Saturday, September 26, 2015

Missing Joan

It's been two years, and all week long, I've acutely felt the loss. I have written about my grief, the sadness I feel for a life, that in my mind was far too short. And I thought I might share those feelings in this post today, on the anniversary of her death. But I've changed my mind. Instead, I want to share a happy memory of precious time spent with my sister. To do so, I've chosen a piece she wrote about one of the stops we made on our author tour of eastern Montana and into Saskatchewan in the summer of 2007.


Joan Bochmann

The house is small on the easternmost street of the little town called Circle. It reminds me of a cottage, small, painted white with a porch and a peaked roof. The porch has a swing and a couple of plants. The yard is a bit messy and there is a detached garage that holds the clutter that families in disarray accumulate. A board, upon which the words “Vintage House” are neatly lettered in black paint, hangs from the roof of the porch.

She meets us at the door, frowning slightly and I feel she is angry that we are late. She is dressed in a pretty summer dress with a ribbon at the waist, a dress that makes you think of the 50s or of the Stepford Wives. Her hair is dark blond, with sun streaks, and falls loosely on her shoulders. She has a very pretty face with sad, brown eyes. Her name is Candy, and I don’t think it fits her at all.
 We explain our failed attempts to call about our tardiness, blaming the lack of cell phone service in the area. She nods and a fleeting smile transforms her face for just a moment. As we enter, she gestures toward paintings covering every inch of wall space, and many leaning against the wall and furniture. They are good—really, really good. She takes us from room to room and suggests we look around upstairs while she finishes up something on the laptop open on her kitchen table. The upstairs is as magical as the lower floor.

As we drink our tea, she explains that she has sent out invitations to lots of people to come to the book signing. She even put a notice in the local paper that she works for part of the time—trading work for the ad. She seems embarrassed and almost ready to cry as she explains that she hasn’t been in Circle long, although she grew up not too far from here. She tells us about her son, who will be back soon. He has just finished his second tour in Iraq.

Aha, I think, that is where the sadness comes from—at least part of it. She refills our tea glasses and I marvel at the grace with which she moves, almost like a dancer. We ask about her art and learn that she used to travel from show to show, but after the divorce such travel became too hard and too expensive. She doesn’t live at Vintage House, she says. She lives on a ranch near town, where she raises Black Angus cattle and quarter horses. She shows us some pictures of her horses and for the first time her eyes light up a bit.

We hear a motorcycle and a huge young man with a bandanna on his head comes in the door. He is tanned and strong and looks like he could lift his Mom with one hand. Now her beautiful eyes really light up. He looks at Candy as if she, herself, is a work of art, and I can see he loves her very much. He is charming but doesn’t stay long—says he’s off to pick up his sister who graduates from high school tomorrow.

She picks up the phone and calls Wanda. Wanda had promised to be here, so she must have forgotten, she explains. Sure enough, Wanda has been out in the wheat field and has forgotten, but is washing off the dust and is on her way.

We look at more paintings and she shyly asks us to read some “stuff” she has written. She explains that she has been taking night classes at a community college in Miles City, and her professor arranged for her to have this laptop, and she is trying to learn to use it.

Her stories are good, she uses language well. They have the same haunting, sad quality that surrounds her. We are in the middle of reading some of her stories when Wanda arrives. Candy introduces us and explains that Wanda writes for Guideposts. She questions Wanda with a strange intensity. It seems Wanda had “ghost written” a story about our artist friend and put Candy’s byline on it. Candy can’t understand how this could be right. Wanda explains that it is Guidepost’s policy to put the name of the person the story happened to on the piece, even though it was written by someone they paid to write it. Candy seems troubled by this.

Wanda expressed her delight over our books and bought three or four autographed copies. We have more tea and Candy admits that she is seriously thinking about closing the gallery. She said no matter what she offers in the way of sales, discounts, entertainment—no one in the town had been out to see her gallery. She is apparently being royally snubbed, though I don’t know why.

We left, and as I waved to the sad lady in the pretty summer dress standing under the Vintage House sign, I prayed silently that she would find a way to sell her art, but prayed even harder that she would find her way to bright smiles and laughing eyes once again.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Joan—and now Carl, too.

As always, I'm missing Joan—and others who have left this world. Going through old pictures on this Memorial Day has brought back many memories and love and yearning.

My brother-in-law, Joanie's husband Carl, passed away two days ago, Saturday, May 23. I know he missed Joanie very much in the many months since she passed away. He told me so, many times as he continued to live in the home they shared.

Carl was definitely a brother to me after he became a member of our family on July 15, 1978 when he married Joan on a mountain above Boulder, CO. Here is the family with the bride and groom. (Carl and Joan—left, middle row)

They lived most of their married life in a home west of Berthoud, Colorado, where they kept Arabian horses and a series of Shelties that were family. They both enjoyed camping, fishing, family cookouts and reunions. Carl was an excellent photographer, skilled cabinet maker and carpenter, good at leather craft, and cooking. He often prepared food for family get-togethers.

Joan and Carl, I miss you both and will be remembering you, especially, this Memorial Day. But not just today; you are ever in my thoughts. You will always be in my heart. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Writers block and missing Joan

A week or so ago, I realized that my feeling of apathy was the result of a writer's block, probably due to the pressure I was putting on myself to get three separate writing projects done. I didn't feel like working on any of them. My habit in such cases has always been to pick up the phone and call my writer sister. She would commiserate with me and we would have a long conversation about many things,  we'd laugh together, and she'd fix me.

The fact that she is no longer here for me to do that hit me harder than it has at any other time since she died almost a year ago. Oh, Joanie, my darling sister, my mentor, my best friend, my hero, how I miss you!

A few days later, my muse seemed to return, and I finished two of the projects in two days, leaving the biggest one, the one that is jointly mine and Joan's. She began a book years ago. During my visits with her during her last months, we discussed it. I read the parts she had written, and they are amazing.  She said she wanted it finished. She hoped she could do it, but in the end she just couldn't, and I promised her I would. Thanks to her drawing her characters so completely and the many hints about where the plot might go, I think I can.

But today, when I thought I would get back into it, I found myself doing other things, including writing poems. I know I will get back to writing, and the muse will be with me, and I will make more progress on her book called, Prism. In the meantime, let me share a little ditty I wrote about the seasons, because there is a bit about the book in there too.

(September 2, 2014, 5:30 am)

Dang you time, you go so fast.
I'd rather see my summer last
A few more weeks so I can do
Half the things I've planned to do.

Yet autumn's here. I cannot waste
The lovely days with undue haste.
It's time to get up from my chair
And hike the hills when weather's fair.

Winter's coming. It won't be long,
Cold and dark. I must be strong,
And put the long, dark nights to use
Penning stories like a recluse.

I've finished two of my tasks this week
and now can return to Prism speak
And let the muse carry me on
To solve the mystery of where Deb has gone.

The Prism surely has some power
to transport her in the witching hour
So yes, I'll write to find the key
to unlock Prism's mystery.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The beginnning of Joan Bochmann's unfinished novel: Prism

Prism, by Joan Bochmann 
The Prologue:

She slipped silently through the grove of aspen trees and knelt by the clear mountain stream. Motionless, she studied her rippling reflection in the water. Small, slender, with straight blond hair falling below her shoulders, she was dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt open at the neck revealing a fine gold chain from which a small pyramid-shaped crystal was suspended. As she watched her reflection, her slim fingers strayed to the prism, exploring all its facets. She held it to her eye and watched the colors come to life.
Suddenly he gasped. The reflection in the water was changing—the hair was curlier and lay softly around a face that was hers, yet wasn’t. The shirt and jeans were replaced by a gown of some floating, wispy material.
“No,” she moaned. “Go away—please.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joan Bochmann's Writing

It's been a long time since I've posted here. Not because I've forgotten her—my dear sister, Joan. Far to the contrary. I miss her as much as ever, and I think of her a million times a day. I guess it's because it was just too hard at times. But Joan will never be forgotten, and in time, I will continue to share her wonderful writing—the book starts, the articles, and stories she entrusted to me—with the world.

I made a promise to Joan and I plan to keep it. She asked me to finish one of her books, if she didn't get it done. Unfortunately, she was unable to, although she worked on it almost up to the time of her death. The name of the book is Prism. There are nineteen chapters and various notes and possible inserts to it in her wonderful voice. It would be a shame to leave them hidden away in a box of file folders.

For a while, I suffered overwhelming sadness when I attempted to retrieve them. Besides, I was working on a novel of my own. I've finished the first draft of that, and so I attempted to delve into hers. At first I just couldn't do it. On the second attempt, I packed up all the files pertaining to that book and took them to a quiet coffee shop to work on them. It was a good start. I began by reading through her pages and taking notes on each chapter. In the process, I've been given ideas of where the story might go. Once I pick up her characters where she left them, I'll let them lead me to solve the story's mysteries and find the perfect ending. I don't know how long this will take. I've other jobs pressing for my time, making this a more or less spare-time endeavor.

I am somewhat surprised by the feeling that working on this book gives me. The grief and regrets that have plagued me since she died seem to be replaced by or maybe morphed into a feeling of solace as though through this work I am close to her.  Once again, I am blessed by her words.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Another entry from Joan's workshop exercises

As Joan further developed her character, she wrote:
Jan pulled back on the yoke of the aircraft and climbed to cruising altitude, resisting the urge to point the nose of the plane at the ground below. It wasn't a new feeling, but it was getting stronger. She fought against it by concentrating on the blue sky and the horizon and began to feel the joy and the freedom that flying always engendered.

She had only soloed a few weeks ago, but she still felt the warmth and pleasure when Scott got out of the plane and told her she was on her own.

"You're a natural, Jan," he had said. "Fly the pattern a couple of times and then go have fun." 

She smiled at the memory. She could still feel Scott's hug when she finally landed. She would miss his presence in the cockpit, but she cherished this new feeling of freedom and independence.

As she thought about Scott, sh compared him to Brian—the man who was so much like her father, although she didn't realize that when she married him. The divorce had been a relief, really, even if it did mean she had to take the teaching job she hated. How different Scott was—gentle but strong. He didn't seem to think she was an idiot. "Your a natural," she said aloud. What sweet words.

I love how Joan turned the memory of a bad experience into the beginning of a story that has a complex character and the potential for development of an intriguing plot. She didn't continue the story, as she was unable to attend all of the lessons, and because her life was very busy at the time, and she had other stories underway. But I wanted to share this much of her creative process. With her permission, of course. When she gave me the boxes of her saved writing assignments and essays and beginnings of novels, she said I could publish any of it as I wished.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Joan's creative writing: Lesson on POV

Continuing from yesterday's post, I want to share what Joan wrote when asked to take the antagonists point of view from the humiliating experience she had in third grade. She could have chosen Susie, but wisely chose the teacher.  Here is what she wrote in two short timed writing.  The first, "take the point of view of the antagonist."

Miss Harlan had had a very bad day. She had so hoped to be hired for the high school position only to learn that one of her male colleagues had won that prize. 

She really didn't like little kids. She particularly disliked the shy mousy ones. When little Susie Castle told her that Joan had stolen her beads, she was furious.  This was exactly the kind of junk she had no time to deal with. Susie, however, was a pretty little thing, and her father was on the school board. Before she thought it through she had confronted the frightened little mouse in front of the whole class. knowing that was wrong just made her more angry at the weeping child. 

The next assignment: Using the same character, give them a passion. Something they care a great deal about. Joan wrote:

Janet Harlan erased the board and put away the books on her desk. She was still shaken by her own behavior this afternoon. 

"How did I ever get into this profession, anyway?" she asked herself. 

She knew, though. It was her father who had insisted that she major in education, totally ignoring her protests that she wanted to be a pilot. She recalled all the arguments—that the world always needed teachers—she could get a job anywhere—she would be respected. 

What she really hated was that she had lacked the courage to stand up to him. She had always been so fearful—so mousy. 

Tears welled in her eyes as it dawned on her why she so disliked the shy, fearful girl she had humiliated today.

And so "Janet Harlan" becomes the protagonist for a story that continues through out the workshop.