As my son’s birthday nears, I am posting  an excerpt from my book, “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son,” e-published in May of 2013.  The book is available on Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and most other e-readers.

November 16, 2011

Happy un-Birthday to you! Happy un-Birthday to you! Oh dear, dear Sebastian, you died in your prime.

Along with so many other parts of our relationship I regret is that you never got to see the birthday present I had carefully prepared for your 35th birthday. I don’t remember how or why I finally got my old Super 8 movies from your dad and discovered movies of you, us, our travels and adventures.

Super 8 movies were way obsolete 8 years ago. DVDs hadn’t yet been invented. And so I found a place that would splice together all my Super 8 movies into one long video tape. Since he said he wouldn’t edit any of them, it makes for a rather boring 2 hours of video watching. But I thought the fun family movies of you growing up would be meaningful at least to you and me. His phone call telling me the video was ready came soon after the phone call telling me that you were dead.

And so I just missed again – out of step with your life for the last time. Would you have appreciated the video? To me, you never really grew up because your childhood was all we really had together. And we had many happy memories from those years.
I hadn’t watched the video in years, but I watched it again tonight. The colors were faded, but not so the vivid memories of “the way we were” – happy smiles all around as we built snowmen, tripped over old-fashioned snowshoes as we walked in fresh snow in Yosemite, skated, sledded, camped in magnificent places, hiked, and rode horses. There you were the first day your dad took the training wheels off your bike. Our idyllic summers in Friday Harbor, Washington, flashed by as you fished, played, rode your bike
in the July 4th parade.

The red lava of a spouting volcano in Hawaii turned into the animals in the San Diego zoo. The dazzling moving lights of Las Vegas shifted to our slow boat floating down the Nile in Egypt. There we were riding camels around the pyramids, followed by watching giraffes stretching to eat the leaves at the tops of the trees in Kenya. Once again, we were running in a jeep alongside the wildebeest. Your dad and I looked so young and thin. You were a blur of motion, moving fast, ice skating with your natural sense of balance keeping you up.

That video was a jumble of your childhood years, and confirmed the words you wrote on the paper from your diary that said you remembered your childhood as mostly happy. Part of me felt sad seeing the happy family on video that I had destroyed. Why couldn’t I have been happy just to be your mother? The inner voice inside me had insisted that I leave.

Since the video machine was already set up, I then watched a documentary video a friend had given me about a half Chinese/half white girl pondering her identity on a trip to China. Nostalgia flowed through me as scenes of China as I first knew it in 1988 lit up the screen. The villages, the food, the awkwardness of rural people who had never seen a white person, or had their picture taken by a camera – this was the China I had first fallen in love with.

I call it poignant juxtaposition – reliving on video the two most precious parts of my life. Each life – the one in China and the decade of my mothering years – had been real. Both were me. I can’t imagine my life without either one.

I enter my lagniappe years on August 13.  Lagniappe, meaning something extra, good, and unexpected,  is a special word I learned when I lived in New Orleans.  Reaching 70 years old is worthy of that designation.  Of course, in the retirement community where I live, I’m still just a kid among the many in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s.  But, to me, I’ve reached that special time in life when I hopefully have some time and health left to enjoy the wisdom I’ve accrued over 7o years of experiences.  I’ve arrived at old age.

The past 70 years have been a heady mixture of good and bad, happy and sad, for me personally, and for the world in general.  Born during World War II in military housing in Florida where my father awaited deployment, I was exposed early on to horrors I didn’t have to personally endure, but learned about and felt vicariously.  Nuclear war and Cold War were words in my vocabulary that gave a certain tenuous quality to my growing up years.  And wars have followed me into old age.

My first experiences as an explorer came during my elementary school years.   We kids wiggled under a fence meant to keep us out of a wild, untended buffer zone between our homes and an air force base.  My love of nature started there, and continued through a rugged Girl Scout camp,  on to incredible trails in magnificent places, and watching campfires under the starlight.

My teen years were happy.  I loved school.  I loved my friends.  I fell in love at the tender age of 13 with the man I married 7 years later.  My personality and my nesting years were irrevocably shaped by the idealism of the 60’s and 70’s.  I didn’t realize how much so until I went to graduate school 15 years after my 1965 bachelor’s graduation.  My class assignment was to explain William Glasser’s Reality Therapy that started in 1965 to my classmates who were in their early 20s.  The gap was wide.

When I could no longer ignore my restlessness for a wider world, I painfully broke the bonds I had so carefully tended.  My hummingbird wings lifted me up and away — to live in Israel,  China,  Taiwan,  Macau,  Korea, and to many nooks and crannies along the way.   No dreams of traveling the world and exploring other cultures came close to the reality of the adventures I had flinging myself into the unknown for well over 16 years.

Two books later — “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird” and “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son,”  I’ve turned 70.  I’ve outlived my wanderlust and restlessness.  I feel less and less engaged in a society that spends its time looking down at technological gadgets instead of observing the world around them.  I miss those naive assumptions I had about  politicians and so-called “public servants.”    I loved teaching, but never earned much money, so I cannot relate to the “money, buy, consume” world of today.

My world is now quite small, simple, and sweet.  Staying healthy is a time-consuming priority.  I never tire of the exquisite beauty of the sea nearby, and the little garden that surrounds me.  I have friends,  7 Chinese grandchildren from my former students, and many activities in the retirement community where I live.  And, I’ve begun a third book.  This one will be quite different from anything I’ve ever written.  It will take me back to things I’ve been thinking about all my life, and onward to fascinating unknown planets of my imagination.

 

Dear Dad

15 Jun
0

It’s a jolt to realize I will soon turn 10 years younger than you were when you died.  I wonder what you would think of the past 13 years I’ve lived without you.  What would surprise you, shock you, delight you?  It would be interesting to have your view of what’s been going on without you.

You and mom were the first ones to introduce me to Laguna Beach when you lived in San Diego years ago.  There, with the bright blue sky dotted with pelicans, the creatively landscaped cliffs going down to an incredible expanse of the Pacific Ocean, I had a thought that I had never had before — I could be happy here for the rest of my life.  And, years later, after mom died, you and I moved to a large retirement community then called Leisure World only 6 miles from Laguna Beach.

I was then among the youngest in the retirement community, but even now I’m still “a kid” compared to some of our neighbors whom you would still remember.  At this point in my life, I no longer wander the world.  I eventually adapted to a small, simple,  and sweet world combining friends, a wide variety of activities, chances to ponder the sea as I walk in the smooth sand of the beaches,  warmly wrapped in a year-round gentle and happy climate.

One of the main attractions of this retirement community was a bus system that would enable you to stay active without driving.  Three years ago, I gave up your old car and now use the community bus system, subsidized taxi vouchers, and the county bus system.  With careful pre-planning, I can get where I want to go, plus my legs are stronger from walking more.

I’ve made some changes in the house, but it would still be familiar to you.  Our patio and yard have improved with more flowers and plants than you would remember.   I still take joy puttering in the garden, but gave up trying to grow anything the rabbits want to eat.

The death of my brother in 1996, mom in 1998, you in 1999, and my son in 2003 have made me very aware of my mortality.  Your sister lived to 88 1/2 — the longest of anyone in our family.  I am very aware now that I am the last limb on the family tree.  I am the one my younger cousins turn to for family history and to identify people in the old snapshots.

I’m so sorry you can never read the book I just published called “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son.”  Nor the one I wrote of my 16 years of wandering the world published in 2006 called “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird.”  Nor my blog as the Senior Hummingbird.  But you and mom did get to share a bit of my traveling life by visiting Israel and China when I was there, as well as through my many letters.

You would most likely be pleased that I often say thank you to you for bringing me to what is now called Laguna Woods Village.  Since you lived here with me for 4 months, I still feel your presence in our home.  You were a good man, and a loving dad.  Happy Father’s Day!

Love,

Your daughter

 

 

He had been too dead for 8 years!  Was there any way to repair their damaged relationship now?  His mother longed to make him come more alive to her.  But how?

She begins a diary to her dead son.  There were so many unsaid, unfinished conversations to be had.  Although most of their relationship ended by the time he was 12, she tries to think of him as an adult, and tell him more of who she has become.  She wants to tell him about her life after the divorce that he hadn’t wanted to hear about.  She talks to him as she might if he were still alive, telling him what’s happening in the world, and attempting to understand him better.  Slowly, subtly, she feels a shift in her emotions.

It is a diary that weaves interracial adoption in the 1970s, divorce, guilt and abandonment, homosexuality, HIV-AIDS, one mother-son relationship, dying and grieving much as it happened.

OUT OF STEP:  A DIARY TO MY DEAD SON is now available as an e-book.

This is the story of the birth of my second book, “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son.”  Since my first book, “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird” was published in 2006, the publishing world has changed at an amazing pace.  It helped that I was more naive about publishing back in 2006, and that the computer technology wasn’t as demanding.  In fact, I uploaded one very long file on my computer to my first publisher, iUniverse, through the old-fashioned dial-up method.  A half hour later, it arrived to a welcome whoop from the iUniverse person on the other end of the phone who had, more or less, been holding her breath.  Well, enough about publishing my first book, because, while I still love the book, the publishing world has been moving quickly along the digital path.

In 2011, it was 8 years since my almost-35 year old son had died of AIDS.  A need to make him come more alive to me inspired starting a diary to him.  I had no plan.  I had no plot.  I didn’t know if I would continue it, finish it, or publish it.  Over one year, a book evolved.  I was ready to publish it.  But how?  Where?

Unless one has a name that is known for long-time or short-term fame, the chances of finding a traditional publisher who pays for the book and does nice things to market the book, are very slim to none.  The term “vanity press” was the old name for paying to have your book published.  Because of the expense of printing, it was cheaper to print in bulk and store however many boxes of books you had ordered in your garage.  Marketing was on you and your resources.

In 2006, I chose a newer version of self-publishing called “print on demand.”  That meant that quantities of books did not have to be printed at one time.  Books could be sold one by one, and pretty much forever.   There were a variety of details depending upon the specific publisher, but mine set the price of my book.  I was given a discount on books I bought to sell, and a small royalty for books ordered by anyone world-wide through the publisher, or Amazon.com, or several other on-line sources.  There was an e-book version at that time.  It meant that the publisher would, at a considerably cheaper price, send the book digitally to ONE e-mail address for each one ordered.  It could only be downloaded once into one computer, and no copies could be made.

As the years turned, so did the technology.  There were e-readers — Kindle, Nook, Sony.  My first book was re-formatted (simply said, but not so simply done), and e-books were becoming the “in” thing, the “modern” way to read.  Even libraries started offering e-books.  Having seen the difficulties of peddling expensive paperback books, e-publishing looked like a more appealing way to publish my new book.  And, not having to buy paperback copies would be cheaper in the long run.

What??? No paperback book to hold in your hand?  We are the transitional generation, caught between books that you can touch and smell, and a funny gadget that does it cheaper, easier, much lighter and more efficiently.  The younger generation won’t have this conflict to deal with, but I am publishing my book now.

So, I started looking at my options for my new book.

TO BE CONTINUED

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

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