimes with too much self-aggrandizing and posturing. My niece gave me great perspective: “Everyone is just showing off”. In other words, do not compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because I am real, does not mean they are.

And people use it for different purposes. Yes, some brag to make themselves feel better than others. Some simply lurk. You would never know they were online because they do not post. But others are trying to sell themselves as an expert or an artist to increase business. Which is sort of what I am doing when I tell people about my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter.

I guess I am officially a blogger though not a very good one according to the numbers. Meh. I care about quality content more than market volume. My blog is a bit of a basket case in that it is not focused on one topic, against all blogging advice. They also say that the days of the personal essay are over. Oh well. I guess this is all about how to make money at blogging, how to attract followers, and seriously that ship has sailed anyway.

The topic of my blog is my writing and I write about many things in many forms. I am not in this to follow trends or have huge numbers. I write to write. My audience cannot find me unless my writing is accessible. Since the state of the publishing industry is what it is, and I do not have the credentials to get published, I publish myself here. And social media helps my audience to find me: people who want to read my writing and follow my blog.

I am speaking to the real people here, not the spambots. You know who you are.

But the social media machine is toxic. It’s the insidious data mining for manipulation and profit that terrifies me. Users of social media are not the customers of social media. Remember, you are logging in for ‘free’ and the paying customers are the advertisers. The algorithms run routines to figure out what interests you and serve up small validations or punishments to manipulate you into changing your behavior and buy their customers products.

Users search the feed for human connection and validation and find advertising. This is part of a greater, more disturbing trend in marketing in which companies try to associate your strong internal emotional world with their products.

We value you. We understand. Give us your money.

It’s sick. And it’s effective. And free is not free. Someone has to pay for the social media platform and until people are willing to pay a subscription for an ad-free space, it will continue. If you care to hear about how you are being manipulated, how this all works, listen to this 20-minute interview of Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer. He wrote a book called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.

But unfortunately, Twitter is an author’s #1 tool. It’s free and you can index your posts with hashtags so that people looking for information on the same topic can find them. It is a huge platform, but I ran a free yearlong Twitter based marketing campaign in 2018 for the leukemia book I edited. Strangers managed to find my posts and ask me questions about the book. I watched the sales on Amazon go up and down in relation to when the posts would appear. It really works!

On the other hand, Facebook algorithms search for posts that indicate they might promote sales for something and hide these from the feed. Then they contact you about how, for small fee, you could reach more people. But here’s the thing Facebook: I’m not selling anything. I am trying to tell my friends and family about my free writing on my free blog for free. You know, relationships and sharing? You know, social media?

Around Christmas, I was offered a credit to try out Facebook advertising. I cashed that in to learn how it actually works and how effective it is. I chose to boost a blog post I wrote about Toys for Tots which was short on toys last Christmas season. I figured, if I was going to promote anything it should be of some value and help a worthy cause.

According to my little green book (my writing career business records), I applied a $15 credit for an ad that ran for two days. That ad reached 1,837 people and generated 104 post link clicks, and 3 shares. My blog stats indicated 5 clicks on the Toys for Tots website link within my blog post. I received no additional blog followers but one additional Facebook page follow. Because of the Facebook campaign, the Toys for Tots blog post got 185 views total. So, roughly a 10% success rate. What this would translate to in terms of books sales, I have no idea.

My blog posts normally get about 20-40 views depending on the photo, the topic, and the timing of the post. Pathetic, I know. If a lot of people react, social media will keep it visible in the feed and the numbers go up. This doesn’t include people that just come to my home page but since that statistic now includes web crawlers, it is a useless number to me. And this does not include the 140 people who have chosen to subscribe to my blog and get copies of it in their inbox every week. If you are trying to make a living at this, those numbers simply are not enough. You have to sell, sell, sell! I don’t. I am my own patron. I write because I must write.

So, what can we do? As a writer, it’s nearly impossible to get off social media if you are trying to reach your audience. Until someone comes up with the next great thing, some modern iteration of the old ISCABBS that allows us to connect without some insidious ulterior motive, I feel stuck with it. It’s the world we live in. I fear that despite all the good that has come of it, ultimately it is contributing to the chaos we see in the world today. It’s become a venue for people to vent their anger without actually doing anything about what is making them angry or realizing that it is social media itself that is fueling their rage for profit.

Please think about it.

 

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019

-Photo Credit: Phong Tran, April 2013, phonghtran.com

Mother’s Day

 

I don’t really celebrate Mother’s Day because I am 400 miles away from my mom. Truthfully, I miss most holidays and celebrations. But I send cards. I call with my well wishes.

Mom has terminal blood cancer. It’s tough to write about Mother’s Day when your mother is dying, when it might well be the last. It’s not that she is on her death bed, but she is getting thinner and weaker every day. She is grinding to a halt.

I read an incredible poem once, “Our Lady of Perpetual Loss” by Deborah A. Miranda that suggests the death of the mother is the worst one must endure. But I know better. There is no consolation for parents who lose a child. There is no consolation for a child who loses a parent.

It is hard for me to imagine a more difficult death than my father. I was 12. He was 50. I was old enough to understand what had happened but so young that I did not have the capacity or experience to process it. It stands as the most traumatic experience of my life.

My mother has lived a full life and at age 78, she is of an age. She is at the time in life when one might expect its end. Still, I know the loss of her will crush me. She is my life giver and the person I met first. You only get one mom.

Back in January 2013, my mother had a doctor’s appointment to look at an irritation she had in her mouth. But a week before she could get in, my childhood home burned. She was homeless. She cancelled that appointment and did not get examined for another few months.

The irritation turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the tongue.

She had surgery to remove the lesion and was diagnosed. In September of that year, she had more surgery to remove those parts of her tongue that had cancer. They also removed her lymph node to check for migration. The hope of course was that the cancer was in its early stages, that her speech and ability to swallow would not be greatly affected, and that the cancer was localized to her mouth.

The surgery went very well, and she was sent home two days later. We lucked out with the speech and swallowing but not so with it staying localized…  The lymph node indicated that the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. There was no way to know where until it appeared again. As a precaution, she opted for radiation and chemotherapy. Eventually, the treatment ended, and she was declared ‘cancer free’. But unfortunately, there is a known risk for ten years post-radiation of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)…

She developed MDS five years later.

When mom called in May of last year and told me that all of her blood counts were down, I knew. I had spent years editing a book about leukemia treatment. If your red cells and white cells and platelets are all low, you have blood cancer. I was relieved that it was only MDS, not leukemia. But the result is the same. They are both blood cancers and the only cure is a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). Mom is too old. She would never survive it.

There are seven sub-types of MDS with varying survival outcomes. I struggled to get the answers I needed about her condition long distance. She would forget to ask the doctor for the information and when she did get information, it was not specific enough for me. I needed to know exactly what type of MDS she has and how long she was expected to live.

In December 2018, I met with her medical team and they told me that she has myelodysplastic syndrome with multiple cytogenetic abnormalities. My mother is in the high-risk group which gives her a life expectancy of about a year and a half after diagnosis. She was diagnosed in May 2018.

We are at the one-year mark.

If you do the math, it makes the coming holiday season a bit foreboding. What will Christmas look like? I have caught myself imagining life after my mother goes. I think this is all part of the pre-grief, trying to process the inevitable.

Grief can trap you in time. Grief can steal years of your life away. Grief kills people.

But truthfully, anyone can die at any time. A dear friend has said to me, “You don’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. It’s going to.” In other words, live without the grip of your fear of pain because pain is coming. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one which is why we must live in the present, just this one day, and not anticipate trouble so much it sucks all the joy out of it. Fill the cup of life with as many good memories as possible to see you through the darkness.

It’s not just that life goes on… Life must go on. We must choose it.

And so, we do. Last month, mom traveled to Louisiana to meet her first great grandchild at 4 months of age. And in June, she will attend her 61st high school class reunion. We also have a fabulous road trip planned around her 79th birthday that will include beaches and margaritas. We can sit and enjoy our time together.

I pray we are given more than we dare hope…

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019