Edward Gorey Lives!

4_writers_goreyI haven’t talked about Edward Gorey much on my blog (except for here and here). I apologize for that. It was a terrible oversight and I aim to remedy that right now.

Gorey was a brilliant author and artist, well known for his abecedaries, his limericks, his crosshatched illustrations, and his morbid sense of humor. He was a genius and I’d count him among my influences (should I someday write something worth reading and become famous, this will save critics some time in deciding who my influences were).

Unfortunately, he died. That keeps happening to my favorite authors.

And yet, he lives again! Well, after a fashion.

Thank you, College Humor for bringing Gorey back to life through Death himself. Beautiful.

Chubby Bunny Deaths

From grade school through high school, I took my life in my hands semi-regularly, usually at church youth group events. I’ll blame it on peer pressure. Well, peer pressure and because we were instructed to do so by our youth group leaders. How?

Chubby Bunny.

marshmallowsThere is a game that is now banned in most thinking regions of the world called Chubby Bunny. If you don’t remember playing this game as a youngster (possibly because you suffer from memory lapses as a result of playing the game in question), let me explain it to you.

Step 1 – Put a marshmallow in  your mouth.

Step 2 – Say “Chubby Bunny” as articulately as possible.

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until you can no longer be understood, you lose any of the marshmallows, or you die.

But has anyone really died from playing this childhood game? According to Snopes.com, yes. At least two people, in fact.

In 1999, 12-year-old Catherine “Casey” Fish met a sugary end during the Care Fair at Hoffman Elementary school outside Chicago. Had she waited until the authorized time for the Chubby Bunny competition to begin, she may have lived. Instead, she stuck four marshmallows in her mouth while the class supervisor was out of the room. By the time someone got help, it was too late.

But that was just a kid who wasn’t listening to the rules, right? That would never happen to someone who should know better.

Oops. It totally did. In 2006, 32-year-old Janet Rudd’s final sugar rush happened in London, Ontario during a game at the fair.

And those are only the reported Chubby Bunny deaths. Who knows how many go unreported everyday?

Let’s talk straight for a minute. Stuffing marshmallows into your gob probably isn’t the safest thing that you can do in life. So should we stop people from playing it at parties and such? I don’t know. I don’t think kids should be coerced into playing it as I was when I was young, but I don’t think the same rules should apply for adults. People do dumb things everyday and if an adult wants to play Russian Roulette with a mouthful of puffed sugar, I’m not going to stop them. I just hope they’ll act responsibly and know when to give up.

For that matter, I wonder what dumb things I do everyday that are analogous to playing Chubby Bunny. At what point should I give up before I get myself killed or worse? I guess I’ll just trudge on in my ignorance. That’s probably best.

Anyway, I won’t be playing Chubby Bunny.

Guest Post | Comic Relief with Susie Finkbeiner

susie_finkbeinerWhile I would love to claim that the blog today is 100% my work, that would be a lie. You’d see right through it. For one thing, you are smart people. For another, Susie Finkbeiner (who did write today’s post) introduces herself within the post. And I’m glad that she does, because Susie is totally worth knowing, following, and reading. Be sure to pick up her newest book, My Mother’s Chamomile, when it comes out later this month!

***

Here’s a story I hardly ever tell. But I’ll share it with you. Because, you know, you’re special. Super special because you follow Josh Mosey’s ultra fantastic blog.

My grandmothers died within days of each other. It was Spring Break of my sophomore year in college. Worst Spring Break.

Ever.

By the end of the second funeral in a week, I was exhausted. Grieving deeply. Just done.

I looked at my grandma in the casket and lost it. Completely. Fell into a total meltdown.

So, I did what all melodramatic people do in the midst of grief.

I ran.

Hands over my eyes, I ran out of the funeral chapel. Down the hall. Reason caught up with me and said, “So, uh, Susie, where are you going?”

I saw a room with couches. It looked like as good a place as any to sob. So, I went in. Sat down. Cried and cried and cried.

“Susie?” My cousin Eric stood next to me.

“Oh, Eric. It’s just so hard.”

“Um. Yeah.”

“It’s been such a terrible, horrible week.” My voice wobbled with more sobs.

“I bet.”

Now. My family isn’t all that emotionally demonstrative. I mean, I am. But not the men. They’re a bit calmer. Subdued.

But, “I bet”? Really?

“Aren’t you sad?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Eric lowered his voice. “But…um…this isn’t the place for you.”

“That is exactly how I feel, Eric. I don’t feel like I belong in this place of grief, either. No one does. But it’s part of life. You know?”

“I mean, you don’t belong here.” He looked back and forth. “I mean, you shouldn’t be in here. It’s the men’s bathroom.”

I looked up and saw that what he said was true. How had I not seen (or smelled) the urinals on the wall across from me?

***

Death itself isn’t funny. Grief doesn’t tickle. It hurts. Right?

But sometimes funny things happen to us when we grieve.

Someone remembers a story about Grandpa popping out his bridge and scaring all the grandkids.

A child (probably one of those grandkids Grandpa scared) says something WILDLY inappropriate in the middle of the funeral prayer.

We notice that the magazine on Grandma’s side table had Tom Selleck on the cover and our older sister says, “She died a happy woman”. (It was a TV Guide. Yes, that makes me old).

Sometimes, we get a little dose of comic relief.

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Releasing February 15

My novel My Mother’s Chamomile (releasing February 15 with WhiteFire Publishing) is about a family of funeral directors. Death and grief are their job.

I tried my very hardest to write in some humor. To give my readers a little break. A chance to breathe.

Quirky character here. Physical humor there. Sarcasm and puns and a cranky octogenarian.

I believe that in the middle of mourning, we need mercy.

Sometimes that mercy comes to us as a laugh or a funny story we’ll tell for years.

Do you have any funny funeral stories?

***

Bio: Susie Finkbeiner is a wife and mother living in the beauty of West Michigan. When she’s not busy writing, she enjoys playing Scrabble with her husband, zoo trips with her kids, coffee dates with good friends, and quiet moments to read. Susie is the author of Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile, both published by WhiteFire Publishing. Susie is represented by Ann Byle at Credo Communications.

Requiem for a Chinchilla

DeAnne and I wanted pets that were apartment friendly during our first year of marriage. I forget who suggested it, but we settled on chinchillas. After a bit of research, we discovered a chinchilla breeder who lived a few towns over from us. We decided to get two of the cute, little fuzzballs because we read somewhere that they enjoy being in pairs much more than being alone.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with chinchillas, here’s a brief description: Imagine an animal with a face like a large mouse and a tail like a squirrel, about the size of a guinea pig, with hair as soft as dreams, and it jumps like a kangaroo. They can live as long as a dog (but they eat a lot less). They’re nocturnal (so I wouldn’t suggest having them in your bedroom, as we did for a brief time). And if you treat them well, they are as docile as a kitten.

They’re good pets.

We met the chinchilla breeder and drove off with two chinchillas, a black one we named Reed and a grey one we named Alex. And though we didn’t know it at the time, we had picked out a male and a female. Thankfully, we never had to deal with chinchilla babies because they never got on in that way (only about 1/3 of chinchillas breed).

Reed and Alex were with us when we moved out of our apartment and into a home. They saw us get a hamster (Bigfoot) and a dog (Cole). They were around for the loss of one child and the births of two more.

But now, there’s just Reed. Alex has gone to Chinchilla Heaven.

We had a mini-memorial last night. It was a way for us to say goodbye, to try to help our two-year-old daughter understand that she wouldn’t see Alex anymore. That he was gone.

“He’s gone?” she would ask.

“Yup,” I said. “Alex is gone. He’s in Chinchilla Heaven now.”

“He disappeared?” she asked.

“No,” I said, grasping. “His body is here, but he’s in Chinchilla Heaven now. You know how sometimes your toys’ batteries die? Well, Alex’s batteries died and we don’t have a good way to recharge or replace them. He’s gone.”

“He’ll be back tomorrow at six o’clock,” she said.

I don’t know where she got that, and I hope for everyone’s sake that it isn’t true.

“Nope, he’s gone. We just said goodbye. He won’t be coming back.”

And with that, Alex is gone. He’s in chinchilla heaven. He was a great pet, and I feel bad that he’s gone. Mostly for Reed, though they never mated, they were close.

Anyway, goodbye Alex.

Chinchilla

On the Origin of Mortgage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy wife and I bought our house just before the housing bubble burst. At the time, we thought we were getting a pretty good mortgage rate. Oh, those were the days.

Since then, we’ve been chipping away at the mortgage, suffering through PMI, and hoping against hope that we might qualify for some sort of refinancing miracle to bring our rates down. Now, we aren’t struggling to make ends meet or anything, but the more we can apply to the principle of our mortgage, the faster we can pay it off, and that is just good sense.

At a recent visit to the bank, we brought up the question of refinancing to the bank employee. Things still don’t look great for the miracle mortgage reduction, but the whole process got me thinking about the word “mortgage” itself.

When you trace it back to its Old French and Latin roots, mortgage is a compound word that is literally translated as “dead pledge”. The pledge part is understandable in reference to the modern use of the word. When we take a mortgage out from a bank, we are pledging, or promising, to pay the money back to the bank. So where does the dead part come in?

Simply stated, if you die before paying off your debt, the bank retains full ownership of the property. And if you pay off your debt to the bank, the debt is considered dead. Either way, something dies.

Just like I did a little inside when I heard what our house is currently worth according to the bank’s estimates.

Story Vs. Characters

In 1996, I saw a movie that changed my life. The movie was Independence Day, featuring Bill Pullman and Will Smith.

The part that changed my life was this: Stories revolve around the characters who live to tell them.

I remember thinking, as I left the theater, how incredible it was that with a body count as high as the movie had, none of the important characters were killed. If a character died, it was intentional, sacrificial. With lasers and bullets flying everywhere, you might have thought that SOMEONE would have been killed unintentionally, but no.

Stories are told by the living. Why would the script writer tell the story of a man who accidently died in a car accident? That would make for one sad movie.

I operated by this understanding for years. Every time someone would point out how implausible it was that all of the characters got through a war or something like that, I would think, why would the author follow the ones who died?

But then I started reading George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and all of my preconceived notions died like so many of Martin’s characters. I don’t mean to spoil the series for anyone, but if you’ve heard anything about it, you know not to get too attached to any of the characters. No one is safe from the author’s pen stroke of death.

As a man who is usually more fascinated by the characters than the story itself, this troubles me. How can I escape into a world of fantasy when it is as cruel as the real world?

Now, I know that authors use terrible events in the lives of their characters to prove their mettle and to draw readers in, but there is usually an unspoken rule that things will work out well in the end. And if the character happens to die, it will be a noble death, one that gives closure to the storyline.

But if the story is more important than the characters, then anything goes.

Which is more important to you? Story or characters? Do you ever feel cheated by the author’s choices to kill certain characters? Or would you feel cheated if things worked out TOO well for everyone?

Flash Fiction Challenge Entry | Stranded

flash_fiction_challenge_250x250Here’s my entry to the “Money Can’t Buy” prompt.

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“A compliment can buy things money can’t.”

“Buy what, exactly?” spat Ryan. “I can’t eat your kindness.”

But the old pilot was far away, loitering near the border between life and the hereafter. Ryan tired of his words, but he knew he would miss them when the only voice was his own.

The crash happened days ago. Perhaps weeks.

“Mother?”

“She isn’t here,” said Ryan. “No one is here.”

“Mother, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He sounded different, scared.

“It’s okay,” Ryan lied. “I forgive you.”

The old man’s breath halted, stopped. Glassy eyes stared past Ryan.

“I forgive you.”

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100 Word Challenge | The notes from the piano…

When eccentric recluse Otto Silversmith died, rumors ran rampant about the riches he had squirreled away. But as the workers cleared his estate, it wasn’t the money they found. It was the notes.

From the piano, a note to his nephew: “Avoid loose women.”

From beneath the kitchen sink, a note to his doctor: “Warm hands under water before exams.”

After ten, the workers laughed. After fifty, they smiled. After hundreds, they groaned. Notes in books, behind pictures, stuffed into shoes.

Thousands of notes went into the dumpster, but for the one that remained hidden.

“Word two from note in clown portrait. Word ten from…”

Joseph_Grimaldi

100 Word Challenge | It Can’t Be That Time…

Normally, I stick to the rules on length, but the story couldn’t work with less words. So, I am unapologetically posting my story as is, even though it is 50 words over the limit.

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Thursday night at the Forest View Retirement Village was Community Bingo Night, not that Harold or Clem played. They were more interested in the non-residents who came out.

“Look at her,” pointed Clem. “Face like an old cabbage.”

Harold chuckled.

“Whoa!” he cried, spotting a tall blonde in the doorway. “Never seen her before.”

Rather than join Bingo, the blonde walked directly over to the two men. Others who saw her shied away, afraid.

“You know where I can find Roger?” she asked. Clem pointed.

“New nurse?” whispered Harold, as she walked away.

“I wish,” said Clem. “Maybe a girlfriend?”

“Ha! No, it can’t be that. Time hasn’t been that kind to Roger’s wrinkled face.”

“Hmm,” said Harold, guessing her true identity.

The next morning, the staff shared the news of Roger’s death. Heart attack, but he had a smile on his face when they found him.

Death doesn’t always carry a scythe after all.

I am a father.

Josh, DeAnne w/ Internal Baby, and AdieThere is a question that I get asked from time to time, mostly from strangers or acquaintances with whom I have not spoken in a while. It is an innocent enough question, but it throws me for a loop every time it is asked. I have no idea how to answer it.

The question is this: “How many kids to you have?”

The answer is three. Or one. Or possibly two. It depends on how close we are, or how unprepared I am for the question, or how you view the moment when a life comes into being.

Here’s the thing. My wife and I lost our first daughter, Addison Paige, when my wife was 7 months pregnant with her. Doctors ran tests and couldn’t find any obvious reasons why she died. One day, my wife was feeling lots of movement, I was reading The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh to her tummy, and we were searching for the right crib and bedding set. The next day, she was gone.

It was a tough time. My work gave me the week off to take care of my family. But rather than giving her the six weeks time off to which she was entitled, my wife’s boss asked if she was going to come in two days later and whether she could pick up a shift a few days after that (she said no). My wife was also in college and this happened right at exam time.

Friends and family rallied around us. Money that was going to go for a crib went toward a headstone. Our pastor got to perform his first funeral (he’s a young guy). We grieved. We were cared for.

After some time had passed, we tried again. On October 1st, 2010, our second daughter, Adelaide November, was born, healthy and large as life itself.

The whole pregnancy, up to the moment when we heard her first cry in the delivery room, my wife and I now felt mixed emotions on being pregnant. It was an exciting deal, but there was no assurance that we would get to keep this baby. I guess that’s just something you deal with as a parent of a child who died.

Around the time Adie turned one, we were ready to try for another child. Honestly, I was ready before my wife was, but we both got there in the end. As of this post, my wife is very ready to have our third daughter, [NAME REDACTED], in July. We have her room all ready. Adie has no idea what is going on, but at least she won’t remember a time when she was the only child. We’re looking forward to bringing another little girl home.

So, the question. How many kids do you have?

I have three. But the answer isn’t as simple as that. People who see my family all together can count. They see one child running around. If they are smart, they see my pregnant wife and figure out that I am counting our baby-to-be-born. But the third, that requires a story. It is a personal story that makes people say things like “I’m sorry,” and “I didn’t know.”

It would be easier to say that we have one right now and one on the way. At least then the visible numbers would add up. But is it right?

I don’t know. That’s why the question is hard. It forces me to decide whether or not to share a personal story that may or may not make the asker feel uncomfortable.

Today is Father’s Day, a festive day necktie-giving and breakfast in bed, but I can’t help but wonder how many fathers are in the same boat as me, unsure of how to celebrate being a father when one of your children is gone. Time may cover the wound, but it never fully heals. You never stop thinking about what could have been, and how old she would be now.

So to those fathers, Happy Father’s Day. Someday you’ll see your kids again.