P.S. 2018

I love winter. I must since I chose to move north to Minnesota 15 years ago. It’s not the cold, it’s the 3 solid months of writing and reading with very little distraction. Cycling does not lure me out onto the forested trails and social invitations slow down to a crawl. No one wants to leave their home either and that’s fine.  I have plenty of paper and ink to spare.

Last winter, I committed to waking up at 5am and working on my novel before work. I had a smoke damaged, sooty copy of a 2nd draft I wrote 10 years before. It was somewhere to start. So, I scanned the 263-page document using optical character recognition software and imported that into Scrivener. After 1.5 months of work, it was formatted and cut up into sections, chapters, and scenes.

For the next 1.5 months, I wrote roughly 22,000 words of new content; total word count is sitting around 143,000 words. Now, I realize that if you participate in NANOWRIMO that 22K in 1.5 months is a puny amount… but what can I say? Slow but sure… It feels like I am writing a different book. 10 years will do that. Characters and the basic story are roughly the same, but I am not. I’ve had some practice. My writing voice is much more confident and authentic.

But 2018 was a tough year. By April, I was absorbed in implementing software at work and in May my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I did not have the energy or emotional resources to continue work on the book. I did continue to write poetry and post on my blog. I attended many poetry open mics and had my first show as a featured poet in March 2018. And I rode an emotional roller coaster for the rest of the year, often overwhelmed and feeling like a deer in headlights.

In November, I had a revelation: I was still hiding. I wrote for literally decades and shared very little of my work with anyone. I set-up my blog in 2014 and did not start posting on it until 2017 after I sent ‘Popcorn from the Void’ off to my editor. But I was mostly posting poems. I could still fool myself into thinking I was being vulnerable- and I was- but not in a way that people could see a clear picture of me. I could still hide behind the form.

‘Popcorn from the Void’ is a book based off personal essay blog posts that Todd Park used to manage his cancer- both in providing information to family and friends and in processing his experience. Was I not about to walk through my mother’s cancer and death? And could my personal essays about this journey help others?

My 2018 blog stats are very modest but solid: 43 posts, 1,147 visitors, 1,733 views, 107 total followers. That means I averaged 40 views per post and 10 visits per follower. There aren’t a lot of you, but you are loyal! I had two shows in which I was one of the featured readers. And I submitted ‘Popcorn from the Void’ to the 2018 Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And while it did not win, it received a rave review from its judge and scored 30/30 points on its assessment. Not bad for an amateur.

So dear readers, 2019 promises to be an even tougher year personally but it is also the year that I intend to try to be published for real, for the first time. And it will be a year of personal essays where I will feel very, very naked. And it will be the year of my first finished novel.

It has to be… if I want to be sure mom can read it…

Blessed New Year!

Christine

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

I See You

I’m on my lunch hour. The sun peaks between the holes in the clouds. A small rain shower, enough to cool and clean the air. Enough to make a little muddy patch of dirt beneath my feet, where I sit on this cement bench beneath the caterpillar tree. Not mud really- wet earth. Roots of the tree are visible in places, some as thick as the smaller limbs overhead. Trees grow roots wide, not deep. Some grow in groves, so they do not fall over in high winds.

***

I arrive in the ICU after work. She is awake. It’s hard to watch her silently scream with the respirator tube in her mouth. Her lungs are not in good shape. She will go under the knife again, get a tracheotomy to attach the respirator to her neck. Increase her comfort levels. She is not out of the woods yet. Her abdomen is split open for access and won’t be sewn shut for months.

She almost died. I can’t talk about it. I always push this stuff off until a later time when I have the space and distance to deal with my grief. For now, someone needs to be present and hold their shit together. There are too many factors pulling me in multiple directions. Time is precious. Writing is painful. It stirs up every sort of horror that my eyes have seen, and my heart has registered, but my face left blank. I have friends and cats and bars. It will have to be enough.

***

It’s evening downtown on a Thursday. The youth are loud, full of anger and angst. School is out for summer and maybe forever for some of them. It is July in the 60’s and there is mist hanging over the fractured energy. The volume makes me tense. An old man says to me as I pass, “Smile, it’s not that bad.” I am transparent, my stress clearly on my face. I look at him kindly and say, “So says you.” I stand in the bus shelter to escape the cold. A teenage girl weeps on the bench and explains to the boy that has come to fetch her, “I’m OK; I was thinking about grandma.”

I wait for the #4 bus. In front of me is a five-story mural of Bob Dylan: three faces, three ages, staring off in kaleidoscope color. I try to find the associations in the schema but I can’t tease it out. The details of his wild curling hair, the wrinkle folded flesh, the wide red stripe splitting his guitar in half- where does the inspiration come from? I am lulled into meditation by the sound of a jazz saxophone street musician. His timbre is calm, and the kids grow quieter and move on.

When the bus stops, I line up but think better of it. Two dollars pulled from my wallet and placed inside his case. I do not look at him. I am worried about the bus and run to board it. As we pull away, I watch him: black man, bright sax, waning sunlight, mirrored glasses, reflected blue light. He looks like jazz- cool, peaceful, vibrating. I smile as we pass him. He plays on. I wonder if his eyes are closed.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2016

High Water

When the flood comes into the house it leaves mud and mold. You try to clean up. It’s a bad day when you must throw the refrigerator and the flooring out- but what can you do? You have your life with you, the stuff of what remains- your mind, your experience, your willingness to move on or not.

Maybe that’s the real tragedy of it all. That the tragedy derails you for years. That passersby look on at the unfinished roof and are annoyed at your laziness. They don’t know that dad fell off the ladder, hit his head, and died trying to fix it.

And you can’t face it.

You can’t face the pain. Bills must still be paid and the collector doesn’t give a shit that your heart is in pieces. That you can’t think clearly enough not to pour spoiled milk on the last of the cereal in the box.

No one remembers your trauma and you are never over it fast enough for their taste. They’ve moved on to the next episode, the next season. As if life is a television series and they are sick of watching you.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2018

Thanksgiving

Karen pulled up to the shoddy beige apartment complex after school on Wednesday afternoon. Pete was released early for the Thanksgiving holiday and he was excited to see his dad. Tim, Pete’s father, had insisted on hosting dinner that year. In the past it had been his favorite holiday, the one day out of the year that he and his brother William got together and prepared the meal for the whole family. That was before Will got shot.

When Tim answered the door Pete jumped into his arms and hugged him. Karen could see the disheveled mess Tim’s apartment had degraded into- scattered papers and beer cans, the trash overflowing, and a stack of pizza boxes in the corner of the living room. Rufus the cat was eating meat off of a chicken bone on a plate that had been left on the floor. As long as the rent was paid the apartment managers left Tim alone. This had not been easy once he lost his job. Pete ran past Tim, threw his overnight bag on the couch, and slid on his knees in front of the TV to the video game console. Karen allowed Tim to kiss her cheek and went to the kitchen to check on the turkey. “Just a second Pete,” said Tim. Continue reading “Thanksgiving”

In Thanksgiving

My dad is great. We did nothing but watch football all day today. Sometimes, my dad will sit all day and play video games with me. He’s been off work for a while on account of him being sick. He cries a lot at night when he stares at the pictures. He doesn’t think I can hear but I hear a lot on the couch. I pretend I’m scared and knock on his door, “Hey dad, can I sleep with you tonight?”

My mom is great. She came and ate dinner with me and dad- just the three of us like we were all living together again. She even sat for a while reading a book so dad and I could watch the football games. That was until she took me back home. I begged her for me to stay but I have to do this stupid homework. They actually assigned us readings and an essay ‘What I did for the Thanksgiving holiday’- can you believe that? Continue reading “In Thanksgiving”

Hunter Green

My father hunted with my uncle. It’s all they ever talked about really. That and fishing and football. When I was younger, before the divorce, I was often forced to sit at the dinner table until I finished every last bite of the game my father had shot and brought home for dinner. “Why can’t I just have a bologna sandwich?” I would ask. I was sick of spitting out the shot. “Hunter Bartholomew Green!” my mother would say in exasperation with a nervous glance at my father. Then he would give me the lecture about the importance of providing for one’s family and how there was a long tradition of hunting in our family that I needed to respect and how years ago a gun meant having meat on the table and freedom from starvation. My uncle just smirked. Continue reading “Hunter Green”