The last fiction post on this blog is dated two days before my wife tripped and fell, leading to almost six months in hospitals and rehab centers and culminating in her death. As I look back at the few (six?) fiction posts during the first half of 2020, I realize I changed the format of what had once been fiction vignettes. Instead of snippets that might have been extracted from short stories, virtually all of the posts I labeled fiction in 2020 more closely resembled marketing blurbs one might find on the back covers of paperbacks. My “fiction” had devolved into outlines that might have set the stage for stories, but were not stories themselves.

A closer look at earlier fiction posts reveals the trend began quite some time ago. I wrote descriptions of what could become fiction, not actual fiction; as if I were writing query letters to editors, attempting to sell ideas about short stories. A few pieces were sufficiently involved that they might have been queries in pursuit of book deals. One, in particular, still rattles around in my head on a regular basis. I’ve written several pieces about my fictional town of Struggles, Arkansas. There’s too much in my head to limit my writing to a vignette or a short story. The story of  the people and history of Struggles’ is too complex to fit into either. If the story ever is to be told in its entirety, it will require a book-length manuscript and a long, leisurely evening when I have access to plenty of wine and I am in the mood to talk through it.

I do not recall who said it, but I understand and embrace the idea with a passion: I do not so much want to write as to have written. Or something along those lines. I love to write, but I think I must have writer’s AADD; I have neither the discipline nor the patience it would take to stay focused on writing long enough to finish an idea, much less a manuscript. My writing is much better suited to serving as a patchwork quilt of unrelated stories, essays, ruminations, and such. Like this blog, for instance. No dedicated, long-term commitments; just free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness expressions of what’s on my mind at the moment.

But even that formlessness has suffered since the seriousness of my wife’s illness became obvious. I have been distracted in the extreme, all the while attempting to direct my thoughts elsewhere. Yet the fact that my normal process got derailed even before my wife’s fall suggests something else precipitated my departure from the tracks. I think I may know what it is, but I’m not prepared to write about it publicly. “It” constitutes several matters, all of which joined forces at just the right time to cause me to reexamine who and why I am. Perhaps I am not a writer at all. Instead, I can write reasonably well, but perhaps I do it only because I can use writing as “proof of value” unavailable otherwise; not because I want to. That sounds like I am fishing for pity, but that’s not it. I’m simply thinking with my fingers, the only way I can do it well.


My appointment with my cardiologist yesterday went well. As expected, he told me I should get more exercise. And he offered perfunctory condolences on the death of my wife, who also was his patient. His nurse did not mention my wife’s death. A day or two after my wife died, I left voice messages for both of them to inform. Both my wife’s primary care physician and her nurse sent sympathy cards to me; not the cardiologist and his nurse. The cardiologist’s failure to send a card bothered me, I think, because I believe physicians, in whose hands their patients’ lives are literally placed, should take a personal interest in their patients’ lives and deaths and should acknowledge both.

I should not have let myself go down that path this morning. It’s not a good way to start the day, flooded with tears and anger. And it does absolutely no good. I cannot change the past and I cannot control anyone’s behavior but my own. If I tell myself those things enough, perhaps I will acknowledge the truth in them. It’s interesting to me that my annoyance with the doctor and his nurse really have little to do with my wife; I would feel just as offended if I learned they failed to more compassionately acknowledge the death of a patient who was a stranger to me.


The process of dealing with the business of death drags on. Yesterday, during a church board meeting on Zoom, I got a call from someone who, had I not picked up, might have taken weeks to reach again. The dozens of interactions involving third parties who must get involved with administrative matters can be frustrating. Those interactions interfere with other matters and otherwise intrude on my ability to live a freer and less confining life. I want to feel free to take a road trip. And I want to have tax preparation behind me. And I want to speak fluent Spanish and Norwegian. I want. I want. I want.


Guilt is a bitch. Or, perhaps, it’s not guilt, it’s the thoughts or actions that trigger it. Or maybe it’s one’s reactions to or interpretations of thoughts or actions.


This evening I have a video call with a nephew, his wife, and his mother. Video calls, while not as satisfying as face-to-face engagement, are far more satisfying than telephone or email or text messages. But, for some reason, they seem (to me) to take more mental energy to get prepared than the other electronic counterparts.


At a friend’s urging, I watched  the documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” last night (Netflix). It was both fascinating and frightening.  I recommend it. While it incorporates some fairly lame visual/verbal similes, the arguments and assertions made about the dramatic impacts of social media on our lives and the way we think and act are stunning and thought-provoking.


An online friend of whom I am growing increasingly fond sent me a link to a series of deeply interesting Word Jazz programs. I share it here because the extent to which I find these programs fascinating and freeing says something positive about us (I think).


The seven o’clock hour is approaching, an hour suited to cooking breakfast sausage and poaching or soft-boiling an egg. I might even forego the sausage and have two soft-boiled eggs, instead. There’s something extraordinarily civil about eating a soft-boiled egg from an egg cup and using a piece of rye toast to soak up a bit of the semi-liquid yolk. When I do that, I feel like I’ve maintained at least a modest connection to times long gone by. If that’s an odd association, so be it.


Apparently, pandemonia is not a legitimate word. It should be. It would describe, perfectly, this post and so many like it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Pandemonia

  1. Yes. I get it, Teresa. Pandemonia is variously accepted and rejected as a plural for pandemonium, depending on the source you consult. I think the word is a combination of Latin and Greek roots, by the way. What’s a “nooun?” I think you spent less time on English and more on Latin. 😉

  2. Teresa says:

    It’s pandemonium. A neuter nooun. Likely you didn’t take Latin.

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