R.L. SAUNDERS

writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

Life as it is

Where I’m from, the stretches of farmland outside town are divided by country roads with enormous, canal-sized ditches on both sides. Last week, my 33-year-old cousin, Jed, was a passenger in a car that flew into one of these country road ditches and hit a cement culvert at an estimated 90 miles per hour. Mercifully, we didn’t need to wait for autopsy results to know that both guys died instantly. Nobody wants to wonder if a loved one drowned in icy ditch water while trapped upside down in a car.

Thirty hours and 1700 miles later, I was home to hug and be hugged. I’m not even that huggy, but family funerals are different. I love family funerals, generally. Since there’s nothing I can do to take away the death that causes them, I try to let them help me refocus on what matters. I only wish I could make it home for all of them.

As I get older, I experience funeral trips home (and trips home for any reason, really) differently. In my more idealistic years, I was focused on if and how people had changed for the better, using my definition of better, of course.

Did So-n-so stop smoking after the fire? No? Sigh. Did So-n-so apply for that job with the county? No? Sigh. Is So-n-so still taking attendance at funerals and holding the no-shows accountable? Yes? Sigh.

But this time,┬ámy desire to see change was just, I don’t know, gone. It’s like I’ve learned to accept family as it is. Life as it is.

Okay, I did note the irony of us honoring drunk driving-related deaths by bar-hopping on slick roads. And of bringing a keg to the funeral home (it was the other guy’s family, I swear).

Mostly, though, I felt a new, comfortable resignation that it isn’t my job to worry about how other adults ought to be living–no matter my motivation. Hell, for all I know, I’m the weirdo they’ve been tolerating all these years. Either way, I genuinely like my quirky family just the way we are.

I love that my family remembers our loved ones in all sorts of ways, including rum-soaked karaoke in the garage, taking turns noting the time we “seen Jed last.”

I love that my brother restrung and played my mom’s old guitar at the funeral while my sister, husband, and I sang about friends and about God. I’m not a theist, but it wasn’t about me. I was just lending my voice, which, by the way, I love that my family still thinks is funeral-worthy. It’s not.

I love that before anyone arrived at the funeral home, for Jed alone, my brother performed Brian Adams’ “Summer of ’69” because he’d always requested it. Why? I can’t say. I mean, he wasn’t even born until the summer of ’78. But Jed was an old soul and loved basking in nostalgia like the rest of us–my cousins and me. We love talking about the good old days, which get better and more lie-laden with each recollection.

I love that the preacher cut off friends and family from sharing memories “in the interest of time” then used the next hour of the service to try to save the heathens among us. Alright, I didn’t love that part. But I did love that my aunt, Jed’s mother, addressed the overflowing funeral home, kept it completely together, and ended with, “I love all of yous.”

And if all goes well, one of those yous my aunt will love is going to be her grandchild. Two days before Jed died, his longtime girlfriend learned she was pregnant.

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24 Comments »

mmmkay, now what?

I did not hire a little old man to sign for me. That's really what my hands look like.

Well, that’s that. I signed my letter of agreement with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency this week and mailed it off. Linda Epstein is my Agent Extraordinaire.

Now what? I’m glad you asked. To completely oversimplify (for the purpose of complete oversimplification), I write the next manuscript while Linda sells the first one. Then I send her chocolate booze. Is there a chance it won’t sell? Yeah, but that’s not part of the completely oversimplified version of things.

I’m not going to lie. The publishing industry feels big. It overwhelms me when I think about how many writers are all trying to do the same thing. And some of them are just so savvy, you know?

If I’m not careful, I start to feel like book deals are really only for brilliant, pretty people who are completely comfortable with Big Things. And in my debilitating daydreams, these people all look like Zooey Deschanel. They have awesome, messy-on-purpose hair, and dweeby glasses that are only cute because they’re on faces so beautiful. And these Big people all live in New York, the city.

None of this is true, necessarily. It’s just what happens in my head if I stay on twitter too long.

For the record, my hair has looked like that every morning since I was 8.

I’ve never even been to New York. Luckily, that was not one of the questions on the exam I had to take to get an agent. Just kidding, there’s no test. You just have be a good writer.

Good and lucky.

Mostly lucky.

Also for the record, I want these glasses. And lips.

You know how some kids want to grow up and run away to bigger, fancier places? I wasn’t one of them. My life is anti-Big Things. I live on a small island, and I moved here from Auburn, Michigan. No, you’ve never heard of it because there are more people per apartment building in NYC than there are in all of Auburn, Michigan.

And the thing is, I sort of love that about Auburn (and about small places, in general). Sure, I could do without the lack of diversity, the apparent one-Catholic-church-per-square-mile rule, and way too many people with graduate degrees saying “seen” when they mean “saw.” But still, I like small. And I probably always will, although I do want to go to NYC, on a two-way ticket. Even if I never sell a book in my whole life.

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