“How was your day, dear?” (I Wish I Could Tell You)

In an early post – when I had so few popping by, I suppose I was posting then mostly to myself ;-) – I had written that I did not really feel lonely or isolated while writing. In other jobs, I had long been used to working without close supervision. I had also often worked from home too, so the lack of an outside office and colleagues was not unusual for me.

What has become an issue in the last year is I’m realizing I spend a great deal of time alone in my head with my story in a way that no one – not even my wife – fully understands. I find that at the end of a day I can’t really offload about what I’ve done, or what’s proving a challenge. Others aren’t really all that interested (and that’s not unreasonable of them) in listening to me recount it.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Example: I spent much of yesterday working quietly at my desk. I was satisfied with what I had achieved by the time I’d called it quits. Yet sharing that in any depth was simply not possible.

“How was your day, dear?”

“Fine. I got lots done. I think I’ll pour myself a Vodka and Coke.”

[What I'd give to sit down with that drink for a while and really tell you. I'd explain I wrote more of that strange love scene that's been driving me bonkers. I also came up with what I believe is a telling (and in its way amusing) exchange at U.S. immigration, and then at baggage reclaim, at JFK. I'm thinking a Gulf princess could be involved too. Much tougher was I also got more written on characters' reactions to an illness, which I'd drawn from the true death of a relative, and which is also why I found myself fighting back real tears as I wrote.... and which is also why I seemed a bit grouchy when you'd asked me something totally unrelated to that which I was immersed in at that very instant. I'm sorry. And, God, there's always Kam. Straining to produce something worth unexpectedly dedicating to her memory is wearing me down emotionally. I get one shot at this. If I screw it up, I don't get another chance.]

If you write, you have your own personal burdens and perhaps similar feelings. So I’m finding this blog useful. After all, I just told you that…. which I’d told to no one I see in person.

A finished product may eventually impress readers, but it can be difficult to share the in-progress ups and downs that are inevitable in actually getting there. I believe I would’ve benefited from having a site like this during the writing of the first book in 2013. For this year, for its sequel, I know it’s an invaluable outlet on which I can blow off some “How was your day, dear?” steam: no matter what, I can at least tell you.

Thanks for following and reading. :-)

A Small Tribute

While walking our dog a few days ago, I had a “brainstorm”: in the sequel, in London (some of it is taking place in Britain), I would give our deceased friend Kam a literary cameo. I don’t know yet if it will make the final book, but here’s part of the early draft (click to enlarge), and I hope you enjoy it:

image

A few points. In that scene, I’ve fictionalized a reasonably well-known club where we had hung out with her a couple of times. My choosing to place her there was owing to the fact we met Kam frequently after work at clubs, pubs, or restaurants.

Rob and Helen are also real people. And guess who? Like certain über-famous directors “walking on” in their own films, I thought I’d slot myself in as myself: Kam always called me Rob, and my wife’s name is actually Helen.

What fiction allows us, eh? A couple of other bits. Early in our real marriage, we did live in Godmanchester. (I even met the former prime minister, John Major, in person once, when he was still the area’s MP. Ah, another life goal fulfilled. ;-) ) Kam was also almost 27 in late 1995 (although the time frame is fictional in this sense: we were not yet married in 1995). I thought I would also drop in a small “inside joke” about Kam resembling Valérie – which of course she does, given fictional Valérie is partly based on very real life Kam.

If I go with this, Kam will become the only outright real person portrayed in a speaking role in the books so far. It’s just something: words and memories are all we have left. Tomorrow (May 2), she will have been gone three months. May she rest in peace.

20140501-114444.jpg

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re having a good Thursday….

Women And Men As “Just Friends?”

In the car yesterday, my wife and I drifted again into reflecting on how we still find it impossible to believe Kam is gone. If you’re a regular visitor, you may know our friend had died suddenly back on February 2, and that her loss has gutted us. She had only turned 45 in November.

Sixteen years ago, Kam was the first girlfriend of my (future) wife’s I’d met. She behaved towards me initially rather like the sidekick in late 1990s Brit romance-comedy films: the no-nonsense pal who isn’t too sure about this American guy who’s clearly after her best friend. All these years later, I still remember the skeptical looks and careful questions. Fortunately, I passed muster.

A British-born Sikh, Kam had boyfriends at various times. There were some English guys. I remember an Irish rugby player. There was even an Italian. Her parents had also “introduced” her to various “marriageable” men in the Sikh community, including one from Canada.

On that latter, Londoner and European that she was, I recall her moaning softly, “He’s okay. But I don’t want to live in Ontario.” Obviously she had never found the guy she apparently wanted to marry (or one who had wanted to marry her also). She had told us she was free to marry anyone she wanted, Sikh or not. In arranging “meetings,” she said, her parents were only trying to help; what mattered was only what she wanted.

While we drove, as we finished our latest reminiscences about her, my wife abruptly revealed this to me:

“I never told you this. Kam and I agreed years ago that if I died, she would’ve married you.”

I was so stunned, I laughed. But then I realized my wife wasn’t kidding. I had been party sorta to an “arranged second marriage” someday, although no one had ever bothered to tell me.

20140425-111915.jpg

It was tremendously flattering. It was also jaw-dropping to discover that she had been that fond of me. I had always believed Kam and I had gotten on well, yet her usually somewhat formal, unemotional and subtle manner had always also left me feeling a bit unable to gauge what was really going on inside her head.

Several weeks after Kam died, her sister told us that in her last hours in hospital Kam had instructed her to tell us goodbye and that she had loved us. When I heard that, it took everything I had to hold myself together. I almost fell apart on the spot.

I had never before fully appreciated how as a married man the death of an unmarried woman friend can seem so difficult to characterize properly and awkward to mourn. As time has moved on, I have realized Kam’s death has upset me more than the loss of anyone I have ever known. The only ones that might have “rivaled” it to date were perhaps (when I was much younger) those of my grandparents; but the loss of grandparents is of a vastly different life order than the death of a close contemporary of course.

Men and women as just friends? Is it really possible? Kam’s death has led to that theme increasingly slipping into the writing of the sequel. Does there always have to be an unsaid undercurrent of something more than friendship?

You may know by now one of my characters is partly based on Kam. Her personality, style and attitudes, help underpin Valérie. Indeed I’m having to temper my writing: since February, missing Kam, I’m finding Valérie’s role just keeps getting bigger and bigger….

It’s A Nightmare

Yesterday morning we were told our girlfriend’s ashes will be scattered on March 10. Busy with other things in recent weeks, I had forced her death (mostly) to one side, trying not to think about it. Suddenly, it had all come rushing back.

So, virtually out of the gate, I was depressed and in a foul mood.

Then there are those times you wish you could smash your head down on the PC desk in front of you repeatedly. I came that close later on. It was after I had finished spending part of the day in another type of nightmare.

I am working on a chapter in the sequel involving one. It contains references to certain happenings in the current book, sexual symbolism (it has to have that, doesn’t it?), etc., and so on and so forth. I do think it has potential.

20140304-171645.jpg

Yet I just don’t know. I’ll leave it for now and move on to more “conventional” storytelling. I have to ponder it some more.

20140304-164030.jpg

I know yesterday was just a “first go” at it, and you are never supposed to throw in the towel at the first attempt. Maybe in the near future I’ll have a few glasses of something strong, re-read it afresh and re-tackle it. Being a bit “tipsy” might help. ;-)

A Chapter Is Born

By several months ago, I had pretty much framed the plot-line for the sequel to Passports. There had been some tinkering too since then, of course. Overall, though, I had been gradually “filling in” that frame, and working towards that final target.

The death February 2 of our lovely friend, Kam, stopped me in my creative tracks. If you drop by here regularly, you may know the “Valérie” character is partly inspired by Kam. In the days after Kam’s untimely death, I reopened Passports a couple of times, and thumbed through parts that had included “Valérie.”

20140213-180533.jpg

Given “Valérie’s” sourcings, a little of Kam will forever smile out at me from “Valérie.” But that is an intensely personal association for me and probably matters not at all to you. Ultimately, “Valérie” is now our “Valérie” and nobody else.

I mentioned yesterday that I had awoken with a brand new (and I feel, excellent) “Valérie” sub-plot bouncing around in my head. I made quick use of being “snowed-in” to pull it together in some detail. It forces me to alter my “frame” somewhat, but I don’t care about that; and being “snowed in” yet again today is merely more encouragement to continue to fine tune those changes.

And with that, an unexpected, new chapter (maybe more than one, depending on how matters go as I write further), is born….

“Quite A Send Off”

I’d like to thank all of you who read the previous post about our friend Kam, and liked it.

20140211-065910.jpg

We heard yesterday evening post-funeral from her younger sister, in London. She wrote they had given Kam “quite a send off” (her exact words). She also noted she didn’t know half of the people among the horde who turned up.

She also wrote that three doves were released. I smiled at that, considering the flock of birds’ artwork I had chosen for that post purely by chance.

And life now goes on for all the rest of us, of course….

Some Farewell Thoughts

Today was Kam’s funeral, at 11am, in London. Since we couldn’t be there to say goodbye, I’m sure you’ll indulge me as I scrawl a few additional, utterly inadequate words about her on here…..

We knew Kam for almost 20 years. Suddenly, at just 45 years of age, she is gone. She died eight days ago.

20140210-083316.jpg

She never joined Facebook; she wasn’t keen on social media. Email aside, Kam’s singular concession to instant communications was her mobile phone that was never out of her reach, and the texts that came flying our way often unexpectedly. When I asked again about Facebook a year or two ago, I received a bemused look, a smile, and finally a drawn out, soft reply: “Well, you know, maybe I’ll…. think…. about it….”

I knew that was Kam’s genteel way of saying, “Uh, Rob, no.” To her, “social networking” meant lovely, handmade Christmas and birthday cards. It was letters on paper composed in a clear script. It was carefully wrapped gifts with perfect bows on top. It was sharing Champagne.

Indeed when you met Kam for lunch, it was likely in a cool cafe near, say, Harrow school. When it was for dinner, it was in one of London’s posher restaurants. In Manhattan, years ago, I was immensely relieved when my favorite French restaurant met with her approval. Friends, Kam insisted, were supposed to get together in quality places.

And if you needed help, she would be there – and in the “if you needed to be picked up at the airport in the middle of the night” sort of way too. Once, from London, we were unable to get my in-laws on the phone in Christchurch (130 miles away). Kam had then been living in the vicinity, so we rang her near midnight to see if she could drive over to the flat and make sure they were okay. She didn’t hesitate. (My father-in-law had at some point just put the handset on the main base sideways or something, so the phone was off the hook.)

There was nowhere she seemed not to have visited – from America, to China, to India, to you name it. Back from a trip to Rome years ago, we joked the designer shopping had undoubtedly been a big draw for her. She never looked anything less than well put together.

Unexpectedly, Sikh Kam said also that she had thought the Vatican had been so inspiring that she could almost have become a Catholic. We knew she didn’t really mean that of course. Anyone who knew her knew she never could have ceased to be Sikh.

A couple of weeks ago, while we were in the midst of helping organize a summer holiday to Florida with another family, we hoped hoped hoped Kam wanted to come along too. When we knew Kam was going to be involved in whatever was happening, we always looked extra-forward to it.

In recent years she had developed a serious health problem. Kam rarely said much about it, and always conveyed the impression all was somehow under control. She was still working, and commuting on the London Underground, a few days before her death.

She had given us a heads up that she wanted to come to Florida, but she wouldn’t know if she could travel until closer to the actual time – and that’s where matters had been left….

We know for sure now: she won’t be in Florida. There will be no more trips, no more text messages, no more cards and letters, no more bows, no more smiles, and no more Champagne.

Our lives – the lives of everyone who knew her – will be emptier and bleaker without Kam. She was the personification of grace, charm and caring. It was our inestimable privilege and honor that she had thought enough of us to have shared some of her too short life with us.

I suppose we’re all still trying to process the cruel reality that we’ll never see her again. It has been an incredibly depressing week. Yet I’m determined also to try to remember these words: “Death can destroy the body but not the soul.”

When A Treasured Friend Dies

Yesterday, after the initial shock had worn off (somewhat), I took to Twitter:

20140202-203924.jpg

A day later, I still feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. I’m sure you too have lost someone in a surprising death. We all know theoretically we will lose friends and family, yet we are never really fully mentally prepared for when we do.

* * *

It is stomach-churning when we reflect on how we will never see a treasured friend ever again. I can still picture English, of Indian parentage, Kam, late last summer, the last time I saw her in person. At a picnic organized by mutual Irish friends, our small group, which included some young children, sprawled out on blankets in the grass in parkland outside of Dublin.

Everyone enjoyed the irony of Kam at a picnic. With her dry sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself, she did too.

Because Kam was NOT “the picnicking,” toss a frisbee, kick a soccer ball, drink out of a paper cup, sort. No way. She was much more the pricey hotel, I’ve just had my hair done, look at these new shoes, dress stylishly for the posh restaurant and enjoy a glass of expensive Champagne, type.

Nevertheless, rather overdressed and sitting on the hard ground with the rest of us, a hot sun beating down, she soldiered on admirably. At one point, as she shifted awkwardly and struggled to eat off a paper plate, her bemused expression was priceless. Moments later, referring to where she was staying, with her charming smile she whispered to me in her soft English accent and giggled, “You know, Rob, The Four Seasons is very comfortable.”

I nearly burst out laughing. It was one of those moments we never forget. Now, I know for sure I NEVER will.

* * *

I wasn’t going to share this which follows. But I’ve changed my mind. Thinking about doing so is lifting my crushed spirits a bit, so here we go….

Kam queried me also about the novel she had heard I was working on, and wished me well with the effort. It was a weird feeling as we sat there and she was asking me about it, and I was not telling her she was partly the inspiration for one of the characters: “Valérie.” I have no regrets about not telling her, however, as I never would have told her she was even if she had lived on.

20140323-135715.jpg

As we said goodbye, again I became conscious of that awful, yellow coloring to her eyes that is associated with liver trouble. She never would have told us how bad the condition might be, or that it might be worsening. It would have been just like her to have kept that to herself and not burden her friends.

Something instinctively made me hug her a bit tighter and a little longer than I would have usually.

Now that Kam’s life is over, as I write more “Valérie” for the sequel, Kam will certainly crowd my thoughts. Elements of her will once again make their way onto the pages. I suppose, for me, she is now living partly in that character forever.

Is that one release writing grants us? The ability to set aside death? To keep alive, albeit only through some wholly inadequate words and phrases, something of those whom we cherished?

* * *

Shortly after hearing the awful news, teary and angry, the “F”-word thoughtlessly came flying out of my mouth. My wife, distraught herself, pulled me up: “Who’s that helping?! Kam would never do that! That’s not gonna help her!”

And my wife was absolutely right, of course. Kam, rest in peace. We already miss you more than we can ever say, and we always will.

For all of us others still stuck in this life, let’s try to have a good Monday.

Finally, considering all of the other masses of stuff out there to read on WordPress and the wider net, thank you very much for reading this post. I know it is easy to click away. I appreciate that you didn’t.