When Life Gets in the Way

Marta ChauseeMarta Chausée‘s first full-length novel, Murder’s Last Resort, was a winner in the 2011 Dark Oak Mystery contest and her creative non-fiction and poetry have won various awards. She has been published in Carnival Literary Magazine, Left Coast Literary Review, MoSaiC Literary Review and Rind Magazine.

A Southern California native, Marta has been many things– junk mail envelope stuffer, foreign language teaching assistant, boutique owner, forensic document examiner, corporate wife, mother, mental health therapist and life coach. Put those experiences in a blender and see what you get.

Thank you for inviting me to guest blog for you, Lelia.  It’s been far too long since I blogged for anyone, including myself.  Do I still know how?

I’m outing my self-absorbed and maudlin self, but I’m going to tell you how my life turned to !@$#* just about a year ago.

At the start of 2013, I moved out of my beautiful little cottage in an enchanted college town, and became a vagrant couch surfer.  On February 5, I broke up with my beau of ten years.  Three weeks later, my godfather Dennis called from Renton, WA, to tell me he had broken his pelvis; he and my godmother, Hella, who suffers from advanced dementia, needed my help.

Filled with affection and noble duty, I trotted right up and helped out for a week.  Hella already had full-time, live-in care, but Dennis wanted me to drive him on errands, fix the occasional meal, listen to his stories, and, between caregiver shifts, help out with Hella.  He never said it, but I knew it– he also wanted me to know their patterns and routines, in case things went south.

His attitude toward me was lousy. I heard him dissing me long-distance, over the phone, to his sister in England.  His sister, my lifelong friend.  “Oh yes,” he said, looking at me with a frown on his face, “she’s here now.  She tries to help. She’s fine.  She’s all lumpy, dumpy looking, but she’s fine.”  HUH?  After he hung up, I said, “I’m right here.  I can hear you, you know.”  He crafted a blank expression and asked for tea.

Hella, meanwhile, sat in one corner of the breakfast room, running her hands over her face, lolling her head in circles like a parrot on an endless grooming loop, and refused to speak to Dennis, though she spoke to and smiled at everyone else in the house.  I was in the middle of a Sartre nightmare.

Marta Chausee ClydesdaleOne morning he yelled at me when I cooked the bacon wrong. He snapped at me when I couldn’t find his tax papers.  I was too clumsy, being the Clydesdale that I am, as I tried to balance over and around the stacks of magazines en route to the garage, where he wanted me to practice opening his safe.  On the way to the drugstore to pick up a prescription for him, I called my mom and hissed into my cell phone, “I am never coming back here again, as long as Dennis is alive.”

And of course, that was all it took; Dennis promptly died.  Since then, I have been to Renton, WA, at least five times, my stays varying in length from a few days to a few weeks. I have hauled furniture, photographs, mementos, housewares, paintings, even “the old style” incandescent lightbulbs and three vehicles down Highway 5 from the pines of Issaquah to the 405 South to the beach at Playa del Rey.  Soon, I’ll fly back up to grab the ashes, then scatter them in Sherwood Forest, from where Dennis hailed. He and his life have taken over mine in ways too frightening to properly recount in 1200 words.

Though kind neighbors took over the executorship of the estate, and placed Hella in a memory care facility, the trust was and is in my care.  The house, the attic crawl space, the garden shed, the covered storage patio, the garage, its rafters and their contents were for me to either dispose of or keep.  Examples:  if Dennis had one of anything, he had at least three of that thing.  Electric generators, lawn mowers, power tools, sleeping bags, blowdryers, catalogues, magazines, papers, papers, papers.  We must have tossed out 3000 razor blades.  Suicide, anyone?

An early version of Dennis’s will had a moving truck fill up all their possessions, and dump them in the front yard of my home in Claremont.  “Do your best with it all, Marta dear,” was scribbled in Dennis’s handwriting in the margin. Gratefully, he changed his mind in 2009.

Marta Chausee GunsDennis, the pack rat survivalist.  His safe room, the garage, was loaded with enough hand-guns, antique guns, Lugers, AK-47s, and rounds of ammo to outfit every person in his little community of modest homes. Twenty-five gas masks, and 4 huge cartons of EMRs were in place to feed everyone.  Giant backpacks leaned in one corner, at the ready, filled with ratty old clothes, gas masks, mosquito repellant, and waterproof matches for Hella and himself. There would be no fashion statements after the nuclear holocaust.

Dennis was a ham radio nut, a master carpenter, an oil painter, and a model plane builder and collector.  Inside the house, his hobbies spilled into every room.  The task of sifting through all the detritus of a mad genius hoarder’s life seemed insurmountable, but giant dumpsters were rented and filled.  Bonfires blazed.  Many hands helped.

Marta Chausee Dumpster

And the year had started out so well!  My first full-length novel, Murder’s Last Resort, was released by Oak Tree Press on February 8, after two years of brutal scrutiny by Sunny Frazier, the acquisitions editor.  Back in 2011 when we first met, she all but looked into my mouth to check out my teeth and gums, impressing upon me that anyone hoping to be published had to be healthy, fit, and prepared to devote the first year after a book’s release to full-time marketing and promotion.  I also had to fill out an extensive marketing plan. I wanted my book picked up, so I got right on the stick.  It was clear to me that the best marketing plan wins.

Poor Oak Tree Press!  They got exactly 90 days of feverish marketing out of me, before my body was snatched by ailing and dead octogenarians.

Murder's Last ResortWhat is the answer?  Pick younger authors?  I mean, it’s not my poor health that tanked my big marketing schemes.  It was the health and demise of some of those close to me.

I thought my second novel would be completed and ready for edits last November during NaNoWriMo.  Not so.  I think I squeezed out maybe 1500 new words.  Whoo hoo, not the stuff  of which prize-winning works are made.

I couldn’t even produce the annual dreaded Christmas letter this past December.  It’s so bad, that friends are writing to me, asking, “What gives?”

Nothing.  Nothing gives.  Except me.  I keep giving.  St. Marta, the Non-Writer, Non-Promoter, Non-Marketer.  I brought Hella to a home in Eagle Rock, where we often visit, or I should say, I stroke her hair while her head lolls.  I look back in joy and gratitude that I had two book launches in March and April of last year.  Who knew they would be “it” for me?

And it’s really not just this.  My life is a mess. I’m depleted.  Moody and living in boxes in my new place– darling but tiny.  I hate my life and what is happening to it.  I see my Clydesdale future before me– poor, fat, old, and involuntarily celibate.  They shoot horses, don’t they?

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32 thoughts on “When Life Gets in the Way

  1. Good GRIEF, Marta! I had no idea! The only good thing is that you can get at least a humorous novella, if not a novel, out of this experience if you exaggerate it (you hardly need to, only a little) and make it funny like a Donna Andrews book. (No, really!) Take care of yourself and I shall see you at Left Coast Crime, where we shall join forces and sell a ton of our award-winning books!

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  2. Yikes! You have truly been through the mill, but it is coming to an end and you will be writing again–soon. I speak from experience. As down as you feel now, like the world is passing you by and no one knows you’re almost six feet under, one day you’ll look up and think, Oh, so here I am! What a nice day! Some years ago I had just taken a new executive position when my mother was found at home almost in a coma. She recovered, but so began eight months of frantic health care, the death of a younger brother, and almost two years to clean out her home (another packrat). I thought it would never end. But it did. And your year(s) from hell will too. This blog is one sign that you’re already on your way. Blessings. You’ll get there.

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  3. I’m exhausted reading your blog! But you accomplished an incredible number of things in 2013. I think back .. I had a couple of horrible years. Difficult disabled mother living with me, 4 troubled teenagers (drugs, alcohol, running away, suicide threats — you name it, we had it. Job? Company downsizing, I was the one telling people they had to go – never sure if my name would be on the next list. Boyfriend (of many years) left. One daughter got pregnant — her baby had Down Syndrome and a major heart problem that required neonatal surgery. Of course, I was broke. I remember telling my counselor (thank goodness I had one person to talk with) that there was no hope. I’d never be able to write anything, I’d have to work forever at a job I hated – unless they fired me, in which case 7 of us would starve. Can you say – depressed? The good news is that – time happened. It wasn’t easy. But it sounds as though you’re on a path upwards. (My mother died, my children grew up and are living sane lives, and I have 8 grandchildren. And that guy came back ten years later – and now we’re married.) I don’t know what your life will be like. But it will get better. I’m sure. (Hey – couldn’t get worse, right?) Thinking of you!

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    • My goodness, Lea, yours is QUITE the tale. Talk about using your life for material… you’ve got a lot of drama there to package and promote.

      I love the part about the guy coming back 10 years later and now you’re married. Who isn’t a sucker for a happy ending– and the kids turned out OK, too.

      Phew– as I was reading, I didn’t know where it was gonna go…

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  4. Oh, my, Marta! I’m married to a pack rat. He saves broken stuff because one day he might need parts to fix something–he also saves newspaper articles. I have my share of junk too–and lots and lots of books. Our poor kids–thankfully their are four of them still here to help out. And one added aside–I grew up in Eagle Rock. Everyone has give you good advice–mine, and this too shall pass. Hope to see you one of these days–LCC maybe?

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    • Yes, Meredith, see you at Left Coast Crime. We’ll have a lot to celebrate, right?

      I saw that you’re from Eagle Rock. Can you believe that? Small world. We’ll have to compare notes on admin and teachers from ERHS.

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  5. Marta, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Have been through some of the adventures you describe, but really not the worst of them. You need to get back on that Clydesdale that threw you, or do I have something confused? and face a writer’s life again. It will be much more serene this time around, I can almost guarantee. Will look for your books. Peace,

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  6. Oh, guapa! What a story — I laughed, I cried, I groaned, I was glad it wasn’t me (yet . . .). What a reward for your kindness to Dennis and Hella over the years; it is surely true that no good deed goes unpunished. Thank God you are a writer; I can’t imagine a better way to cope. As Nora Ephron’s mother told her about handling the worst life can give you, “it’s all material.” And while I’m slinging cliches around, let me join with your previous commentators who have shared, from their own experience, that “this too shall pass,” and brighter days are ahead.

    Love, Claudia

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    • Well, there now– I stole your Nora Ephron quote in my reply above, and now the whole world knows it. However, I got it wrong– it was her mom that said it. Her mom and dad being two brilliant screenwriters.

      I could feature being remembered as a brilliant anything– how about self-pitier. I’m a world-class whiner. 🙂

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    • Thank you for the opportunity to spread my doom and gloom. The blessings were all to me.

      You’re right. We have to enjoy the good days, Lelia– there are always sure to be more challenging ones ahead.

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  7. It’s interesting to me that, when we writers read about all that another writer has been going through, somehow it makes us feel better. It’s not the old “misery loves company” thing. It’s that it helps us realize we’re not alone; everyone has problems and times in their lives when they have to put family and other responsibilities ahead of their writing. You’ve had a lot going on, Marta, but I firmly believe that it will make you a stronger person and a better writer.

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    • From your lips to God’s ear, Ms. Patricia. I hope to get back in the saddle, for real, in the next week or two. Not that the boxes will be unpacked, but that can just wait. I’ve been away from “my life” for too long. And… I think I owe you a reading and a review, don’t I?

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  8. What a terrible time you’ve had, but I’ll bet you’re happy you are a writer because I know all of this (converted somehow) will appear in your work. I can somewhat appreciate your problems. I have been ill with vertigo since November and it’s now just beginning to lift and my sense of humor is also beginning to return. I can tell I’m getting better because I now refer to the vertigo as the “dizzy blonde disease” (I am one). I hope to hear soon that you’re back at the keyboard writing one of your wodnerful books.

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    • Oh my gosh! Vertigo is no laughing matter. I’ve had it now and again, but never for such a prolonged spell. It dropped me in my tracks each time. I feel very badly for you, Lesley. My only bright spot would be it might translate into weight loss. That’s where my head goes!

      You may have made light of it by giving it a fun name, but vertigo is no fun at all. Thank goodness, you’re on the road to recovery.

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  9. Now, Marta…fat and celibate you can control. Some times good things happen. We unexpectedly sold an old motor home just when I was thinking of setting fire to it. No insurance claim, just have it be gone. My mild depression has left!

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    • Ah, Sarah, you made me laugh out loud with that bit of ironic whimsy. Good luck to the new old motor home owner. I’m about to sell my noble old white Chevyvan, Hobart, and I never, ever did get to make love in the back of it. Damn.

      Of course, I’ll be crying as the new owner drives away in my ride. I always cry as I watch them leave.

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  10. Well, at least you have your wonderful writing, great sense of humor, unflappable wit, and stunning beauty to fall back on…sucks being you. We shall drown our sorrows in liquid refreshments at LCC.

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  11. OMG! life is a Bitch! From my perspective, in Paradise…MAUI; Life’s a BEACH!
    The roller coaster, keeps on going until we master our fear and take it…One Day at a Time….Like an addict. Once hitting the, so called, bottom, things do go up! Hang in and focus upon your passion; the rest will fall into place. Good things, happen to Good people……You’re THE BEST!

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    • My sweet Merryl! You are always so kind. When you’re back from paradise, let’s schedule something fun for us both. Thank you for your generous, as always, comments. 🙂

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  12. Marta, What a story. Find myself interested in knowing the cause of Difficult Dennis’s death.
    The family is fortunate to have you; you have been responsible, resourceful, loyal, capable, and have done a difficult, miserable, messy job well.
    You need to know that when I saw you a couple of weeks ago you looked great, despite all! Pretty, not fat! youthful.
    I admire your willingness to take risks and make big changes. That road is bumpy, yes, but you couldn’t otherwise have discovered what is ‘out there’ had you not made a leap and learned what that experience was able to teach you.
    In bad times it helps me to remember , “This, too, shall pass.”
    Also, your willingness to share what’s happened reveals your generous spirit.

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    • Arlene! What a delightful surprise to read your comment here. Thank you. I need you to start my fan club!!!

      We had fun catching up at the San Gabriel Valley Lit Festival, didn’t we? You see the good in every situation. Wonderful trait. 😀

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  13. Marta, I appreciate your honesty and I’m sorry you’ve had to go through all of this. I’ve always said that blogs can be a showcase for our writing skills. You’re a champion writer and your post shows it. I’d be a blithering idiot under your circumstances. I sincerely hope things turn around for you soon. Sounds like it’s time for you to have a life of your own. I’ll be thinking positive thoughts for you.
    Marja

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    • Dear Marja, I think it’s all comin’ round the bend, as they say. I have received some kind of official papers from the State of Washington, which means I can change car titles to California, then sell them.

      I go get the ashes at the end of this month. The house is sold. Yippee!

      Now– i just need to get creative yet prudent regarding how to stretch Hella’s resources, so she doesn’t outlive them.

      Never knew I’d become a financial planner at this point in my life!

      Hope I get to see you at LCC???

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