The Real Thing

I returned home today from spending some time at a recently built rental home on the Oxnard, California, beach with a wonderful view overlooking the harbor and ocean. You would think I might miss the incredible views and location, as well as the house, brimming with technological toys. But I don’t. It’s a relief to return to our simple Richmond abode, built in the 1940s.

Yet the thing I miss the least is the shower. Instead of stepping into our bathtub enclosure that has an old-fashioned standard showerhead, in Oxnard there were six knobs to try and figure out as well as two showerheads. When we visited Seville, Spain, a few years ago, I faced a similar situation. Assuming I could figure out how to use it, I innocently stepped into the shower and turned on something that shot out a burst of ice-cold water. I flinched so strongly it caused my feet to go out from under me. In an attempt to break my fall, I ended up wrenching my shoulder. It took a year and several months of intensive physical therapy to recover from that adventure.

This time I played it safe, refusing to enter the stall until I knew exactly what to expect. I suppose I should have been thrilled with so many options. But I didn’t care about reading the dial next to the showerhead that told me the water temperature. The numbers didn’t make much sense to me. Nor did I want to worry that I might accidentally turn the wrong knob and freak myself out again. All I wanted was a simple shower.

I must admit, though, I enjoyed raising and lowering the living room and kitchen blinds with a remote. Just pressing one button usually did the job. And I suppose it was interesting to have a gas fireplace that emulated a real one. It’s designed to only light up if you don’t want heat too. (The owners had installed something similar in the downstairs bathroom above the jetted bathtub. Go figure!) So I could sit there on a warm summer evening and pretend I was watching a real fire.

None of this makes much sense to me. I’m not a Luddite exactly. I love my laptop and android phone. I bless the ease with which I can research almost anything in minutes by calling on the Google guru. I wouldn’t give up any of these technologies. But I’m realizing I do have limits. Some things don’t need to be jazzed up or taken into the space age. I’m perfectly happy to climb into our shower, turn on the water until the temperature feels right, and not have to worry that I’ll turn the wrong knob.

Something deeper seems to be happening here. Instead of trusting in our senses and internal temperature gauge, we’re allowing our tools to rule us. Tech trumps touch. A new authority rules our lives, and it enslaves us. Big brother is no longer just watching but also controls how we live. We could become so conditioned to believe in the inauthentic (the pretend fire in the pretend fireplace) that we won’t recognize the real thing when it occurs. That worries me more than anything.


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.

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