Return to San Miguel

In 11 days, I will be returning to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. People wonder why I am visiting Mexico in July when the heat can become oppressive.

I usually visit the place in March; however, this year, I was too busy. In the past, I’ve gone for a week. I will be going for three weeks this time, making up for my long absence from a place I cherish. The hot weather will not bother me.

I am now visualizing San Miguel, an art colony with cobblestone streets. This is my first journey there since I self-published The Monarchs, a novel about a retired couple who seek refuge in San Miguel every year. The husband has cancer and SM provides him with some therapy to an otherwise difficult life. I will be taking along some of my books, one of which I will donate to the library which has one of the largest collections of Spanish and English books in the Americas.

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I will give the remainder of the books as gifts to locals there: people I have come to know due to my numerous visits.

The front cover of the novel was designed by my niece who has more of an artistic eye than I do. I asked her to draw a picture of the town’s parish church, La Parroquia. The married couple are standing in front of it, blissfully happy, trying to ignore those obstacles in one’s life. Soon, I will be standing where my characters are standing.

The expression, truth is stranger than fiction, applies here.

San Miguel, I cannot wait.

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BlueInk Review of my Novel

My novel, The Monarchs, has been reviewed by BlueInk. Here is the review:

In his first novel, Randy Coates tackles some tough topics: old age, illness, and death. With The Monarchs, he pulls no punches on any of these subjects, offering a raw and sometimes painfully realistic look at how one paired-for-life couple handles their final years, months, and days together.

Coates gives us Sharon and Robert, a retired couple who travels annually from their chilly Canadian home to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in a human “migration” that parallels the path of the majestic Monarch butterflies. In their twilight years, however, the trip becomes more and more difficult, as the increasingly depressed Robert’s prostate cancer causes him considerable pain, inconvenience, and embarrassment. Like the famous butterflies, however, the couple continues to make their trek despite the odds against them.

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Coates’ delivery is not without humor. Robert, for instance, wonders if the doctors are just throwing darts at a diagnostic chart and choosing a new remedy for him each time he’s in the hospital. But the bulk of the very graphic writing focuses on the growing humiliation of Robert’s incontinence, which makes for fairly grim reading. When Robert doesn’t quite make it to the bathroom, for instance, Coates writes that a “brown stream followed him like an obedient dog.” One or two such scenes showing us the way cancer has made Robert’s life almost unlivable would be enough, but Coates revisits this theme so frequently and intensely that it overshadows the charming relationship between curmudgeonly Robert and his loyal, if frequently sarcastic, wife.

The story moves slowly towards its inevitable end, with ambulance calls and hospital stays becoming more and more frequent. The Monarchs isn’t light reading but may resonate with seniors facing end-of-life decisions. Coates ultimately turns away from grisly medical details to evoke the eternally renewing butterflies. Death, he suggests, is not the end, but merely a migration to a new place.

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Garage Sale

 

 

Last weekend, I helped my parents organize a garage sale.

I asked if I could include some of my items to be sold and they said yes. One of the items was my children’s fantasy novel, More Precious Than Rubies: The Return of the Norse Gods.

I have not been getting the sales for this novel that I desire. I love to write but I dislike marketing because I’ve always seen it as a pushy affair. I know that it’s necessary if one wants success as a writer. I’m just not very good at it.

So I decided to try to get some exposure at my parents’ sale. Yes, I know that a garage sale is not the normal for book-signings; however, if I can ask to put the book in my dentist’s waiting room, why not here?

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In fact, I sold three copies.

The first buyer said, “Imagine that. Coming to a yard sale and getting a book signed by its author.”

The second buyer had her pre-teen son with her and was deliberately looking for something that might interest him.

“Do you like fantasy?” I asked him.

His slightly confused look suggested that he didn’t know what I was talking about. After all, don’t we all like fantasy?

I described the book to him.

“He’s not much of a reader,” his mom said.

Words that teachers dread to hear.

But after some consultation with her son, she said, “He says he’s going to try it.”

Which brings me to those survey questions about what I want my writing to achieve. Well, if I can get a reluctant reader to read, that’s sufficient for me.

The third buyer was a woman I know. When she was six, my mother looked after her in day care. I used to play board games with her and entertain her with fabulous stories. She told me she never forgot these. She now has two kids of her own and drives a bus. She gladly bought the book.

My mother, bless her, likes to be my promoting manager at times. She told people about the book, telling them that the author was “sitting right over there.”

Writing, as writers will so often tell you, can stem from humorous incidents in our lives. Two of my mom’s friends, both in their 80’s, walked around, looking at the sale items. Mom directed them to my book but they either didn’t hear her or didn’t care.

Then, five minutes later, one of them almost stumbled over the box containing my books, looked down, and said, “Oh, here are some children’s books.”

Life itself is a book.

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Aging

My parents are both in their early 80’s and are in the process of downsizing: moving from their house to a seniors’ apartment in town.

This has been a consideration of my mother’s for the last five years. My father has been less enthusiastic, opting not to talk about the subject. My father, you see, has always been a handyman, tinkering with any repairs needed inside and outside the house. In fact, he was the one who built our house. He installed the electrical wiring and took care of the plumbing. Despite the fact that his health is not as strong, one can see why he is reluctant to leave.

I grew up in that house. I am now 50.

This past weekend, they organized a lawn sale to get rid of some of their smaller items: ones they would not be taking with them to their new living quarters. I helped sell things.

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Lawn sales are always melancholy affairs to me. There is a Paul McCartney song called Junk, one that he released on his first solo album shortly after the Beatles broke up. It best sums up my feelings about lawn sales in these two lines:

Bye, bye, says the junk in the shop window.
Why, why? says the junk in the yard.

For I believe that lawn sales are a coy attempt to tell us that we are moving on in life. In other words, we are aging. As my parents age, so do I.

On the hit television show, Roseanne, Roseanne says to her mother that she doesn’t like the fact that her mom has just turned 62. When her mom asks why, Roseanne tells her that as her mom ages, so does she and that her mom “keeps dragging her down with her.”

I looked at the objects in the lawn sale and measured my parents’ life and my life with their memories; with their established presence in our lives.

We all had fun. After all, lawn sales are social events in which we carry on conversations with both strangers and people we know.

However, it always hurt me when someone asked my dad, “So when you move, what are you going to do with your life?”

Dad answered as bravely and optimistically as he could but I kept wondering what was really going through his head.

Because when we make these huge transitions in life and one is retirement, which is not too far away for me, does everyone have the same question as I:

Am I now on that last journey towards death?

Aging is often hard to face.

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Third Excerpt from my Novel, The Monarchs

Having travelled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on many occasions, I had clear ideas of how to write my book The Monarchs and what to include.

San Miguel attracts wealthy North Americans who do not want the party atmosphere of certain Mexican cities but who also want a temperate climate all year round. They are also attracted to the blend of both local and expatriate peoples and the town’s reputation as a revered art colony.

In parts of the book, I ridicule the aging North American population that has made its home in SMA but this should not be seen as offensive, seeing that I am becoming one of them myself.

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Here is a snippet from the novel:

They walked into the Teatro Santa Maria with some tredpidation. They were there to hear a talk on the monarchs but they also wanted to avoid any interaction with the Whities who they suspected would be attending in droves.

They showed an expression of something like horror when they entered a buzzing, crowded lecture room.

“I thought all of these guys would have heard this lecture a million times,” Sharon said out of the corner of her mouth.

There was an eerie, noticeable awareness of their entering the room as at least one-third of the heads turned to acknowledge them. Countless white heads of hair bobbed up and down in greeting. Teeth smeared with errant paths of lipstick flashed smiles at them. Wrinkled claws waved half-heartedly. Leathery necks craned at impossible angles. People muttered to each other.

“Are we now the last pairing needed for Bridge?” Sharon asked.

“Just pretend you don’t know how to play.”

“Oh sure. That’ll give ‘em the excuse to stay with us longer so that they can teach us.”

The novel is very heartfelt, based upon actual occurrences. We can only write so well. We can live even better.

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Scary World for 4-Year-Olds

I work in an elementary school where kindergarten children assault and swear at their classmates and teachers on a weekly basis. Accident reports take up a lot of the teachers’ time and suspensions occur regularly.

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Let’s just contemplate the reality of this for a minute: These are 4- and 5-year-old children!

Many of us question why, at such an early age, a child would contain so much rage and hostility. What could possibly be happening in their lives to initiate this anger?

We all talk of inclusivity in schools and this is mostly a good thing. We do not shun students according to race, culture, socio-economic backgrounds. Every child in the class gets a piece of the cake when birthdays are celebrated.

However, I believe that this inclusivity has to be looked at carefully from the angle of discipline.

Kids, like everyone else, carry a lot of baggage. They go through rough patches in which parents divorce, among other things. We should be cautious of unusual behaviour because we don’t always know what is going on at home.

But this should not allow us to go easy on kids when using violence. We all get upset but this does not mean we should condone violent or aggressive behaviour.

Not allowing a child to attend a field trip because of unacceptable behaviour should be pushed by the administration more often. After all, there are other children whose lives are being put in danger. Safety issues are big here and should never be overlooked.

These angry children will eventually be adults. What then?

It is a scary world when even the youngest members of society are showing this kind of behaviour.

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Technology Science Fiction

I am astounded by how people have become absorbed in their technological toys. On the bus the other day, I was amazed that a female passenger was even reading a book made of paper. I know I am old-fashioned but I still enjoy the smell and texture of a book in my hands.

The people who text their friends or spy their texts every few minutes may think they are being social. My perception is that people who choose texts over personal connections are actually being anti-social. Texting is not evil in itself; however, it can become an addiction like everything else.

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I live in a condo that has a weight room. I go to the weight room often. It is not unusual for me to see someone lift weights for two minutes, check his texts for three minutes, then continue the pattern. There are also those who multi-task when they ride the exercise bike and check texts at the same time.

I have heard of people having their hands firmly wrapped around their smartphones as they go to the washroom.

Is this what life has come to? Being without communication for five minutes is sending people into fits of anxiety? They cannot even carry out daily routines without getting sick with worry that no one is talking to them?

I foresee a sad-looking future. I foresee people having sex while one hand is poised above their thrusting partner, their phones emitting messages from someone else. It would be like an electronic ménage-a-trois. Maybe they’ll get off faster.

Or fast-paced hockey players cruising down the ice, one hand on their sticks and one on their phone. It may even become named as a brand new sport, the national game of both Canada and Japan. Perhaps even entered as a contest at the Olympics.

Don’t laugh. These are predictions that I will see in my lifetime. I’m good for at least another 20 years.

Which kind of makes me wish sometimes for a zombie apocalypse. To see all the electronics left behind as people flee to the forests.

And maybe actually see the trees.

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