Tag Archives: Lydia Langstaff

Writing: Remembering Lydia Langstaff

writer, Lydia Langstaff, young writers, heart defects

Lydia Langstaff was just starting out but accomplished a great deal. Creative Commons: Dave Morrison, flickr

Today I heard that there is a celebration for a man who is one of the longest living with a heart transplant. Diagnosed at 21 with a fatal heart disease and given weeks to live, he received a heart transplant and 26 years later, he’s still going strong. This made me think of Lydia Langstaff, a young writer who I once knew. We were both part of the same writer’s group. Lydia and I began to do some individual critiquing of each other’s work on the side.

She was under thirty and was truly like a porcelain doll. Her skin was nearly translucent, a pale white, and her eyes were large. Lydia’s hair was blond and her rounded nails had a tinge of blue. In many ways she was as delicate as a fey being who spends a short time navigating the world of humans. You see, Lydia had a congenital heart defect. Her nails and skin were part of her condition. Her heart was such a tremulous thing that Lydia could never fly, nor even walk up a flight of stairs. The strain would have been too much.

She told me once her family called her their miracle because she had never been expected to live past birth. And yet she did. She

Lydia Langstaff, memento mori, remembering writers, speculative writing,

Writing may be less ephemeral than our lives. Creative Commons: pirano Bob R, flickr, by William Michael Harnett

made it through her world carefully, and uncomplaining. Lydia’s husband, Jeff Langstaff, supported her and they were both aware of her tenuous hold on the reins of life.

For the brief while I got to know Lydia she was a determined writer. She never ever complained about her condition. She persevered and lived with it. And she was becoming a good author. She sold a few stories and possibly some poems. She and I were working on novels. I had read some of hers. And then one day we heard that Lydia had died suddenly, one night in the arms of her husband. They had always known it could happen any time, but it was still a surprise that she died so young, at 28.

After Lydia’s death, her husband Jeff asked me to look through her manuscript. It turns out she had finished the first draft of a novel and he wondered what it would take to make it publishable. I read it and didn’t charge him, in honor of Lydia. It was a mythic tale, of traveling back in time to Scotland’s early history, of accepting one’s destiny. I told him that it would take some editing to make it publishable but it wasn’t bad. I couldn’t do it for free but I would halve my rate. He told me he’d think about it because even an edited manuscript doesn’t mean it will be published. It languished in a drawer and I never heard from Jeff again.

It’s been about 16 years since Lydia died and I still have her manuscript. I don’t know what her maiden name is and attempts to find Jeff have not succeeded. I’m loath to throw out the manuscript as it seems to disrespect Lydia’s memory. Yet should I edit it and then self-publish it under both our names? If I did that, I’d have to split the proceeds after my cost; Lydia’s half going to heart research. But is that ethical? I feel stuck and wonder what would be right. I’d love to honor her memory and let her story see the light but I’m not family and yet, I can’t find them. What do you think I should do? And if you know a Jeff Langstaff, have him read this and contact me if he’s the right one.

There is a Lydia Langstaff Memorial Prize that On Spec puts out (possibly sporadically) given to a writer under 30. I think it will be resurrected again. But I’d like to know what to do with Lydia’s manuscript and I’d dearly love to find her family. In the meantime, I have another part of Lydia’s legacy. She taught me to cherish each moment because time is ephemeral and I’ve had so much more time than she did. She showed me that one can accomplish a great deal, even with physical handicaps. I don’t always remember  these lessons but I try to because Lydia gave it her all for her short time in this earthly realm.

7 Comments

Filed under art, Culture, fantasy, health, Writing

Honoring the Dead: All Hallows

It is the end of October, Hallowe’en, All Hallows Evening or Samhain (pronounced sow-ain). In Celtic and early European traditions Samhain was the ending of the year, the harvest had been collected and the cold dark days began. Fears that the light wouldn’t return and that nocturnal and supernatural creatures came into the fore of most people’s thoughts. It was the time of the dead, when the veils between the worlds thinned. Those who had died the previous year crossed over and those who were dead could come through to haunt or visit their kin.

As Christianity worked its way through Europe the day came to be known as All Hallows Eve, and that which was hallow, meaning holy or to be revered, was honored. Christianity brought in All Saints Day, following on November 1st. Mexico combined their traditions into Dias de los Muertos, the day of the dead. Throughout many countries, but not necessarily at this date but often in this time of year, is the tradition of honoring the dead. Even Remembrance Day falls in the dark time (if placed on that date for different reason).

And so it is, with this dark and cold time I have found I’ve been thinking about people who I’ve known who have died. Unfortunately the list gets longer but we keep them alive through memory and love.

There was John “Bear” Curtis, part Cherokee, 6’7″, an actor, known as being a grumpy bear, but lover of art, generous and spiritual. He was a pipe carrier, had completed the sundance, and created various crafts from amazingly detailed collages to sculptures, drums and rattles. Bear was, in size and personality, larger than life. His strong spirit kept him going for over a year, after the unhygienic procedures of the hospital infected him with C-Deficil. I honor Bear for having touched my life and given beauty to the world.

I remember Lydia Langstaff, a young writer, born with a congenital heart defect and not expected to make it past infancy. White-skinned, blue-veined, as delicate as porcelain, Lydia never complained that she could never fly or even take a flight of stairs. She wrote and persevered and finished a first draft of her novel before she died at 28 in her husband’s arms. I still have the draft of her novel, and cannot find husband or family, afraid to throw it out and not sure what to do with it many years later. I honor Lydia and it was she who taught to use each day as best you can, even if I don’t always fulfill that.

I remember Jay Herrington, a bright star, a beautiful man, a powerful priest. Intelligent and gifted, he made amazing crafts and was just beginning to find his pace. He was witty and funny and did an amazing drag queen, High Joan the Conqueror. He died in a vehicle malfunction and never woke from his injuries. I honor Jay for bringing light and reverence into my life.

I remember Gerry Stevens, opinionated, strong minded, honorable and loving life. He battled cancer quite well, living longer than most. Gerry was a compulsive gadget fiddler, taking things apart and putting them together, to see how they worked, to figure out new ways to make things. A thinker, he created and changed and stayed involved. Gerry died with his boots on, staying strong till the end and saying, if it’s not fun, don’t do it. I honor Gerry for teaching something about dying with grace.

I remember Geoffery MacLean, Mischka and Berek Ravensfury who all left too soon from disease, car accidents and mental anguish. None of them were perfect men, full of complex contradiction. But all of them were impassioned, caring about people. I honor these three for seeing that heart mattered most of all.

David Honigsberg I only met a couple times. He and his wife Alexandra were vibrant, intelligent, creative, alive. They struck me as two people who lived very rich lives and only enhanced the bright flame within each other. David died suddenly of a heart attack and I was shocked, thinking someone so alive could leave so suddenly. Jenna Felice was a young editor at Tor, a firebrand not afraid to state her opinion or grab at what she wanted. She was another bright star on her way to greater heights when she died from an asthma attack. It saddened me greatly to see such a flame extinguished so soon. I honor Jenna and David for their fire and fervor.

There are more, ones I knew well, or barely knew. There are those people I never knew at all. There is my cat Figment, who was unique, maybe as all cats and people are. Intelligent, skittish, loving, playful, mischievous, I still miss him. I honor him for the unconditional love and company he gave me for 14 years.

All those who touch us, great or small, young or old, furred or flesh become part of our lives. They may not be famous but they matter to others, are loved and love. Immortality happens in memory, in honoring those who have move through the path of our lives. This is the time that the veil thins, as those who have gone beyond pass through our memories. Honor your ancestors, your loved ones, your acquaintances for we are all part of the great whole.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, family, history, home, life, memories, people, spirituality

Remembering

As befits the day, I’m remembering those who I knew who have passed on.

First was Lydia Langstaff, so delicate that she befitted the ideal of a medieval woman. Slender, blond hair, translucent skin with a blue tracery of veins showing beneath. In fact her nails were blue as well. Born with a congenital heart defect, no one thought she would live past infanthood. She could not fly nor even walk up stairs, so fragile was her heart.

Yet Lydia never complained in the few years I knew her. She wrote, a good craft for someone barred from all physical elements. Traveling, of course was out. Lydia was starting to get somewhere with her writing career, having sold a speculative story and a few poems. She had written a novel, which took place in Scotland with an heiress who goes back to the time of her ancestors. Lydia was part of our writers’ group and I was just getting to know her a bit more (we were working on poems together I think) when she died, unexpectedly (though always expected) in the arms of her husband one night.

At 28 she had done much, a flame burning brightly but having to fight a strong wind the whole time. I remember Lydia and the lesson she taught. Don’t give up your dreams, don’t complain. Just do.

Jay Herrington was a friend I worked with in ritual plays. He was beautiful and gay and married to the love of his life, a woman. He and Deb had been school friends and married before he realized his penchant was for men. They knew though, that they did love each other, deeply, and worked around the issues. Jay was known for dressing drag once in a while as High Joan the Conqueror.

He was a talented priest and ritualist, a great artist and just starting to shine even brighter, a rising star. He and Deb made a trip back to their native Florida to bring his younger brother Josh out to Seattle. On the drive back a wheel flew off the car. Jay was sleeping in the back and never woke up. Deb was in a coma for several weeks. Josh walked away with only a scratch but with no brother. They kept Jay’s body alive long enough so that his parents could come and say goodbye. The only blessing was that Jay never woke from his injuries. He was just past 30, and burned so brightly we knew he could have done a lot. I remember Jay and the talent he and humor he brought to us.

Bear (John) Curtis, my friend of many years, was truly a bear of a man at 6’7″. He was much like his ursine namesake, grumpy and short on patience, and liked his darkish cave and backyard full of greenery and trees. But Bear was also generous and creative and deeply spiritual. Part Cherokee, he was a pipe carrier and introduced me to Native sweats and healing circles. People respected his respect of traditions.

He was an actor and had often played mountain men and bad guys in historic westerns. He was very much like a dragon in his hoard. There wasn’t a speck of wall or any surface in his home that didn’t have some trinket or treasure or image upon it. Bear collected bones, which I shared, shiny glass, Beatles paraphernalia and many other things. His greatest treasure was his wife Louise, efferevescent, loving and always joyous. There has never been a couple who balanced each other so well.

But Bear had to go for cancer surgery, which was successful. However, the state of our hospitals meant that he ended up with infections and then C-Defecil. His stubbornness and grumpiness scared some people. The damage to his body was great and Bear was scared himself, though he didn’t talk about except to Louise. He lingered and fought for fourteen months, a testament to the stubbornness he did have. He died last year, a week before Christmas. He was 59, young for his age, but the infection aged him greatly. The hardest thing was seeing his great spirit waste away over those months. I remember Bear for all that he gave me: friendship, creativity, spiritual perspectives.

There have been others, close enough to call friend and having left this life too soon. Gerry Stevens, a creative, strong minded man who was so gentle in his dying. He made it easier on everyone to deal with his dying. Having done chemo for awhile he finally decided to stop it as he was sick from it more than he was healthy. He died with dignity at home with relatively little pain. He always said, if it’s not fun, don’t do it and he had great fun.

Geoffery MacLean and Mischka Ravensfury, whose real names I didn’t know (Gordon [has told me Mischka’s was John Booth. I think I knew he was John but forgot with the Misch personality that I saw so much of). They were men I met in the SCA. Geoffery a humble bear of a man, always willing to help and maybe sometimes lacking in finesse. But he was gentle. He saved me from hypothermia one camping event, keeping me warm in bed, never being ungentlemanly. After years of health issues they diagnosed him with cancer and he had very few months after that diagnosis.

Mischka, was often a troubled man, but a big teddy bear. He tried hard, was a talented metal smith and opened his arms for anyone. Many misfits found welcome in Mischka’s camp. He was killed in a driving accident, never waking from his injuries.

These people, each and every one a bright spark, left their marks on many lives. We sometimes don’t know, indeed often have no idea, of the impact we make on someone. Everyone was human, flawed and perfect. They had good days and bad, pissed people off yet gave their love and attention. Their deaths always teach me a lesson. Live life to the fullest, go for your dreams and tell those who matter that you do indeed care for them. Better late than never.

This day was set aside, originally to mark the passing of those who had died in war. But each of us has our own war to fight and our own way to remember. I think of all the needless deaths, the lives gone far too soon and wonder if there is a better way. And I remember those I knew, keeping something of them alive in my heart.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, health care, life, memories, people, relationships, spirituality, Writing

Writing Catch Up

With all the running about and schmoozing at World Fantasy I haven’t had time to actually post anything or even send out many submissions.

However, the Best New Erotica 8 edited by Maxim Jakubowski will be out by Robinson (UK) in a month. It features a reprint of a story of mine “Stocking Stuffers.” I have also just sold “The Boy Who Bled Rubies” to Caro Soles for Don Juan: Tales of Lust and Seduction. I turned in an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology but have yet to hear the details on that. Other stories and poetry are out but with no firm dates of publication.

I did just receive my certificate and free chapbooks for “Don Quixote’s Quandary” which received a judges’ choice in the SFPA contest. It’s probably the least I’ve been paid (pay presumably in the mail with the chapbook of winning poems) for a poem in years. But what the heck, it was a contest, I have many poems and oh well. I plan to post a couple of published poems up on this site in the near future.

There was a poetry reading at World Fantasy on the Thursday night. Joe Haldeman, David Lunde, Rhea Rose, Eileen Kernaghan, Carolyn Clink and I think one other person read in round table style. Mostly we read to friends and spouses it seems. I wish poetry was more accessible to people. I want to have a poetry reading one day where the word poetry/poem are never mentioned. Lure them in and then gobsmack them with some poetry. I’ve done a lot of performance poetry in the past and maybe that’s what’s needed to bring in a few more people. Alas, poor poetry, dismissed and neglected by so many, including SFWA.

I have a rough draft of “Our Lady of Redemption” done but need to clean it up. I’m still waiting for some readers to look over “Awaking Pandora,” a novelette that took me 15 years to finish. I’m working on a monkey/elephant story and a cat story. Never thought I’d really do a cat story but it’s very nebulous right now as I work out the details of the mystery in it.

Editing wise, I’ve been fighting some pretty nasty viruses on my computer but will be working through some of the poems for Chizine soon. For Aberrant Dreams, we’re still in a holding pattern, though new content went up for October. “The Girl Who Swallowed the Sky” by Jacqueline Bowen is one of the stories I accepted.

Some people will be hearing from me in the near future on the Aberrant stories. Unfortunately being backlogged means rejecting more. Be prepared. I also have to write up a report for SF Canada. That was supposed to be done tonight but other backlogged paperwork caught up to me. I’ll be meeting a client tomorrow evening and then finishing that report.

I think I need to set a firm date for working on the novel. I’ve drifted a bit there and no one else is going to write it for me. Time to set aside part of at least one night a week. Perhaps Mondays after bellydance.

Speaking of novels, many years ago, a woman in our group, Lydia Langstaff, wrote a first draft. She died at 28 of congenital heart problems and never got to go further with her work. Her husband Jeff approached me after her death about doing an edit on her novel. Even though I was going to give him a deal, I still would have needed to charge for my time and the rewrite would have been extensive. He couldn’t afford to do anything at the time and asked me to hang on to it. And then time passed.

It’s been more than ten years and I can’t find Jeff Langstaff. I don’t want to throw out what might be the only copy of Lydia’s work. If I rewrote it, could I publish it with both our names? Would I want to? What’s moral and ethical in a situation like this? Take half the money and donate it to heart research? It’s not my labor of love but it was hers. Would I want to invest the time, not knowing if it would sell? I guess I could send out query letters on the story but I’m not sure that’s my right. If I could find Jeff or Lydia’s family I could ask. But for now her manuscript sits in limbo and I can’t throw it out.

I’ll try again to find a relative but it’s an odd conundrum.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, life, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing