Category Archives: memoirs

Letters from the Dead


by Lillian Csernica on July 4, 2019

 

Last Thursday my mother died.

My brother lives in Southern California. My sister is currently bound by a temporary restraining order (soon to be permanent. The hearing is tomorrow). That means it’s all on me.

All the hospital stuff.

All the legal stuff.

And, most of all, every single item of Mom’s stuff.

It’s up to me to clear out Mom’s apartment.  It’s just a studio, but still. Furniture. Small appliances. Clothing. Books and DVDs, knickknacks and photo albums. The really staggering part? Mom’s personal correspondence, files, and papers.

Mom kept everything.

I could tell you stories about some of the keepsakes I’ve found, such as the inflatable jukebox wardrobe. Or the hand-painted bamboo parasol that would be a collector’s item if it weren’t for all the rainbow glitter. While such conversation starters are entertaining, and some are quite valuable, the downside of this particular duty involves discovering a few things that I really wish had stayed buried in the clutter.

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I found copies of letters Mom sent to me years ago. Some offered sympathy about my marriage troubles. Some gave “friendly” advice meant “with love” regarding how I took care of my baby, the child who would never walk or speak or do 90% of all the cute things grandparents look forward to in their grandchildren. I also found letters Mom had written to friends, letters that talked about matters I considered private. June was a horrible month. Given that I had to get a restraining order against my sister, then take care of Mom pretty much 24/7 right up to her death, I am exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I really did not need to come across Mom’s letters and the old issues they stirred up.

Have mercy on the family members who will be tasked with cleaning up after you’re gone. Do you really want your kids to read something out of context years from now when that material is subject to lingering resentments, old grudges, and well-meaning misinterpretation? Go through your personal papers now. You can’t have complete control over how you will be remembered, but you can certainly do yourself a lot of good by cleaning out potential trouble.

I’m not going to get all syrupy about making peace and building bridges before it’s too late. If you can do that, great. If you can’t, don’t feel bad, and don’t feel pressured to reach out to people when that might just make matters worse. I’ve had to take some drastic steps lately to preserve the health and safety of myself and my children. That’s going to make things awkward when it comes to Mom’s memorial service.

Unless you have family members who conducted personal correspondence at the level of Benjamin Franklin or Ralph Waldo Emerson or Florence Nightingale or Collette herself, do not read the papers that are left behind when said loved one passes. Burn them. Shred them. Recycle them. Spare yourself the torment of ambivalent feelings stirred up by unfinished business. If you just can’t resist, here’s a good guide for figuring out what to toss and what to keep.

Let me wrap this up on a positive note. One happy aspect of Mom having so much stuff is setting aside items that I know will mean a lot to Mom’s special friends. I’ve already passed on a few pieces of jewelry to the fellow artists Mom talked about from her art class. Those women thanked me with tears in their eyes, touched by knowing Mom thought enough of them to make sure I gave them those mementoes.

There are many ways to honor the passing of our loved ones. Remembering what was best about them can bring some comfort to everyone involved.

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge X is for Xenophilia


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2019

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Welcome to one of the more unusual days in the A to Z Blog Challenge. X is a tricky letter.

My apologies for this post going up a bit later than the others. My in-laws from back east have been visiting and I got a bit behind.

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I have a confession to make: I am a Xenophile. This will come as no surprise to folks who have read this far in my A to Z. I love foreign people, places, and things.

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When did this start? I was in first grade. A family from Japan moved into the apartment across the big grassy yard from where I lived. Hiro Takahashi joined my class. Getting to know him, his sisters, and his parents gave me my first glimpse into a whole new world.

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From age 16 to 18, I worked as a professional Turkish-Moroccan belly dancer. My teacher, a marvelous lady from Saragossa, Spain, taught me so much about her part of the world. I still have the coin belt made for me by a Turkish man. 144 diamond-shaped silver coins, all stamped with the Venus di Milo.

As my high school graduation gift, my father sent me to the Netherlands. I spent the summer with the family of the girl who had been my Physics lab partner on a student exchange program. While I was there I took a weekend bus tour to Paris, France. I am now all the more grateful for that trip, given that it allowed me to see Our Lady of Notre Dame cathedral in its full glory.

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My fiction has been translated into German and Italian. (Ship of Dreams became In the Spell of the Pirate.) I’m looking for someone to translate a novella into Japanese. If you know anybody, drop me a line, won’t you?

And of course I’ve had some adventures in Yokohama and Kyoto.

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Why am I so attracted to the Other? People fascinate me. How they think, what they think, and why they think it. Just the single concept of life after death has given rise to so many different schools of thought. The pursuit of happiness involves such a broad spectrum of effort depending on how one defines happiness.

Writing allows me to take apart some aspect of life and put the pieces back together in a new way. Am I trying to make some sense of what I’ve experienced? Probably. Am I trying to bring order to a chaos that leaves me frightened and bewildered? Probably. It’s not all one-for-one, of course. By the time I get to the final edit of a story, the pieces of me I’ve used undergo quite a process of transformation.

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adrienneasher.com

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#atozchallenge E is for Experience


by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2019

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One of the first rules of writing is “Write what you know.” Draw on your life experiences to bring fresh, original detail to your stories. I agree with this. I also believe it’s very important to write about what we don’t know. I am not Japanese. I was not born into the Japanese cultural matrix. That means in order to write about Japan, I have had to do a whole lot of research as well as visiting both Yokohama and Kyoto.

As writers we are often painfully aware of how much we don’t know. This can cause a problem referred to as a “poverty mentality.” Most often this term is associated with how we think about money and finance. I first heard the term used by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones:

“People often begin writing from a poverty mentality. They are empty and they run to teachers and classes to learn about writing. We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it… Stay with your original mind and write from it.”(p30-31)

Sit down and make a list of all the experiences you’ve had that you like to talk about. Then list the ones you never talk about. And the ones you refuse to talk about. Don’t worry, nobody will see these lists but you. Just list the experiences in one or two sentences. You’re taking inventory to see what you have to work with. Here’s my list:

  • When I was nine years old, I came face to face with an armed robber in a sewer.
  • I helped some Greek Orthodox nuns go shopping for glasses at a mall in Fresno.
  • I took a battery-powered submarine ride around the coral reefs off Lahaina on Maui.
  • I once died in a car accident. I recovered, but I remember being dead.
  • At a steampunk convention, two identical twin female world class kendo masters taught me how to use a naginata.
  • I worked as a belly dancer from age 16 to age 18. Jobs included Father’s Day at a retirement home where only the men got to see my teacher and the rest of us.
  • When I was 18, I lived in Holland for two months one summer. I met a Dutch soldier at the disco one night. He walked me to the train station. Our goodnight kiss made me miss the last train.
  • I answer letters written to Santa Claus that come to the local post offices.
  • I’ve been through a Japanese haunted house. Much weirder than Western haunted houses.
  • I won a bottle of champagne in a storytelling contest after hours at the Northern Ren Faire.

Part of this is choosing the unusual experiences. Part of this is knowing how to make an experience unusual by the way you write about it. My friends know I have a talent for getting myself into strange circumstances.

Write the stories only you can tell. You will bring fresh wonder to the world!

"My creative writing professor suggested that I write about what I know...from my own experience!"

 

 

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#atozchallenge B is for Boat


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2019

Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information to last him the rest of his days.”

Today I am going to tell you a story about a boat. In the twelve hours I was aboard that boat, so many moments happened, each one raw material for a story all by itself.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a fishing trip. He and some of his coworkers had pooled their money to rent a boat for the day, complete with captain, which would take them out to fish for rock cod off the Four Mile Banks near Laguna Beach, CA. My father loved fishing. I was still a bit of a tomboy at that age, so I was quite excited to be in on the adventure.

A fishing trip means you get up while it’s still dark out, drive down to the marina, find the right dock, and go aboard. I was the only kid on board. I learned later that my father’s co-workers weren’t exactly thrilled to have me along for the trip. Back then adults still believed in behaving themselves in front of children. Me being there meant they couldn’t drink and gossip and carry on the way they’d been planning. I still wonder if my father knew that, or if he knew and just didn’t care.

There we were, heading out of the marina, the sky still black and dotted with stars. I didn’t have much experience with boats, so this was a rare thrill for me. I sat on the rail, holding on to the strip of wood on the side of the main cabin that stuck out like a smaller rail. I watched the bow wave, marveling at the reflection of all the lights on the dark water. One good whitecap could have jolted me loose and thrown me over the side. I don’t know why the adults let me sit out there all alone in such a precarious position. Daddy was a twenty year Navy man. Maybe he thought I had enough Navy in my blood to give me good instincts aboard ship. If my mother had ever found out about this moment in my seagoing adventures, the closest I would have gotten to another boat would have been floaty toys in the bathtub.

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The captain took a liking to me. I think that had to do with me catching the first fish. It was a young shark about as long as my arm with eyes the color of pale jade. The captain declared me to be lucky, then asked me if I wanted to keep it or let it go. This was not an “eating fish,” as my father called them, so it seemed only right to let the shark go. From then on wherever I cast or dropped my line, I caught the most fish. Daddy found this hugely entertaining. Later on he told me my good luck did not endear me to his coworkers, who had placed bets on who would catch the most and the biggest fish. Apparently my catches counted toward Daddy’s total.

Then came the moment that was the polar opposite of all the joy I felt sailing along in the dark. Rock cod are considered good eating by humans and other fish. As we reeled in our catch, those other fish showed up and tried to steal them off our lines. At first I couldn’t understand why the rock cod were coming up with big red holes in their sides. Daddy told me to go up on the flying bridge and look out over the water.

Circling the boat were two thresher sharks. These are really not much trouble, but this happened right around the time when Jaws had hit the theaters. There I was, out in a relatively small boat, miles offshore, being circled by the two biggest sharks I’d ever seen in person. Scared the living daylights out of me, much to the amusement of the adults.

Why am I telling you this story? There’s a lot more to this day. I haven’t even mentioned the poker game. (The adults wouldn’t let me play. A) I was too young, and B) I was already too lucky!) Mine your life for these moments. You were there! You know the details that will bring those moments to life.

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A to Z Blog Challenge 2019 Theme Reveal!


by Lillian Csernica on March 21, 2019

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Hi there. Yes, I’m a trifle behind schedule on this. Tomorrow I run off to Clockwork Alchemy for the weekend. Con prep is such an adventure!

 

How I Learned To Be A Writer

This year I’m going to share with you 26 separate moments from my writing life, moments that taught me something worth remembering. Moments that helped shape my writing style. Moments that taught me how to endure the bad days and celebrate the triumphs.

Being a writer is not just about mastering the techniques of fiction. Nobody understands writers the way other writers do. That’s because you have to live inside a creative mind that constantly notices odd details and can’t stop thinking about certain exciting problems. Writers are not like everybody else.

Join me and take a look at a level of living that goes so much farther than just “behind the scenes.” You’ll get a glimpse into my creative process. More than that, you might help me figure out some of the mysteries about how my mind works!

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Reblog: How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book


by Lillian Csernica on September 20, 2018

Megan Burgess has some excellent ideas that may come in handy as we all keep prepping for NaNoWriMo!

via How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book

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September 20, 2018 · 12:14 am

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #25


by Lillian Csernica on May 25, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Laughter shall fuel the spirit’s engine.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Kyoto. Nice hotel room. More like an apartment.

Could not figure out how to work the overhead light. Little reading lights by each bed.

Found what looked like an upright card reader where a light switch would be.

Stuck my room key in, light came on, pulled my key out. A minute later the light went out. Rinse, repeat, about three times.

Called front desk. Explained problem. They were puzzled. Sent a guy to check.

He put my key card in the slot. Light came on. He didn’t see any problem. Why?

HE LEFT THE KEY CARD IN THE KEY READER.

That was the secret! Once I removed the key, as I would if I was leaving the room, then the lights would automatically turn off about a minute after I’d left the room.

I have rarely felt like such a total bonehead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflection–How the #AtoZChallenge Took Me Deeper Into My Fictional World


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.

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Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.

Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.

Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.

Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!

Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.

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And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!

The Old Shelter

Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.

Sharon E. Cathcart

Winner of much deserved awards, Sharon is a wonderful woman who devotes a lot of time to volunteering at animal shelters. Her latest novel Bayou Fire is well worth a read.

Sally’s Smorgasbord

For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.

Book Jotter

Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!

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Moments from the Women’s March


by Lillian Csernica on January 23, 2018

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Joining the march. Stepping into the flow, holding my sign up high, seeing the people lining the route with their phones out, taking photos and making videos. Recording a piece of history. Thirty thousand people, according to the Santa Cruz Police Department.

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A boy not more than ten years old marching ahead of me, holding up a cardboard sign that read, “I’d rather be home building LEGOs, but I have to build #TheResistance.

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Two older women carried a banner with #MeToo on it. As we passed by, the two women offered people Sharpies so they could sign the banner. Only recently did I realize that I had faced sexual harassment several times in the workplace. I signed that banner!

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A man carried a large piece of cardboard. On it had been painted the figure of a judge, complete with white wig and holding the Scales. The empty oval where the face should be allowed anyone to stand behind the cardboard and have a photo taken, proclaiming her or him “A Future Supreme Court Justice.” How cool is that?

Chanting “Hey, hey! Oh no! Donald Trump has got to GO!”

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Our destination was the Louden Nelson Community Center. Inside on the stage stood the American Shrine. You can see from the photo that it was just breathtaking.

While I was inside the Center, I crossed paths with a woman and her son, who had Downs Syndrome. The mother asked if she could take a photo of me holding my sign. Sure thing! Then she asked if I would mind taking a photo of her and her son holding my sign. I tell you, that nearly brought me to tears.

Later, as I walked a few blocks back  to where I’d parked my car, drivers saw my sign. Horns honked and I saw some thumbs-up as people applauded equal rights for people with special needs.

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On my way home, I stopped at Peet’s for a Green Tea Mojito, one of the few guilty pleasures I can get away with on my weight loss program. I had my Women’s March T shirt on, which got me into conversations with at least three people.

My favorite barista was on duty. She wanted to see my sign, so I got it out of the trunk and brought it inside to show her. She said she didn’t know many people with special needs, so equal rights for them wasn’t something she’d thought about. She was glad to see the sign and know about the issue. Accessibility and health care are SO important these days, now more than ever.

I need more exercise. Thanks to the Women’s March 2018, I exercised my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. When it’s time for the elections this year, I will once again make my voice heard by voting.

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To All of You, Many Thanks


by Lillian Csernica on Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S.

Today is also my son John’s 19th birthday.

Today my oven is out of commission (and has been for about two weeks). We shall be dining at the Ideal Fish Company down by the Santa Cruz Wharf. It promises to be quite a feast.

Today I have written 1865 words of my new fantasy novel for #NaNoWriMo. I just finished, as a matter of fact. Now I can go eat dinner and party, having made today’s quota.

Today I am marinating in gratitude. It’s been a rough year. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I can come online and find people on Twitter, on Facebook, at the games I play, and here on my blog. Kind people, funny people, sincere people, people with good hearts and sharp minds and dazzling powers of creativity.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for your supportive comments, for your reblogs, for all the ways you help me feel like I really am part of a community. All the hard work I struggle to accomplish really does mean something.

Thank you. God bless you. I wish you all the best.

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