Writing Practice 5/22/2018

My cat just threw up on my bedroom floor…

I don’t need to see the evidence. I’ve heard the telltale echoes far too many times to pretend not to know what’s going on. It’s always the same – bastard comes in from a day of being outside and chows down too fast that it upsets his prissy little stomach. Then it takes about 10 minutes of upset, and his body begins the rejection sequence. It starts with vocalizations – Hyurk – Hyurk – Hyurk, that sound eerily similar to us Homo sapiens when we are wrong-waying our undesirables out of our stomach, too. The pulsating rhythms accelerate: HyurkHyurkHyurkHyurk – and then comes the money shot – a longer, drawn-out note, like at the climax of a good minuet – Hyuuuuuuuurrrk! And then a splatter, as if Slimer just materialized on my floor.

I know if I go over there and look I’ll find a pile, mostly dry, of pellet-like substance. Mostly dry because the pellets have absorbed some of the stomach acids, but not so much that they start disintegrating, so they’ll still have most of their shape. Based on the juiciness of the splat, too, I know there will be a moderate amount of liquid associated, sliding down the whole grain-meat-and-vegetable-infused mountain in slow rivulets, pooling gracefully on the floor. I often give such a performance a few minutes to congeal slightly in the air, evaporating off just a bit of that excess moisture, before I clean it up. I find this is a much more appealing option, as the times when I have rushed immediately tot scene, like a Bounty paper towel commercial, I simply end up pushing the mess around more often than I do wipe it up on the first try.

So, congratulations, cat, you just made my night. You gave me something unique to write about – how to describe vomit in an interesting, appealing mind-image way. I wouldn’t expect any less of you.

This Is Terrible Writing. Not This Post Itself, But This Article I’m Writing About … You Know What I Mean

Yesterday I was browsing around the web and clicked on one of my bookmarks. It’s an article from Metro, titled “The 11 Essential Documentaries of 2017.” Now, I haven’t seen any of these. I haven’t even read the article fully. But at some point, earlier this year, I saw that headline and probably thought, You know what? I should watch more documentaries, rather than Hollywood big-budget experiences leaving me empty inside afterwards. Maybe I’ll come back to this someday. [Click] – bookmarked.

So, here it is, the end of May, and I clicked back on that to see what I was supposed to remind myself of. Scanned it. Eh, probably some stuff I’ll eventually watch. Then I scrolled down a bit, to see what other things Metro has to offer. Fluff articles like “The Best NBA Basketball Players of All Time” and “If You Pay For Amazon Prime – Here’s How To Make It Even Better”. Not my thing, but not doing any harm either.

Then I saw one that might actually be something of interest.

Who is Dimitrious Pagourtzis, the Santa Fe Texas school shooter?

Now, being a father of a high school student, and three more to come in future years, this is an area of interest to me. What do we know about this kid? It’s been a couple of days. In the same amount of time after Parkland in February we were embroiled in a nationwide argument that, somehow, has been rather absent in this case. So, I wanted to know a little more about the young man. Might there be insights I could take away to use in discussions with my daughter? Might there be suggestions for how to watch for tendencies in my own kids (or their friends) that would indicate we need to intervene before they do something stupid?

Here’s a link if you wish to read the article for yourself. It won’t take long, it’s only 24 sentences, 418 words. Metro: Who is Demetrious Pagourtzis?

I won’t repeat it here. I will just make my commentary that this is in the top 3 worst pieces of writing I’ve ever seen.

Now, there are no typos here. No grammatical errors. No factual fallacies. No unjustified speculation. Taken all together, that might seem a fairly weak case for “top 3 worst pieces of writing I’ve ever seen”.

My reasons are as follows. First, Metro did absolutely nothing to create this story. They simply regurgitated facts from the Associated Press and a USA Today story. They did no investigation, no interviews, sent no representative to a press conference, or anything similar that should be expected of a journalistic enterprise. This piece was clearly written simply to have something to address the issue of the moment, to keep up with the overwhelming tidal wave of attention-grabbing that apparently passes for “news” these days. Disgusting.

Second, for a story entitled “Who is Demetrious Pagourtzis?”, I would have expected background. I would have expected an interview with his friends or classmates. Perhaps a talk with his parents, if they could be found, or a statement that such parents were not willing to talk with Metro. I’m pretty sure I’m not far off here.

However, of the article’s 24 sentences, only 6 deal with personality, background, interests, potential motive, and the like. They read as follows:

Pagourtzis was a high school football player at Santa Fe High School, USA Today reported. He played defensive tackle on the junior varsity football team. Pagourtzis was also a dancer with a local Greek Orthodox church group, according to the report.

However, Pagourtzis’s online persona wasn’t nearly as wholesome as his extracurricular activities. Social media accounts, which have since been removed, reportedly showed Pagourtzis’ fascination with firearms, a knife and a custom-made T-shirt that had the words “Born to Kill” written on it. One photo allegedly showed a coat that depicted a Nazi insignia, USA Today reported.

Two facts: football player and dancer with the Greek Orthodox church group. The other elements there are speculation, based on “alleged” social media accounts.

Everything else in this article is about the facts of the day: where he was when arrested, the suspicion of an accomplice, Donald Trump’s Twitter response, quotes from other students in the high school. These do nothing to bring to light who Pagourtzis was or why he might have done this. Not a whole lot I, or any other parent or concerned community member, can go on in creating meaningful conversations around the issue. In fact, it is completely useless to me or to anyone else reading it. [Other than as fodder for this rant, obviously.]

Finally, my last problem with this article: At the end it says “Reuters contributed to this report.” I can only imagine that’s pure bullshit. If Reuters, an international news agency with a high-class reputation, knew that their name was on this filth, they’d likely sue for defamation.

It was a waste of Metro‘s time to create this article (they probably paid some content freelancer like $8 to pump out this in under an hour), and a waste of my time to read it. But, apparently there’s some kind of market for such things, for Metro is still going strong, with enough worldwide market share that they keep up appearances. According to them, “Metro is published in more than 100 major cities across Europe, North & South America and Asia . Metro has a unique global reach — attracting a young, active, well-educated Metropolitan audience of more than 18 million daily readers.”

So who’s worse? The audience who pretends to demand such imbecilic pablum in order to soothe their own infantile attention span just one more minute, or the money-grubbing marketers and internet bandwidth prostitutes who profit from their naivete and simplicity every step of the way? I can’t tell.

Writing Practice – 5/11/2018

Telling Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, p 693

Around that time – because of numerous dislocations in the Valley, the abrupt abandoning of homes, for instance – it happened that packs of dogs began to roam around looking for food, particularly by night.

They moved and merged like flocks of sparrows on the wing, turning as if one, ducking down into an alley or crossing a street or huddling under a bridge, in a kind of near-union that the observers, themselves holed up in the remaining places, could never quite fully grasp. Were there ten dogs? Or a hundred? Did they travel mostly at night? Well, some did. Did they hunt or scavenge? Yes, both, and neither. Did they have a leader? A central hub or den? Did they ever pair off and mate, or was this the moment simply for survival, and procreation would be saved for more generous, fatter times?

They watched from their squatting places, huddled upon the third or fifth or eighth floors of the abandoned apartments, doors at the ground level tightly closed and double-locked against the potential for canine invasion.

They waited and watched, and they ate their scavenged foods, and they smoked their improvised cigarettes, and, unlike (or, perhaps, exactly like) the dogs, they fucked, but it was a half-hearted endeavor, one which was more for something to do than to create any new life, for, (and in that way they were exactly like the dogs) they saw in themselves nothing of worth and value to pass onto the next generation, save a fighting, surviving spirit.

Such a spirit would come in useful during lean times. Such a spirit actually was coming in useful during this lean time. And, as nobody really knew much about the outside world anymore, what with radio, television, internet communications cut off and overland travel still too dangerous, nobody bringing news of the lands beyond the city gates had arrived in more than a year. So their isolation grew.

Like a population of animals, separated by a physical boundary, like a river or a mountain, they, too, began to adapt to their unique environment and carve out specializations, niches which gave them slightly better chances of survival.

Nico, he got the cigarettes. Nobody else seemed to be able to find them, but he always had a pack on him. When asked, he would shrug his shoulders, as if they appeared by magic in his pack, but everyone else knew he was just better at that sort of thing.

Kyle excelled at scavenging food. From only partly moldy bread to relatively okay preserved meats and cheeses, they didn’t starve, and time enough had passed that they no longer complained about the steady diet, even if all of them remembered things like chocolate cake, beer, and a napkin.

Tobi and Karen provided the sex. Each one either took or gave as necessary, and it really wasn’t that bad, if your eyes were closed and you pretended it was your girlfriend from before.

And Zenney, she provided the hope. Preached it daily. Stood out on the stoop, eyes wide, arms stretched to the sun, and sang, songs of regeneration, renewal, paradise, whatever she could think to keep the despair at bay for one more sunset.

There were others, too. There were always others. But these were the most special, because they survived the longest, to tell their stories. The rest lived, and died, and were remembered, then forgotten. And that was how it should be.

The Most Interesting Person in Mexico

A couple of weeks ago I went to Cancun, Mexico for a short vacation. Going in, I deluded myself that I’d do a few hours of work in the morning, then relax in the afternoon. Yeah, right. Who’s gonna work when you can look at this all day?

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So I didn’t work. My buddy Troy, who’d invited 50 different friends, called me “the 2%” all week. Because I was the only one willing to come down and hang out in the tropics, sitting on the beach, reading a book by the pool, enjoying the scenery.

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The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX

 

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The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX

Oh, and speaking of scenery, the landscapes are pretty nice, too! 😉

We met a bunch of people. This is Dave, Stacey, and Troy on Monday at Isla Mujeres.

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I met a turtle in her pond who wouldn’t leave me alone.

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I met a couple, Max and Brittney, who had come down from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Troy’s city. Imagine, flying 2,000 miles and across the Gulf of Mexico, to meet someone who lives just a few doors down from you. And not only that, but this couple had a connection to me, too. Last August, on a whim, they drove a half a day to come down to this area and watch the eclipse at the same amphitheater in Chesterfield where I watched it.

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Ian Wardlaw

You might be thinking they’re the most interesting people I met in Mexico, but you’re wrong.

Perhaps you think it’s the friends from New Jersey (where my mother grew up and I still have nice memories of visiting as a child). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s the whole group of friends / frenemies that Troy and I hung out with a few times over the week, laughing and drinking cerveza and telling jokes and them smoking. (Hint – a couple of them are in that first picture above). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s Janet and her daughter Billie, who Troy ended up spending a lot of time with, over the week. Janet bought us dinner on Monday at the resort. Pretty sweet! But no, she was not the most interesting person I met.

Perhaps you think it’s Kyle (I think), the iguana who peed on my hand on my tour of Tolum.

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Nope.

Maybe the people I met at the cenote, the freshwater reservoir where we ate lunch and swam after Tolum?

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Strike three! (Four?)

Maybe the tour guide, Carlos, who showed us how the sun can be viewed through a piece of obsidian. Still not the most interesting person I met.

No, the most interesting person I met was someone else. I met her after I climbed up the pyramid at Coba:

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And had to stop a couple of times to let my fear subside. I’m not usually scared of heights, but that was a little precarious. After we butt-scooted back down, we made our way out to the front of the park in groups of two or three. There I bought a frozen fruit pop and rested a bit.

Within a few moments I saw a woman standing by her bicycle. Mid-twenties and slim, she looked a little out of place compared to all the rest of the white European tourists in groups of ten or more, and very out of place compared to the shorter Mexican citizens.

Her bicycle was loaded on the front and rear wheels with bags. And it looked like she was on a tour. I decided to be nosy.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, sure.” Her accent sounded French, but we spoke in English, as most people there do.

“Are you on a tour?” I pointed to the bicycle.

“Yes, of course.” Her demeanor seemed almost dismissive, as if I was asking if the sky was blue.

“By yourself?” I couldn’t see anyone else on a similar bicycle, and she didn’t look like she was waiting for a group.

“Well, I had a partner for the first part of the trip, but now, yes, it is just me.”

“How long have you been going?” Expecting a few weeks.

“Ahm, about six months now.” My eyes popped open. This is not the first time I’ve met someone on a long-term tour (there was a guy going through here from California to Maryland last summer). But it is the first time I’ve known of a non-native doing it across thousands of miles in a strange country, all alone.

Color me dazzled. Or is it “be-dazzled”? Regardless, I admired her resolve. I envied her freedom.

“Wow, very impressive. Good luck,” and I waved a short goodbye. She did the same, and turned away to purchase her ticket to go see the Coba ruins and pyramid.

And I turned away, back to my tour bus, back to my pampering in air conditioning, back to letting other people do for me instead of doing for myself.

Back to wishing I could do that.

Back to planning for the day when I can do that.

Back to yearning for the chance to go where I want, when I want, without obligations of schedule, of deadlines, of mortgage and health insurance and homeowner association fees.

Back to waiting.

Ugh.

Composing a Story – Part 2 of (?)

It’s been enough time since the first draft of a story I wrote, and now it’s time to start refining. This week I read through again, made some notes about things I’d like to see different or changed, and made some revisions.

A couple of times I’ve seen this (Stephen King comes to mind):

2nd Draft = First Draft (minus) 10%

So I often target at least cutting out 10% of the words. This usually makes the prose tighter, removes a scene or two, and generally moves things a long a little faster.

Here’s an example paragraph.

Before

It stood silently in the hallway, apparently staring at the number 17 screwed tightly to the frame. As Marcus watched, it raised an arm/appendage. A hand, with skin on the fingers and what looked like actual flesh at the wrist, knocked. It stepped forward, then, poised, and grasped the handle of the — what –-sickle? No. Scythe? Yeah, that was it.

After

It stood, staring at the number 17 bolted to the frame. It raised an arm/appendage. A hand, with skin on the fingers and actual flesh at the wrist, knocked. It stepped forward and grasped the handle of the — what –- sickle? No. Scythe? Yeah, that was it.

A bit tighter, a bit smoother. Most of the words remain, just the fluff taken out. And I did remove a few whole paragraphs, because they just didn’t make sense.

Overall, first draft: 11,420 words. Second draft: 10,200 words (10.7% cut) So I managed to meet that baseline.

There are some markets where 10,000 words would be the limit. Should I wish to submit to those, I’d have to cut just a bit more. Which, at this point, would be a scene or some action, rather than just words here and there. But I don’t think I’ll have to do that. I’m now going to ask for some feedback from readers and writers. Based on those comments, I may change again. This might be cutting a few scenes, or adding something necessary. So the fact that I’m close to an arbitrary limit doesn’t mean a whole lot at this point. We’re still in development.

Okay, here it is, the first scene. If anyone would be interested in reading the whole thing and making a critique (which is, by the way, not just saying, “I like it,” or “I hated it,”), then please let me know.

Oh, by the way – I don’t have a title yet. So we’re working with “Untitled” for now

Untitled

by Stephan James

Had he been able to pay attention, he would have noticed the semi-darkness descending upon him. For as much as the sky overhead might be attempting to transform into an overbearing, oppressive presence, the fluorescent lights along the city sidewalks pushed back against the intrusion, and would have aided his attempt to fight back.

But he was preoccupied, and could not take the moments to look up, look around, and notice the gloom slowly settling over his environment as he walked home from his office, late, on a Tuesday evening.

It was only seven blocks. Not really worth the time and money to go out of his way a block to the subway, then backtrack two more. So a nothing man walked home from a nothing job in a nothing city to a nothing apartment, listening to his now-grown-up brother whining about said brother’s wife and daughter spending too much of said brother’s money on spa trips, and all Marcus could think was At least you have someone.

As soon as he thought it, he was reminded of his counselor, a mid-fifties woman who’d been divorced and remarried, who tried to tell him that he wasn’t washed up at forty-seven, who continued to push him to see the good in his life, who would have said, “Well, Marcus, why do you continue to berate yourself like that? It’s been fifteen years. You have to let her go.”

He found the door handle and pulled, automatic, thoughts swirling through his head as they always did, overwhelming, overpowering, a tidal wave of the past and all that had been taken from him. His feet moved of their own accord, his hand pressing his cell phone to his ear, into and out of the elevator, eighteenth floor, well-trod floorboards and empty picture hangers on the wall, down the hall and turn left, voice droning on and on. He couldn’t stop thinking that maybe he’d –-

There was someone at his door.

No, something.

Some thing.

It looked to be at least a foot taller than him, wearing a hooded dark brown robe. And was that one of those farm tools with the long handle and ridiculously curved blade slung over its shoulder?

Was that Death at the door to his apartment?

Waiting?

Waiting for him?

It stood, staring at the number 17 bolted to the frame. It raised an arm/appendage. A hand, with skin on the fingers and actual flesh at the wrist, knocked. It stepped forward and grasped the handle of the — what –- sickle? No. Scythe? Yeah, that was it.

It put two hands on the scythe and stood waiting. Nothing happened. Why would it? Marcus wasn’t in his apartment, though he should have been for at least the last hour. Normally he would be sitting on his couch in his underwear, second drink in hand, mourning all that had been taken from him, television droning on unattended.

But today that phone call had distracted him, had made him stop in his office building lobby instead of heading out into the night so he could concentrate before the traffic sounds overwhelmed the conversation, had slowed his walk on the way home, had kept him from his usual routine enough so that he was now on the outside when he would have normally been on the inside, on the outside here where he could take a look at this ridiculously stereotypical picture of Death waiting to claim him, Marcus Jeffries, for the underworld or the afterlife or Heaven or Valhalla, he was outside the door and not inside and his brother’s voice came again through the phone and it startled him, startled him into movement, startled him into action, startled him into saying “I’ll call you back,” sliding the phone into his jacket pocket and taking two steps towards the monstrosity.

At the sound Death turned and pointed its hood towards him, four apartment doors away. He couldn’t see a face buried under there. The hands were veined, strong. Useful hands. Hands that did an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. He admired that. His “career” had been spent updating electronic spreadsheets to meet another’s goals. Hardly anything to be proud of, other than that he had no debts outstanding and he’d never really hurt anyone, never really done anything wrong.

Death stepped towards him and spoke. “Marcus,” and the voice was female, surprising him. Deep, and raspy like a smoker, but definitely female. “You’re late. It’s time to go.”

Marcus held up his hands in front of him. “Uh, seriously? Do you know how ridiculous this seems?”

She moved even closer and now he could see the outline of a chin in the shadows of the hood. It moved up and down. “I have little time to play, Marcus. You’re on my list, let us be done.” She was now just a few feet away. She raised the scythe above her head.

“Wait, what?” He retreated, hands still in front, and felt his pulse spike. Adrenaline flooded his system. “I’m too young to die!”

“That’s not my issue,” she said, and swung the scythe at his neck. As it moved, the blade screamed into the hallway, the sounds echoing off the corridor walls with a banshee wail. He ducked and felt the whoosh of air as the blade swooped through the space where he’d recently been. The hairs on his arms stood out, at the sound, and at his proximity to his own demise.

“Holy hell!” he shouted, surprised at the emotion. He felt so alive! He hadn’t felt like this in twenty years or more. She cocked her weapon again and approached even closer. Two more steps and he could have grabbed her robe.

She swung again, the blade howling, and this time he dropped to the floor. The point passed within inches of his face and buried itself deep into the plaster wall of the hallway, scattering white dust into the stale air. Marcus scrambled back, crablike, and around the corner, while she struggled to release the blade from its new sheath. He got to his feet and sprinted to the elevator. He felt sweat beading on his forehead, and all those fight-or-flight chemicals had him hyped up so much he thought he might levitate.

He glanced back the way he’d been, but saw nothing, heard nothing. When the door finally opened he threw himself inside, landing against a handful of people, and grasped his jacket tight to his chest. Finding his breath coming hard, he stabbed the lobby button.

And prayed for the first time in a decade.

#

Writing Practice – 5/1/2018

They say to write very day. But I don’t want to write. I want to go to sleep. I want to quit. I want to give up. I want to stop trying. I want to walk off into the sunset and never look back. I want to win the lottery so I don’t have to work any longer. I want to have a flat stomach for the first time in my life.

I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups. In a row. I want to sing in a choir again. I want to play better chess.

I want to get lost in the jungle for three days in South America, and find my way out only by traveling to the East only in the morning and eventually finding a logging road and following that down the mountain until I come to a poor, rural town that hasn’t seen a primarily English-speaking human in over a decade, and then when i get there I want to fall on the mercies of a local family and beg for food, and so they give me a bowl of stew and some bread, and meat, and we dance, and we sing all night long, because they know old 80’s Rock & Roll from America, because one time two decades ago these Christian Missionaries from Arkansas had spent like three years down there, trying to teach them to be Baptists, but they didn’t want to be baptist, they were already Catholic, so why did they need to believe a different Jesus, they already prayed to God enough so why did they have to use these new books, and the missionaries had a twelve-year-old son who didn’t really believe like they did, he just acted like he was along for the ride, and he smoked their local marijuana with them, and stole sheeps out of the neighboring villages with them, and they shared his music, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson and Madonna, and then the missionaries up and left one day, well, they gave like 2 days notice, and so the son left his tapes behind as a parting gift, and they listened to those over and over and over as they aged, and now those same rebellious teenagers of back then are in their thirties themselves, raising their own kids, trying to make their own lives, sharing generously with this gringo stranger, and so I listen to their story in Spanish, and I can catch only like every third word, because of the super-thick accent, and my own mothballed knowledge of the language, but I’m grateful, I’m gracious, I, too, smoke their pot and party all night, and when we wake up after noon the next day I say “Thanks” and “Gracias” all around, and hitch a ride back to the city with a large, quiet truck driver whose name I’ll forget, but my hosts, I’ll always remember, for their hospitality – no, for their humanity.

That’s what I want.

Extremely Bad Advice – How to Deal with Sentimentality

Stealing from Abby once again – ’cause I’m too lazy today to write a new question.

DEAR ABBY: My adult son passed away two years ago at a young age. We were very close while he was growing up. He married young, and I maintained a great relationship with both him and his wife. They gave me the most precious grandchildren any woman could ask for, and I am extremely active in their little lives.

My daughter-in-law has moved on. She met a nice young man, and they are planning to be married in the near future. Do you think I would be out of line to request to have my son’s ashes back home with me? We live near each other, I love her very much, and we still have a great relationship. I don’t want to damage it by asking this if it’s not appropriate.

I would pass his ashes on to his children when they grow up, of course, but for now, I’d love to have my son back home with me and his dad because she has started her new life. My husband is noncommittal about the subject. When I broach it, he says he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” I really have no one to ask or confide in about this. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. — STILL BROKENHEARTED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR BROKENHEARTED,

Well, what can I say? I would say I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m not. I think “sorry for your loss” is about as meaningful as “the sky is really blue today”. If I was saddened by your loss, I’d tell you that, and perhaps that would do something. If I was interested in showing how much I care about you, I’d ask, “Oh, that must be hard. What do you miss most about him?” But, again, I don’t care, because your sorrow and misery really don’t affect me on the daily. Other than to provide fodder for my advice column, for which I will gladly say, “Next victim!”

Okay, here we go. The classic dilemma – who gets to keep the crispy bacon that used to be your son’s body? Because, let’s all agree, your “son” is no longer there any more, just like the dream I used to have of being an Abercrombie & Fitch model has blown off into the wind with that first hit of the mind-altering substance known on the street as Jif Extra Crunchy. Your son disappeared from the shell that held him the moment his cranial electro-activity ceased. What he left behind was the meatbag for DNA that did its job incredibly well by providing “the most precious grandchildren” [hold on – just threw up in my mouth a little].

And in order to do that, he had to procreate with his wife, your daughter-in-law (DIL). Who is now his widow. So, for that you should be grateful to her, not jealous.

What’s left is sentimentality. I get it. People have good memories of the past, and it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to imagine that your progeny wouldn’t love you as much as you loved him. How could he? You’re a mother, and everyone knows a “mother’s love knows no bounds”. He couldn’t reciprocate your devotion to him. And he proved this by not pulling an Oedipus and fucking you! He shagged the DIL, knocked her up a couple of times, gave her good memories, and now his burnt ends occupy a silver chalice on the mantle. Good for him and her.

But – you’re a selfish hag who has nothing left in her life, and you’re trying to fill your own void by commandeering what should be left to her in order to appease your own shortcomings. As evidenced by your question to me! Don’t do this. Would you be out of line? Absolutely. Don’t do it! Leave well enough alone. Your husband “doesn’t want to talk about it” not from an ethical or emotional perspective, but simply because you’re looney-tunes and he recognizes a bear trap when he sees it.

However, because I suspect you won’t take my advice above, being as reasonable as it is, I’m going to give you a bonus recommendation of some Extremely Bad Advice. This you’ll probably do with gusto. Have fun!

Step one: Offer to babysit the grandkids for a night. Give the DIL and her new guy a chance to go out and have fun.

Step two: Prepare for the switch. Get a plastic bag, about a gallon, clear (not white), full of ashes from your backyard barbecue pit. Take along a second, empty bag for holding.

Step three: Once the kids are in bed, make the transfer. Go full Indiana Jones. Play dramatic music, sweat profusely, look over your shoulder for booby-traps.

Step four: Revel in your glory. You now have your son’s actual remains, and she, the grandkids, and your husband are none the wiser. Dare I say they might view you as a hero for how magnanimously you deal with the situation? Visit a bar and order a glass of Chablis to celebrate. Send me the bill – I’ll gladly treat you for that job well done!