On The Doorstep…

I sit here today on the doorstep of my 36th year. That number is a little bit awe-inspiring, a little bit frightening, a little bit exciting, and a lot strange to me. I am the same guy who, as a boy, watched the Mariners triumph over the Yankees in 1995 in the now-imploded Kingdome. Edgar Martinez’s double, featuring Ken Griffey J.r.’s mad dash from first all the way home, and the boy I was using my father’s frame for leverage to leap high in the air as the play unfolded; this scene feels like it might have happened yesterday.

That boy was the same boy who, at twelve, just a year prior to The Double, opined about how much I wanted to be grown-up. I’d do things different if I were a grown-up. Now I look back and think how wonderful twelve felt. Very little pain. No worries. Everyone I love(d) still alive and healthy, and eager to see what I would write next, where I would go next, what I would do with this life of mine.

Thirty-six is an odd age. Life is far from over (knock on wood), but enough of it has accrued behind you to look back on it. In a manner somewhat similar to the plot of my forthcoming novel, What Death Taught Terrence. The how and when of its forthcomingness are as yet unknown, but if anyone would like to fill me in on them I’m all ears!

I’ve heard so many stories of my birth I can practically reconstruct it. The Seattle Supersonics (who are they?) were in the playoffs on my Mom’s hospital-room T.V. She told my dad to turn it off; the stress of the game was giving her contractions. Then I came into the world in a Seattle early-evening on May 11th, 1982. A harrowing birth, to say the least, a doctor who should not have been in his profession, or should have left it many years before, essentially gave me cerebral palsy. Hippocratic oath broken. Harm forever done.

My first solid memory is of my grandfather teaching me a song. Written to the tune of Winter Wonderland, it was really just a verse from a longer barroom ditty:

“Kenbok’s here, can’t ya smeell him. Millie thinks we should expel him. His feet in the air, his butt in the chair, sippin’ on a little glass o’ beer!”

The first song I ever learned. One of the memories I treasure.

The next memory is of my surgery. I go into it in-depth in my book, so I won’t do so here. It’s enough to tell you I found out what pain was that day at four years old, and I’ve never forgotten. The silver lining: Getting to spend many defining days at Disneyland following the surgery and its many yearly follow-up appointments. Mickey Mouse is the man!

The next memory that comes to mind, that I can see so clear in my mind’s eye as to want to jump right back into it, is the first meeting between my best friend, Luke, and me. At eight years old. It started as a not-all-that-fun summer day in a summer daycare that–for an unathletic kid who couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, could barely stand without feeling pain that might bring him down–was something close to torture.

Oh, and no one there would play with me, either.

I literally stood in the middle of the room and said, “Will somebody please play with me?”

“I’ll play with you,” Luke said. Friendship cemented.

Luke liked the Mariners. So I liked the Mariners. He was the first to tell me about the film Field Of Dreams, when we were eleven. I went home and watched that movie eleven times in one night. (It’s a fairly short movie, and I had nothing to do in the weekend-morning, so I could do that.) I traveled with he and his family across the country, watching baseball games as we went, to the Baseball Hall Of Fame And Museum in Cooperstown, New York. We were fifteen and probably didn’t understand the monumental undertaking that planning such a trip was, and without the help of something still in its infancy; the Internet.

At seventeen, I gave a girl my first kiss. She didn’t deserve it.

Yet that short-lived relationship–we were officially together five days, though afterwards she wanted to white-wash it; don’t worry, unnamed person who knows who they are; I wanted to forget it, too–taught me so much. Mainly: Always be yourself. Don’t change for another person, thinking you’re bettering yourself. Change because it works for you, and if the person you’re with loves you, they’ll understand and support you. I never needed to wear a pair of jeans or a trendy pair of shoes to prove to a girl I was worth dating. Can I go back and tell myself that? It’ll save me about a year of needless heartache.

The next memory that comes to mind is of a relationship that lasted much longer–about four years–and which I am grateful for because of what it taught me. But it, too, would never have worked. I see that now. Too many compromises. (Compromises are fine, if both participants in a relationship are willing to give a little; if only one gives and the other takes, that’s not compromise. That’s being taken advantage of.) I still retain love and appreciation for her family, so I won’t give any names or identifying characteristics. I am grateful to know now what not to do later because of what happened between us.

About five years before I entered that doomed relationship, my grandfather, there for me for the first twenty years of my life without fail, succumbed to the lung cancer he’d fought valiantly. I won’t say much about that here. Again, it’s in the book, and hopefully you’ll read about it that way. But that loss, that first he-loves-you-but-he-can’t-come-back-to-you that I’d ever experienced… it changed me forever. I like to think I was already an empathetic person, thanks to my palsy, but watching Papa Dick go increased my empathy quotient ten-fold. Before he went, when it was becoming clear such an exit was imminent, I wrote Papa a collection of poetry, Prose From A Grandson To A Senior Fellow. It was the last book he’d ever read and remains a solid part of the legacy I know I will leave someday.

Truthfully, following Papa’s passing, there was a sizable chunk of time lost to anger. To indifference. To what-will-become-of-me-anyway? But I think I needed that time of reflection. It gave me both the time and the fuel to write my novel. And it let me ruminate on what I wanted out of this life.

I spent a long time as an on-line dater. I was always the one writing the e-mail. And I never mentioned anything about my palsy, or the bad eyes that accompanied it, in my profile. I always gave the women that little nugget to chew on in my second e-mail, if they responded to my first. I met some pretty great people in this way, but I didn’t feel the kind of meshing that told me, This is the one.

Then, about two years ago, an e-mail came in that I’d never forget. She liked my profile. She liked the idea of visiting museums, as did I. She loved Disney, as did/do I, and specifically Disneyland. “I think we could have fun together,” she said in one of the e-mail’s last lines.

We have ever since. I treasure her, and my family loves her, too.

I have no idea where life will take me from here. Well, I have maybe a rough sketch, but that’s all. But whatever happens, however my book gets to you, dear reader, however my career moves forward, I will take on the challenges placed before me knowing that I do so with the support of my loved ones and that, at the end of the day–whatever someone may think of my palsy, my bad eyes, or the way I walk, my family is my safety and my love. I thank all of you who know me personally, because you are that family. Be you a family member or a friend I haven’t talked to in years, you changed me by simply being in my life and coloring it.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

What I Want For My Birthday…

Thursday will mark my 35th birthday. So now I can officially run for president! Yay! *Grin.* “I, Derek Eugene McFadden, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute…”

Everyone’s been asking me what I want for said birthday. So I thought I’d make a list. If you can make any of this happen, dear reader, whoever you are, that would be cool, and I would be forever grateful.

I would like:

-Scientists around the world to agree almost unanimously that climate change is human-made, so that we may finally go about doing something to fix it. (Wait, hasn’t that happened already? Oh, right, not the last part. The most important part.)

-For healthcare to forever and always cover those with pre-existing conditions, as I am, put bluntly, a walking pre-existing condition, and I kind of enjoy living a lot more than I’d enjoy not living. I speak for my fellow pre-existing conditioners in this belief. I was unable, after much reaearch, to find any pre-existing shampoos. *I am allowed one bad pun per blog. *

-All of my family to be happy and healthy and to be living the lives they always dreamed. That sounds simple. It. Is. Not.

-A new computer. Mine’s from 2009. It’s time for an upgrade. Just sayin’.

-To help the agent for whom I intern find that next great novel or memoir. That next great book everyone will be talking about tomorrow. And to have the author of that book know that, as far as editing and grammar and the like goes, I’ve got their back.

-To get to pet my loving Best Dog Ever again. I miss you, Scoot!

-For my Seattle Mariners to actually be relevant in the baseball world again. I don’t ask for much. I really don’t, though I fear this may be a bit too much.

-For one more phone call each with my Papa Dick and my Grandma Illene. So I can tell him about my book. He was always my first reader when I was a kid. If he thought it was good, I knew a story was good. And I can tell Grandma that it looks like her favorite show, American Idol, is on its way back! Seacrest… in? And she can tell me how she’s baking cookies in Heaven, and God Himself is a fan!

-Another trip to Disneyland. There can never be enough time spent in the Magic Kingdom. I love how invigorated I get when I walk in there. How creative I feel. How truly magical it is. Mr. Disney, I bow to you, sir. The place you dreamed of in the early 1950s is now the place of childhood joy and adult nostalgia and remembrance of childhood joy. And adult joy, too. Who are we kidding? *Grin.*

-But if there’s one thing I would love to have for my birthday, one thing above all others, it is this: My book, understood and loved by an agent and, later, a publisher in the same way that I love and understand it. They’ll want to collaborate with me on its words, its impact, its meaning. They’ll dream of possible covers the way I do. They’ll imagine that day when I’ll walk into Powell’s for the first time and… believe it or not… there’s my book, the hardcover, its dust-jacket gleaming in the mid-day light.

I will finally have the team I’ve always wanted behind my book!

Am I asking for too much? I think not. I put in the work. I am learning the business more and more each day. I try to be, for any author I work with–as an extension of both the agent I represent and myself–an integral part of the team behind the great art I believe in and a part of the team I imagine every author wishes to have behind them!

Working On My “Elevator Pitch”

If you’re not a writer, you might think of an elevator pitch as a person’s thirty second attempt–while in an elevator–to sell something. Themselves, a product, a TV show. An exec (or an agent, to put this back into writer-speak) may say, “You have thirty seconds. Go.”

I have been honing my elevator pitch for just this type of moment. (Since I can’t drive, I can’t get to a ton of writer conferences, so I need to rely on queries and any sort of networking I can do.) Those of you who either know me in real life, or read this blog and so know me virtually, will probably also know that I am attempting, with all I have, to sell my book, my labor of love for the past ten years. Recently, said piece underwent a title change. It is now called “Two Lessons For Terrence McDonald.” I love and believe in it with all my heart.

If you’ll indulge me for just a moment, I will share with you my elevator pitch. Here goes.

“When a middle-aged man dies unexpectedly, he must discover the two major lessons in his life. If he fails, he will not be permitted into Heaven and will never see his family again.”

What do you think, reader? I am genuinely interested in your opinions.

There’s a lot more to this book, but if I were going to distill it down to its barest bones… there you have it!

On a slightly different note, as I sign off, today, May 3rd, marks fourteen years since the passing of my beloved grandfather, Papa Dick. To him I say, “You always encouraged me. you never told me I wasn’t good enough, and when you’d hear something like that from me, you called me out on it. I am hopeful that, somewhere up above, you’re watching, and that you’re working just as hard as I am to find my beloved book a home. I love you, Pop. Forever and always,

Your writer and your proud grandson.”

Derek

The Book I Love Most

Why Artists Are Artists

or

Why I Continue Searching For A Publisher For The Book I Love Most

The book I love most is homeless.

Searching for its shelf-home.

The book I love most is written,

But, like a vagabond,

It wanders and roams.

The streets of my mind are dead ends to it now.

For it is fully formed.

Nothing on these roads can aid it anymore;

Not even the bonfire of creativity that is

My newest story,

Unfinished,

Off to the side,

Can keep it warm.

It needs a place where it can be

Fulfilled,

Given autonomy

To achieve its highest and best.

Where it can parade into a reading of itself full of confidence of zest.

Its new lease on life will be courtesy  of

An agent who sees the merit,

An editor who agrees,

A publisher who puts it out

Without calling for any author-paid fees.

It will dance into the hands of readers

Who haven’t lived the story

But who have lived their stories and so,

Through lives that have seen similar fates

Can nonetheless relate.

Story, in all its forms,

Is connection.

It is: You are not alone.

Story invites you

To roam the streets of another’s mind

In search of a new thought,

A retrofitted, better home.

My Current Publisher–Fed-Ex!

 

What does it mean to be published?

Yesterday was a big day for me. Lots of stuff arrived in the mail. I always like getting stuff in the mail–though not that junk that says Resident or occupant or notice of past due payment. It feels like Christmas or some other present-y holiday, except I paid to have my latest present mailed to me. The price was quite reasonable, however.

If you’re new to my blog, you may not know but loyal readers will recall that I have been painstakingly putting together a novel for the past seven years or so. Last night I received my latest draft of that novel, via Fed-EX. It looked beautiful. The white (what Fed-ex calls “frosted” cover and the vynl black back-cover. 212 eight and  a half by eleven pages, coil-bound. I love holding the book in my hands and realizing that, without me, without my efforts, that just doesn’t happen. I created that moment through hard work and patience. Patience I didn’t know I had.

There are some authors who can write a novel per year. I admire this ability, and the work ethic it must both require and, eventually, engender. But that’s not me. It’s just not. This novel of mine took exhaustive editing, re-writing, re-positioning of chapters and evens, not to mention a few scenes that received outright deletion, and while I love writing and want to make it my career, there were many tears.

Many authors can write a novel and then quickly move on to the next. Some have to do this, to meet their deadlines (see the novel-a-year-paragraph you just read). That’s not me, either. Short stories I can do. Novels are a different story (literally!).

So I’m sitting here now, a copy of my book in hand, thinking, What does it mean to be published? Published. That word really does have different meanings to different people, doesn’t it? Some would say paying a company to release and distribute your book is publishing. And while I have done it in the past, and there is one book for which I did it of which I remain deeply proud (“Prose From A Grandson To A Senior Fellow, a collection of poetry I hope you’ll consider purchasing; it’s a small morsel perfect for stocking stuffers or e-readers), I contend here that is not publishing. Not the Print-On-Demand part of the process, anyway. E-readers are a little different these days, and that is a form of publishing, because anyone who wants your book can have it in moments. The on-demand-type is printing, though, in the same way that “On The Road” wasn’t writing, argued Truman Capote. “That’s typing.”

I don’t know when my actual release date will be. I don’t even know the people behind the company who will be granted the honor of releasing it. (I consider it an honor, anyway, not to sound pompous in any way, and I hope they will, too.) I can only hope that when it surfaces, all of you will be there to celebrate with me. And I can also thank my current publisher and bringer of joy and Christmas-morning-like smiles: Fed-Ex.

 

MY Novel–Even God Makes Mistakes: Chapter 1

With apologies to my longtime readers, I have decided to repost the first chapter of my as yet unpublished novel, for the benefit of my new twitter and Facebook friends! I hope you enjoy what you read here and find inspiration in it!

Each chapter begins with a poem.

I could tell you life is fleeting.

But that’s a truth everyone knows.

It doesn’t bear repeating,

Isn’t worthy of a refrain

Read while a tired body lies in repose.

As it’s a fact that too often shows

How little control we mortals maintain.

-An excerpt from the poem Nothing Is Forever by Madeline Mailer

Chapter 1.

Death, Part 1

            

              Terrence McDonald is 55. The year is 2045.

      

       The TV is on, and I’m on the couch, leaning as far back as I can. My heavy, indecisive brown eyes—their lenses blurred ever since my tumultuous entrance–flutter between open and shut. I am half-watching half-listening to a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Was that the doorbell?

“Who is it?” I call out, expecting to hear my daughter Megan’s voice. These days she is the one person who visits me. The only person who knows I’m making my home in this little oasis fashioned from wood felled by my own hand.

“Terry, it’s Mom. I’m here to help you move.”

       My mom? That’s not possible. She’s…

       Wait, to help me move? Oh, God.

I rise from the couch and glance back at my lifeless body. Five-foot-eight standing up, but now it’s slumped over, grayish-blue. A few stray locks of the black hair my father gave me spill over into my unseeing eyes.

       Shit. I still had more I wanted to do, damn it! Was it my cerebral palsy? We’ve co-existed forever. Has it somehow—in its slow, indirect way—finally done me in?

I turn back around toward the TV, and I see my mom materialize in front of me, a concerned look on her face.

“Are you okay?”

“No, of course not!” I scream. “So is that it? I’m dead. Just like that?”

She doesn’t say anything, but her silence says everything.

“How? How did I die?”

Mom puts her hand on my shoulder like she always did when I was a kid and I was upset and needed some time to calm down. “You don’t remember?”

“No, Mom. If I remembered, why would I ask?”

She is silent for another beat. “If you don’t remember… then it’s probably best if I stay quiet for now. My job is to take you Home.”

“I am home,” I shoot back.

“You don’t understand. Where I’m taking you… this is a different kind of Home. This is the place where you’ll find out what happens next.”

“Is there any way around this? Any way at all?”

These words are as close as I’ve ever come to arguing with my mom. That’s because arguing with her does not come naturally to me. And, considering the life I have, I never thought I’d hear myself plead for it.

“No, Terry. I’m sorry, but there’s not. You know that, if there were a way, I’d tell you what it was. But this has been decided.”

I pull away from her. Am I frightened? No, not exactly. But I am… disheartened.

Before I can get too far away, she takes my hand. “Come with me, Terry. I love you.”

It’ s been so long since my mother said those words to me—I love you—that I’d forgotten how true and convincing they sound in her voice, and how much I missed them—and her.

Without warning, we’re not in the cabin anymore, and I find myself in a house so familiar I am comfortable in seconds. The smells are familiar. The floor plan. The art on the walls. This is a replica of the home I shared with my wife, before she got sick and I moved into the cabin.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Mom is saying. “I picked it out and furnished it myself. Just for you.”

It is a nice place. Much nicer than I’m used to these days, that’s for sure. Not that I have anything but a vague idea where we are.

Now that I’ve calmed down some, it isn’t just this new house I’m appraising. I’m also getting my first real good look at Mom in twenty years. Hers is a face looking as youthful today as it appeared in the photograph announcing her entrance into womanhood—taken in her eighteenth year. I remember seeing this picture in a family album decades ago.

“You’ve got all the comforts you’re used to,” Mom explains. “Along with a couple you might have forgotten about.”

“So this is where I’ll be living now?”

The frown on her face hints at the fact that things aren’t that simple. “Well, that depends on your appointment, but I sure hope you will. Your father and I are just down the street.”

“Dad’s here?”

“Yes, he made it.” She smiles.

“My appointment?”

“Everyone has an appointment when they first get here.”

“What happens? Who is the appointment with?”

“I can’t tell you, Terr.” Mom takes a seat in the first of three chairs arranged in front of my large television screen. This is the only liberty she’s taken in the design. The original home had two chairs in front of this television, because two was enough for Mattie and me, but I sense Mom gave me the extra seat in case I should have company over. “Those who have been through their own appointments, like me, are expressly forbidden from sharing any details with newcomers, like you. Each one is different based on the soul and the life it concerns.”

“Ah.” Now I’m nervous. And not just because I get the feeling at this moment that Mom is spouting some section of a well-rehearsed monologue. I wonder if, at this appointment, everything in a person’s life is considered.

“Yes, everything is considered,” Mom says.

I shoot her a confused glance. Did she just read my mind?

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t often use spoken words or languages here. I mean, we can. And we will, especially in cases when explanations or announcements need to be delivered to a large number of people. God prefers spoken language Himself. But it’s more common, for those who have been Home a while, to communicate telepathically. I thought that was what you were doing.”

I shake my head.

“Well, in a few days, once you’re feeling acclimated, let me know. You can call me on this.” Mom produces what looks like a cell phone. “That’s a direct line to me and me alone. When you’re ready, I’ll come and pick you up and take you to your appointment.”

“Okay.”

But first, she thinks, get some rest. You look terrible.

I am a little tired, but what do you expect? I’m dead.

“You’re getting the hang of our telepathy already.” She laughs, gives me a hug. “I’ve gotta get back to cook your father’s pot roast, or he might go a little nuts.”

Sounds like Dad. A hungry Carl McDonald means an irritable, hard-to-deal-with Carl McDonald (I was going to say hard-to-live with, but the word doesn’t fit).

Mom pats my shoulder and disappears. This new Home is going to mean some big adjustments for me.

                                   

                      ***

 

       I’m going to guess it’s taken me the better part of three days—spent resting and recuperating from life–to convince myself that I’m really dead and, secondly, that I’m ready to face whatever might be in store for me. I have to guess at how much time has passed because, as it turns out, this new home of mine–furnished by my mom–does not include a clock. Not one. I only discovered this flaw after she departed, so there was no way to readily remedy it. Stores specializing in electronics aren’t plentiful in The Afterlife.

Wait, that’s not true. Maybe they are. I don’t know what lies beyond these four walls yet. I’ve barely moved since I got here. But I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for my personal appointment, so I pull out the cell phone Mom gave me for just this situation. It doesn’t require dialing. My connection to her is immediate.

“Terry?” she says.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You’re ready for your appointment?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She pauses, a bit too long for your run-of-the-mill pause. Something’s bothering her. “Okay, I’m glad to hear it.”

“What’s wrong? You’re gonna pick me up, right?”

“I was planning on it, but it looks like your Grandpa Jack needs to be picked up today.”

“Oh, you mean he’s-”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Boy, he lived forever, didn’t he?”

She laughs. “Pretty darn close. I’m just glad he got to go out the way he wanted; peacefully, in his sleep. Anyway, your dad and I have to be there for him, but I’m sending your old friend Charlie out to you. He’ll get you where you need to go, no problem.”

Charlie. How nice it will be to see him again. It’s been a long time. This isn’t the only thought I have upon hearing Charlie will be here soon, but it’s the only thought I feel comfortable sharing, in case Mom can read my thoughts through the phone as easily as she could standing in the same room.

“Okay, thanks. Tell Grandpa Jack I say hi.”

“I will. And you call me when you and Charlie get to your appointment. Otherwise, you’ll have me worried.”

“Sure thing.”

We hang up, and I wait. There’s the sound of tires churning gravel and then a knock at the door twenty minutes later… I think. I answer it.

“Charlie Ewell’s limousine service.” He smiles and nods his head toward a jet-black vehicle closely related to a town car that’s parked nearby.

I step back. Blink. Once. Twice. He’s still there. My mind doesn’t know how to make sense of this.

It really is Charlie. Well, of course it is. Mom told you he was on the way. Yet despite my mom’s assurance, there is this part of me that snickers at most religions, labels them NOT FOR ME, and I never warmed all the way up to the idea of Heaven. Therefor, even after seeing her again, I doubted that my old friend Charlie would show up. You’re telling me Charlie will be here! Charlie? Yeah, right.

Just like I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her—Charlie can’t possibly be on his way, Mom!–I can’t deny it now.

       “It’s you,” I say.

“Sure it’s me,” Charlie says, as though he’s just shown up to my most recent—and last?–birthday party, cheer on his face, a gift in his hand.

“Like, really you.”

“Yeah. It’s really me.”

       “How?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in when you’re new,” he says, “or when you’ve just come back. I was so glad when your mom called and asked me if I would pick you up. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Same here,” I admit. The initial shock of seeing Charlie is ebbing slowly, like adrenaline leeching out of my bloodstream after an earthquake.

“It’s so good to see you, Charlie.” We enfold each other in a backslapping, how-have-you-been hug.

When we’re apart again, he says, “And you, Terry. It’s just now dawning on me how odd this circumstance is.”

“True. But under what other circumstances would we see each other?”

“Good point. In one of your dreams, maybe. You ready to get going?”

“Sure. Is there a set time we have to be there? My mom always said it’s better to be early than late, no matter what the occasion.”

He throws his car keys in the air, catches them, as we make our way down my temporary home’s front steps.

“Don’t worry about time anymore,” he reveals. “Time is a human invention. It is seldom kept here.”

“That would explain the lack of clocks.”

“Which always throws newcomers off. And don’t be nervous. Sure, no one who’s been through an appointment can tell you what your appointment will be like. That’s because appointments are unique to each soul, but they aren’t to be feared. Your appointment is a place where you will get the chance to ask questions and learn.” Charlie flashes a quick grin. He opens one of the back doors for me, and I see that in the car rides an elegant woman. “Terrence McDonald, this is my wife, Patty Ewell.”

Patty turns in her seat, puts out her hand. “It truly is a pleasure to meet you, Terrence. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I give her my hand, as is customary, but can find no words. I’ve never met Patty before. She passed away the night I made Charlie’s acquaintance.

Fighting Through Doubt

I just spent my toughest hour yet of editing moving this passage here and that paragraph there. Reworking. Rewriting. Rethinking.
I went into the work with a clear vision, and I leave it for the day hoping I’ve done right. Greeting doubt on my way out the office door. To lose faith is so simple, so easy everyone has a talent for it. To maintain faith requires guts. And the ability to stare Doubt in the face and tell him he doesn’t frighten you.
It’s okay to say that. Even though you’re lying and you know it. Maybe one day it’ll be true. I’d like to believe that day will come when I reach publication, though I fear that, even then, Doubt will play a significant role.