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Angry writers and other vague ruminations

I’m working on a project with a couple other writers. We’re each doing our own thing, but coordinating about the topics we choose.

Today one came up with a rare good-news gun-rights story and offered it around. “Nope,” the other replied (or words to that effect), “I write best when something pisses me off.”

Oh lordy, that is so true of so true. And it’s sooooo bad for the blood pressure. And for a person’s sanity and humanity.

—–

We’ve been having this exuberant burst of spring — today, even summerlike! — weather. I went to the hardware store for paint chips. I want to paint the outside of the house extravagantly. Lilac! Purple! Green!

Tomorrow it rains again. All. Week. Long.

I remind myself: “Summer starts in July. Summer starts in July.” (I still laugh — although not in a cheery way, you understand at this too-true cartoon Dana once posted in comments.)

——

There’s an old cemetery in the hills near here. Many of its residents were born in the 1820s to 1840s — ancient history in this part of the world. (And they weren’t born here, of course; a number are veterans of the War Between the States.). A very few people still get buried there, but the death dates on the gravestones taper off in the early 20th century.

It’s a small place, no more than a circular clearing in the woods. The volunteer caretakers are always unconvering unknown graves on its edges, which are then reclaimed by the forest when one volunteer or another moves on or dies.

I wonder about the stories.

Once, two side-by-side graves intrigued me so much I ordered up the archives of the local paper to find out what happened. Two graves. Four people. All under 25. A mother and her month-old baby dying within a day of each other I could understand. Turns out the other two people, young men, the baby’s father and his cousin, died weeks later. Both fell off log booms in separate accidents. Both were experienced log-walkers and good swimmers. Both just fell off and died.

All four lived in the same household. Can you imagine?

Today, in the brush, I uncovered the headstone of a father and son. The father died in 1920 when the son was only three. The son’s dates were given as “1917 – Unknown.”

Well, I thought, maybe the son just hadn’t died yet when the stone was set. But there it was, not left blank but carefully engraved, “Unknown.” With the added notation, “Separated in life; together now in heaven.”

—–

I have no intention of being stuck for eternity in a cemetery, however peaceful and woodsy. But I wouldn’t mind having a headstone somewhere that tells A Story.

Make it a good one. A really good one. And somebody tell it well.

14 Comments

  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 25, 2014 4:39 am

    Many years ago I visited Great Barrington in Massachusetts. We saw a very old cemetary, and wandered around for hours. Many of the gravestones were so worn and pitted that they could not be read, but quite a few had dates even before the American Revolution. Some had brief, sad stories to tell, but most were simply names and dates. Women and children seemed to outnumber the men by quite a margin. Just imagine if there had been no wars to kill so many men as well.

    I have no desire to be buried anywhere. I want to be cremated and the ashes scattered to mingle with those of my mother on the bluffs here on my property.

  2. Pat
    Pat March 25, 2014 5:13 am

    Now that’s a good idea ― a gravestone with no burial. Nobody to walk over your grave, and wouldn’t someone be surprised if they tried to dig you up and found no bones? That would be a atory they wouldn’t forget, trying to figure out where you were.

    There used to be a saying in Seattle ― and it was true when I lived there ― if it’s raining in the morning, the sun will shine by afternoon; if the sun’s shining in the morning, it will rain by afternoon. I don’t know how much different that is than now, or if different where you live, but I never had any problem with that weather. A morning rain meant hope for the rest of the day, whereas a sunny morning meant time to get errands done before afternoon.

    (In addition, I’ve seen the humidity less [85%] when raining in Seattle than on the East Coast [100%] with no precipitation coming down. That was amazing to me when I became aware of that phenomenon!)

  3. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal March 25, 2014 6:54 am

    It’s not necessarily that I write best when something pisses me off- it’s when I have a strong reaction to something (even just a thought in my head). Unfortunately, most of the time, the things I react most strongly to are negative. It’s just the nature of life, I suppose.

  4. Matt, another
    Matt, another March 25, 2014 7:11 am

    I don’t think the dead mind their graves beinw walked upon, I am sure they appreciate the company and that someone is thinking of them. Maybe one should have a head stone made up now, with the final date listed as TBD.

    The small town in northern AZ that my parents lived in for years has a small cemetery. It is maintained by the locals, many have family laid to rest there. THe odd part is, when you google the postage stamp sized town, the cemetery shows up as the center of town.

  5. Pat
    Pat March 25, 2014 7:36 am

    ” Unfortunately, most of the time, the things I react most strongly to are negative. It’s just the nature of life, I suppose.”

    Kent, I’d like to ‘react’ to that.

    Sometimes it seems the whole world is negative “except thee and me”, so to speak. There are so many things wrong ― things that we perceive to be wrong in the way people act, how they treat each other, and want to take control of others ― that it’s a wonder any of us can live meaningful lives. We live in sad times ― not just wanting to get away, but unable to because the world follows us.

    It’s not just writers, but almost all of us, at one time or another, find reason to be angry, frustrated or depressed, with no place to go, no one to understand or talk to, and no way to get over it except our own strength. (And probably why we find ourselves here, in like company – to gain strength from others.)

    To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “Life bless us everyone!”

  6. just waiting
    just waiting March 25, 2014 8:14 am

    Here passed D, just waiting no more.
    Mix his ashes with the sand at the Jersey Shore
    Lived his life as no gubbamint’s slave
    Free in life, free in the grave

  7. Bear
    Bear March 25, 2014 9:55 am

    Don’t know what “write my best” would be, since outside of tech manuals I rarely achieved Heinleinian good (good is writing they pay for).

    Cemetaries. When I was still living out of my truck (and writing the early draft of Net Assets) I pulled off into the woods in Georgia for a few months. After I was settled in, tent up, PVC array set, I realized there was a tiny little graveyard in the clearing; quite overgrown. It was the size of a small, long forgotten family plot, but the names varied. Burial dates ranged over something more than a century.

    Quiet folk. Good company.

  8. Laird
    Laird March 25, 2014 10:44 am

    Re Seattle rain: I’ve never lived in the northwest so I can’t speak to its weather. But I lived in Pittsburgh for about a decade, and I once saw a statistic that Pittsburgh has fewer sunny days per year than Seattle. I believe it. Not that it rains very much, but it’s ALWAYS overcast. Something to do with the confluence of the rivers and the nearby mountains, I suppose. Very depressing. One of the things I like best about living in South Carolina is the endless parade of clear sunny days.

  9. LarryA
    LarryA March 25, 2014 12:21 pm

    My “rain country” experience was Germany, back in the 1950s. We moved from there to Barstow, California.

    There are two seasons in Barstow; the dry season and the day it rains.

    My last project with the Veterans Administration was adding 20,000 gravesites to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Most of my family is buried there, so one of those plots could be mine someday.

    Life is too short to focus on angry. I tend to write positive fact and happy fiction.

  10. half_pint
    half_pint March 25, 2014 4:28 pm

    Spike Milligan wanted “I told you I was ill” on his grave but they wouldn’t allow it, they did allow him “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” which is the Irish translation.

  11. Claire
    Claire March 25, 2014 7:28 pm

    half_pint — LOL! Wonder what “they” thought the Irish words meant? Pretty funny.

  12. Shel
    Shel March 26, 2014 7:26 pm

    On a tombstone in Tombstone, AZ, it says “As I once was, so are you now. As I am now, so you shall soon be. Remember me. Frank Boyles.” It worked.

  13. Shel
    Shel March 26, 2014 8:47 pm

    Another epitaph at Tombstone, better known I think, was “Here lies the body of Les Moore; he got six slugs from a .44. No less, no more.”

  14. bud
    bud March 28, 2014 2:57 pm

    Frank was a plagiarist :-).

    The first time I saw that as an epitaph was probably 40 years ago – in reference to a French headstone from the 16th century.

    I googled it, which produced this interesting result:
    http://www.forgottenbooks.org/readbook_text/Notes_and_Queries_1000242304/123

    Evidently, a lot of people really like the phrasing.

    None of us is immortal, not even our memories, and a headstone as a attempt is simply delaying the inevitable.

    The thought of 6′ of dirt over me, or even over my corrupting flesh, gives me the willies. My “arrangements” are already prepaid; toasted and scattered.

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