My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.
I’ve been booking readings in senior residences for several months because one of Fling!’s main characters, Bubbles, is a feisty and fun-loving 90. I’ve hoped that Bubbles would inspire these older readers to share her zest for life and her unwillingness to “go gentle into that good night,” as Dylan Thomas insisted of his father in his poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Thomas states that “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
But instead of me riding in on my white charger to motivate these older adults, I’m the one that is being moved by a group of seniors that are often overlooked in this culture. Though many of them move into an assisted living facility because they need extra care, some can still handle independent living quarters that often are part of this world. And it appears there are as many of these establishments as there are financial means.
As an audience, they are generally very attentive and eager to hear the stories I bring that relate to my youth, the novel and its characters, what lead to be writing it, and any tidbits I have about the writing process itself. They ask thoughtful questions about the book and about publishing. And some of them also buy Fling!
During the reading I ask them questions about why they read and their origins. After, several will stay and chat with me, wanting me to hear some of their stories as well. One woman bought two copies of the novel for her daughters. She seemed sturdy and high functioning, but she told me she had vertigo whenever she turned her head or looked down, so her own reading is limited. Yet she wasn’t complaining. It was a condition she had learned to live with.
At another venue, a 96 year-old man who looked years younger came up after the presentation and told me he had graduated from the University of San Francisco, an institution where I have taught for 30 years, in 1943. He showed me his diploma, written completely in Latin, a language that all graduates had to learn before they could graduate. I was impressed not only by the diploma but by him and his continuing enthusiasm for life.
When I had completed a reading in Martinez, CA, an area where a lot of Italian Americans have settled, I spoke with a woman from that heritage. She told me she had worked as a secretary for 30 years at the Bank of America. At first, her boss tried to correct her grammar and spelling, but he soon learned that she knew more than he did. She had been an A+ student in high school and had mastered English. She asked him not to correct her work any longer, and he didn’t! But it was brave of her to challenge her male boss at that time, and it pleased me he had listened to her.
Each one of these individuals has a compelling story to tell. I haven’t even scratched the surface here. I just wish I had the time and means to record them all and share them with readers. Meanwhile, if you’re a writer and want a welcoming place to share your work, do consider these senior living places. You won’t be disappointed.