It’s 1:45 in the morning on Saturday. I woke up about an hour ago and I’ve got my first pot of coffee brewing in the next room. I’m catching up on my Game Grumps after posting the newest chapter of my FNAF fanfiction up on fanfiction.net and again on archiveofourown.org. Now the kittens are romping crazily around the room and I’m typing this and wishing I had a cheeseburger. Just a Saturday, you know. Just Saturday things.
In all fairness, this could just as easily be a Tuesday or a Thursday for me. At this time of year, I often find myself reflecting on just how ridiculously lucky I am, because Lord knows, it ain’t talent and effort that determines success in this world. The fact that I am able to sit at home in my underwear writing non-profit fanfiction for an entire year and STILL make enough money to pay my bills fills me with a sense of profound gratitude and smug humility.
My father and I discussed this over Thanksgiving, after which he went away and made the following post on Facebook (my father is now on Facebook, a fact that fills me with pride, quiet hilarity and of course, determination). Yes, I asked his permission before reposting it here. On a side note, I would cheerfully repost each and every one of my father’s ramblings on Facebook, because they are ALL like this. On those rare occasions that I post anything at all, mine are a solid 80/10/10 split on bad jokes, bitching and movies I have seen/would like to see. But when my dad noodles around on Facebook, this is what comes out:
After a lifetime of working for other people, doing what ‘they’ wanted me to do in exchange for bread and butter and a place to lay my head, I retired. It was great! I did just what I wanted, when I wanted to, and when I didn’t want to do it anymore, I did something else. Absolutely perfect! Then after 46 years of marriage to a wonderful woman, she succumbed to the ravages of diabetes and brittle cerebral capillaries and passed on to the next stage of our existence – and I found myself living alone for the first time, with my children scattered about the countryside.
I believe that I must have been waiting around for my own passing, because slowly my mind started going to sleep. I didn’t like it in a dispassionate sort of way. I suppose I resented it when I noticed it, but not enough to do anything meaningful about it. My body slid deeper into decrepitude, and I cared not a whit. Fortunately, a few of my daughters lived 45 minutes away, and seeing what was going one (and not liking it), they decided they would do what any loving family does in these cases: they would needle me back into activity and save me from a fate worse than… well, you know.
One day, three of them (all published authors) came by to invite me to enter a writing project called Na-No-Wri-Mo, short for National Novel Writing Month, explaining that it was a low-key writers completion in which contestants had the month of November to write 50,000 words of a work of fiction on the subject of ‘The Ferryman’. I wouldn’t even have to enter the competition; I just had to write the 50,000 words. No pressure, and would I do it? Please, please, please, please?
They weren’t fooling me a bit! I knew exactly what they were doing. My rut had become both deep and comfortable and they wanted me to leave it (for my own good, mind you, but leave it nevertheless). Moreover, I had written in the past, both in American-English and in French-French, manuals, policy statements and short stories (with one novel I had worked on and never finished)—and had thought them quite good for what they were. To accept the challenge in this context was to lay myself open to the actual discovery that I was, in fact, no good at all, had never been any good; and in such a manner that all the world would immediately know it. But most dreadful of all, I should thereby willingly and with malice aforethought enter into direct competition in my daughters’ own special sphere of expertise. A cardinal rule to parenting is never, never compete with your children; it was a rule I had tried to adhere to.
They pleaded. They implored. And in the end, with many misgivings, in a moment of weakness, I relented
Best thing that’s happened to me in retirement! I have no expectation of writing a best-seller, making a gazillion dollars and achieving world fame. It’s enough that a few people may read and enjoy a world into which I have frequently retreated to escape the humdrum occasionally encountered while engaged in the business of living day to day. And it has achieved beyond all expectation the purposes for which I entered into the game: 1.) I no longer choose to live in a rut, even a very comfortable one; 2.) my mind has rediscovered with keen interest the world around me; and 3.) I am no longer content to slide into physical enfeeblement and inactivity, not even a very comfortable one; my mind has rediscovered with keen interest the world around me; and finally, I greet each new physical obstacle with as much grace as I can muster in a hunt for new ways to accomplish what my body once did easily.
My father’s second book is coming out soon, so get ready to see a lot more noodlings from the mind (and beard) of M. Francis Smith. In the meantime, please also enjoy this excerpt from the latest chapter of my FNAFiction, Everything Is All Right, Part Two: Mike Schmidt and the Long Night, in which our hero, Ana Stark, meets one of the pre-eminent citizens of Mammon…
Her first impression was that of age, although she wondered why almost at once. He certainly was old and not particularly well-preserved, but he wore it mostly in his face. He moved like a much younger man, albeit a young man carrying a heavy weight at the end of a long, trying day. His step was sure; his hands did not shake; his eyes were concealed at the moment behind a pair of dark glasses, but she had the strong feeling that if she could see them, they would be clear and cognizant. His hair was white, still thick despite his years, trimmed short and lacquered into place so it did not move at all as he walked. His cheek was as stubble-free as Ana’s own, although Time had carved a permanent expression of worry into his brow and grief into his mouth. He was dressed in black slacks held up by a black leather belt and black suspenders, and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and only the topmost button undone. His shoes were polished to a higher shine than the kitchen stove. Throw on a jacket and a tasteful tie and he could have fit right in at the opera. Or a funeral.
“What an astonishing co-incidence,” this man said, briefly holding up a smartphone before tucking it away with a casual familiarity Ana was, frankly, not used to seeing in a man of his age. “I had a call from the fraudalert line about a fifty-two thousand dollar home theater system I appear to have purchased. If you’re here to deliver it, you may take it upstairs to the room at the end of the hall on your right. I don’t watch that much television anymore apart from the science channel, but I dare say I’m looking forward to counting Morgan Freeman’s freckles in high-def and hearing that glorious voice in theater-quality digital surround-sound…and who is this?” he asked, at first in that clipped lilt that meant someone was trying to be polite while in a state of supreme irritation, and then the color dashed out of his face all at once. He staggered and grabbed onto the closest countertop, his voice a sudden, shaking rasp. “Who is that?”
“Don’t worry, he gets like this,” Chad said, although he looked just as taken aback as the rest of them by the suddenness of the transformation. “Grand-dad, you remember Mr. Shelton. You’ve met him lots of—”
“Who are you?” The old man moved forward, thirty years older than the man who had come into the kitchen just seconds ago, catching at Shelly’s shoulder with a shaking hand only to push him aside, looking at no one and nothing but Ana. “Tell me who you are!”
“This is my assistant,” Shelly said, plainly uncomfortable, holding the old man’s arm like he expected it to snap off in his hand. “Stark, maybe you better wait in the van.”
“Stark,” said the old man at once, then again, nearly whispering. “Stark.”
“That’s right, this here is Joe Stark’s little girl, grown up.” Shelly grimaced around the room with his help-me eyes on, but Chad was enjoying the show and damned if Ana knew what to do. “I don’t know that you ever knew old Joe.”
The old man was quiet for a long time. Then he took his arm from Shelly’s grip and slowly straightened, shedding age and infirmity like snakeskin. “By reputation,” he said, calm, steady.
“Yes, he, ah, he had one of those.” Shelly tried on a gameful chuckle, but was too nervous to make it fit. “Perhaps you also heard of Mellie, his wife. Perhaps not. Bit of a party girl.”
The old man turned a cold stare on Shelly, made even colder by being filtered through the impenetrable black of his glasses.
“Well now, this is their girl, Ana,” Shelly stammered. “Moved away when she was just a mite, but she’s come back.”
‘What’s it to you?’ thought Ana, but in a curious rather than offended mental tone. “A couple months ago,” she said.
“Where are you staying?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, stepping back as if he could defuse the question with more physical distance between them. “That was impertinent. At my age, one loses one’s ability to recognize impertinence, except in the very young, of course. Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No,” said Ana, marveling somewhat that it was the truth. “No, and it’s fine. I’m staying at…at the family home.”
“You have family here.” He said it oddly, neither quite a question nor a statement.
Yes would be the simplest answer, if a lie; no, the most honest, but would lead to more questions. She hesitated and Shelly jumped on the silence to say, “She’s living in her momma’s sister’s place, you know the one, up on Coldslip.”
“Yes,” the old man said, his gaze sliding away, unfocused. “I know the one.”
“Marion’s place, I guess I should say,” Shelly continued. “You must remember Marion.”
“His memory’s not—” Chad began.
“That’s great, Grand-dad.” Chad looked meaningfully at Shelly, mouthing ‘He doesn’t remember,’ while the old man stared at the wall.
But Ana thought he might. When he looked at her again, she said, “People say I look like her.”
“You do. When I saw you…I thought I’d seen a ghost.”