Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Medias Res

The term is screenwriter's parlance for "in the middle of the action".

A screenplay uses this device, ironically enough, to begin a story somewhere.



Just be absolutely sure there's something important going on as you take your first steps in assembling your characters journey.

Yes, of course, you can be one of the the main characters...

In Medias Res.

It is what you find yourself in right from the start.

After you first announce yourself by the wails brought on by something as commonplace as oxygen, bright light and smiling strangers faces once you've debuted from your mother's womb.

In Media Res.

When you find yourself understanding gravity for the first time by wobbling uncertainly on your new red bike with slightly off-set training wheels, your father running along side exhorting, "You can do it! You can doooo it! Hang in there, champ!" And finding, indeed, that you can do it as miraculously you and your bike enter a perfectly balanced state of harmony together.

In Media Res.

When you're first testing the art of negotiation on the jungle gym at recess time in kindergarten and everyone is gathering together to play 'Star Trek'. Vladimir Kenevsky insists he be Captain Kirk when you're always Captain Kirk and you just know he'd make a better Chekhov! He's finally convinced by you and your first officer, Rich "Spock" Condon, that, in fact, Vlad, you're not Captain Kirk.

"I am
Captain Kirk!"

In Medias Res.

When you're first learning to process emotional strategies after entering into one of life's many tragic battlefields, because Atlas, your favorite cat has wandered home tonight, his right eye completely torn out and now missing. He is bleeding all over his white fur in a most exclamatory red. He is still valiant in his efforts to groom himself. How could this happen? Your mother lays out that day's Boston Globe by the fireplace in the living room. Atlas will spend the night there, breathing, on his side.

Breathing, as your mother buries her face into his belly and cries.


He will not see morning's light.

In Medias Res.

When you've created your first alliance with Teddy Cochin and Davey Blaker in keeping passing cars in winter fully peppered with hard packed snowballs and, oh, glorious day! The Big Mama of targets is approaching! Elementary school bus #8 with Mad Cathy behind the wheel. Bulls eye! Bulls eye! Bulls eye! Three perfectly directed hits to its side paneling! But what's this? That bus isn't supposed to be stopping! Cathy's getting out. She's seen us! Run!! When she knocks on the house door your father comes out. "Your kid just threw a snowball at my bus! I saw it come from this house!" Jesus, were you in for it or what! But your father becomes your Dad when he says, as if reading from some alternate-ending chapter to a book, "Lady, smokes coming out of my goddamn chimney, too, but that doesn't mean my son made the fire. You don't know what you're talking about!"

He shuts the door on her.

In Medias Res.

When you've entered the alien world of junior high school and you just don't understand this gawky new body of yours. You stand alone at lunch break staring into a puddle. Nick Masey, with a bunch of the "popular kids", comes over to you and says,"Hey, pal, what's up?" What you haven't seen is his friend on all fours sneaking up behind you. You do see Nick's flat, strong palm hit your chest. You do see sky. You do see four kids staring down at you. Laughing.

You do see the Teacher's Aide assigned to lunch break duty turn away after seeing the event and hiding her smile.

In Medias Res.

When you're introducing yourself to the new age of le corps vient premier in your bedroom with your first lover, K., and she knows so much more than you do. Because she is beautiful and she has been with boys before. But for whatever magical reason she is entranced by you. Something wonderful is happening here. "Perhaps we should use protection?" Perhaps you'll just assign your union to unguarded Fate and see what happens. And so you do. It is frightening. It is maddening. It is sad. It is exciting. It is perfect.

It is everything.

In Medias Res.

When you find yourself testing the laws of physics by racing Steve Smith and Chris Flockton down Wampanoag Lane and suddenly you lose control of your car. An orange Mercury Bobcat in panicky, careening distress. The only telephone pole on that side of the street kindly offers itself as a cushion. Your passenger, Mark Edry, is wearing his glasses in slow motion before the impact. Tires wailing. Some neighbor's mailbox just rolled over the top of your hood leaving a broken wooden post and letters specially delivered to the lawn behind you. Collapsing metal pushes itself toward you in an alarming, brutal fury. A steering wheel greets your forehead in a superlative physics equation of time, speed and distance. That bastard sound of crushing metal and broken glass occupying every nerve ending of your being. When you've finally made sense of what has just happened you look to your passenger side windshield. Some giant spider must have just weaved its web inside the glass.

Mark is slumped over in his seat.

'My friend is dead! My friend is dead! I've killed him!'


He is feeling around at his feet for something. "Goddamnit, where are my glasses!"

In Medias Res.

When you discover Faith is relative, and often fleeting in general, after your second year of living in New York City and something takes hold of your soul and rattles its cage so fiercely that you find yourself one day sitting in a rather strange venue known only as 'The Foundation'. You just want to be able to sleep again. You just want quiet inside your mind. Where did Normal go? So, you sit patiently in a neon lit waiting room about to be groomed for a nuptial with brain medicine. A twenty something year old man in his worn jeans and wrinkled white t-shirt sits across from you. He is drawing something on paper with shaky pencil. Circles. He is drawing circles over and over again. Uneven circles, wavering circles, bubbling circles, circles that circle back on other circles. He has a whole set of colored pencils with him so he may indulge different fancies of colored circles. And every time he connects a circle to complete the cycle, no matter the color, he lets out a tremendous heaving sigh.

Then he starts another circle all over again... he is trying to find a way out of his madness. But he cannot.

You want to sit next to him, put your arm around him but not say a word. Not say a word because you, too, know that, "Hey, it will be all right." just won't do, and is most likely a false hope.

But you do want to assure him that he is not alone...

...because you know exactly how he feels.

In Medias Res.

When you find yourself appreciating your relationship with the nature of nature while bicycling across the lush green country side of Donegal, Ireland and it has done nothing but rain for the last two days. You finally decide to take shelter underneath an old farm house's porch. It rains so hard you just know it's not going to stop anytime soon. After a few more moments you decide it best to jump back onto your bicycle and pedal through that unrelenting watery surge. A mile down the road, without any seeming rhyme nor reason, the downpour abruptly ends. The rain just decides to stop and then by supernatural order of events the sun needles itself through a break in the clouds. It begins to dry your swampy clothing and then warm your clammy skin.

The rain is gone.

Then you are tweaked by the oddest of thoughts. 'What happened to all of my rain? If the sun is not normal here, so be it. Bring back my rain!'

You have fallen in love with rain.

In Medias Res.

When you find yourself at a turning point in the middle of the "perfect" Nor'easter snow storm in New England the night of your Great Love's birthday. The woman for whom you made so many important decisions around, decisions that effected so many important outcomes in your life. You had made dining reservations weeks in advance because this birthday will be a particularly special one. But the restaurant you have booked has closed because the blizzard has somehow channeled the Northeast's ghost of February 1978. The famous storm is coming back for its curtain-call. Nearly every restaurant in town has decided to honor this event. But you absolutely must tell this woman something so you will risk life, limb and sanity to make it happen. Your salvation comes in the form of a modest Thai noodle place not far from you. You can both walk there from your home so you will make your intrepid postman's march through ice, sleet and snow.

You are greatly rewarded.

When the ring is revealed her face takes on a look you have never seen from her before. It is new radiance, it is accidental joy and it is beautifully childlike. Something about how she sits up tall as if she were in a classroom; she is the girl with the right answer.

She has two cards in front of her to choose from. She will hold up the card that says, "Yes".

The adventure begins.

The snow falls even harder now to cover up what was the past. It, too, is celebrating this great passage from old to new.

In Medias Res.

New cities are explored, new adventures are followed, new lives are discovered, new words are written, new hopes are revealed, new dreams are pursued, new poetry is created every single day from every single moment.

These details etched into the lucky ones' memories... in medias res.


Nana is lying in her bed at a nursing home in Boca Raton, Florida. She has seen all of these things, too, only the words are arranged differently in her poem.

She is Heather's grandmother. She is Susan and Gary's mother. She is her mother's daughter. She has had a rich life for these reasons alone.

But it gets better, and it gets worse.

She loves her husband, Sid, because he is a good man. He takes care of her faithfully, truly, always, even though he knows she has Alzheimer's.

She will be robbed of him and his loving hands, his good natured laugh, his storytelling and his gentle scolding when she is naughty.

He will remember ... everything.

In Medias Res.

When I first met Nana she was just ending her relationship with lucidity. But she still remembered things.

Certain things just stood out for unexplainable reasons.

I remember I had flown out from Los Angeles to spend time with Heather and her Mother's side of the family. Our first meal together was steak and baked potatoes at famous Stuckey's Restaurant! The food was plentiful and the spirits were high with joking and vibrant family energy. Nana loved being with her family as she sat at the head of the table. Queen for a day! It was her birthday!

When the waiter came with the check Sid and I argued over who would pay the bill. I won that argument. I hoped it hadn't hurt his pride. But I knew he respected the gesture at the same time.

Before we left there was still food left at the table and, by God, it wasn't going to go to waste! Especially that one last baked potato!

"Here, Nana, do you want the last baked potato?" said Heather.

"Oh, no dear, you take it. You take it." she winked.

"But I don't want it. Here, Den you have it!"

"Hey, I don' t want it either. Here, Sid..."

The potato was being passed all around the table in it's shiny tinfoil wrap. Round and round it went until it finally fell back into my lap.

"OK, all right! I'll take Mr. Potato Head!" settling the humorous dispute once and for all.

Nana loved this. She laughed like she hadn't laughed in a long while perhaps. "Oh, dear, you have the potato now again! Do you not want that potato?"

"Actually, no." I smiled and again I would try to pass the potato around. The silliness continued as did the laughter.

It was a very special evening.

It was a very special weekend.

In Media Res.

One year later.

A year of memories ordering themselves out of Nana's head in rapid succession to make more room for the most important things, like eating, drinking, dressing. Holding onto whatever vestiges of dignity were left.

And, holding on to things like, Sidney.




One year later I would come back to visit.

I braced myself for the distinct possibility of not even registering on Nana's personal radar before entering the nursing home.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Potato Head!" she winked.

In Medias Res.

Sidney passed away three years ago.

He fell one day in a bathroom and broke his finger. Nearly sheared it off his skin had become so paper-thin and delicate. Not long after painful stitches, and a tightly wrapped bandage that he would pick at constantly testing its tenacity, he took on the look of a wounded bird.

This event assuredly helped speed up the aging process. Maybe even mercifully.

He died three years ago only a few rooms down from where Nana slept.

Nana still does not know.

In Medias Res.

Gary, Nana's only son, wrote a letter to his family this last Monday.

"Mom's dying, probably today or tomorrow.

I signed the papers to add Hospice care which occurs while she remains in the same nursing home. I sent them a signed "Do Not Resuscitate" although Mom had signed it years ago..."

He went on with many touching details about her life.

Nana & Gary

Heather wrote him back.

"Thanks for letting us know Gary. This is very sad news. Though not unexpected. She'll be deeply in our thoughts these next couple of days, hoping the power of love and caring can ease her out of this world gently. The Nana I knew has been leaving us a little by little these past few years. We want to see her at peace, though the goodbye will be sorrowful."

Later that afternoon Nana passed away in her sleep.

Heather & Nana


Later that afternoon people fell in love.

Later that afternoon, babies cried out because they saw light and breathed oxygen for the first time.

Later that afternoon a war was fought in a far off desert country.

Later that afternoon members of Congress debated bills and argued about who to support in the next election.

Later that afternoon a fire raged in Southern California.

Later that afternoon a father threw a baseball to his young son and talked about a World Series game.

Later that afternoon a mother took her daughter by the hand and made sure they both got across the street safely so there would be other later afternoons.

Later that afternoon stardust entered the atmosphere and lit up the sky very briefly before it burnt into one last incendiary flash.

Later that afternoon... in medias res.


Later that evening Heather and Dennis went out to an Italian restaurant (Italian. Nana's favorite!) on South Congress Street in Austin, Texas to celebrate all the good things that Nana was and would remain to be.

We tried to imagine what Nana would be drinking with us at the table and ordered our corresponding concoctions. Mine an Apple Martini with a bright red Maraschino Cherry. Heather's a full bodied, deliciously red Chianti.

And then we raised our glasses, in the middle of that evening's action, and toasted, "To Nana."

Nana Hugged By Heather - 1980


bethany said...

This is a really beautiful entry, Den.

Anonymous said...

Read your blog last night - very, very sweet entry about Heather's Nana - it is nice to see/read/hear so many of your thoughts.

xo Chris

heather said...

wow. my heart hurts.

Anonymous said...


Stunning In Medias Res (For Nana). Touching. Articulate. Evocative. Erudite. Emotional.

About to read it again.