Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gene R. Westfall - my hero

I don't post really personal stuff very often.  But I've kept a journal on and off for nearly 30 years, and here is an entry about a man that I've admired for most of my life.  He died today.

March 15, 2015

Grandpa isn’t doing well.  The social worker at the home where he lives thinks he’s ‘leaving’.  Hardly a surprise, but still sad and hard to process.  He’s been through so much, and this is how it ends - with very little family, very few memories, and as weak as a kitten.  But he is loved.  And he is appreciated, probably more than he ever knew.  And as long as I live, he will be remembered.  He made a huge difference in my life, and in Mom’s, and in Lisa’s, and in Colleen’s.  And he’s one of the last of a generation that sacrificed so much.  We were never as close as I would have liked, but he’s one of my heroes.  And he’s a hero precisely because he doesn’t think he did anything heroic.

Gene R. Westfall - my grandfather.  And my hero.  I’m talking like he’s already gone, and I suppose in a way, he is.  He has been for a while.  But his body is still holding on.

We don’t know if it’s Alzheimer’s, or some other kind of dementia, but he’s a shell of the man I knew.  Such a cruel end.  At 92, all he would have left are his memories, and now those have been largely taken from him.  He barely remembers my Grandma.  He doesn’t remember his second wife at all.  He gets me confused with my uncle, the one who died decades ago.  Most amazing and disturbing, though, he doesn’t remember being in the Army.  His time in the Army and as a POW in WWII were as much a part of his identity as his own name.  He gave time and money to the American Legion and to the VFW for longer than I’ve been alive.

Maybe it’s a blessing that he doesn’t remember the war, but his organizations were such a big part of his life.  And now, all of it is gone - his friends, most of his family.  The people who knew him when he was himself can be counted on one hand - me, Lisa, Mom, Colleen.  And Lisa and Colleen only saw him a handful of times.  One man, who thought himself so ordinary, made such an impact on so many other lives.  It makes me sad for the men who didn’t survive the war, who didn’t get to come home and have families and grow old.

I asked him once if he had survivor’s guilt.  It was an impolite question, but I was young and didn’t know any better.  He did.  He wondered why he got to continue and the others didn’t.  That’s the brutality of war, though.  There was no reason.  He could have very easily been one of the countless dead, and I know that at one time, that weighed on him.

He fought his demons with alcohol and drugs after he came home, like so many former soldiers.  In spite of what he thought of himself, he was strong, and he carved out a life, raised a family, stayed engaged with the world.  He lived on his own into his late 80s, even though he probably shouldn’t have been alone for some of that.

I didn’t mean to make this entry all about Grandpa, but I’ve not written a lot about him before, and I wanted to get this down while it’s fresh in my mind.  And he deserves to be written about.  I don’t know if anyone will ever read this journal, but maybe someday, even after I’m gone, someone will read his name, say it out loud, and remember what he did, what so many of them did, and what so many of them sacrificed.

I’ll have to look through my notebooks.  I asked him about the war once, on a car trip to visit his Aunt, the woman who raised him, when she was in a home.  I wrote down everything I thought was important.  He remembered names of places, names of ships, dates, unit numbers.  I know I have it, but it’s probably packed up right now.  When I find it, I’ll put it here in hopes that someone, maybe Colleen, will be interested enough to do a little research, to read about what he experienced.

My little problems seem pretty insignificant compared to the life of a WWII soldier.  Maybe it would be good for me to remember that once in a while.

Be at peace, Gene Westfall.  And thank you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

NaNoWriMo - Yeah, about that....

Ok, so I didn't get to 50,000.  Didn't even get to 15,000.  I have no excuses.  I fell victim to the enemy of writers everywhere - or maybe only my enemy - apathy.

I got off to a great start - but life gets in the way, as it has a tendency to do.  And once I fell behind, each day it got a little easier to put it off.  Before I knew it, I was so far behind that it was simpler to write it off (again) than to try to dig myself out.

In my defense, seasonal depression is a bitch.  That's not a good enough reason, though.  I allowed time to get away from me, and I wasn't dedicated enough to try to run it down.

But with the warmer weather and the rapid approach of Spring, I'm ready to try again.  I'm fortunate that, for the time being, I don't have to depend on my writing to make a living.  At the same time, that luxury makes it way too easy to let weeks, months, slip away.

So this is my promise to you, my readers, who for the moment may only exist in my mind - I am rededicating myself to this craft that I love and admire and fear so much.  I hope you'll join me for the ride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day Eleven

Well, I'm officially WAY behind on this year's novel.  If I were on track, I'd be at around 18K words, and I have just about half of that.

But, I'm not willing to concede defeat just yet.  Work stuff, cat stuff, health stuff not withstanding, there is still time to catch up.

This year's work is not likely to ever see publication, at least not in its present form.  The novel this year is a mishmash of incomplete ideas and sudden, whiplash inducing changes in direction.  I guess it's a distillation of some of the weird shit I've been reading in the last few months, mixed up with the frustration that comes with seeing most every idea I've had blow up in my face.

It's part smut, part philosophy, and nearly all unedited stream of consciousness.  It's the kind of thing I'd write all the time if I could find a way to permanently ignore or disable the inhibitions that always seem to crop up when I try to do something creative.

You could call it perfectionism, or lack of talent, or even laziness, and all of those descriptions are accurate, but none of them are complete.  But it's much simpler, and much more complicated than any of them.  It's plain old, garden variety, paralysis-inducing Fear.

And it's the devious little demon that runs my life.  It thinks it's protecting me, I suspect.  But that little bastard Fear has done me dirty for a long, long time.

This is the part of the piece where I should claim that I'm taking my life back from Fear, but I don't like to lie.  The best I can do right now is fight it to a draw, and try to regroup for the next battle.

How's that for a painfully stretched analogy?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day Six

Second and last day of the equipment install at the EDJ.  Gonna get a real night's sleep and be ready to face my word deficit Friday night and over the weekend.  It's no harder than waiting until the last minute to work on a report for school.  I'll be back on track by Sunday, no sweat.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day Five

Today's a wash.  I knew it would be.  EDJ (that's Evil Day Job, if you didn't know) ran me ragged with new equipment installs today, so I'm taking a non-NaNo evening.  I'll have plenty of time this weekend to catch up.