UNSHOD

unshod

Friday night was dinner and a movie night.  Mom worked nights. My sister was usually busy with friends. That left Dad and me to eat at Chins or The Taxi Cab Café and then stroll down the block to Partrick’s Candy for a pound of light chocolates – vanilla, mint, walnut, and maplenut filling only – to share during the show.

Dad always picked the movie and he always chose a western. Secretly, I had a crush on Clint Walker and James Gardner, but John Wayne was perfectly acceptable. I fell in love with the wide-open scenery in those westerns, adored the morality plays all done up with horses and dust and smoking pistols, fell for the slow-talking men every time. But what I did not enjoy – what made me squirm in my seat, look over at Dad to catch his reaction – was the role of women in those old movies.

McLintock is a classic example. I mean, what woman wouldn’t fall for a guy who lifted her skirt and publically spanked her to demonstrate his need to be boss and hers to be dominated. There were strong women in these movies, oh, yes, but women who, ultimately, submitted to the stronger men in their lives. That’s a powerful message for a thirteen year-old girl in 1963.

Forty years after those Friday night movies with Dad, I had the great good fortune to attend the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop in Fayetteville, Arkansas for several years. The NWAWW is the creation of Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton. Brotherton writes cross-genre, and makes it all look easy. Dusty writes westerns. Period. 120 westerns at last count. There are no better teachers and mentors for a new writer.

Under their influence, I decided to try my hand at writing a western or two. But, from the beginning, I wanted my westerns to show a truer picture of women in the old west. A picture that investigated the complexity of these women and the hardships they endured.

Think crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is difficult? Try it while pregnant.  Imagine homesteading with your nearest neighbor miles away would test your gumption? Try it while nursing a baby. Think cooking over an open fire would be challenging?  Try it while caring for an energetic toddler.

I was determined to write westerns that told the truth about women’s lives. So when AIW Publishing decided to put together Unshod, an anthology of traditional and contemporary short stories, I was delighted to have a story included. If you enjoy good writing, you’ll like this anthology. The book has been out a little over twenty-four hours and it’s already on Amazon’s Best Seller List. If you’re a fan of the western short story, you are going to find yourself grinning from ear-to-ear. Along the way, you just might discover nine new authors whose work you’ll want to follow closely.

As for me, I’ve downloaded Unshod. My light chocolate creams are safe in their white Partrick’s bag. I intend to curl up and indulge in some fine western story telling. Somewhere Dad is grinning. I know he is.

Posted in About Writing, pamela foster, staci troilo, joan hall, p.c. zick, janna hill, michele jones, francis guenette, lorna faith, jan morrill, Uncategorized, westerns, women writing, unshod, anthology, | 9 Comments

Turtle Dreams

hawkbill

For weeks after receiving Jack’s diagnoses of Parkinson Disease my sleep was haunted by the flash of tiny fish in ever-tightening nets. Or, I dreamed I was a sea turtle flying effortlessly through my domain. In an instant I was entangled in a net, hauled into a small boat where laughing men hacked off my flippers, tossed me unfeeling back into the sea. Even as I fought against the cutting and slicing of my limbs, my means of survival, I understood the men were simply doing what they had to do to feed their families. That, to them, I meant nothing at all except a meal, a way to nourish themselves and to stay alive another day.

Sinking, helpless, back down through the very ocean that had been my home, I would, each night, transform, become an avenging goddess, rise like a rocket up out of the sea and into the boat where I wreaked havoc on the men who had killed me in my incarnation as a helpless, flapping turtle. Even then, though, in my dreams, I stopped, looked at the faces of the men, knew they meant me no harm, that they, like me, were only trying to survive.
Today is the first day Jack and I will receive respite care. Sixteen hours a week another caregiver is scheduled to come into our home and, essentially, do what I do each day.
Jack and I have worked hard to develop a schedule that will have this stranger driving him to acupuncture and massage and to the pool for physical therapy. Leaving me to accompany him to doctor’s appointments, the gym, and other appointments for which I need to be present. This wonderful person, Mr. Elf as I am calling him, will also clean the house twice a week, and most important, focus all his attention on Jack so I can have sixteen glorious hours a week to just be me.
I know that sounds bad. I understand the myth is that loved ones, wives in particular, care for our spouses, giving up piece after piece of ourselves, and we do it all with love and compassion as we rise up into sainthood.
Yeah, well, that’s bullshit.
If you follow my blog or have read My Life as a Wounded Warrior, you know Jack and I have had twenty-five years of living all over the world, we traveled in Asia with nothing but a change of clothes on our backs, taught scuba diving in Mexico, shared a tree house in Thailand.
When we left the doctor’s office, after receiving the diagnoses of Parkinson, I turned to Jack, squeezed his trembling hand, and said, “Well, so now we begin a new adventure.”
He glared at me. “Worst adventure. Ever.”
Because he decided not to take the medication for Parkinson, we started a regiment of, basically, doing everything anyone on the internet said might be good at slowing the progress of this degenerative disease. Mostly this involves slow, steady, exercise. The only suggestion we haven’t yet implemented is no-impact boxing. I’m working now to get that going here in Eureka.
So, about a month into this new adventure, here’s where we are:
We enjoy doing Tai Chi each morning after, and only after, I’ve had my two cups of coffee. We like exercising together three days a week at the gym where he rides the bike (excellent for Parkinson) and we work our way through a few weight machines. I walk in the park twice a week while Jack does physical therapy in a warm pool. I asked and the VA granted Jack massage and acupuncture, both of which are purported to be good for Parkinson. He begins those therapies this week.
Our joke is that Jack has his own little Parkinson retreat center. Our world revolves around providing him the best care we can manage.
Are you catching on to the symbolism behind my sea turtle dream?
Love is transformative. I have no argument with that truth. But the caregiver has to be able to get to the surface on a fairly regular basis. That little sip of air, the feel of sun on a back, and the breeze across the surface of the water – that’s the difference between life and death.

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Chewing on Life

 

I went to sleep before Wheel of Fortune.
At three a.m., precisely three a.m., a flash of light illuminated the room, silhouetted my open laptop on the desk next to the bed. By the time the thunder followed I was awake, staring into the now dark room, wondering, electrical storm or preliminary sign of stroke?
The slap of thunder was, thus, a relief.
There was only the one flash of light, the one rumble of thunder. I decided this was God’s way of telling me to get up and write.
Most of you know that, in August, after five years in the area, Jack and I moved from beautiful Northwest Arkansas back to my home town. Eureka perches on the Pacific Ocean, in the coastal redwood forest, about a hundred winding miles south of the Oregon border. My people have been here for eight generations. Not as long as the beautiful Yurok, and Hoopa, and Wiyot my ancestors attempted to exterminate, but still, people of my blood have lived here long enough that this is where I breathe easiest, this is where I know the name of every weed and tree and plant, where I have a half-dozen memories of each street, and creek, and beach, and lagoon, and forest path.
Humboldt County is home.

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Still, in many ways, my tribe is in Arkansas. Arkansas is where I came into my own as a writer. Arkansas is where, with a few notable exceptions, I made the best friends of my life. Arkansas is where I was a respected member of a talented and generous group of writers who encouraged and lifted each other up each week at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop, and out of which a half-dozen or so deep friendships developed. I knew when I walked away it was going to be a loss. A real loss.

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People in Eureka love me, but to them I’m still the scruffy, gangly child who chewed on the front of her shirt until she was five.
In Arkansas I’d often run into people while out and about, people who would approach and say things like, “Oh, I heard you speak at the Missouri Writers Guild. You encouraged me so much,” or “OMG, I finished Noisy Creek last night and I love that book!”
Here in Humboldt County folks who approach are far more likely to say things like, “Aren’t you the one who rolled down the hill at Fort Humboldt when you were a kid and broke her tailbone on a redwood stump?” or “At Alice Birney Elementary, didn’t you write that love story about Kevin Young, the boy up street from you, and then lose the binder in the cafeteria where Kevin’s brother Jimmy found it?”
Why yes, that was me. And that last incident might go a long way in explaining why I have never written another Romance.
So, I’m home. Fat, rather than gangly, but no longer prone to rolling down hills.
After a six month period of adjustment, I am ready to slip back into writing mode. Like a shedding snake, perhaps I’ve grown to fit a new skin. Sometimes I think we humans need a period when our eyes cloud over and our metabolism slows and we transform ourselves, once again, into our next incarnation.
My new self is a study in the need for balance. Jack’s health has deteriorated, though his humor and mischief-making talents are stronger than ever. This does not always make things easier, though I suspect it makes life possible. He has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. A new challenge for both him and for me. Parkinson and Post-traumatic Stress are not the best of companions. Just my opinion. He has chosen not to take the dopamine medication for Parkinson. Instead we are beginning a journey of Tai Chi, and bicycling, and no-impact boxing, and even a little weight lifting.
To everything there is a season.
In my last life, I wrote six to eight hours a day. Now I’m lucky to release the voices in my head a couple times a week. But, they do cause a racket, so I do my best to let them dance across a page or two whenever possible. I have a couple of books due out this year, am hoping to finish the third novel in my Bigfoot series. Living again in Eureka for the first time in twenty-five years, my goal is to integrate all the people I have been over the years – the confident writer and speaker and mentor, the joyous scuba instructor, the nurturing mother, the tough wife of a Marine, the loving and frustrated caregiver, and the lonely child.
Come along with me if you’d like. I’ll try not to chew on my clothes.

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Posted in About Writing, aging, caregiver, Humboldt County, marijuana, Parkinson Disease, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Advanced Directive Humor

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Those of you who read my books know that humor is my drug of choice. Okay, let me amend that. Humor and caffeine are my drugs of choice.
Many of you also know that my husband, Jack, has a wide variety of health challenges which, over the last couple of years, have come to require more and more care. I love the old Marine, feel blessed each day to have him in my life. Nonetheless, I need a little space to be me – not Jack’s caregiver, not even Jack’s wife, just – me. So, three days a week, Jack will be attending a senior activities center. I don’t know what the rest of the attendees will be doing – art projects, music, day trips is my understanding. Jack will be telling stories and amusing the young women who work there.
One of the requirements of attendance at the Activities Center is a current Advanced Directive. In other words, Jack was asked to put down in writing exactly what he would want done if, God forbid, he were unable to make the decision for himself as to when to pull the proverbial life support plug.

Since it is my job to make Jack’s life as stress free as possible, and since I already screw this up daily by coming apart at the seams over one thing or another, (yesterday it was galvanized screws. I kid you not), I filled out a directive too, just in case I go before him. If I die before him, he, after all, will be busy making flight reservations for Thailand. He claims it will be the job of the Thai undertaker to figure out how to get the smile off the face of his corpse.
A year ago I’d have told you there was no way I would outlive Jack. Yes, he has a myriad of physical challenges and I have no health issues except a little, controlled, high blood pressure. However, being a caregiver takes a toll. Look up the statistics. I dare you. Caregivers rarely outlive those for whom they care on a 24 hour a day basis. However, lately I am doing a little better at managing my own stress, working on those long, soothing exhales and calming inhales and, as I mentioned, Jack will be attending Senior Daycare in order to give me a much needed break each week – a time to be me.
So, back to the Advanced Directives.
Jack chose me to be his first choice responsible party. Now, I love the man dearly, but I chose someone else to decide when it was time to pull, or not to pull, the plug. Here’s why.
In the space marked special directions, Jack’s form states, and I’m going to put this in bold italics because I want you to really think about this instruction which I will be required by law to fulfill.
“Two, naked, beautiful twenty-two year old women are to be put in bed with me. If I don’t respond within twenty minutes, say goodbye and pull the fucking plug.”

 

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Candle Power

Pamela Foster

yurok

Dylan Thomas advised that we rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Thomas was writing about aging, of course – the slow, and sometimes not so slow, deterioration of our bodies and, let’s be honest, of our minds. But his sentiment is an attitude, a way of approaching life.
With all due respect, I have come to disagree with the poet.
Oh, I rage. I rage loudly and employ inventive curses against everything from my bad back, to Wall Street thieves, to the general stupidity of the world. But, at sixty-five, my rants are quieter, less profane and more a matter of habit than they were in my younger days. And before my sputtering frustration has died, I’m hunting down a match and searching the darkest crevasses for that candle I know I hid at the back of the metaphorical kitchen junk drawer.
Years ago I saw what is…

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Veterans Day, 2015

Pamela Foster

Vietnam boogie stretcher lem to chopper
I strive to be a positive person, fall asleep each night reciting the many comforts and the people I am happy to have in my life, take an extra minute each morning before crawling out of bed to say a prayer of thanks.
By noon, I’m frazzled – angry, resentful, frustrated. None of these emotions is productive.
Most of you know my husband is a Vietnam combat vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine fifty years ago just outside Danang. Jack died that day. Floated into the warm light. He’s been pissed off at the world ever since the medic jerked him back into this world. Over the years, he and I have embraced his need for adrenaline, his hatred of boredom, his itch to keep moving. We’ve traveled the world.
But, age catches us all.
War just keeps on giving.
Agent Orange gifted Jack with diabetes and, recently…

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Humboldt County Norm

humboldt buhne post

Every community displays subtle social clues that separate newcomers from recent arrivals. Of course, recent is a relative term. In general, the more isolated the community, the longer it takes for a new arrival to be assimilated and accepted into the culture.
Here in Humboldt County, we generally define an old-timer as someone whose family has resided in this, the furthest point west in the continental U.S., for a minimum of a century. So, roughly five generations. Minimum. This parochial exclusion of all things new is another dead giveaway of an old time resident of The Land of Limited Visibility.
And you really can’t blame us. Our ancestors happily harvested ancient trees and, more recently, Humboldt Gold for a hundred and fifty years, hidden from all but the very adventurous. Jack London got in a fist fight with an ancestor of local timber baron Woody Murphy, Brett Harte wrote a scathing condemnation of our slaugher of the Wiyot Indians. Both men then promptly sailed to the more civilized world of San Francisco.
Only the strongest or, possibly, the most desperate of individuals stayed behind the redwood curtain. My great-great-great grandfather Merritt Curtis Foster arrived here from Kansas at around the time that state enacted the Civil War Enrollment Act. I suspect my disgust of killing perfectly fine men over disagreements that could be better served without gunpowder was inherited from ole Merritt.
See how I established my credentials as a Humboldt County native? Yes, I left twenty-five years ago and roamed the world with my Vietnam Vet husband, Jack Jones. Yes, I’ve lived in other states and – gasp! – other countries. But Humboldt County has always been where every spot on every river and every beach and lagoon is layered with memories of picnics and accidents and family gatherings and stories. My breath comes easiest in the fog. Humboldt is home.
So, Jack and I recently returned and bought a home in Eureka. As fate would have it, our new house is located on Buhne St.
With the mention of Buhne, you old-timers now understand where I’ve been going since my opening paragraph’s reference to local norms and subtle methods of separating true locals from new arrivals. For the rest of you, please stick with me a moment more.
When I tell someone my new address, their reaction is a test.
“Jack and I live on Booner.”
“What? Booner? I guess I don’t know where that is.” Ah, newbe.
“Booner, huh? What’s your maiden name?” Local.
So, here in Eureka, why is a B U H N E R pronounced Booner?
When Hans Henry Buhne (1822-1894), a sea captain with roots in Denmark, sailed into Humboldt Bay during the California gold rush, my best guess is the man himself pronounced his name with what sounded like an ‘ah’ at the end. Over time, that nebulous and soft ‘ah’ became an ‘r’.
Great-grandpa would be proud of me. I always insist on giving my new address as ‘Booner’. Though, as a favor to new-comers like the cable guy, electrician, and home health workers, all of whom have gotten lost and had to call for directions to one of the longest and busiest streets in Eureka, I now give these directions:
“We’re on Booner. B U H N E R.”
Even over the phone I can hear the thoughts of the newcomers. What is wrong with these rednecks? They need to learn to speak English.
Which is fine. Their thoughts are drowned out by my own snide internal dialogue. Another freaking transplant.

Posted in buhne, Eureka, Humboldt County, logging, marijuana | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments