Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Death Did Me A Favor

Kelly and me, August 2014.
Last weekend a couple of longtime friends stayed with us at Bassborough. Kelly lost her first husband to a heart attack when she was in her late twenties and her current husband, Kevin, to whom she's been married 19 years, recently underwent his second heart transplant and is now facing kidney failure. On top of that, while she was traveling, her gynecologist called her to schedule an immediate appointment with an oncologist because the painful ovarian cysts she's had for the last several months are growing rapidly and her blood work indicates a high level of the substance associated with ovarian cancer.

A friend and writing colleague recently lost her mother and I've shared in her paddling the river of grief. She wrote the following post on her Facebook today, detailing what I've often described as the "before" and "after" of death.
After Mom passed away, I wrote a collection of poems for her, about her, without her. But I didn't write any nonfiction for over 2 months, and I live for personal essays. Truth and transparency--they've always been my mantra. See, my life got divided into two parts: life before Mom and after her. And the truth that there was an "after" phase, made me cringe. The truth that she no longer existed made me angry. Then, one day something happened and I remembered Mom's words. "Never lose courage, beta. You've always been strong." I took her advice and wrote this article. This is my first piece of writing published in the "after" phase. I didn't realize that a big change in life also impacts the tone of our art in a massive way. The article is factual because that's what life is, I've learned. It doesn't mollycoddle or sugarcoat, I'm not afraid to say. It's a short piece on how to deal with rejections. ~ Sweta Vikram
This post jerked me aside from my novel revision to consider how death has shaped my character and informed my writing. I responded to Sweta with the following comment:
Death of a close person, particularly a parent, creates a divide in your life which stirs an unconscious calculation of the before and after. We change through grief; when we are supported and loved through the transition, we emerge stronger.
We emerge from grief stronger. Perhaps this is why death appears largely in my writing. My younger sister's death when I was 31 years old had a profound impact on me. My father had died only the year before, but he and I had not been significantly close in the last twenty years. I loved him and I know he loved me, but I grieved more over the relationship I wished we'd had more than the relationship I would no longer have. My sister's death was different. She was the sister I shared a bed with for the first 12 years of my life. She's the one who sang duets with me on the imaginary stage in the driveway of house. She was the one who most resembled my mother in appearance, mannerisms and character. I could not imagine life without her. And yet it happened. Life separated to the before and after on August 2, 1990 when Angela passed from this life.

My grief was constant. It dripped down my face at the most unexpected times. A headline on a magazine announcing ways to tame curly hair brought a deluge. The scent of a woman wearing the popular perfume called Charlie made me want to wrap myself around her. I saw her face everywhere. Always from a distance, her long wavy hair, her fading freckles, her wide blue eyes so open and inviting. I spent time at the piano plunking out the songs we loved to sing together and even wrote a song for her. Death took not only my sister on that August afternoon, it stole my golden youth. I no longer took for granted the waking up every morning of myself, my husband, my children. If my sister could die, so could one of them.

As I worked through grief I awoke to extraordinary moments I might have never noticed. Some of these moments were glorious. The instant I realized the bickering of my children was normal childhood development it ceased to annoy me. I found solace in the quiet of an evening after the children had gone to bed. I finally realized why the ocean drew me so; it provides a wide, empty horizon on which I subconsciously float away the clutter in my mind.

My fiction took wing and I was finally able to complete several short stories and a novel. Within each of these pieces, however, Death hovered near. In "Experienced Only Need Apply," A woman with breast cancer confesses to her husband she was not a virgin when they married. In "Sketches Past and Present" a Silicon Valley mogul is haunted by the murdered woman he came with to California in the Summer of Love.
In "Still Life With Lovers," A young Frenchwoman's infatuation with Vincent Van Gogh restores passion in her marriage just before her husband's death. In my unpublished novel, The Nexus, a 20th century woman is transported to a place in between life and death where her soul is healed before its return to her body. My unpublished novel, The Sword Swallower's Daughter, is sliced so with death it bleeds on the page. Even my work in progress, a novel called Whispering Nights,

The anchor lifted from my mother's life 13 years after my sister. I wept and railed in the river of grief, caught in a whirlpool sucking me down into anxiety and fear. Paddling with oars of anger, I nearly exhausted myself before I let go of the What Was and accepted the What Is. No longer fighting my grief, I began working within. With renewed insight, I plunged into the novel manuscript I had been revising and within months landed an agent. Glimpses of the extraordinary returned. My daughter becoming a beautiful young woman. My son's quirky sense of humor sending me into fits of laughter. My husband's unwavering devotion and encouragement of my writing. The indescribable sisterly love between me and my remaining sister, Robin, who is now fighting an aggressive form of leukemia.

Only after years of paddling the river of grief, dare I say that death did me a favor.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My New Online Photography Site

For years people have asked me if I ever sold photos from my travels. I've been to some very amazing places and had once-in-a-lifetime experiences. On many of those occasions I didn't have a camera in hand, so I've written about them here in Ovations and at other places.

Internet technology, print on demand, and social media ave created a safe and easy way for photographers and other fine artists to show and sell their work online, without keeping an inventory. I've decided to take up the challenge of selling selected photographs through an art commerce website. Here are a couple of pages that contains one of my photographs along with shots from other photographers. This will give you an idea of the professionalism of photographers who are aligned with Fine Art America.

Here is a selection of photographs of Niagara Falls
Here is a selection of photographs of Avalon, Catalina Island

My Fine Art America photographer's page is still under development, but you can get a peek at www.carolyn-bass.artistwebsites.com.

I will feature other links in subsequent posts. Keep your eyes open.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ovations Is Moving...

Blogger has been a good place for Ovations over the years, and you've been great friends and supporters of my work. I've recently updated my author's website and created a blog there. I will no longer be posting here, so if you are one of my original Ovations followers, I hope you'll hop over there and subscribe to Ovations on the new site. It's all here:

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Gift to You: Sarah's Sacrifice

I'd like to thank everyone who has purchased my Christmas story, SARAH'S SACRIFICE. Your support means the world to me. Yet, I want the message of this story to go far and wide before Christmas, so I'll be offering free downloads on Amazonbeginning tomorrow and running through Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Sarah's Sacrifice

Back in the early 1990s there was another recession. Unemployment was high, shops were closing, and houses were foreclosing. My husband, just out of the Marine Corps, was looking for a civilian job. Funds were scarce around our place and Christmas was on its way. It crushed my spirit that we couldn't afford the My Size Barbie that my five-year-old daughter wanted for Christmas. I sought a way to explain to her that Santa Claus doesn't always bring that big thing that a child's heart is set on. One day I sat down at the computer and wrote her a story and called it Sarah's Sacrifice. I read the story to her and my three-year-old son later that night.

Over the years I've thought about having Sarah's Sacrifice published. Advice I received from publishing professionals was grim. I was an unknown author with a book that has a sales window of about one month. Had I been Mitch Albom or Fannie Flagg or another well-known author, my book would have been considered. I looked into self-publishing the book, but back then, the costs were prohibitive for someone in our financial strata. Sarah's Sacrifice lingered in the back of my mind every Christmas and I even brought out the story to read for each of my children's fourth grade classes.

Publishing is undergoing a revolution right now. Print on demand (POD) technology, the birth of the e-reading device (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony), and social media marketing has tossed the ball to authors without a mainstream publishing contract. Although I did publish a short story for e-readers earlier this year just for the experience, I've been dodging the ball. Until now. Last week I jumped into the game with a digital version of Sarah's Sacrifice now available through Amazon and a print book available through Lulu.

About Sarah's Sacrifice 

When ten-year-old Sarah Marshall donates her beloved doll to an organization that refurbishes used toys to distribute to needy families at Christmas, she learns that joy comes as much from giving as it does in receiving.
Sarah's Sacrifice weaves the spirit of Santa Claus with the Christian nativity tradition. It's a story about caring and sharing, blessing and believing for children and those who cherish the wonder of Christmas.

You can purchase Sarah's Sacrifice for Kindle here.

You can order a printed copy of Sarah's Sacrifice from Lulu here.

If you enjoy the story, would you please leave a comment or review on the site from where you purchased it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Eyes in Mexico

Standing before the entrance to the National Museum
of Archeology, are me and my traveling companions (l-r):
Rob Hard, GiAnna Wyatt, me, Yusfia Jimenez, and
Matthew Thomas.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I'll never forget how my eleventh grade English teacher, Mr. Ted Mann, introduced our first reading of Shakespeare. He paced across the front of the classroom, his eyes shimmering with the overflow of his admiration. He said, "I envy each one of you. Shakespeare is the most important figure in English literature. His themes are as powerful and relevant today as they were 400 years ago. I wish I could go back and experience Shakespeare again for the first time."

I've just spent the last three days with a trio of journalists visiting Mexico City for the first time. The group included Matthew Thomas, a veteran journalist of many years; Rob Hard, a business travel writer in his early forties, and GiAnna Wyatt, a recent journalism school grad who's landed her dream job with Prevue, a travel magazine.  GiAnna bubbled with joy for her new job, her first press trip, and her craft. Her enthusiasm overflowed onto me, drawing me back to my early days in journalism, my first job as a writer and editor and settling into adult life.

The Aztec Calendar can be seen inside the National Museum
of Anthropology in Mexico City.
I've been to Mexico City several times, yet the exuberant reactions to this grand dame of cities from individuals with such diverse backgrounds pervaded my vision during the trip. We all effused over the magnificent statuary, upscale decor and sparkling marble at the Marquis Reforma Hotel & Spa where we had spacious accommodations and superb food service. I found my eyes widening along with my companions at the broad, tree-lined streets and nodding with gusto as our tour guide, Jose Alfredo Martinez, extolled the virtues of his city like a husband whose love for his wife grows stronger as the years go by. We went to several places within Mexico City that I had never before seen--Chapultepec Park and Castle, the Zocalo, the National Museum of Anthropology. I tingled with the cosmopolitan vibe and marveled anew at how Mexico infuses the ancient with the contemporary as if the two are the yin yang of Mexican culture.

Each of my travel companions had similar concerns about safety and security before arriving in Mexico City. The US news media frequently over blows reports of crime and violence within Mexico, casting dark shadows to the safety of traveling here. It's a fact that drug cartels wield enormous power,  political corruption is legendary, and Mexico has a high rate of violent crime. The execution-style killings that make headlines in the US happen in outlaying areas where tourists seldom visit. There are neighborhoods within minutes of my home near Durham, North Carolina which I avoid because of rampant crime and violence. As we drove and walked around Mexico City my travel companions repeatedly remarked at how they didn't feel any more threatened here than in their own neighborhoods within San Francisco, Chicago and Miami. 

Seeing Mexico City through fresh eyes over the past three days, I was reminded of how powerful a first-time experience can be. You can never do something again for the first time. But you can always open your eyes and understanding to fresh impressions.

So I ask again, when was the last time you did something for the first time?