funeral

Day 10 – Spiritual Networking

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 7, 2014

Once a month, Mormons have what we call a “Testimony Meeting” that’s basically a one hour open mic session. The meeting is supposed to be centered on Christ, but inevitably people get a little too excited about having a pulpit from which to speak and take us all to crazy town with them. Sometimes they meander and get into too irrelevant details about vacations the rest of wish we went on, or the hair ball their cat coughed up that morning (which I suppose could be a spiritual experience, depending on size), but mostly what you hear are testimonies that are simple, tearful confessions of belief in the Savior. In a church largely without pageantry, this is as honest as it gets. And as pedestrian as the words used by the brave and timid souls who dare to share the deepest part of themselves may sometimes be, there isn’t really any denying the conviction behind them. These people know what they believe, and we know without doubt that they believe it.

I was the first one to the mic today, after the Bishop kicked it all off with a few of his own thoughts. I very rarely do this. I did it this time because I think there are times, like now, when you’ve got to recognize the hand of the Lord, publicly, or you’re just ungrateful. I also wanted to thank everyone in the congregation. Many of the blessings we’ve received in the past week and a half came directly from them.

NetworkingNot everyone knew about our situation, of course, so I led with a brief description of the 24 hours that found both me and my wife suddenly out of work. That got their attention. By the time I was done, I felt I had rambled sufficiently, didn’t have much of a clue what I’d said, and made enough of an impression that what was just an honest expression of faith that blessings are just around the corner for us turned into a big networking opportunity. People asked for my resume. Said they knew a guy. Told me to start my own business.

My name and resume are now out to the Fresno Unified School District, thanks to my testimony. I’ve flirted briefly with becoming a teacher over the years, but never seriously. I keep feeling like wherever I go next will be a big deal and a huge departure from what I was doing. Maybe that’s it.

My favorite interaction at church was the brother who tracked me down to proclaim loudly, “Boy, you wouldn’t have any luck at all if it weren’t bad!” That’s not entirely true, but it made me laugh and nod anyway.

Best advice I heard today: “It’s not your responsibility to make others feel better about your situation.” Made me think of my dad’s funeral, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and much of our time grieving is taken up by trying to prove to everyone that everything is going to be fine. This really is like a death. It’s like when people talk to us we’re both the grieving family members and the corpses.

I think it was a car crash. My wife died instantly. I died at the hospital a day later.

* * *

Erin got an email today telling her she’s eligible for the next step in the application/interview process in some sort of sales rep job. It’s local. It’s encouraging.

Day 5 – It’s Not Nice to Snap at Your Wife When You’ve Both Been Fired

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 2, 2014

This is Erin's angry face. I'm... not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.

This is Erin’s angry face. I’m… not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.

I woke up with lots of anger today. I’ve maintained a mostly even keel through all this unemployment business, but days like today it all just gets under my skin and just the… crushing unfairness of it all weighs me down. Which is stupid. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from so many who have reached out in the past several days it is that just about everyone has gone through a bout of unemployment. Some for an incredibly, heartbreakingly long time. Those people, every time I talk to them, I think “Please, not me. Not us. Let it end soon.”

I think of “me” first. Then my family. I don’t like thinking that way. We’re all in this together and even though my two youngest may not be able to even process or understand what’s going on (and why should they? All they know is Daddy is available to play “Hotel” 24/7 and turn on Frozen more), they’re affected nonetheless. I also need to remember I’m not the only one who lost a job. Erin makes it easy to forget. She has such utter confidence we’re going to be okay and though she has her moments, she handles the whole situation with much more grace than I currently am capable of.

Case in point: I snapped at Erin this morning.

I tried to do the morning drop-offs at schools. With Violet, I got completely lost. She’s attending preschool in a home in a neighborhood with the most convoluted street layout devised by man. I half expect to run into a minotaur every time I venture in there. That wasn’t the real problem though. The real problem was that I completely forgot where this labyrinth actually was. I spent 20 minutes driving in a circle. Violet was late, so Erin asked what took me so long when I finally returned home. This is when I snapped.

Erin didn’t retaliate. She knew as well as I did my morning’s “ordeal” wasn’t the real issue.

For the rest of the day, we tried to keep as busy as possible by playing games both video and tabletop with my brother and his wife before they return to their home in the Portland area. The constant diversion served its purpose well, so we did it again with friends this evening. Other friends brought by another gift basket, complete with an offer to babysit and movie tickets. This is our life right now: surrounded by generosity and friends who genuinely care for us to a degree we perhaps don’t deserve. I can’t comprehend with anything other than aching gratitude.

At the same time, I know these kindnesses are somewhat temporary. I’m reminded of my father’s death and funeral and how much attention was paid to my family at that time and how it all went away eventually. People will have to move on as our new state of unemployment becomes old and normal. This is how it should be, I think, but I doubt we’ll be any more okay with it all than we are now.

* * *

I’ve dropped a lot of weight since this all started. About three pounds since Friday. I was actually dieting before I was let go, but I haven’t seen this side of 180 in about a year. It’s hard not to think of it as a good thing even when I know I’m probably terribly unhealthy right now. Even as I sit here typing with my stomach screaming hunger pangs at me, I find I have no appetite.

Tomorrow I go back to work to say goodbye. Not everyone knows I’m leaving. Maybe I’ll eat after that.

How My Writing Reached the Top of a New York Skyscraper and Then Fell Back Down Again

…or What the Heck Happened with That Book I Wrote

BrocksWritingSpace

My writing space: Dining Room Table. Tunes. Notebook. Laptop. Flowers.

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a long time. When I started writing my book, Raised By a Dead Man (which everyone seems to agree is a terrible title and yet no one has ever come up with anything better), my plan was to a) become a writer and b) start big. Just to be clear: starting big is writing a 95,000 word book when the longest thing you’ve written previously was a 2,000 word report on North Dakota. In the sixth grade.

I’m be facetious. I had also done some blogging. (Okay, now I’m really being facetious.)

You ever feel like you can do something–I mean really, actually do it–even though you’ve never even attempted it before? Me neither, except for this one time when I spent every night after 10pm for two years writing this book. I knew I was a writer. I just knew it.

And I knew I had a great story to tell. A boy’s coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of his father getting gunned down in not one, but two armed robberies. The second time, the father dies and the boy–now serving as a missionary–has to come to grips with not only himself but the legacy his father has left behind. Somehow, this all ends on a happy, positive not. It’s a feel-good tragedy. Y’know, like those sorts of things always are.

The best part was that it was all true. It was my story. A memoir.

I sent the book out to friends and family and people I didn’t know so well for their feedback. This was valuable because the book wasn’t quite ready yet. Thankfully, I have good people I can lean on who are both enthusiastic and honest.  The book got better and finally, in April 2011, I started submitting it to literary agents.

(I had some initial ideas about self-publishing but after doing my research I quickly determined that was not for me. My reasons are a whole ‘nother blog post, but even my subsequent failure hasn’t turned that into a viable option.)

My thought was, why not shoot for the stars? You never know, right? And if all I hit is the moon, that’s okay, too, because there’s no points for not trying. “Whatever happens, happens,” I said.

Here’s what’s wrong with this: nobody likes putting everything on the line and then admitting defeat, especially when they’ve been foolish enough to say, “Eh, whatever happens, happens.” Human beings invented the word “whatever” against the advice of God when we really, really felt like we needed one word to cover up all the feelings we insist aren’t there.

God said, “Look, I invented language and I didn’t include ‘whatever’ for a reason. It’s a transparent, nothing of a word. People are gonna see right through it to your real intentions.”

“But maybe not!” we said. “Maybe it will be the one word that allows us to barrel through difficult things in all confidence that we’re fooling everybody!”

God said, “Sometimes I wonder why I bother.” Then, He invented the Ten Commandments because anything more nuanced would have gone right over our heads.

I knew–I knew before I even started writing–that I’d be devastated if the book didn’t reach the top of the bestseller lists. I also knew expecting a book from a first-time author with little writing experience to reach that highest of heights was unreasonable. But I didn’t care. In fact, I still kind of don’t think that was the wrong attitude to have. You can’t maintain a passion for something over the course of several years without absolute belief in its viability.

So, my book went out to agents. This is a punishing process. It requires submitting a one page letter of both introduction and summation and a small sample from the book. Then, you wait to hear back. Could take two minutes or several months. If the agent likes what they see, they ask for more, sometimes (if you’re lucky) the whole book. A few agents did ask for more. A lot more just rejected the book outright. Then, in August 2011 one agent liked it so much she read it all in a week.

That agent, Bonnie Solow, is my now my literary agent. She thought the book should be seen by the top editors in New York–people who had worked on bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning memoirs–and she had the connections to get it there.

Now, in case it’s not clear, this–that I got that far–is a BIG FREAKIN’ DEAL. I fully appreciate that many authors will try to get an agent for years without success. And getting an agent is really the only way to get your writing in front of the right eyes. That’s what a good agent does. That’s what Bonnie did for me.

I’ll spare you the details of the months of additional drafts and and the development of the 30-page proposal designed to convince the editors and publishing houses to buy the book, and skip right to the end: despite a lot of enthusiasm (and, sure, some real lack of enthusiasm), Raised By a Dead Man failed to find a home. It will not be coming to a bookstore or online retailer near you.

It’s been a full year now since we stopped shopping the book. I’ve talked in person about its failure freely with whoever asks, but I’ve never really written anything down. The written word is where I can be the most honest and sometimes you just want to lie to yourself a little longer.

Yeah, I was devastated. In a most spectacular, soul-crushing way. I poured everything I had into that book. It reached the top of the New York skyscrapers (I actually have no idea where the New York publishing offices are located, but “high up” seems like a safe bet) and was put on display in the right offices. Then it got ejected.

Rejected. Out the window. Ground floor, coming up fast.

Let me tell you, there’s no arrogance like the confidence of the undiscovered and nothing so bitter as the defeat of the uncovered found wanting. Creativity turned into a chore. Music stopped sounding good. I thought about writing about vampires in love on a boat. “Vampire Love Boat.” Tell me that’s not a bestseller.

All of this was temporary. See, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an idiot. Instead of playing video games every night and just being happy with my amazing wife and our girls and a job that puts a roof over our heads and friends that are super cool and you wish you had, I kept writing. I didn’t even take a break, really. I wrote on the good days and I wrote on the bad days. I just wrote. Because, by now, I know that’s what I love to do.

Like I said, idiot.

My new project was (and still is) a second memoir (idiot!). It’s a not-a-sequel that starts about a year and a half after the first one and relates the Mormon Romeo/Protestant Juliet journey my wife and I and our future in-laws took to the altar. Bad dates, secret romance, religious conflict and abysmal attempts at flirting abound.

My agent is actually pretty excited about it. Whatever happens (there’s that word again), I know that the 52,000 words I’ve written so far is the best stuff I’ve ever done.

With any luck, the second time’s the charm. If not, I have no doubt I’ll go for the hat trick of failure and write something else. And then something else. And then something elser. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that I suck at failure.

Post Script:

So, what of Raised By a Dead Man? After all, it’s still listed in my bio. I still hope it will see the light. An author can create demand for his work by simply becoming an in demand author. I’ll no doubt do some more drafts one day and, who knows, that might just be what the book needs.

But, y’know, it still kind of bums me out that no one outside of a very small circle has ever read it. Here, then, is the first few pages of Raised By a Dead Man just because. I hope you enjoy it at least a little more than New York did.

RAISED BY A DEAD MAN

by Brock Heasley

Ready

After the funeral, my family and I were ushered down the long, silent hallway and out through the back of the church to avoid the news cameras out front. For a while we stood silently at the edge of the parking lot, huddled close together. Looking down. Mom, in her black skirt and bright red top, dried her tears and smiled faintly. She looked almost relieved. This day had been coming for a long time.

I wrapped one arm tightly around her and the other around my two youngest brothers, who stuck close to me. My other younger brother, Logan, stood as an island unto himself, shivering slightly with arms draped in as much stillness at his sides as he could manage. It was one of those oddly cold, bright days where if you weren’t standing directly in the path of the white and warming sun, you’d freeze. A few cousins, Mom’s parents, Dad’s brother Jim, and Dad’s parents soon joined us. We talked about how nice the service was and not much else.

Grandma, a longtime smoker, could barely breathe and leaned on Grandpa for support. There was a bitterness to her mourning that choked out sentiment, leaving nothing but the sharp anger she displayed all over her face. She muttered the same refrain she’d been repeating over and over again since Saturday night: “Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.” No one disagreed with her.

The hearse pulled up and we moved to the nearby trees along the sidewalk surrounding the church to allow room for the casket to be rolled out. We watched as the box and the body were loaded in carefully by the hired hands from the funeral home. They were so solemn and so precise in the way they went about it. They didn’t know Dad; for them, it was a performance—routine and impersonal. Were they thinking about the game later that night? Hatching dinner plans? Digesting breakfast? I hadn’t been able to eat that morning. I was too nervous about my speaking assignment.

The door to the hearse clicked as it locked. The signal given, we all piled into cars to start the long journey out to the cemetery way beyond the edge of town. The cameras followed us, but only until we were out of sight. Mom, in the front seat, wiped her tears. She turned around to tell me how much the talk I gave during the funeral meant to her and how impressed she and everyone else was with it. Embarrassed and flattered, I thanked my dedicated, proud and delusional mother. (Though the many compliments I received proved her to not be entirely alone in her insanity.) She dismissed my modesty as false and said the talk reminded her of a moment she’d had with Dad just a week earlier.

They were sitting on the couch in the living room, talking. It was one of those conversations that meandered from the inane to the consequential, a web of familiar concerns particular to all longstanding couples. Dad, who was not sick, spoke, as he often did, of his impending death and how much he looked forward to the afterlife. It would be wonderful. Glorious. So much to learn and to see.

Mom hit her limit. After years of Dad’s supposedly fatal fatalism, she’d had enough and finally asked him the one question she had wanted to ask for years, but had never before dared:

“Bill, do you want to die?”

Dad fell silent. He took a moment to consider his words carefully. Mom could see by the look on his face that he was desperately trying to craft the correct answer to her very direct question. He didn’t want to hurt her. Finally, he gave his measured response.

“If it weren’t for you… and the boys… yes, I’m ready to go now.”

Thanks for reading. Seriously, thanks. That’s all anybody who writes wants anyway.