A Cautionary Tale

I have a friend. A dear friend; the dearest possible friend. We met when I was in my early 30s; she was 25 years my senior. We were (are) both writers.

When I moved away from the town in which we both lived, we began a correspondence. An almost-daily correspondence. At first it was letters via snail mail (which would cross in the mail), then fax, then email. We were quite intimate with our conversations, covering the whole emotional ranges of our very different lives.

correspondence

Thirty Years of Correspondence

We talked very eloquently about our divorces, our marriages. We talked about infidelity. We talked about our children and various problems we had with them, their illnesses, their marriages, both successful and failed. We talked about ourselves, our histories, our futures, our feelings, in excruciating detail, because that’s what writers do. We talked about our glory moments and our devastations. There was nothing off  limits for us to discuss with sometimes brutal honesty. As we saw it at the time.

Imagine my astonishment when about three years ago she mentioned that she had kept–was keeping–all that correspondence. It was all boxed up, in her office closet.

This is stuff that could wound, hurt, devastate her children, my children, my husband. This was personal, very confidential stuff between two people. It never occurred to me, not once in all these years, that what we had written to each other had been saved. I assumed she let it drift into the ether as I had.

But her reasoning, she said, was that one day she would cull through it, excerpting it, writing the book of our friendship.

She is elderly now, and doesn’t remember the tortuous times we wrote about. She doesn’t remember the emotional firestorms we went through that we dissected, how we helped each other through rough patches, how we helped each other understand the motivations of those who slashed us to the core.

Needless to say, since this revelation of the existence of these papers, I have been far more judicious in things I say to her. I mourn the loss of that intimacy, and am a little bit resentful that I have to edit myself in this way.

When I asked for these papers, her caretaker (a family member) said she wanted to go through it for family history.  When I told her it was private communication not meant for others’ eyes, she was unmoved.

I had terrible thoughts of my friend’s children reading our letters and having their worlds rocked by what they read—the truth about their mother’s most intimate inner musings–and her friend’s unabashed opinions.

So I became determined, absolutely resolute, that this material would be shredded. I began to get insistent. I may have hurt some feelings in the process.

Yesterday, seven boxes were delivered to me by FedEx.

I breathed a sigh of relief that it is now in my hands, and no one will ever read it.

I do not regret baring my soul, naked, with both beauty and ugliness, to my dearest friend in all the world, but I’m sorry that we did not have an agreement beforehand about the disposal of our correspondence.

This is a cautionary tale.

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5 Years Vegan

I thought it was time for an update. This has been an interesting journey.  Previous blog posts have charted it.

Last June, I had blood work done. I was vegan four and a half years, but I was eating a lot of vegan junk food, and my weight had crept up. To my horror, my cholesterol was again high, and so was my blood pressure. I am testing my doctors’ patience about taking a statin.

So I had a harsh conversation with myself. I am 66 years old. No longer young. If I am going to take care of myself, now is the time.

How Not to Die

So I tuned up my diet. What I mean by that is that I went for the Whole Food, Plant Based way of eating. No more vegan junk food. Along with that, I ditched salt AND oil. No more oil.

We are now mid-September. I’ve been WFPB 3 months. I have lost the 20 pounds that sneaked up on me over the past few years. My blood pressure is nice and low and I am off the medication I’d been taking for five years. My cholesterol is also back down. All my numbers are good. I have great energy.

But I want to say a word about oil.  I can eat almost a POUND of potatoes for the calories in one tablespoon of olive oil.  What I discovered by cutting out oil is that eating it is completely unnecessary. I substitute applesauce when I bake (even yeast breads), and I saute veg in a couple tablespoons of water.  We enjoy any one of a zillion oil-free salad dressings (Google is your friend). So trust me when I say you will never miss butter, or the vegan equivalent, or olive oil, or anything else greasy.

I feel better than ever. And of course, there are more interesting videos and movies to see. The answers to almost any food issue, backed by actual science (not studies commissioned by the Egg Board, or the Dairy Industry, or Big Pharma) can be found at www.nutritionfacts.org. This is Dr. Greger’s labor of love, with no ads, no sponsors, is run by volunteers, and supported entirely by donations from readers.

I’ve also watched Cowspiracy and What the Health, both extremely important (albeit not without flaws) movies, currently available on Netflix. I continue to refer to, and give away copies of Dr. Greger’s amazing book How Not to Die.

I’m sorry I have come to this way of life so late. But better late than never.

I wish you the best of health.

P.S. Edited to add: I’m not perfect, my eating is not perfect. For example, as soon as I posted this, I ate a garden-fresh tomato from my own organic garden (I don’t buy tomatoes at the store because I can taste the chemicals), on a piece of whole grain bread, with a tablespoon of Veganaise (thinly-disguised oil) and salt and pepper. Life is too short to be so restricted as to miss an exquisite in-season tomato sandwich. Eating out or at friends’ houses can be a challenge, too. I try to stick to my principles without being obnoxious about it.

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Benediction Denied

Take a dark trip into the Labyrinth of Souls.

My new novel, based on Matthew Lowes’ brilliant solitaire Tarot card game, just launched.

BD Front Cover

While hydrologist Adam Swan is engaged in humanitarian efforts to bring water to a small, isolated village in the Congo, he is kidnapped by rebel thugs and thrown into a makeshift prison. He is left to die—or worse—if his ransom is not paid. In a surprising series of events, Adam escapes his brutal captors into an underground labyrinth where reality and sanity no longer rule. Armed with a limited amount of magic which he does not understand, he survives by employing it boldly, recklessly, desperate to return to the village above, homesick for Minnesota and normal life with his wife and daughters. Tested to the extreme limits of his endurance, Adam navigates the labyrinth with only the company of his past behavior, the baffling magic, and the seductive temptation to succumb to the mysterious and merciless gods of the underworld. The consequences of his actions, past present, and future, take him to the brink of death—and beyond. A fun, fast, thrilling ride by veteran author Elizabeth Engstrom, inspired by Matthew Lowes’ Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls card game.

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My World Turned Upside Down

Last fall, my husband went to see a physical therapist for his back problems. He is a retired tile contractor, and years of laying tile floors and running up and down ladders with hundred-pound sacks of sand on his shoulders have taken their toll.

The physical therapist put him through a few exercises, and said, “Al, you have a neurological problem. I think you have Parkinson’s.”

Subsequently, two doctors suggested her suspicions were valid, so we saw a specialist at OHSU in Portland, Oregon. No question. Parkinson’s. Stage 2 (of 5).

Parkinson's

In retrospect, of course, we had just never connected the dots. Parkinson’s Disease is such an individual thing. Each patient reacts to it differently. Al had many symptoms, but we thought they were just the effects of aging. The increasing tremor in his hand, we discounted as a “familial tremor,” common to men of his age. His sinus issues at night he contributed to dog dander or dust. Increasing pain in his lower back… well, all that tile work.

Parkinson’s is a progressive degenerative disease that will eventually rob my sweet husband of his robust good health and eventually his memory. All our retirement plans vanished in an instant with that diagnosis, and suddenly what money we had saved for years became redirected for his personal care as his disease progresses.

Resesarcher that I am, I started to learn everything I could about the disease. There is a very active Parkinson’s Disease Support Group in our town, and we go to the meetings to learn what to do, what to expect. There is also a very active Parkinson’s Caregivers Support Group here, and there I absorb the experience, hope, and strength from long-time caregivers who have so much to teach me.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is a wealth of information, including very well-moderated monthly webinars. This is only one of a half dozen excellent organizations, and there are regional and local resources as well. I am involved and drawing from them all.

I need to learn about this disease, this new roommate, this interloper in our lives, but as Parkinson’s affects everyone differently, I don’t want to look too far in the future.  First, because it scares the crap out of me, and secondly, because that is not necessarily how it’s going to be for Al, for us.

Today I’m grateful that he is in good health, and we work toward maintaining that with exercise and good humor. He still fishes, golfs, rides his bike. The only medication he takes so far is to help him get a good night’s sleep. More medication is in his future, and we are not looking forward to dealing with the side effects.

We are re-evaluating the things we want to do: trips he wants to take while he is still able to travel alone, trips I want to take while he is able to stay home by himself, trips we want to take while we are still able to travel together.

The irony is not lost on me that I, with zero patience, end up with a husband with Parkinson’s. But I have discovered that I can have patience. Right now I am concentrating on creating sweet moments for the two of us. That helps me stay on track. I can’t be impatient, bitchy, and resentful while simultaneously creating a sweet moment.

This blog has always been about my life–my life as a writer–and now much of my life is about Parkinson’s Disease. I won’t dedicate this blog to that, but I will post my own experience, strength, and hope as I move through this unexpected chapter.

 

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Candyland

For a long time, my short novel, Candyland, was only available in the collection The Alchemy of Love. Now, it is available as an ebook, an audio book, and now, finally, as a stand-alone paperback.

candylandpapercover

After fifteen years of hard work, Candiland, the movie based on my book, was finally filmed and released. This was an incredible labor of love by everyone, and quite a sacrifice-for-the-art by the star James Clayton. Every one involved in the production did a stellar job, including James, and his co-stars Chelah Horsdal and Gary Busey. Rusty Nixon wrote a wonderful screenplay and filmed it with a deft hand.

Candiland

Working with Motorcycle Boy Productions was a true pleasure in every respect. I was able to be on set for a couple of days, to review the script before filming, and was consulted on several issues.

There was no requirement for them to involve me in the process, but they did, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Having a book turned into a movie is the dream of every author, and I sincerely wish author can have the same experience.

 

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Family Values

I hear a lot about “family values,” although never more than during an election cycle.

My question is: What are family values? People tout that phrase all the time, yet when pressed, I can’t imagine that a one of them could mention a single value that would fill the bill.

values

(As an aside: People who talk about “family values” are usually the same people who say they’re fighting for “social justice,” but I suggest that most of them cannot define “justice.”)

So for people interested in values, these are the seven that I hold dear. I believe they are universal as well as personal. I believe they are inherent in our DNA. I believe that any law written anywhere should be held up to this short list of values to see if it passes muster. If so, let it be. If not, then tweak it until it does.

Life

Equality

Quality of Life

Opportunity for Personal Growth

Empathy

Compassion

Love for Humanity

Please note that Life, Equality, and Opportunity for Personal Growth are strangely similar to: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, a phrase etched into the Declaration of Independence. Those men knew what they were talking about.

These are good values for your family. If we all taught our children to admire these values and adhere to them as adults, our society would be a better place. Our world would be a better place.

It’s never too late to adopt them as your own.

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Filed under Beauty, family, goals, Goodness, Truth, Uncategorized

Benediction Denied

Delighted to be among the amazingly talented people writing books inspired by Matthew Lowes‘ Dungeon Solitaire Card Game.

Coming next spring from Shadow Spinners Press.

Stay tuned…

benedictiondeniedcoverjpg

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