Choosing a short story setting can occur in several ways. Sometimes the choice is conscious and sometimes it’s not; perhaps it’s almost magical or dictated by something larger.
Authors may have a setting they like and simply know that one day they will write a story and have it happen in that location. Case in point: I did intern teaching at an elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York. I saw the Falls every day. When I became interested in writing, I knew one of the stories I’d write would occur there.
The area fascinated me – the lore, the legends, the mist, the water’s roar. That story became “Ferelli’s Fall” and is in my newly released short story collection Creek Songs. Across from the American Falls (in the foreground) is the city of Niagara Falls, Canada. A climactic scene in the story takes place just north of that city.
Sometimes a setting evolves organically from the needs of the characters. The latter is true for the short story “Behind the Triple K.” The tamarisk trees growing beside Interstate 10 and a span of railroad tracks in California’s Coachella Valley become a place of sanctuary . . . and reckoning for the characters. The characters themselves led me there.
Another way a setting is chosen is by an event, domestic or international. A story became very real to me as did the young protagonist. I could see the characters and feel the plot. I knew they were in a war. The idea morphed to WWII France and became the story titled “The First of the Season.”
What’s exciting is that a story may be set anywhere, limited only by the author’s imagination. By using the senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) and such items as weather and time of day, the author can bring that setting to life, allowing the reader to “be there” and enjoy the story more fully.
I hope you like to read short stories. If you don’t, let me offer a few reasons to try them out. First, my short story collection Creek Songs is live on Amazon.com! More on point, short stories are user friendly, time friendly and mood friendly.
User Friendly. Reading a short story collection is like shopping at Trader Joe’s. You can read the stories in order, similar to going up and down the aisles. Or you can wander around the pages, similar to checking out the flowers, then the What’s New Section and then finally buying the milk you came in for.
Time Friendly. Short stories vary in length, possibly as long as 15,000 words or as few words as six or less. (Here is an example of a six word story from Margaret Atwood: Longed for him. Got him. Shit.) My collection has one longer story called “Ferrelli’s Fall.” The others are in the 1500 to 3500 word range.
Mood Friendly. Do you want mystery, suspense, family, love, tension? Let the stories take you on a wild ride or allow you to savor a gentle moment. Neil Gaiman writes: A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.
And so, here it is . . . Creek Songs. The stories follow a moment in the lives of flawed, everyday characters dealing with life and the quirks of chance, luck and fate. Settings range from Palm Springs to Niagara Falls to WWII France. The characters are young, old and in-between. If you enjoy your experience, feel free to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon. As songwriter Carl Perkins says, Without the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. To me, that explains the ebb and flow of the human experience.
We’ve been living in a surreal world where time has stalled, where a pandemic, sickness, fear, death, heroic health care workers, vaccines, economic hardship, health concerns, and isolation from family and friends have surrounded us. What a time we have seen.
My mask wardrobe includes N95s, cloth and the standard blue/whites. I wear them where mandated and where I think the situation dictates. I am vaccinated. I choose my gatherings and my activities. I’m keeping myself safe and others.
Back orders on international and domestic deliveries, workplace changes and suspended community activities affect us daily. Children returning to school, hospital crowding, over-worked health care workers and the health of our citizens worry us every day. Grave international and domestic situations fill our news.
As a society we have been carrying a heavy load. But I am mindful of the legacy of 9/11, of the bravery of all involved, of our oneness as a nation during that time, of common values. And that’s where I will focus; on our unity as a people, as Americans who care more about what unites us than what divides us. I will turn a blind eye to misinformation and emotionally charged propaganda; to crass showmanship and misguided stories. And I will vote.
Time confronted us with something different, beyond what we could have imagined. It will shape us in new ways, but let’s face these new ways as a united people.
September 9, 2011, fills me with emotion and makes me want the best for our country; to forever acknowledge the legacy, the bravery, the loss – and the oneness – of these United States.
Right now in the Sonoran Desert, rain won’t be our guest any time soon. We are in the midst of high summer temperatures. The temperature in my hometown of La Quinta is currently 113 degrees at 4:58 pm. Recent days have been even hotter and there are hotter ones to come. The daylight hours are made of heady stuff. Ah, but the nights! We have had some spectacular night skies. All the better to see Neowise, the new comet.
Neowise image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
This new comet has made many of us skywatchers. Its namesake is the Neowise space telescope that first spotted the newcomer to the skies on March 27, 2020. Photographers around the world have captured spectacular photos of Neowise. These are especially nice to see if, like me, you haven’t stepped out to see the comet for real.
Whether you’re watching for rain and praying for cooler temperatures or enjoying a sighting of the new comet, here is a piece called “Skywatcher.” It was inspired by a watercolor of the same name by artist Lynn Centeno, and by the beauty and imagery of Navajo mythology. The piece just seems rather timely right now. Enjoy.
Do you watch
for nature’s signs?
Do you see wisps
of clouds drift high
to fetch the storm?
Do you spy a bolt
of lightning from mighty Thunderbird’s beak?
Do you hear the great avian’s
wings flap their
Do you behold Tsohanoai step from the storm
with Sun on his back?
Do you glimpse
a rainbow, a promise of hope in the new day?
I’ve always had a fascination with horses. I admire their power, their beauty, and their role in furthering men’s dreams and goals through the ages. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a sweet tempered Appaloosa named Ember, a nervous and high spirited saddlebred named Rebel and an independent, strong-willed Arabian called Sultan. My feelings for these three unique animals plus my broader respect for the overall majesty and heritage of horses motivated the following piece called “Free to be Wild.” Enjoy.
Hoof beats rumble
across the ground. Coyote and jackrabbit run from the sound.
A stallion gallops with his alpha mare. His band of wild horses swirl dust in the air.
Bodies all powerful, lathered and wet, taut muscles glisten beneath their sweat.
Flashing eyes, a flow of mane, strong hooves pummel the grassy plain.
No slave to lasso, saddle or brand, unbridled, untethered, the land they command.
His herd lives, survives in its kingdom, to revel in life, to celebrate freedom.
by Carol S. Mann 2020
Racing from the Dark by Watercolorist Lynn Centeno
If you enjoy horses or history or have concern about preserving the beings of the planet, you may find this book of interest:
February 15, 2020, was the Desert Writers Expo hosted by the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory located in Rancho Mirage, California. Forty writers came together to offer their current books for sale to the public. It was a busy and full day.
This is the “booth” featuring All Ways A Woman and a line of greeting cards with images and poems from the book. Artist Lynn Centeno and I collaborated on the project.
My table mate DeAnn Lubell, author of The Last Moon, and I each had a good day and a good time surrounded by people and friends who love books.
All Ways A Woman is designed to celebrate and honor women and makes an excellent gift or keepsake for the special women in a person’s life. Depicted are the major and memorable milestones in a woman’s life journey. Great for Mother’s Day! Available at Amazon.com
In a recent post called “Nurse Ratchet Goes to School,” I wrote about caregiving and going to caregivers’ school, all in an effort to give the best care possible to my husband Tony who will celebrate his 97th birthday on October 10. In addition, I learned about the importance of self-care.
Happily, a health care team has been assembled. Daily, they make Tony comfortable and give me the confidence to be the caregiver I want to be plus allowing for some me-time. They are not present 24 hours a day. After they leave is when I come “on duty.”
Oh, oh. Here comes Nurse Ratchet
Sometimes as a caregiver, your perception can get a little off, your patience can be a little skewed, and/or the moment can just go to hell in a hand-basket. Bad days happen to everyone – the care receiver and the caregiver. When you’re elderly, ill, and/or in pain, those bad days can become more intense. Somewhere I read the following two sentences about giving care that I try to keep in the forefront of my thoughts: He’s not giving you a hard time. He’s having a hard time.
Adding to that perspective is a poem I found through one of the “likes” I received on the Ratchet post. I hadn’t seen the piece before. It’s called “Cranky Old Man.” It was posted by the author of the blog deardollie.com.
Dollie is a professional caregiver. Do check out her blog for tips and inspiration. For obvious reasons, her choice of poem spoke to me.
Cranky Old Man
What do you see, nurses? . . . what do you see? What are you thinking . . . when you’re looking at me? A cranky old man . . . not very wise, Uncertain of habit . . . with faraway eyes? Who dribbles his food . . . and makes no reply. When you say in a loud voice . . . “I do wish you’d try!”
Who seems not to notice . . . the things that you do. And forever is losing . . . a sock or shoe? Who, resisting or not . . . lets you do as you will, With bathing and feeding . . . .the long day to fill? Is that what you’re thinking? . . . is that what you see? Then open your eyes, nurse . . . you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am . . . as I sit here so still, As I do at your bidding . . . as I eat at your will. I’m a small child of ten . . . with a father and mother, Brothers and sisters . . . who love one another A young boy of sixteen . . . with wings on his feet Dreaming that soon now . . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at twenty . . . my heart gives a leap Remembering the vows . . . that I promised to keep. At twenty-five now . . . I have young of my own. Who need me to guide . . . and a secure happy home. A man of thirty . . . my young now grown fast, Bound to each other . . . with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons . . . have grown and are gone, But my woman is beside me . . . to see I don’t mourn. At fifty, once more, . . . babies play ’round my knee, Again, we know children . . . my loved one and me. Dark days are upon me . . . my wife is now dead. I look at the future . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . young of their own. And I think of the years . . . and the love that I’ve known. I’m now an old man . . . and nature is cruel. It’s jest to make old age . . . look like a fool. The body, it crumbles . . . grace and vigor, depart. There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . . . A young man still dwells, And now and again . . . my battered heart swells I remember the joys . . . I remember the pain. And I’m loving and living . . . life over again. I think of the years, all too few . . . gone too fast. And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . open and see. Not a cranky old man. Look closer . . . see . . . ME.
(Originally ‘Crabbit Old Woman’ by Phyllis McCormack (1966); adapted by Dave Griffith)
I want to remember that Tony’s hospital bed and the room it is in have become his world. I want the situation free from anxiety or stress as much as possible. For both Tony and me. I want patience. I want to be calm. I want strength to deal with whatever is happening with his care and condition. I want to handle the worry that comes with the territory. I want to cope successfully with the “off” days, knowing some days will just simply misfire. The wisdom of the italicized sentences and poem help keep me focused on the person, not the tasks, on my husband, not the affliction.
Always ready to have a little fun. (Pictures of Tony are just prior to his becoming bedbound, but the smile and sense of humor are the same.)
A recent birthday card introduced me to an old art form. It’s called quilling. When I first looked at the card, I thought its design was simply raised. On closer inspection, I found the design was three dimensional and composed of small, coiled strips of paper. The intricacy of the work is evident.
The quilling on my card
I became curious about this decorative art form. Below is some information I found about the history of quilling – from mymodernmet.com :
Like many forms of craft, paper quilling can trace its origins back hundreds of years to at least the 15th century (maybe earlier). It is believed to have been created by French and Italian nuns and used to decorate religious objects in an effort to save money. The filigree was fashioned to simulate carved ivory and wrought iron—two very costly details. When the paper quilling was gilded, it was hard to distinguish from metal, making it a good option for struggling churches.
Paper quilling had its heyday in England during the 18th century. It, in addition to embroidery, was considered a “proper pastime” for young women and was taught in boarding schools, as well as to “ladies of leisure” because it was seen as not too “taxing” for them. Quilling’s influence spread to the United States, but the practice waned by the 19th century; there are relatively few examples of paper quilling during this time.
A closer look at my card, crafted in Vietnam
Quilling earned its name because to coil the paper, it was cut into thin strips and wrapped around an actual quill. Then it could be shaped and glued. The technique is also called filigree, paper filigree or scrollwork. Today there are quilling kits and specialized tools.
Old basket or box with a filigree look (courtesy of quilling-guild.weebly.com)
On the literary side of things, Jane Austen made use of quilling as “stage” business while two characters chatted and the conversation moved the story forward. In Chapter 23 of Sense and Sensibility:
“Lucy directly drew her work table near her and reseated herself with an alacrity and cheerfulness which seemed to infer that she could taste no greater delight than in making a filigree basket for a spoilt child.”
The above is one reference. There are more within the chapter.
An old filigree box (courtesy of quilling-guild.weebly.com)
An example of modern quilling (courtesy of ytcg.org)
I don’t think that I personally will ever try this art form. I have visions of coiled paper stuck to all of my fingers. But I am intrigued and can certainly appreciate the creativity and skill needed to produce the work.
And thank you to my friend for the birthday card that brought about this short exploration!
Do you remember the Beanie Baby craze of the early 1990s? These popular little toy animals had names like Chocolate the Moose, Squealer the Pig, and Patti the Platypus. They were stuffed loosely with plastic pellets (“beans”), making them small, malleable little critters. They were inexpensive at the time but over the passage of years, some of these beanie babies have become quite valuable.
Nanook the Husky, courtesy of Amazon.com
I met my first and only beanie baby on the campus of Northern Illinois University in the late 1990s. Her name was Nanook the Husky. It was an appropriate meeting place since the Husky is the university’s mascot. Nanook peeked at me from her place on top of the computer screen that belonged to our friend’s secretary. I admired the little blighter and the next thing I knew, she was mine. A gift.
I brought Nanook home from Illinois and, mimic that I am, placed her atop my computer screen to watch over me and “inspire” my work. Kind of a muse infusion, if you will. When I was writing and, if I hit a snag, I’d look at Nanook, with the hope the little Husky had something for me. Perhaps a memory jog, a light of inspiration, a kindly shoulder to cry on. I know, I know, a bit silly. Actually, those little dalliances of the brain usually bought me “think time” to find my way out of the snag. And so the little creature took up residency, looming over my computer screen in our home office for many years.
“Hangin’ out” over the computer screen
Then in June, my husband became bed-bound. His health team brought in a hospital bed for his comfort. I filled the bedroom with memorabilia, surrounding him with things he liked. It’s good for people with dementia to see their legacy and memories. As of today, on the door to the room hang three pennants: the New York Yankees, Northern Illinois University (BS), Oklahoma State (MS). On the wall are four pictures from his school and Marine days. Family pictures and those of friends sit on top of a chest. Near the TV sits a baseball trophy and two special baseball style caps he always liked to wear. You get the idea. One day I added Nanook.
On a whim, I took the Husky from her place on top of my computer screen into the bedroom and placed her on Tony’s knee as he slept. He woke to find the blue-eyed, faithful dog looking at him. Nanook became a resident of the hospital bed, a silent buddy, draped over the pillow, on the dinner tray, on Tony’s shoulder. All in good fun. Happy ending, except I’d lost my little good luck talisman.
Since then I’ve replaced Nanook with a heart and a blue “stone.” They’re not as cute as she is, but they give me something to stare at, to talk or yell at. And they buy me “think time” as I’m writing. They don’t sit atop the computer screen but under it. I occasionally pick them up, hold them, rub them, toss them from hand to hand.
Replacements for Nanook
In the greater Beanie Baby world, Nanook has not increased in financial value like Valentino the Bear or Claude the Crab, but she has become invaluable as a “feel-good” talisman for a bed-bound 97-year-old. It’s a happy ending for a little Husky who journeyed from Illinois, proceeded to my California writer’s office and, ultimately, settled into the bedside comfort of a nonagenarian.
I haven’t blogged since May 13, 2019. In fact, my writing actually came to a standstill in early March. The reason? My husband’s health began to decline and he entered in-home hospice care in May. He’s almost 97, a WWII vet (the Marines), a former athlete, a retired college professor and teacher, and all-around good guy. Age is his nemesis. Regardless of the effects of time and advancing years on his mind and body, he’s maintaining his sense of humor and enjoys people. His name is Tony. And I love him.
I dubbed myself a bumbling but well-intended Nurse Ratchet (Remember the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?) and quickly realized I was in over my head on how to care for Tony at home. My care techniques often were less than smooth or subtle. My learning curve occurred as I began to watch the professionals do their thing – from the nurse to the in-home health aid to the physical therapist to his private caregiver.
Outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 2006 (thedragonsonfire.com)
Our lives changed quickly after the arrival of hospice care. Tony’s legs gave out, making him no longer ambulatory. A hospital bed arrived. We’d made the decision to age in our home for as long as possible as opposed to going into a progressive living facility.
Hospice has proven to be invaluable. It provides many in-home services; however, Tony’s health care team is not on-site daily and when they’re here, they’re present only for as long as it takes them to complete the tasks in their skill sets. I began to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by the great responsibility, the guilt (Was I doing enough?), and anxiety. I knew I needed help.
Tony with his Health Care Professional
I experienced several problems as the intensity of Tony’s new bed-bound status and the caregiving process began to settle in. I found I couldn’t concentrate on tasks of any depth. I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t write. I had trouble sleeping. Stress and anxiety had entered my world. Depression had accompanied it. I didn’t realize how these feelings were slipping in and affecting me in my conscious and subconscious thoughts. But I felt a pull on my well-being.
One afternoon while reading The Gem, a local publication, I saw a class advertised for family caregivers. It was being held at the local wellness center nearby. I called, was able to enroll, and entered the twelve-week session. One of the best moves ever. I didn’t realize how strung-out I had become and how I felt like I was walking on my knees.
At the first class, I found myself in a room with seven other family caregivers. Some were caring for ailing husbands, others were caring for aging parents. Their stories and challenges proved as different as the constellations. The great weight of my feelings of isolation and intense responsibility lessened.
The first part of each class was instruction. Here are some of the topics:
Recognizing and Managing Stress
Legal and Financial Issues Related to Caregiving
Learning from Our Emotions
Grieving – A Natural Reaction to Loss
Living with Dementia
Taking Charge of Your Health
Asking for Help
The second half of the class began with the facilitator asking the simple question, “How was your week?” Obviously, this was the signal to begin sharing. As a caregiver, you learn you are not alone. I found inspiration from hearing the stories of others.
A big message of the class was to recognize that as a caregiver and manager, you must also take care of yourself or you will end up being of no use to your loved one or yourself. Part of self-care is knowing you need help. I have been fortunate to find a private health care professional to assist with Tony’s care. I have learned to block time for myself. It took a while to find the rhythm and structure for our particular situation.
We are fortunate to have friends and family who stop in to visit. Our master bedroom has become our living room. This is where we sit and visit, snack, eat, laugh, watch TV, and share stories. Tony enjoys his visitors and the laughter and caring they bring.
I felt a loss when the class ended. We’d bonded with each other, cheered each other’s progress and victories, lamented each other’s sadnesses and heartbreaks. I am grateful to the Riverside County Office on Aging for providing this valuable resource. A special thank you goes to our facilitator Guillermo Delgado, Program Specialist II of the Family Caregiver Support Program, for guiding us through our class and sharing sessions with skill, patience and kindness.
Caregiving is a two-pronged challenge – caring for your loved one and taking care of yourself to enable you to do your best. Yes, we got this!