HOME, LIKE DYING EMBERS

Home, Like Dying Embers is a weekly – fortnightly story series and bit of an experiment in self discipline. One of the problems many writers face is the inability to finish what they begin, including me. And while I don’t believe in lumping all your stories onto your blog, I do believe in sprinkling them out like fairy dust … let them exist … breathe or eventually splutter and die. Live and learn. But let them exist. Another reason I began this story is to play with prose. You can map out a story (called plotting and not overly recommended) or you can let your characters follow their feet. This is what Home, Like Embers is all about, seeing where my characters will go next; inspired by a recent writing workshop with the wonderful Claire Keegan. Some of the characters are also based on my experiences while living in Berlin, and they are rarely exaggerated, merely reshaped. The story begins with Hannah and her life in Berlin as she decides to return a family photograph to her dying father. I hope you enjoy this series. – Jakob

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ONE IN A THOUSAND

My short story ‘One in a Thousand’ received Third Place in Issue #32 for On the Premises. Their prompt was: We challenged contestants to write a creative, compelling, well-crafted story between 1,000 and 5,000 words long in which a character (not necessarily the main character, but one important to the story) almost dies.

In the end they received 377 contest entries and chose six stories for prizes.

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The Static of Alzheimer’s Disease

and reflections of my late father

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This weekend marks the 4-year anniversary of my father’s death. Dad died in July 2014 at the age of 65 from ‘Pick’s disease,’ a rare form of progressive dementia involving localized atrophy of the brain. His symptoms all pointed towards early-onset dementia, and we only learned of his true diagnoses a year after his death.

My father was a hardy Irishman and an outdoors-man. If he wasn’t rounding up cattle, constructing a fence or creating a vineyard (to perfection mind you) he was pouring everyone a drink and spinning a yarn … the time he built his own river boat and treated his sister to an ‘adventure down Abbey river.’ Musings of tomfoolery and even tragedy — but always sprinkled with that sharp Irish wit and narrated with an infectious, barrel-chested laugh.

For some reason I think of the lyrics from Working Man by The Dubliners …

He can take you back in time, tell you of the hardships that were there. It’s a working man I am and I’ve been down underground …

My father was that spirited working man, through and through. At least until his brain began to shut down, one compartment at a time.

I first noticed it when he failed to recognise his favourite coffee mug. My mother just shot me a worried look and blamed it on the wine. Then his moods became erratic, yo-yo-ing between passive and detached to uncharacteristically aggressive.

We were none the wiser.

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While families wait for a cure their loved ones are slipping away before their eyes

How can anyone know when a loved one is slowly vanishing? When their walls of perception are crumbling down around them and their anamnesis is being hijacked — the recollection of an entire life suddenly spirited away by some unseen thought thief.

How could a man who was larger than life, who was a source of such humour and wit, be reduced to this? When someone close to you develops dementia, you naturally want to understand why it’s happening … so you start to dig, you do your research.

The New England Journal of Medicine characterises Alzheimers’s disease as the deposition of amyloid-beta (Aβ) plaques in the brain.

But that description doesn’t help much unless you’re a neurologist or have a profound understanding of the human brain. And with so many cooks in the neurological kitchen, waiting for a cure is like waiting for a divine miracle. And most trials are unsuccessful.

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The Importance of Feeling Wonder

Why marvelling at nature might be exactly what you need

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There are some things in this life that are worth connecting to. Mysteries that boggle the mind, secrets that cause the mouth to gape open and our eyes to widen, and enigmas that offer some respite from our daily grind.

Things that are bigger than us.

In 1976 an African American kid from the Bronx was fresh out of high school with dreams of becoming a scientist. He was just seventeen when he sent off his college applications and was soon accepted to Cornell University in Ithaca.

What the young student did not know, was that the admissions office sent his application to Carl Sagan, who was not only a famous astrophysicist at the time but was also the leading Professor of Astronomy and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell.

Shortly after, Sagan sent the young man a letter offering to show him around the labs on campus.

Letter to Tyson from Sagan new

The excited young student had to pinch himself. After all, Carl Sagan had been one of his heroes since he was eight years old. He met Sagan two weeks later on a snowy Saturday morning and was given a tour of the labs. During the tour, Sagan handed the young man a signed copy of his book, “The Cosmic Connection.” When the student opened the book he noticed it was inscribed “to a future astronomer.”

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At the end of the day, Sagan drove the young man back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder and it looked as though the roads might be closed. Sagan wrote his home phone number on a piece of paper and said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home with my family.”