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Feeling sad today. It’s the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. I’ve said so much about her here, mostly in my Stories From My Mother feature, that you would think I would run out of words. It doesn’t work that way with me. I don’t run out of words about her any more than I run out of love for her, even though it feels as if she’s been gone for an eternity already.

The good thing I can say this year is that this marking of her passing out of my life is bittersweet. I still miss her with a depth that startles me sometimes. It shouldn’t, because it’s her influence on me that gave me the capacity to love so thoroughly. This year I have a new family and a new life, with a new husband whose very presence gives me comfort and peace. She would have loved him and she would have been so happy for us.

Piers and I have our first book together placed with a small publisher. Its title is The Dying and the Light. It includes my novella that I wrote after my mom’s death to help me through the grief and hopefully comfort Alzheimer’s caregivers with its fleeting, sadly fictional, message of hope and joy. The second part is the memoir of his 63 years long first marriage. Both were written in grief, before we ever met in person and fell in love. Friends through correspondence, both on parallel tracks through one of life’s most difficult journeys. It means so much to me that we will not only share a book and its cover, but also that my experience caring for and loving my mom is a thread that runs right through the heart of it.

So she continues to travel with me through life. In my memories, in my heart, and in my very being, since loving her and being loved by her has made me the best me I can be. I’m grateful. I’m sad and happy at the same time. I’m so fortunate to have known the woman who will forever be the grace of my heart.

I was just sitting here, scrolling through Twitter and seeing a tweet about an upcoming pandemic movie made me start thinking too hard. Hopefully, this kind of pondering is premature, but is the time coming when we start automatically incorporating things like wearing masks and social distancing into our screenplays and novels? What about not automatically? What would it be like to have a long worked on project rejected because it doesn’t incorporate pandemic life into a contemporary setting?

I may be about to pick back up on my serial-killer- thriller-with-an-odd-bit-of-romcom-meet-cute thrown in screenplay, after taking care of my mom curtailed its progress. Though it languished for several years, it still qualifies as contemporary. So do I imagine it as taking place just before Covid-19 hit our world over its collective head? Or after, risking that it would also be thrown into a postapocalypt wasteland? Ignore the pandemic, in the screenplay’s context? Worry that if it’s mentioned at all new genres have to be added to its already odd list. Stuff like medical-thriller- science-fiction-tinged-very-nearly-reality-show-horror…. This word parade scrolls across my mind like the grand opening crawl sheet that explains Star Wars: A New Hope to awe struck movie goers.

What’s a writer to do? Screenwriter and author alike could have to face some totally unexpected creative decisions that we wouldn’t have believed possible a year ago. My instinct is to try to get my head an ostrich neck’s worth of buried in the proverbial sand. Maybe if I close my eyes and think of Kansas, I can hitch a ride on the nearest black and white tornado to a land where the biggest problem facing artists is whether to try to tone down the eye popping colors pervading Munchkinland. But, no, we’ve all already learned that wishful thinking doesn’t work. Not in normal every day life and certainly not in the midst of a global pandemic.

However. For now I’m going to work on the assumption that, like the 2018 Spanish flu pandemic, this too shall pass. Set something in our current period of fear, loss, and sorrow and write accordingly. Otherwise, create characters content to inhabit the weird, crazy, fun, beautiful, ugly, messed up mess we called normal 21st century life, before it became abnormal in the extreme.

I’ve been walking by several open dictionaries in Piers’ study for ages without really looking at them. This is surprising, since I love books, antique, educational, and otherwise. I do prefer fiction, but I like to dip into history and science and all manner of topics in between as well. Fiction has been my one true book love.

Then I met and married my one true love. We continue to discover things about each other, as couples will do. This is amplified during lockdown. One of the unexpected things we have in common is that we both read dictionaries as kids. Not at the same time, of course. The May\December thing makes that impossible. When I say read dictionaries, I don’t mean the way most people do, where they flip through, frustrated because they can’t find a word they don’t know how to spell because they don’t know how to spell it. I’ve had similar moments. It comes with word wrangling territory.

When I was in school, if I didn’t have homework in study hall and, heaven forbid, didn’t have Mr. Dickens or a Bronte with me, I’d get a dictionary from the room length shelves where they lived. Lugging around a heavy treasure chest full of words was worth the effort once I flopped into my seat, arms aching slightly from being too short to accomodate such a stately tome. Then I began randomly picking unfamiliar words to learn or just sat there reading the thing, as if it told me its own story. It actually did. One of many facets in the story of knowledge.

I don’t know why I’m the way I am. I have a hungry, hungry brain. What a delight to discover that I’ve married a more kindred spirit than I could ever have dreamed of. I mostly use search engines now, for my word discovery needs, but when it comes to word discovery desires, I like knowing that I live in a house with multiple dictionaries. One of the invitingly open dictionaries quietly holds its secret in plain sight, for anyone who cares to notice. It’s 107 years old. From 1913, the year my father was born. Family history, the history of words, the history of my new life…all of this collides in the house where books are to be gazed upon, touched, and cherished.

Woke up with a few lines in my head and actually wrote them down. Decided to build the rest around it. Just a little abstract gathering of words.

Recompense

The birds of night
Fly through the fields
of dreams
In darkness where no
Shades may live
Only monochromatica
Yet light may come
Into their pale gloom
To give them recompense
His yellow and blue
Her blue and red
Green and purple make
What brief hours decide
Their joys in time
Gliding feathers swoop
Across skies
And gilding sunrise
Paint

Muri McCage

6-21-20

This is one time I’m glad I don’t have a photograph from close proximity to go with a post. Last night a neighbor called to tell us they’d seen a huge black bear inside the gate here. Piers was, like, “What?!”, “There aren’t supposed to be bears here.”, then. “Oh!”. Apparently, this bear doesn’t know it’s misplaced itself.

I have a theory. When I drove down here to Florida from Tennessee, I was awed by the beauty of nature in my home state, then it got more gorgeous in Mississippi, with so many shiny leafed magnolias I could scarcely believe it. As I moved along in Alabama I encountered what must have been a very large slash and burn project. The countryside shifted from almost overwhelmingly verdant beauty to a smoldering, gray landscape. For someone who loves nature, it was like driving from a visual utopia into a dystopian nightmare. I was apalled. I’m sure the wildlife is as well. So, I’m wondering if this bear found itself displaced by man’s intrusion and is now wandering in search of a new place to call home.

This kind of situation leaves us teetering on an edge between our love of and admiration for nature, and the very real need to exercise caution. I’ve been thrilled to see up close a number of feral pigs and deer (three deer just this morning) on the driveway where we got married in April. Now, in June I’m cautiously peering out of the windshield, hoping I don’t spot the bear. The closer in it creeps…um, lumbers, the more care we need to take.

I’m not sure what it would take to attract a big bear’s ire. I certainly don’t want to find out. So, for a while at least, we’re taking precautions to accommodate a bear’s presence. The thing is that we don’t know how long it will be with us. It could decide it likes our trees as much as we do, or perhaps it will amble on until it reaches a mountainous area of Georgia. We wish it well. We’ll also be glad for a time to come when the potential for a possibly deadly rumble with a misplaced denizen of the wild world doesn’t loom quite so far into our everyday life.

So, bear with me, if I spot the bear, go all nature fan girly, and post pics. Otherwise, feel free to carry on with your blissfully bearless day.

This Atlas Obscura article drew my attention for several reasons. First, the idea of sculpted faces among the cobblestones is intriguing. I’ve seen many sculpted faces in Europe, on buildings, bridges, and decorative fountains, but never in the street. It would be fascinating to walk beside them and try to decipher their expressions.

The mere mention of the city of Ljubljana, brings me fond memories of a wonderful elderly lady I once knew. Her name was Josephine. And she was born there. When she was a child, her coal miner father moved his family to America, in search of a better life. They settled in Pennsylvania, where he found work…as a coal miner. He died of Black Lung, but his daughter did find a better life there. Her first husband was also a miner and abusive. She gathered her courage and divorced him, at a time when it was not often done. Her second marriage was a happy one, to a lovely man. They were together for decades, until he died. My favorite story she would tell me was of the trip to America. They had to change trains in Paris and little Josephine wandered away from her family. They were frantic. After embarking on this arduous, courageous journey they thought they had lost their beautiful nine year old daughter. It was with waning fear, exasperation, and great relief that they were reunited with Josephine just in time to catch their connecting train. It was such a pleasure to hear of this child’s adventureous spirit, and to know someone who had passed through Ellis Island, on her way to a new life in a new world across the Atlantic.

And then there’s the way my favorite poet inspired the sculptor to create the faces in the capital of Slovenia. His work can reach from the whimsical to the gravely serious to the sublime. What better wordsmith to be the impetus for the Faces of Locksmith Street than the man who wrote poems that echo still through the streets of Paris, as modern day footsteps trace his own long ago strides across cobblestones that mark the tumultuous, cacophonous, yet silent passage of history.

The first sign that we were getting married on April 22 in the time of Covid-19 was the cute little alligator awaiting us on the saw palmettos fronds that served as the carpet where we would stand to take our vows. Piers’ daughter arranged the beautiful scene around the sable palm tree we chose to be our wedding venue. The alligator was the continuation of the current joking whimsy, admonishing us all here in Florida to stay at least one alligator apart. At one point not long ago our friend who took our pictures with my DSLR deadpanned, “Florida’s gonna need more alligators.” Indeed. Fortunately, our little impromptu mascot sufficed and no actual alligator came low-crawling through to bless our nuptials with its hulking presence.

The near silence of nature provided our only music, until the brief, sweet moment when sandhill cranes gifted us with their song. Piers and I love nature and all its myriad denizens. So that brief serenade by those beautiful birds was truly special.

Since we couldn’t shop for special clothes under quarantine, I chose a jeans and purple shirts theme. The top I wore is my favorite I’ve ever had, which made it special enough. I don’t know what made me bring the black ballerina flats I bought for my mom’s funeral to Florida with me, but I’m so glad I did. When I realized we were actually going to manage to get married even as the pandemic raged around us, I knew I had to wear those shoes. For all I knew they carried minute particles of dirt from her grave, where she rests now beside my father, on their barely worn soles. That comforts me in a bittersweet sort of way. She would have loved my new husband and been overjoyed that I’ve found real happiness.

The wonderful notary public who performed our ceremony somehow managed to wear a purple top by accident. Perfection. The brief, simple vows she customized for us were unforgettable. Her words were so beautiful, and written as if she’d known us for years, instead of days. We’re grateful that she was willing to come to us, gloves and all, keep social distance, and join our lives together so perfectly.

We would not be the couple we are, if there had not been a brief moment of humor. When Piers reached into his jeans pocket for my ring…it wasn’t there. He kept his cool. I kept mine. But we were confounded. Where could it have gone? He came out a couple of times with a handful of coins, but still no ring. We laughed. We wondered what to do. Then he came out with an exclamation of relief and joy. A particular dime had revealed its mischievous secret. It was perfectly wearing my wedding ring, so that the ring was almost invisible.

A tiny glitch that has become a precious reminder of the strange things life throws at us, and our ability to laugh and love our way through them.

I was nervous at the start of the ceremony, worried that I might stumble over the vows or drop his ring. But then as it began, a calm came over me. I felt at peace. I marveled at the look on his face, as he said his vows. A memory to cherish for the rest of my life. We spoke of this later and he told me his expression was a reflection of mine.

What a gift he is to me.

What a romantic story we have.

Our story of love in the time of Covid-19.

(All photographs in this post by Charles Schuman.)

Like a surreal take on the famous painting, American Gothic, a photo of our trip to the County Court Clerk’s office to get our marriage license stands as a stark reminder of how life has changed. There was only one other person doing business, when we went last Tuesday. We were able to begin immediately, though it took a bit of experimentation to somewhat forcefully slide our documents under the new barrier between us and the woman issuing the license. It needed just enough force to make it past the clear barrier, but enough restraint to keep forms and driver’s licenses from careening off onto the floor. It was a little amusing, but at the same time a little chilling. We were protecting her and ourselves, which could very well become a parody on some future TV show looking back on these strange and scary times.

Also giving at least the appearance of protecting us all were the balaclava masks Piers and I wore. We felt like color coordinated bank robbers, as we kept tugging our masks into place, while they constantly tried to inch themselves into a downward slide. Talking was an interesting activity, though our voices came through the purple and turquoise cloths quite well. Fortunately, since the lady was intrigued to learn that he was born in Oxford UK, and asked many questions about his admittedly fascinating early life history. She even politely asked about my family background. I was glad to be able to tell her I’d recently discovered that I was descended from French Huguenots. A minor blip on my family tree, but I like the notion of a bloodline made of courage, strength, and perseverance running through my veins.

So, we’re one step closer to the end of our quest to get married in the time of Covid-19. I’ve lost count at this point, but I think we’re on about our fifth contingency plan now. It started with a hope for a beach wedding. Funny how fast such a hope can crumble, when Florida’s beautiful beaches get yanked out from under you, taken away by a government closure order undertow. Courthouse weddings were halted. As time and infection vectors marched on, even a planned elopement became the stuff of dreams. At this point we’re aiming for quirky cool and uniquely us, a private testimony to the power of the desire for commitment and a love that can transcend anything.

Even business as unusual in the time of Covid-19.

I tend to not say very much about my personal life. I’m a private person by nature, but realize that any level of writing success diminishes that to some extent. So today I’m going to open the curtain wide and tell the story of my recent life.

I’ve been divorced for a long time. I’d given up on even the idea of finding any love at all, and certainly wasn’t expecting a great love story of my own. Then something extraordinary happened. I fell in love and became engaged. This period of my life, because of the challenging times forced upon us all by the worldwide pandemic that seems to control nearly every aspect of our existence, is so gilded with joy regardless that I’ve come to think of it as love in the time of Covid-19.

My fiance is fantasy and science fiction author Piers Anthony. My mundane (To borrow a term.) alter-ego is the MaryLee he writes of in his Hi Piers Newsletter. We corresponded for nearly 25 years and then met for the first time in December. He invited me to visit, to see if we really are as compatible as it seemed from our many letters. His idea was that we might become housemates for companionship, with…perhaps…the potential for more. I’m still his housemate, only now I wear an amethyst engagement ring and a blissful smile. He read somewhere that love is friendship that catches fire and likes to tell people that’s what happened to us. I love that. It’s a great ice breaker, but is so much
more than that because it’s the truth of our experience.

Ours is a May\December romance. Yes, it seems dreamy, at first glance. The stuff of great novels and unforgettable films. His age is irrelevant to me, except for the dark underside of the situation, which is the bald fact that we can’t possibly have many decades together. So we have to make the most of what time we are allowed. Happiness does not recognize timelines. It simply is, and if it’s deep enough, it will outlast the people experiencing it. That seems quite a fine legacy to me.

We write down the hall from each other. I find an elusive writerly energy is generated when two people who love words, and each other, write in close proximity. It’s as if suddenly the music of words colliding changes tempo to become an invisible dance, sometimes a waltz, other times a tango. Always choreographed by the subconscious nature of like minds in duet.

It may not be entirely appropriate to be so happy during what amounts to being quarantined, while so many people are suffering, but the heart feels what the heart feels. Every day I wake up noting that I feel fine, then hunt Piers down to make sure he does as well. Thus starts another day of splendid isolation. There’s an inevitable undercurrent of awareness that things could change drastically in the span of a few heartbeats. Beneath that is a second undercurrent of hope and quiet joy.

I decided to write about my personal love in the time of Covid-19 story partly because I want to share my happiness, and partly to remind anyone reading this to remember joy. Let go of fear and dread and worry even for a moment, so you can reach for joy with both hands. If you’re with loved ones, embrace them in every way possible. If you’re alone, believe in yourself and the kindness of others, even strangers. Above all else, never let go of hope. Creep out from under our current collective blanket of darkness to seek light and always, always believe anything is possible.

Even love in the time of Covid-19.

http://www.hipiers.com/newsletter.html

After sitting 2018 out, from all screenwriting competitions, then being back last year to become a Big Break Semifinalist, I’ve gone for broke in this year’s Nicholl. I’ve pushed right up to the limit, with three drama entries. My life’s in a good place this year. Better than in a long time, in fact. This leads me to hope that if I get three emails with disappointing results, perhaps in a grocery store parking lot as has been known to happen in the past, those blows will be easier to withstand. I love screenwriting and entering competitions just as much as ever, but that’s now colored through through a lens that makes screenwriting and writing in general an important part of day to day existence, but an integrated part of a broader whole. It’s as if the landscape of my life has flowered into something different, with familiar landmarks joined by new ones of enticing promise. Promise, hope, anticipation of things yet undiscovered…life, screenwriting\writing…faith that the best is yet to come.