For years I felt guilty about breaking the heirloom toys my stepfather’s mother had preserved, relics of another era. I can still remember the excitement of lifting each object out of the boxes where they had been stored, bringing them to life again: tiny china dishes with hand-painted flowers; a miniature stagecoach carrying riders and pulled by horses; dolls with porcelain faces and hands, features frozen in smiles, dressed in stylish Victorian gowns; a doll house with elegant furniture and a family.
I played with these treasures for hours, intrigued with the delicate precision it took to make them. The gold-plated stagecoach with ornate trim had figures riding inside, women wearing long silk dresses over layers of petticoats, real human hair twisted into coiffures under hats that bobbed like ships on the waves beneath. The men wore tight-fitting, long-tailed black suits, collars and cuffs shockingly white in the stagecoach’s dark interior.
Gradually I dismantled or broke the stagecoach and other objects. First I pulled out the riders one by one so I could examine them minutely. However, I wasn’t satisfied only to look; I had to inspect each seam, which meant I ended up with raw material that was unrelated to anything else—bits of cloth; arms; legs; strands of hair; tiny shoes. Lives stripped of society, reduced to their individual parts, were scattered into the four corners of my room, along with the dust balls.
While my behavior could be interpreted as destructive, “acting out” whatever deeper needs weren’t being met by my family life, I believe curiosity motivated me more than a desire to demolish. If hostility was involved, it served an instinctual need to examine closely objects that reflected a world that no longer existed, or if it did, it was only in my imagination. It may have been my first act as a writer.
Unfortunately, what I destroyed so methodically I could not reconstruct. This was the tragic lesson I learned at four. I was not yet capable of seeing the underlying patterns that would have helped me reassemble the toys. So I was left with the ruins.
But as an adult I can enter those rooms I played in as a child and rescue all the discarded parts of those magnificent heirlooms. They have resided in me over the years, the tiny stagecoach door with glass windows, the spokes from the wheel reduced to useless sticks—these remnants from my past and that of my stepfather’s mother merge in my memory.
Now I pick up each object and study it with care. But as a child, I didn’t know that life could be stripped down, reduced to its parts in much the same way as the toys I destroyed. They were models for such a process. I didn’t realize that tearing down was important, that I was acting out of a natural instinct—to live is to destroy. Cells are destroyed constantly in order to create new ones. Love, which unites, also destroys: illusions, former loves, the image of a perfect love. Nor had I discovered yet the god-like creative ability we possess that enables us to pick up the pieces of our fragmented lives and re-form them.
Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.
My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing. I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all. I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week. We are so fortunate here at the Lake now. The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript. Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.
Here is a synopsis:
Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.
A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.
Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.
In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.
Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.
But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.
Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.