Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Well Aren’t We Full of Festive Cheer?

It's a human tendency to afford greater weight to tragedy when it happens over the holidays. I was sad to hear of the death of James Brown yesterday.

And the holiday grief was not limited to his family. An absolute tragedy in Calgary as a mother and toddler die – the mother believed to have died from natural causes, the child too young to survive without her… The horrifying deaths of 24 people in a department store fire in The Philippines. An 11-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed in Alaska.

A murdered toddler, the suspect a nine-year-old child.

I could keep going, but I think this is more than enough. The papers are filled with depressing stories… but that isn’t why I’m thinking about them.

Days ago Rob Gregory Browne blogged on near death experiences and speculated on what happens when people die.

Now, Christmas day my mother-in-law and I had an interesting conversation. We got talking about when people die. Of course, my mil’s brother-in-law has cancer and has been undergoing treatment, so that always brings death to mind as well. She was saying she’d rather go in her sleep. I was telling her about my Great Uncle Carl who died from cancer some 27 years ago, or so. Back when cancer treatment wasn’t what it is now. He died a long, slow death.

Conversely, my Great Uncle Ab got up one morning, said, “Elma, I’m going,” sat down in a chair and died. No preamble. No dramatics.

No warning.

I mentioned how some killers think that when they murder someone they can look in the eyes of the victim and, in those last few seconds of the person’s life, see the face of God. I suppose the idea is that the person is already making the journey to the other side, and through their eyes you can see eternity.

I have to say this is something I never thought about when I was writing any murders for any of the manuscripts or short stories. I tend to think more about what would be going through the victims’ minds in those final moments.

I’ve certainly thought about what motivates people to kill, but haven’t done anything in the serial killer vein, really. It’s been about power, about business. Cold, calculated.

But that’s not the same thing. Perhaps I still have a lot to learn about thinking like a killer.

I’ve had my own near-death experience, when I almost drowned at the age of 10. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t like to tread too close to the moment of death in writing.

There are some things it’s uncomfortable to be forced to look at. When I read what Rob said, about his uncle refusing to talk about those few minutes he was ‘gone’ I could understand. The reality is that words almost cheapen it, and unless you have faced that moment when you believe your death is at hand I don’t know if it would make sense to say how you feel about it or what you experience.

But I did give the thought process on that to one character in one of my manuscripts….

Unfortunately for you, you’ll have to wait until it’s published to read it. Unless, of course, you know just how to bribe me to share. Someone has part of the manuscript on its way to them.

Just not that part.

And all these depressing thoughts come despite the fact that I had a pretty good Christmas. Books. An Angel worry box sent to me from overseas, that will grace my desk and be there every moment of my writing day. A new housecoat, which was long overdue. And a lovely sweater, some calendars, the kind of little personalized items I love.

I had a good day. Today I’m braving the malls to take my mother-in-law shopping and out for lunch. I have some gift certificates to spend…

Now what about you guys? How’d you do?


Trace said...

Had a nice day with the fam. That was the best gift I could get :)

Anonymous said...

Mine was pretty good. I got lots of presents and had fun on Christmas Eve with my dad's family. Which more than made up for my mom's nephew introducing me to his girlfriend as the "pain in the ass". And he wasn't kidding. One of the relatives I'm happy to only see once a year. norby

Christa M. Miller said...

Wow - things suck everywhere. There have been a lot of tragedies in my area too, most involving young people. Makes me grateful that my two are healthy and happy. And, well, even more paranoid than I was.

That said, we had a nice Christmas. My older boy made out like a bandit and my younger one slept through the whole thing. LOL More visiting follows this week... lucky us...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, good to hear that!

Norby, good lord. I can see why you'd want to limit your exposure.

Christa, sounds like you had a great Christmas. Next year you'll likely be wishing the younger one slept through it! Pretty soon they'll be sneaking up in the middle of the night unwrapping presents at 3 am.

anne frasier said...

is buzzkill one word or two?


Anonymous said...

It was a nice Christmas, featuring eating and sleeping on the couch wearing new Christmas jammies. I am still sleepy, in fact!

I did feel sad about James Brown, whom I learned about during my journey out in search of heavy whipping cream, which took me almost an hour to find (at a quickie mart, as it happened).

Norby, punch him in the 'nads. That's what I say. Pain in the ass, indeed. Show him what pain really is! ;D

anne frasier said...

i just spotted this and it cheered me right up:

Sandra Ruttan does “noir like a cheerleader with a coke habit...it seems to come naturally.” - James Goodman

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne, I love that quote from James.

Norby, what Bill says, except wear a lot of rings. And not flat rings, but the kind that protrude.

Anonymous said...

Wow, now I'm really depressed. I already had a cold, and now this. But I'm glad you had a nice Christmas.

And Anne, I love that photo.