Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children
A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.
What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.
Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)
Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood
Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.
That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.
Phase X – You’re it, kid!
Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.
It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?
Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…
I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.
All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.
The Jonathan Trilogy, is the saga of MY generation, a tale where even the worst background and the most hateful parents won’t keep you from finding love, success, start a dynasty! It’s about Hope come to life across four generations.
A constant topic in my writing as well…
Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:
- The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
- Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
- Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.
But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…
Meet Felicity Swan, the illustrator who made it possible
Writing a children’s book has been my dream ever since my son was born. I just wanted to add something to his life that we as rainbow parents are hard-pressed to find. Our son already owns a good hundred books, and some of them are positively archaic, with moms by the stove and handy dads. Horrifying! He also owns two books out of a hundred where rainbow families or being LGBT are mentioned. One is And Tango Makes Three (of course!), the other one is Marlon Bundo (the good version.) I began writing The Dragon Princess a couple of years ago (!) when we only had the book about Tango, and I’m finally able to get it out. This week. Thursday. To make it possible, I needed a great illustrator. Dozens applied for the job, I finally decided to work with Felicity Swan. You’ll understand why. Let’s get to know this amazing artist. I sent her a few questions, and she’s generously answered those for us:
Q: Who is Felicity Swan in her own words?
I’m a freelance writer and artist. I draw comics, illustrations, and write books.
Q: What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
When someone closes a book I’ve written, I want them to feel a connection to it. Whether its hopeful or feeling like they’re not alone in their struggles or even feel understood in some way. I hope they feel the same way I do when I read my favorite books.
Q: What got you into illustrating?
I’ve always been drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I started taking it seriously after I got my associates degree and realized university life wasn’t for me. I wanted to find what made me happy, not what I thought others expected of me. I was good at writing and drawing, so I pursued those instead.
Q: What inspires you? Do you have any specific “style”?
When it comes to style, it depends on the work and the tone I’m going for. I don’t believe in being tied to any one style, but it’s all about effectively communicating with your audience. I’m influenced by a variety of artists: Art Spiegleman, Aaron Alexovich, Jason Brubaker, Hiayao Miyazaki, Yun Koga, and a variety of independent artists.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
“First time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book”
Q: One of the reasons why I absolutely fell for your style is the multi-faceted it is. I remember when you first sent me your sketches and how there was so much depth, so many layers or what I would call sub-text, but I guess it would be better to refer to just layers. How do you go about when you work with e.g. an author?
This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book. When it comes to commissions and this collaboration, I’m usually given an idea of what someone wants – either a description or a set of images to work with. From there, I do my best to capture what the client wants, either through what they’ve unconsciously strung together through the images provided or from what I can get from their descriptions. For your writing, I was really drawn in by your use of contrasts in your descriptions – hot vs cold, young vs old, small vs large. So I used that as a base for everything – from colors to silhouettes. The parents have sharper edges than Valarius and Evander, both who have softer and sleeker designs. I wanted to have a contrast in warm vibrant colors for the protagonists and cold, darker colors for those affected by the curse.
“Ideas come from everywhere”
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you work with, from idea to sketch to final rendering?
My ideas come from everywhere, to be honest – dreams, a simple idea, a “what if” thought, or even just a certain image or the way items are placed together. Heck, me misinterpreting a scene cut out of a show or game can lead to a cool story. Lately, I’ve been recycling old ideas in order to help flesh out new stories. When it comes to my comics, I’ll have a few ideas, I’ll write a summary, a few outlines, and then start the sketching phase where I start piecing things together or clearing up ideas and figuring out what I want the style to be. Some comics, I’ve had to leave off to the side and allow the idea to mature because I couldn’t think of an ending or I didn’t like the middle. Then I work on thumbnails (small mock-ups) of the pages, then I put my nose to the grindstone. Its a similar process for illustrations.
Q: Do you work exclusively with a computer or do you also illustrate on physical materials, e.g. paper, canvas?
I work mainly on my computer. When it comes to sketching or making “ugly sketches” I work on physical paper. My main medium is dry mediums. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a display tablet this time and my output has almost doubled.
One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.
Q: Toward the very end of our collaboration, you mentioned that you were visually impaired, which – if possible – increased my admiration for your work. Does your impairment influence your artistic expression, the work-flow?
All my life, I’ve had going blind hanging over my head. I’ve also had horrible depth perception and ocular migraines (lights and colors over my vision; not painful aside from eye strain). I think my first encounter with near-retinal detachment at the age of ten was a real wake up call for me and I started really pursuing writing.
“Four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye”
Before you commissioned me, I’d had four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye. There’s a cataract over that eye now and I’ll have surgery number five in the near future. It’s likely that, in ten years, I’ll lose that eye due to scar tissue. So, yes, it does influence my artistic expression – I feel a pressure to hurry and tell my stories. Not only that, but my near-nearsightedness makes seeing things far away difficult, so backgrounds and landscapes are tough for me. And having one eye to look through has done a number on my ocular migraines and made it harder to read books with normal sized text. I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with my drawing, though.
“It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln…”
Q: Was this your first project to work on a children’s book? If so, what is the takeaway for you? Did you learn something?
When I was a child, I drew a picture book called “Pikachu Goes to the Moon” haha! I wrote and drew a children’s historical fiction book when I was in junior high/middle school as an assignment for history class. It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln from the perspective of an orphan who overhears the shooter’s plans and tries to stop the shooting. Ever since my family has been telling me I should do more children’s books in the historical fiction genre. Once I’m done with the work I’m currently doing, I might look into it. Who knows?
Q: What is next for you? Any projects you can/wish to mention?
I have a long form comic called Final Break and I’m doing short comics on the side when I’m not doing commissions.
Q: Where/how can people find you?
Find me on social media:
Instagram / Twitter
Here’s a hub for all my links to my works, as well as my portfolio:
Feel free to feed my cat and help with cataract surgery:
Patreon (monthly subscription)
Ko-Fi (tip jar)
The Dragon Princess in what might become the “Valerius and Evander” series is published by Beaten Track Publishing and releases this week on Thursday. It is available as an ebook and on paperback from all your regular sources, including Amazon. Check it out, and read it with your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces etc.
Here are the sales links:
I came to think of my own Christmas story last night, my husband and our first celebration together
A bit of a personal Christmas story today, all real, no fiction. We’re approaching the half-way point in the Rainbow Advent Calendar which I hope you’re following. I’ve already read some really cute and some quite unique stories. And plenty more to go. If you missed it, don’t worry, all the open doors stay open for you. You can go back and read anytime you like. My husband and I met in 2001, on 9/11 (it’s an important piece as you’ll see soon), and after that, things moved quickly. We had been talking online and on the phone ever since our first contact in April that year, but our first date was 9/11, in part because he lived three hours away from me.
Our official Christmas picture!
He moved in with me December 2 that same year. I’d spent the night up there in his apartment and on Sunday morning, we left it all, dumped the furniture (which was mostly old stuff anyway) and took what little belongings he owned, to my car and drove to Gothenburg. The lone exception was a bicycle, a gift from his parents we couldn’t fit. We’d be back for it later. I had known by then that Alex’s parents were quite homophobic but I wasn’t prepared for what I was in for. He’d also told me that Christmas had always been a dark period for him as he grew up, with his dad leaving for his mistress and/or both his parents drinking heavily. It was not a Holiday he looked forward to. For me, it had always been the opposite. I LOVE Christmas, and even when I was alone, I always had a tree. I was on a mission: I’d show Alex that Christmas was a time to enjoy, a beautiful time for family memories to be made, and yes for unconditional love.
I came to think of this last night, as our little family was enjoying a traditional Swedish Yule table, our Christmas version of the famous Smörgåsbord with delicacies ranging from herring to cold cuts, sausages, meatballs, ham, and fish, not to mention a great assortment of candies and desserts. It was one of the gelatine-pressed meat dishes that triggered my memories because back in 2001 I had bought food for a six-headed family and then some. I’d cooked the ham but most of the rest I’d bought in the story. I had, after all not spent that many years in Sweden and I wasn’t exactly an expert on Swedish cuisine.
Our tree this year.
So I bought “Sylta”, which is minced meats in a form surrounded by gelatine. Quite delicious, but yeah, I’d bought a big sized pack and it was more than too much… We sat down, as tradition bids after noon, to eat. We didn’t get far, as the phone kept ringing off the hook. Alex’s father had left his mother for Christmas, to spend it with one of his mistresses, up north instead. So he called Alex and expected him to be home with his mom, rather than spending time with a [insert colorful expletive] faggot… After fifteen or so calls, we put the phone on voicemail and after thirty plus calls, we pulled the cord. Finally, we’d get some peace and quiet… But by then, the magic was gone, and so were our appetites.
On Boxing Day, we fled the country. No, not because of Alex’s dad, but because that year was special. After 9/11, people stopped flying, for fear of ending up in a building, and in New York, hotels stood empty. We got a super cheap deal and were able to fly to New York on Swissair and stay at a four-star hotel for almost no money at all. We had a great few days in the Big Apple, visiting the various sights, even going to Ground Zero to pay our respect to the many victims we’d watched live. We had a great New Year’s Eve dinner near Times Square and celebrated the arrival of 2002 with a million New Yorkers chanting “Fuck Bin Ladin!”
On our way back to Europe, I was able to upgrade us to Business Class, a first for Alex. That was our first Christmas, and I’m happy to report that seventeen years later, we still celebrate Christmas, we’ve made some amazing memories along the way, traveling with my family around the world. Now that we have a child of our own, the Christmas tree is back, and I’m currently sitting right in front of it, watching TV with a bed-ridden kid. Things turned out alright for us, which is the one thing you never really find out in those romances. They just kind of leave you hanging after that first kiss, right? Well, sometimes, IRL really can rock. Today, 11/12 also happens to be our wedding anniversary. Alex and I got hitched today, thirteen years ago. Sixteen years as a couple, thirteen as spouses, certainly longer than the average marriage these days…
Have a great week, and now go on and read some more Christmas stories. I know I will. There’s one I’m not quite done yet. Remember, my own Christmas story is due On Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
PS: don’t forget to check back in on Friday, when I’ll be posting my release day review of Roe Horvat’s new book, a total must read, just like her last one…
I moaned and my husband asked me why: tale of a homemaker
I’ve been a homemaker for almost five years. In fact, I quit my last full-time job four years and eleven months ago. Since then, I’ve been primarily using the house as a base of operations for my consulting, my teaching gigs, and writing books. With that home office advantage also comes the expectation that I should look after said home. From the get-go, we set out some rules: we’d outsource the coarse cleaning to an outside cleaner coming by every two weeks, but I’d do the daily maintenance around the house and the household.
Yeah, I bake and cook, like any good homemaker. The baking is fun, and it’s nice to see the happy face of your child. But I don’t have the time to do it often…
As we got going, we also expected our son, and I spent the first six months with him, followed by my husband. I was still at the house then, so we were basically both home, me writing and publishing, him doing the child thing. In the four years since, we’ve slipped into this comfortable routine of getting up in the morning, me getting our son ready for school, while he gets himself presentable for work. They leave the house at 7:05 am and don’t usually return until 5:30 to 6 pm. Once they’re out of the house, my routine begins, and it consists of your typical modern “authory” things: social media, blogging, writing, editing, reading & reviewing etc. Apart from that, I also try to make a buck or two from my consultancy and training firm. I’ll be honest: I’m not making much money. My husband is pretty much the sole breadwinner of our family, and therefore, the pressure on me to at least keep the house(-hold) in ship-shape is ever increasing, and my guilt with it. Don’t get me started about my dwindling 401K…
I also empty the dishwasher in the morning, put away the dishes, do laundry, fold clothes that weren’t folded after our (shared) Sunday washing day. I clean up after our son, I prepare and cook our evening meals, I run errands to the post office, downtown and to various malls (on public transport, since my husband uses our only car for work), and I feed our cats and keep their litter box tidy. Did I mention that I also take out the garbage and refill the compost container with a new bag every Wednesday after it’s been collected? I take in the mail daily and I’m our finance minister, meaning I pay our invoices and keep tabs on our credit card spending. I book all of our trips, stay in touch with our son’s school, I book electricians, carpenters, gardeners and others who need to do work in and around the house. I’m also the legal guardian of my mother-in-law and do all of her finances. A couple of times per week I hit the gym to keep my new and improved body in ship-shape.
The traditional image of a homemaker, a woman. Sadly, still a reality, and for the few men out there, invisibility is challenging.
Mind you, I am not complaining. I have a lot of freedom in what I do, when I do it, and how I do it. Writing is a dream come true! But I have to run after a gazillion little things without which our household would seize functioning.
Tonight, after dinner, my husband sat down in our reading corner to work some more. He’s a senior manager for the city of Gothenburg and yeah, he works a lot, often until 10 pm, several times per week. No, he’s not nearly paid enough for it. I remember, having once been an executive myself, I know the work hours of senior management. And I wonder, how did we do things back then? Not having a kid must’ve helped… Still, how did we manage?
Our son was tired and after I had gotten him to finish his dinner, he went to bed. Early. I brushed his teeth, combed his hair, helped him gargle with his mouthwash, spritzed cortisone spray up his nostrils as he’s been having difficulties with his nasal tract again, and saw him off to bed, with a fresh glass of water, and after having fluffed his comforter and pillow for him. After that, I had to empty the dishwasher from the afternoon post-baking load (see picture above. I’m trying out to create the perfect oatmeal cookie) and to put the dinner dishes in, clean the table and the kitchen countertops. You know, the usual post-dinner clean-up. At some point, looking at my husband sitting comfortably in his recliner, laptop in lap, working away, I must’ve moaned. He must’ve heard, and he asked what was wrong.
Well, my dear husband, nothing really. As the one who costs more than he brings home, I don’t have the privilege to complain, really. I work from dusk to bedtime, literally, as my jobs don’t have regular hours, maybe with the teaching exception, but even course preparations often require evening work. I miss having colleagues, people to go to lunch with every day, or brushing off every now and then, having coffee with a colleague or a meeting or two (I know, I know, who would’ve thought I’d ever say that…), but the only ones I’m usually talking to throughout the day are the cats. And the fish, on a bad day…
Yeah, almost. Although I never breastfed our son. This is, of course, the stereotype of a housewife, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We do have a lot to juggle, every day. Being a homemaker isn’t about watching daytime soaps…
Before long, and this is why I’ve stopped complaining a long time ago (apart from the not really being allowed to), is that our marital “chore split discussions” inevitably end up in “but do you really have to… [blog/be social/talk to readers every day/go to cons/do publicity interviews/review books or read this shit/ etc.]?” And I mostly shrug, because as a management consultant, I have that VERY same conversation (unpaid mind you) with my husband every other day, about these worthless and unproductive meetings he (has to) attend (which I question, nevertheless), tasks he finds meaningless (and which I recommend he divest, but he can’t/won’t) etc.
The big difference is this: I’ve been a corporate executive. I’ve lived in his world for many years. He’s never lived in mine. He doesn’t understand the complexity of being a self-employed consultant, or an indie author in today’s publishing flux, or how much fucking time I get to waste in phone queues with hospitals/suppliers/government agencies/etc. to fix things for us, our son, or his mother.
So yes, every now and then, I moan, simply because I wonder – silently of course – what it would be like to go back to a day job, contributing financially to our family again, and to have a looong discussion with my husband about how to redistribute the household chores equally between the two of us. And I wonder, silently of course, what it would be like, having to get up even earlier, for both of us to be ready in time for a 7:05 am departure, and to come home at 6 pm night after night, getting dinner started, rather than sitting down and eating. Would I still be able to write? Would I find the time? The energy?The inspiration?
I don’t know, but yeah, these questions, too, deserve a moan every now and then because I am aware of my contribution to running our family smoothly. No thank yous (usually), no pension funds/points, but at least I know my husband and my son can focus on their days.
Author Hans M. Hirschi, photographed by Alina Oswald in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.
Me, I get to let out a moan every now and then, before it’s back to work for me, too, a 1,400+ word rant on my blog, a post dedicated to the world’s silent worker, who like me, isn’t paid, doesn’t get pension points and far too little gratitude and attention: the homemaker.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good week.
Homemaker, father, author, consultant, teacher, former corporate (& future again?) executive
It’s release day for Disease, and I can’t wait for you to read this one…
Disease, my new novel, releases today.
“How do you explain Alzheimer’s to someone who doesn’t have it?
It’s really impossible. One moment, you’re just like everyone else—talking, having fun, being part of a conversation—and then boom! You forget something, a word, a face, a memory, something that belongs right there, in that conversation. You stand there, in that circle of people, and that which you have forgotten becomes the elephant in the room, with everyone staring at you, waiting for you to remember. And you panic, you get stressed, and yeah, at that point, you’ll never remember it anyway.
People laugh at it when they think you’re just like them. Normal. Healthy. Not so much when they know you have it. The disease.
“Don’t worry, Hunter. We all forget stuff. It’s no big deal.” But it is a big deal. It is a very big fucking deal. It’s my memory—my life literally turning to goo inside my head. This thing is going to kill me!
Not that I’d ever say anything. People get antsy around sickness, around disease. So I keep my mouth shut. I drop out of conversations. Slowly. Retreat into the safety of my thoughts. For what it’s worth. For what’s left of them. If Ethan is with me, maybe I’ll take his hand, award him a glance. He knows of my pain. He’s the only one who really understands how I feel. At least, I like to think so.
Have you ever read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende? at is exactly how my mind is. Like Fantastica. Well, sort of. My mind was never really fantastic to begin with… But, just like the novel, Nothing is taking over, and little by little, it breaks down my mind, my Fantastica. Only there is no Bastian to rescue me. No Atreyu going off on adventures on my behalf. No Falcor to fly to my aid. Just the Nothing. Taking over, bit by bit. And you never know what’s next to go.”
Release day, and when Amazon finally opens the floodgates and sends the book to all those who pre-ordered it (thank you btw), I’ll be approaching the runway for a landing at Munich airport. So yeah, this is a pre-recorded post. Sorry. It’s my fifteenth release day since I began writing, and while I’m not feeling particularly nervous this time (I have seen so many gorgeous reviews already that I know the book will be well received), I feel a sense of accomplishment, pride. I hope you’ll forgive an old man’s indulgence. Yes, pride is a good word.
I lose my mom far too soon, yet it was still a relief for us. Why? The book will allow you to understand.
I also feel thankful to Hunter, Ethan, and Amy, for allowing me to tell their story. And I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my mother, herself a victim of the wretched disease that is Alzheimer’s, and in a way a template for Hunter’s mother. Through mom, I got to experience some of the later stage symptoms first hand, the emotional turmoil, the paranoia, and all the other symptoms that are associated with the disease, like losing your appetite, your sense of taste etc. While Hunter’s story is rooted in my own fears of having Alzheimer’s (unfoundedly as it turned out), his struggle helped me play with various scenarios of how we, as human beings, deal with a death sentence. To be handed a best before date is probably one of life’s greatest challenges, and Hunter allowed me to pitch various scenarios, different viewpoints against each other. In a way, Disease isn’t just about Alzheimer’s, but it’s a story about life, living life to the fullest, but also about our own control of our own fate, society, and our friends and families. At least philosophically.
Why read Disease? I’ve been asked this question many times. Whether you’re personally affected by Alzheimer’s (through family or loved ones) or if it’s just a theoretical concept for you at this stage, you can read the story from the above perspective, see how we rise to adversity, how we play the hand that life has dealt us. But Disease is also a love story, romantic even (yeah I know, I’m a sappy romantic even when I kill my main character in the end), showing how two people love each other, stand by each other, no matter what (and I mean this literally). Or you could read the story to understand, to fathom how and why Alzheimer’s Disease is such a wretched thing to happen. I’ve been told by many reviewers just how cathartic a read it is:
“As I medical professional, I have encountered this illness. I have been caregiver to one particular patient and it is heartwrenching and not the best feeling. It makes one exam their own mortality and question: How brave will I be if this were me?”
My gratitude to Hunter, Ethan, and Amy for sharing it with me, allowing me to tell you their story. But now it’s time for me to let them go. They are yours now, and I shed a few tears as I take my leave from them and place them in your care, and I ask you: “how brave are you?”
Hans M Hirschi
This is how I’ll be consciously protesting the Nazi march through the streets of Gothenburg tomorrow
In our lives, it’s often difficult to discern good from evil. Life isn’t black and white, it’s mostly shades of gray. We all know that. However, there are some notable exceptions, and Nazis are one of them. You needn’t be a historian to understand that the genocide of more than six million Jews, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses & mentally disabled people was a defining moment for humanity, unparalleled in its industrial approach, its cold-hearted planning and faithful execution by the German Army and the various police forces of the era. It’s evil, pure and simple. The hatred against minorities, be it religious (e.g. Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses), ethnicity (Roma, Africans, Asians) or otherwise (disability, sexuality) is nothing new, and most certainly not a German problem. And the simple method of scapegoating is perpetrated again and again, in every country challenged by today’s complex world.
Gothenburg, my home town. Photo: Daniel Sjöström, CC
Sweden is, sadly, no exception. We’ve long prided ourselves for our open and welcoming society, and in recent decades, much like America has been in times past, we’ve welcomed immigrants to fill the jobs our own refused to do: clean toilets, look after the sick and elderly, janitorial services etc. On the other hand, our educational system is failing, after countless attempts by far too many politicians hellbent to leave a mark and fix a system that was geared toward graduating everyone “because they tried”.
We’ve had three (!) completely different grade systems in the 25 years I’ve lived in this country. Young Swedish males (they are primarily male) who fail school, don’t have much of a life to look forward to, they’ll find it difficult to find partners if they live in rural areas (because young women are more likely to get educated and more likely to move to university cities), jobs, and they often look to explanations outside of themselves. Racism (be it the socialist version we call Nazis or the conservative version that is fascism) provides all the easy answers. If only we didn’t have them, we‘d have plenty of jobs… If only they‘d assimilate, we wouldn’t have to rape to get women… Their sense of reality as warped as it can be.
This Saturday, the most active Nazi group in Sweden, The Nordic Resistance Movement, is going to conduct a march through the streets of Gothenburg, do demonstrate while the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden’s largest annual cultural event, takes place. Loads of international media on site, Yom Kippur on Saturday as icing on the cake, and thus plenty of opportunity for great press (according to the motto: “all press is good press!”) They’ve already conducted an impromptu march a couple of weeks ago, taking everybody by surprise, as they hadn’t sought approval for a march. According to Swedish law, you can demonstrate any time, anywhere in public, as long as you don’t disturb the peace. To seek approval only gives you first dibs to a specific time and place. The route of the demonstration is still disputed in courts, and the Nazis have claimed to ignore any official ruling. The Police have built make-shift lock-ups for hundreds of people underneath police HQ, and the extreme left have vouched to bus people to our fair city to stop the Nazis from marching. Violence begging for violence.
Gothenburg, an open, inviting and international city, built by immigrants for free global trade, from day one. Photo: Rob Sinclair, CC
Gothenburg is a vibrant city. Sweden’s second largest was built on clay soil and swamps by primarily Dutch, Scottish and German engineers after King Gustav II Adolf decided he needed a fortified city on the west coast to protect the nation against attacks from primarily neighboring rival Denmark in 1632 (we are now very close to our Danish neighbors, just saying.)
Today, greater Gothenburg is home to some 1.5 million people from over one hundred cultures. Our weather isn’t the fairest, but we have a vibrant cultural scene and my city, which was already once plagued by Nazis in the nineties (see my book Last Winter’s Snow), when even I was once attacked by VAM, raised itself above it all, and will host EuroPride 2018 together with Stockholm. It’s a diverse city, for sure, home to some very large global companies like Volvo Cars, AB Volvo, SKF, SCA, Essity, Mölnlycke Healthcare, AstraZeneca and many others, companies who all rely on experts from around the world, companies who are home in almost every corner of the world.
For weeks, I was determined to stand alongside the march, draped in a Swedish and a Rainbow flag, the symbol of universal love, to show those monsters that there is another story of Sweden, a story of Sweden where color plays no role, where love is universal. I was determined to not sit idly by when the symbol of our nation (our flag) is hijacked by a group of thugs and criminals (the majority of the leaders of NMR are convicted felons according to research by local newspaper GP.) They don’t scare me as an individual group, but I am of course concerned with the wider implications of the rise of “white power” across Europe and the United States. Have we already forgotten the sacrifices of our grandparents?
There are several demonstrations planned against the Nazi march, some by individuals on the extreme left who are just as unpalatable, re “only a dead bourgeois is a good bourgeois…”, “kill those capitalist swines!” No, I would never join any of those groups, but I was looking forward to my silent protest, as scared as I was that it might provoke the Nazis to physically attack me. Despite the largest police contingency planned since the fateful 2001 EU summit, it doesn’t take much to hurt someone. But, as you can see from my use of time, I was going to protest on site. But an article in today’s Metro changed my mind. The authors of that article are spot on: the Nazis want attention, they’re first class attention whores, which is why they’re doing this now, while the world is gathered here for the Book Fair. Instead, the authors propose that we actively turn our backs, not physically in situ, but by staying away from the streets they’ll be marching on. Remember the 1980s peace movement mantra: “what if there was a war but no one showed up?” Kind of the same thing. We should instead actively protest their idiocy by spending time with our families, our children, our friends, do loving things, and suck the oxygen away from those thugs. The city of Gothenburg has also begun to fly the rainbow flag across town, as a strong symbol for love and our city’s diversity. When I dropped off a guest in front of the fair grounds and saw it fly I almost cried. It is a potent symbol for love, universal love.
My grandparents. I miss them very much, and I am proud of their stance and accomplishments during the WWII Nazi plague. Photo: private
Allow me to share an anecdote from my own family. I have German ancestry. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side emigrated from Imperial Germany to Switzerland, where my grandpa was born in 1907. My grandpa was my childhood hero. He was the operator at one of my hometown’s theaters. I loved him and grandma to pieces, spending every childhood summer at their place in St.Gallen. Grandpa was no saint, far from it, but he did one thing right: he refused to join the Wehrmacht (Germany’s army) in 1938 when he was drafted. He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in camps, as free labor on Swiss farms, far away from his family who suffered enormously of famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in the family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?
He and his entire family subsequently lost their citizenship and my mother was born stateless in 1941. My grandpa spent the entire war in internment camps, providing free labor to Swiss farmers, far away from his family who suffered enormously from famine and lack of pretty much everything. His brothers all joined the war effort. None returned alive, and there was considerable dissonance between my grandpa and his sisters because of his choice. Personally, I think it’s amazing that my grandpa had the balls to stand up to Hitler and give him the finger. Whether he did if because he was a coward (as some in our family have claimed) is irrelevant today. I have many German friends who live with the stigma of having a grandfather who served in that war and who may have (willingly) participated in crimes against humanity. How do you deal with that?
The author of this post in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald.
I have to honor my grandpa for his choice, I have to honor my grandmother who worked tirelessly to shelter, clothe and feed her four children born during the war without any help from her husband, I have to honor my uncle and my aunts who suffered from the long-term effects of malnutrition their entire lives. The tragedy of WWII, and the horrors bestowed upon us by the Nazis linger.
I have a four-year old son. I have a responsibility to make sure that his friends at his international school, Nigerians, Somalis, Iranians, Indians, English etc. all have the same shot at a happy life, regardless of the color of their skin, their creed or who they might eventually end up falling in love with.
This Saturday, Gothenburg has a choice to make when the Nazi march through our city takes place. We let them, because it’s part of our system of free speech and freedom of assembly, but we don’t have to let them do so without showing how pitiful, small and insignificant they are. There are no two sides to this! Will you be with me? Will you stay away from the Nazi march through town, not ogle them, not demonstrate against them, most certainly not use violence against them, but spend time with your loved ones, and demonstrate (as in showing) that Gothenburg and indeed the world, can be a kind place, a loving place, a place where infinite diversity can peacefully co-exist in infinite combinations (to lightly adapt a Vulcan proverb).
Thank you and have a wonderful weekend. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
Hans M Hirschi
author, husband & very proud father