the dream of my mother’s note

I dreamt that I was wandering around the back yard of the place I grew up in. It was a bit unkempt and messy, with a lot more stuff in it than there was when I was growing up.

On the door to the shed was a note from my mother, responding ever so politely to a note from a neighbor who was offended by her posting a comic critical of Bush’s policies on there. Why this was the place for such a discourse I wasn’t sure but there it was – ineffably polite but unyielding in her disagreement. It was nicely typeset.

another year gone by

The first thing through my head in the morning is “I should deal with those life insurance policies on Mom except wait I still haven’t gotten the death certificates what’s up with that”. This is going to be a long forty-fourth birthday.

Then I check my email. Every computer wishing me a happy birthday via email is like a little knife in the gut because it reminds me there won’t be a phone call from her.

Yeah. This is crap. I’m going back to sleep. Maybe I’ll feel better when I wake up again.

 

Later. I looked at those life insurance policies. Another year or two of runway for getting this whole ‘comics’ thing off the ground as a viable career. Maybe more, I didn’t try to untangle their descriptions too deeply. I’d rather have another decade of her around to see it.

workin’

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Today I hung out in a cafe with Nick and revamped my table signs for “Decrypting Rita” and its fliers. I wanted to add some of the blurbs I’ve been getting from various famous folks. Then I had the brainstorm of putting a copy of the flier on the sign behind them, so that if I happen to run out, interested people can use their phones to take a photo. I then went on to make some signs for the Tarot deck and its fliers that pulled the same trick. Now that I look at these, I am tempted to put the covers for books 1 and 2 on the signs for them, as well – the covers are pretty eye-catching IMHO.

(All of these signs are a little bit taller than the thing they describe; I put them on my little wire stands, then put the item in question on top of them.)

The Elephant

Before that, I took this elephant down from the top of my bookcase and told him some good news. He belonged to my mother when she was a small child, and hung out in her library when she was an adult. Neither me nor my aunt has any idea what his name is. Now he’s on top of my bookshelf. I figured that since I could’t call Mom any more, I’d tell him instead: I’ve got a spot in the dealer’s room at this year’s Worldcon. And this morning, a major modern SF author wrote a blog post about cool online comics he likes that included Rita. Which he noted was totally not anything like Hugo suggestions. At all. Completely.

If I ever end up with any awards, I am going to show them to this elephant, and keep them next to him. It seems like the closest I’ll ever be able to come to telling Marie-Jeanne how far I end up going.

 

memory totems

Wow. I was not prepared for how sad taking my mom’s stuffed elephant out of the box of books we shipped from her library and putting it on top of my bookshelves would make me.

I wish I knew his name. I think she’d told me once, long ago, but I can’t remember it, and neither can her sister. I kinda want to say “Elmer” but I also kinda want to say it wasn’t something alliterative. I don’t know.

I put him where he can’t see the giant beanbag. Too many shenanigans happen on that thing for me to be comfortable with him watching that.

on weeping

Since coming back home I've kinda quit crying so much. I'm not sure if this is because I'm not in the middle of Mom's place, full of reminders of her, or if it's because I've been all alone in my apartment with nobody to come pet me if they hear me crying. Maybe some of both. Emotions are weird.

I've still got some stuff to take care of with regards to her things. But the back of my brain is starting to mutter about not having drawn any Rita for most of a month. And that given how much she was about supporting the creative arts she'd definitely want me to be getting back to creating soon…

some photos of MJ

This gallery contains 10 photos.

One of Marie-Jeanne’s friends had asked for a photo of her. Here are several, taken from a cache of slides Russell (her husband, and my father) had taken. If there are any lying around of her as an older woman, they’re somewhere else in her house; these are all from the early 70s. If you’re […]

the sordid business of wrapping up my mother’s affairs

I just recorded a new outgoing message for my mother’s answering machine.

“Hello! You have reached the home of Marie-Jeanne Trauth, who has recently departed to that mysterious country from whose bosom no traveller returns. If you’re calling about a business matter other than rent or utilities, the window for that discussion has, sadly, passed. Otherwise please leave a message.”

I like to think she would have given me a stern look, then giggled.

Marie-Jeanne

Yesterday, I went and sat on a big rock in Ravenna Park for an hour and wrote this. It seems to have helped my mood a lot. I could probably edit it some but fuck it: stream-of-consciousness. Go.

 

Let me tell you about my mother.

 

She was born on Christmas*, in 1943. She got stiffed for gifts her whole life because of that. Her mother was, frankly, not a woman who should have been raising kids; all the stories Marie-Jeanne told about her were bad, at best.

Her father died when she was young. Later, the man she married would die on their kid’s twelfth birthday. We are not a lucky family, I think.

But she did her best to convert from a housewife to a single mother. Despite me being an ungrateful, difficult ball of grief and misery. She did pretty damn good at that, in fact. I feel like her parenting method boiled down to one thing: what would her mother do in any given situation? Do the opposite. Lots of abused children grow up to pass it on; she chose to break that cycle, and I can’t ever express how grateful I am for that.

She was raised in the ass end of the city. She read voraciously despite a lengthy trip to the library. Her apartment has one room dedicated to her library: a wall of recreational etymology and reference books, a bunch of fiction. A couple shelves full of nothing but riffs on the story of Camelot; if I was at a loss for a gift, I knew that would always work – if I could find the rare one she hadn’t already acquired. It was just a given that fantasy and SF would be part of my reading.  A shelf unit full of books on New Orleans. She loved that city; in her early adulthood, she left it for California, but came back and really never left it again for more than a few weeks out of any year, at most. A few shelves filled with video tapes and DVDs of musicals. God, she was a sucker for those things. Old Technicolor spectacles, new contemporary ones. I saw more of them than I could say; she dragged me along to quite a few big Broadway productions that came through town, as well as countless bits of children’s theatre.

In another life, she might have been a dancer. Or an actress. Or something on the stage. She put those dreams aside, in part, to raise me. Perhaps. We never really talked about it while she was alive. All I really know is that she once wanted to be a ballerina, and was a regular face in the crowd of dance and theatre around town, until the heart failure curtailed her mobility. And that the first words I heard were Shakespeare; she was working her way through the complete works when I was born, and shifted to reading it out loud to me. She instilled a love of creativity and narrative, supported my own groping towards that. I wish she’d lived to see more of my adult work.

She never married again after my father died. There was a brief on-and-off thing with a widower, but it never came to much. She got used to being alone. A thing I can sympathize with; we’d come to the agreement that about a week, maybe a week and a half, was about as long as we could stand sharing a space, once I was out on my own.

Our relationship had spikes. Her husband was a snarkbucket. So was I. There was a cruelty there she’d inherited from her mother, I think, but we made a game of it. And she could hold her own – even near the end, she made me grin when the nurses in Intensive Care could recognize me because she’d described my dress sense as “rich bag lady”. Which… I prefer “hot witch” but yeah. I can’t argue with that. Point to MJ. Later that day I said something equally comedically cruel. I forget what. But she grinned at me and made a tally mark in the air: point to Peggy. She was much more graceful in her bitchiness than I can ever hope to be.

She was also incredibly accommodating of her strange, broken child. I was a pain in the ass even before Russell died. It only got worse afterwards. In the past few years she told me that she’d been tempted to change the locks while I was out; I paused, then nodded, and agreed that must have been a hell of a tempting thought sometimes. But she never did.

And when I returned from Los Angeles one day, and she asked why I’d started plucking my eyebrows, I told her I was trans. She just asked questions, not knowing what this meant. She’d figured I was probably at least gay for ages. By my next visit, she’d become a regular at a local support group for trans people and their families, and did her best to not be harsh about my utter lack of fashion sense as of yet.

In the last weeks of her life, she fought hard. She came out of the operation to install a dialysis port with a slur in her voice; the doctors theorize a bit of plaque had been knocked loose, and cut off blood to a part of her brain that had fine motor control over her mouth and throat. By the evening, she was already speaking more clearly: she’d been reciting nursery rhymes to herself, to try and regain control with simple exercises. She asked for a couple books of more complex children’s verses for further practice.

When I was in school, people started urging her to put me on the then-new psychopharmacutuicals that went with the rise of ADD as a diagnosis. She resisted. I was a distractable, smart, easily bored kid, and she didn’t want to see me dulled down to fit in better. She fought for my chance to be whatever the hell I was going to be, and to be that as hard as I could.

One of my boyfriends, after meeting her, described her as “a space alien from the planet Cool”. I feel incredibly lucky to have had her in my life for as long as I did. And I rage that her body failed her long before she was ready to leave.

The day before she died, I went to see “Mad Max:Fury Road”. Near the end of this insane car chase across a wasteland, there’s a gang of incredibly hard-assed old ladies struggling to survive. They hook up with the heros to shepherd them through the outrageous chaos of the final act, and one by one, each of them dies. But they die fighting; they die laughing at the face of Death. I saw my mother in them. I saw the same iron will to survive beneath a sweet exterior. And I hope that she kicked that motherfucker Death in the face before she went on to whatever afterlife there may be. Or maybe punched God when she met that bastard.

I only hope that someday I can be half as awesome as she was.

* It says the 26th on her birth certificate and obituary, but she was always told the 25th. And as a side note: my father was born on All Saint’s Day, and I was born the day after the US’s Independence Day. We were a holiday family.

more on Mom

“You’ll want to change the sheets before you use my bed,” she said. And told me where they were, and that there were probably some in the dryer, and so on and so forth.

But I haven’t even thought of doing that. Sleeping in her bed just feels so incredibly wrong. Instead I’m sleeping on the fold-out bed in the love seat that I usually sleep on when I visit her. It used to be in the library; now it’s in the living room. I had to make a bit of a mess by moving her exercise bike back to make room to open it up. I’ll have to move it around again when I leave. I don’t care. I just feel like her bed is not a thing I should sleep in while she’s still alive. Or maybe ever.

Right now, she’s in the ICU at the hospital. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see her tomorrow. I was too late to see her before she went in for surgery this morning; I’m really glad I went directly from the airport to the hospital and talked with her last night.

I’m sitting on the love seat. In a few minutes I’m going to open it out into a bed again and go to sleep.


I spent some time today making a sigil to hopefully help her out. Yeah, the inner Rationalist is all ‘magic is bullshit’ but a few things have happened after the Magician has done that kind of thing that the Rationalist has to admit are impressive coincidences, even when accounting for confirmation bias, so, y’know, it can’t hurt, and at least it let me feel like I was doing something for her besides just wandering around stressing out. I shared it on Twitter and Tumblr with a request to charge and/or share it, because why the hell not crowdsource a magic spell? It worked for Grant Morrison’s career.

Then I hooked up with Lewis with the intent of going out to see my old high school friend Dave Vaszquez’s band playing for Cinco De Mayo, but the place was insanely overflowing, so we just went out and had some beer and suchlike instead and talked about Lewis’ tv show pitch, Doctor Who, and lots of other stuff that were not The Current State Of My Mother.

Relatives and friends of my mother are now phoning me asking for updates. I think I am going to have to get their e-mail addresses and send out mass mails because I really hate talking on the telephone, and I really don’t want to have to dwell on things by saying them again and again and again.