Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Sister's Final Words to Our Mother

So anyway...

I haven't posted for a long time.

Mostly it had to do with life getting in the way, as it often does. But lately it has gotten in the way in the most devastating way possible. On September 22, my mother was diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer. She was not a smoker or in any of the other normal at-risk groups; she was just very unlucky. After six weeks of struggle, often surrounded by armies of friends and family, she passed away on November 2.

About this I will have a lot more to say at another time, including a discussion of my emotions and my own final words, not to mention my mother's final words. (Let's just say they were almost something that would have been both funny and a bit obscene.) But for now, I'd like to talk about my sister Kathy.

Kathy was, of all six of us, the closest by far to Mom. A visiting nurse like Mom--indeed employed by the same association from which Mom retired only a few years ago--Kathy finally sold her own home and moved in with Mom to take care of her when it became clear that advancing dementia would no longer allow her to be on her own. Thus it was Kathy who was with her all of the time, who talked with her and walked with her, who essentially shared a life with her. And it was Kathy who lost the most when the diagnosis came that began to take her away.

Kathy's immediate reaction was to take time off from work indefinitely so that she could care for Mom. As Mom deteriorated, it was Kathy who dealt with it, who had to hear her moaning in the night, who understood the depth of the pain none of the rest of us--who saw her in the daylight when the meds had kicked in--could even begin to fathom until later, when we arrived in the final weeks to stay and help with 24/7 care.

My sister is the hero of a story that ends with sadness, as this story always had to end. Without her love, patience, guidance, kindness, and gentleness, Mom's final weeks would never have been as positive an experience as they were. It was Kathy who made it her job to keep Mom's pain under control, Kathy who watched out for times when things were getting to be too much, Kathy with her nearly intuitive connection to Mom who kept her as happy as it was possible for her to be as her time approached.

A month or so before she died, Mom asked Kathy to write her a poem to be read at her funeral. Over three very difficult days last week, Kathy did so. The first time I read it, I cried. Kathy, who cries way more easily than I do, somehow made it through reading it in the church. But everyone thought it was beautiful. And I'm sure Mom did as well.

I express my thoughts through poetry, 
what I’m thinking, how I feel.
At times it brings me happiness, 
at times it helps me heal.

I realize as I search for words, 
in the stillness of the night.
By far this is the hardest poem 
I have  ever had to write.

I solely dedicate this poem, 
to a person like no other,
To my best friend and treasured gift, 
my sweet and precious mother.

I love you deeply with all my heart, 
I will miss you every day.
I struggle for the answer…… Why?
Why were you called away?

We had so many other things 
still left for us to do,
I would have done them earlier… 
if I had only knew.

I’ve never felt a pain like this, 
like a knife that twists and turns.
A constant feeling of despair, 
like a fire it burns.

I’ll miss the way we shared our day 
and our quiet evening talks.
I’ll miss kissing you goodnight, 
I’ll miss our morning walks.

I’ll miss the feeling of your hand, 
gently wrapped in mine.
I wish I had the strength and power 
to forever turn back time.

Although my world is torn apart 
with the emptiness I feel,
I pray to God every day 
that time will help me heal.

You spoke of God and heaven, 
and how you weren’t afraid to die.
You said it's just a part of life 
as moments passed us by.

You fought so bravely until the end 
as the days began to turn.
Unselfishly your children were 
your number one concern.

You always showed your love for us, 
we knew how much you cared.
I know that I’ll find comfort 
in the memories that we shared.

But as for now, although we seem 
so very far apart,
You will always be right her with me, 
forever in my heart.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

new clarity

So anyway...

I've been a teacher now for 36 years, which is a very, very long time. Sometimes I can hardly even believe how long it has been. Weirdly, though, I can remember specific incidents from specific classes going all the way back to Year One.  Even the names of some of the students. (David Witte, the freshman boy who couldn't sit still and kept climbing the curtains in my first class in 1978 but who was one heck of a sweeper back on the frosh soccer team, where are you now?) :-)

A whole lot of students, teachers, administrators, etc. have come and gone in those 36 years. And as they have, I have honed bit by bit the way I teach. Like most fourth decade teachers, I suppose, I do things without thinking much about how or why I do them: I've been at this for so long it's second nature. And that's why I love having a student teacher.

I've had several over the years, some of which have been far more work than they have been worth. (One didn't show up one day two months in and let me know afterward, when I finally got hold of him, that he was quitting the program!) Most of them, though, have been quite strong. And one of the things I love most about mentoring someone is the need to consider and articulate exactly what it is that I am doing and why I am doing it. It is a wonderful reminder. And every once in a while I even come up with something that, gosh, I probably should have stopped doing that by now because it really has become redundant or obsolete in today's classroom. Even us old dogs can learn.

So what, you wonder, does any of this have to do with writing?

In my last post, I examined the revision that I had done to Abomination, explaining it and articulating my reasons for doing what I had done. I was doing so here, in writing; I had actually not ever taken the time to sit down and do so before. I discussed how difficult is had been to change the narrative to seventeen 1st person POVs. But when it came to my "villain" character, I said, I had not done so because I "couldn't": it would "give away the mystery."

And I read and re-read that post, and every time I did so it struck me that something was terribly wrong with it. If I never get into the villain character's head, how can that character ever develop in any way? And of course I knew the answer immediately: she doesn't. She is the single flattest character in the whole damn book: no arc, no growth, no back story, no nothing. I was resolving my story with a character who was less developed than Wile E. Coyote. Why on earth had I never realized this before?

It was at this precise time that an agent who had been looking at my manuscript for about a month rejected it, saying she loved the voice and the inventive narrative form, but the book "didn't hold together" the way she hoped it would. And I thought: of course it didn't. It completely falls apart in its final act!

But what to do? I was right in my previous post: getting into her head via a 1st Person chapter would of necessity give away the mystery. I took this quandary to my readers' group, and Rebecca--thank God for Rebecca sometimes, for she tells me flat out what needs to be said even if I don't want to hear it--said that, yes, it would do that, but why did it matter? The book isn't a mystery.

And there it was. I was so caught up after the crime scene 3/4 of the way through the book in figuring out who did it that the entire focus of the book shifted: instead of being about Julie and her year of change and fight for acceptance, it became about who beat her up?

"It doesn't matter if the reader knows the answer," Rebecca said. "The characters still won't."

And right then I knew what to do. I went home and wrote several first person sections for the villain character, eventually making it clear by implication that she is guilty. Any reader will know. But what I am really doing in these scenes is helping the reader to understand why she acts the way she does. And then, when it was all over, I wrote one more scene: a coda between her and Julie. It might be the best scene in the whole book. And it is only possible because Rebecca helped me to see that I was not seeing my book clearly even after over a decade of revision.

No matter how long we do what we do, articulating why we do it helps us to learn more about it and occasionally teaches us new things. And maybe the new agent who now has the new version will like it better.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Publishing My Darlings

So anyway...

Lying in the sun on a rather cool afternoon in July, thinking about writing, thinking about trying to sell Abomination, thinking about my next project, thinking about getting ready for the school year to come and directing As You Like It and introducing a gradeless classroom, thinking about moving on to the final phase (organization and cleanup) of the home refinishing project, thinking about how bloody hard it is to find an agent...thinking that if I keep lying here thinking I might just think myself into a coma...

Seriously: too much is going on at once. I made a vow to myself to get Abomination sold this year, and everyone--all of my beta readers including the target audience--has had nothing but good things to say about it, but whenever I get it into the hands of an agent I don't find the right fit. And I keep trying, but everything has been a distraction.

The thing is, though, that I really believe in this book. I have been working on it for over a decade now, on and off. It has seen five full revisions, the latest of which involved a massive cut of 40,000 words and a complete point of view change. It terrified me, frankly, to do these things. Some of my readers told me not to, but I took the advice of a couple of agents: it was too long for the market and we needed to hear directly from Julie/Jonathan. OK: I took a deep breath, kept saying "kill your darlings" over and over again like a mantra, and wiped out scene after scene that I loved while shifting the entire book from a narrative that was mostly third person alternating with the first person commentary of Kristen to one that now is all first person, told from about seventeen different points of view at various times.

Getting each of them to sound like individual people was a pain in the butt, but I think I did it, and my readers agree. What I discovered as I did: the living souls behind my characters! Even more than I knew before, they leapt from the page for me. I gained empathy with characters I never had much empathy with before as I wrote their narratives in their voices. And since I was also shifting the book from past to present tense (hey, why not go nuts!), I also gained a sense of immediacy for each of them. It felt as if I could see the story unfold through each of their eyes.

That sounds awfully cheesy. And the characters I most desperately wanted to do this for I couldn't: to go into the heads of the "villains" of the piece would give away the mystery. But I think the reader gains so much more insight into so many others, including Jonathan/Julie herself.

All of this came at a cost, of course. There was a kick-ass Republican debate scene I had to cut entirely, for instance. That hurt. There was an entire subplot in the GOP candidate's HQ: gone. So too was a romantic subplot involving the teacher and the principal. Other things too, including a mysterious group plotting against Julie in the school. But I really think what remains makes the book better, and it needs to be read. I keep doing my research, hoping it will lead me to exactly the right agent. I have a few queries out right now.

All I can do is hope.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Remaking a Home

So anyway...

(I hate it when I don't post in forever, but I have not posted in forever. Mea culpa.)

For seven years I have lived in squalor. Not the kind you find looking out the wrong side of the bus while traveling to a resort in Jamaica: the kind where, instead of the lush trees with occasional breaks for elaborately landscaped entryways to five-star playgrounds for those who have enough money to play (which inevitably means no one who is from this island), you stare, appalled, as your air conditioned coach rolls past miles and miles of one-room open-front shacks with corrugated tin roofs, yards littered with the detritus of lifetimes, and families--multi-generational families--living together within those shabby, barely-there walls, no protection whatsoever from the 100+ degree sun and the torrential rain.

Not that kind. I'm not strong enough to live that life. I'm barely strong enough to drive by it in an air conditioned coach: my heart breaks in two and I want to climb out and give away everything I own to someone who lives there to make their lives better, but I know I'd never do that.

No, I'm speaking in exaggerated terms about the absurdly cluttered, disgusting state of my tiny, two bedroom townhouse ever since my marriage.

When I bought this place, I made it cute and pretty: pictures and flowers, both real and dried, were everywhere. Little statues, David Winter cottages, glass knickknacks, scented candles, new furniture that picked up mauves and greens and made the whole house come together. I loved to sit at night, light candles, and just enjoy being in this space. But the thing is: I bought it with the idea that I would live here and that my children would live here, but that if such a time came when I ever got married again, of course my husband and I would move into a larger space.

I was married again a little over seven years ago, but we could not afford to move; thus, he moved in with me. And with all of his stuff. I do not begrudge him his stuff, but this little townhouse simply could not hold it all. We ended up with furniture on top of furniture. There were literally bookcases the entire way up the staircase. The living room was filled with piles of books, papers, dvd's, and way too much furniture. The dining room table was never devoid of stacks of crap, mostly because the front room, my little haven (in the old version of the house) for organizing files and mail and magazines and other things, had become utterly inaccessible: stuffed to the gills with furniture, boxes, a model train set-up, and so much random crap that we often didn't know there were places the cats had used as satellite litter boxes until months had gone by.

Our bedroom was so overfilled with furniture (two dressers, a wardrobe, a make-up table, and a king size bed with two night stands in a room that is roughly 12x12 and includes a six foot balcony window) and more clothing than could reasonably fit into the above that it was simply always a mess. Over time the was-white carpets became some kind of dingy, stained grey because there was no point in even trying to move enough crap to clean them. We replaced the carpets in the living room/dining room with laminate floors in an effort to curtail bad habits from the cats, but it didn't work: they destroyed the laminate too. It was all more and more of a disaster every year.

And every year I grew more and more depressed about it. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so during the long winter months when I was forced to be stuck within those walls I would often become unbearably morose. But always the spring would come just in time and I would find myself rejuvenated, heart opened by the sight of crocuses breaking through the snow and the first robins, and I would allow the depression to slip silently away.

And then came this year, the year of the Polar Vortex, the year that winter would not end, when it shackled Chicago with icy chains that it would not release or even ease up for months. This was the year without any kind of even momentary thaw. It was the year with record cold and record snowfall. It was the year when the crocuses did not come until April. And when winter finally acquiesced to the planetary axis, the bitter cold was replaced by endless rain, and this became the year without sunshine. (It's true: as I write this, my deck has been waiting since April for sets of three consecutive dry days so contractors can refinish it. It has only happened once; we have had nearly constant rain.) There was no escape from the disgusting, depressing, overcrowded interior of my home. And to make things worse, my kitchen, which was in need of replacing on the day I bought the place, finally gave up the ghost at the start of the winter: the oven broke down and cabinets began peeling away from the walls.

It was in this way that 2014 became for me The Year I Remade My Home.

It began with my kitchen, which we gutted and had redone in March and April. As summer crept closer, though, I decided that the kitchen was not enough: I wanted to do it all, to attack the clutter and the junk piles and the excess furniture once and for all. So Dirk began to fill boxes and the garage began to fill up. Gradually, things started vanishing. When I threw away a large, decrepit chair, leaving only one recliner and no other chairs in the living room, it became clear that I meant business. The rest of the room emptied out. The front room also. And the stairway as well.

Eventually, we replaced the laminate floor with vinyl. (Take that, cats!) We replaced (finally) the worn, stained carpet upstairs. We built a new large closet to accommodate all of the clothing we have, and got rid of one of the dressers and a wardrobe in the process. We got rid of several very large wall units and bought new living room furniture. In the process, we have emptied the house of about 50% of the stuff that was in it, and nothing is not coming back unless it has a home. No more random piles.

It's still a mess. The workers are not finished, so we can't put everything away yet. But when it is done, we'll have a home we can be proud of and one that does not exaggerate by SAD, which could prove very important if next winter is anything like this one was. And all of that makes me happy.

What does not make me happy is that all of this has been extremely time consuming, and I have had no time to write. I need to rededicate myself, now that the job is heading toward its final stages. There is so very, very much to do...

Friday, November 22, 2013


So anyway...

I was six. It was a normal day until the announcement, and then it was anything but. What happened after that--the whole weekend that followed--became what I refer to as my earliest memory.Of course I have snippets of memories before that, bits and pieces of things that happened on the first day of first grade, in kindergarten, at home in my childhood, etc., but it is the weekend of Kennedy's assassination that forms the first solid, continuous sequential memory in my mind. I realize it is only highlights of what happened, but still it lingers in all of its stark vividness.

It also marks the start of a lifelong passion for knowing what is happening in the world. At the age of six, I started reading newspapers that weekend. Why not? They were and are aimed at a reading level of sixth grade and I, a precocious reader, was reading well above my grade level. I certainly did not comprehend most of what I saw there, but I gleaned enough to understand what was happening, and I learned that these things that were delivered to our home each day could let me know about a lot of things...and also that they had col comics. (Hey, I was a kid.) I have always read papers or sought news online; it almost hurts not to know what is going on. Even if I am on vacation, I need to know. This began fifty years ago today; I still have all of the papers from that weekend.

Many years ago, I wrote a poem that expresses my childish reaction to the events of 11/22/63. Today, half a century later, I share it with you.

Eternal Tears

The crackle of a classroom speaker.
Dozens of small voices, stilled
             by the sudden intrusion,
             stop at once.
A silence.
No movement in the room but
the rhythmic metronome of the teacher's ruler
swinging back and forth in her craggy hands.
The crackle sounds once more,
and our faces turn in unison,
in anticipation,
towards its source.
A small, broken voice--
recognizable but not normal,
not the rich, strong voice usually carried into the room that way,
but a fragment of it,
a shell, without depth,
cracking like the speaker itself--
interrupts the silence.
"Bow your heads in prayer," it says.
Confused eyes stare at the oval grill
awkwardly jutting out of an ancient beige wall.
The voice, more broken now, continues.
"We have just received word that the President has been shot."
Vaguely we try to recall just what a President is;
visions of white-haired men in blue coats leap out of history books into
our brains, blur, roll into each other.  Names, mostly from holidays,
flash through our minds.
And one more.
Again the electronic crackling,
as if the speaker itself does not wish to hear the news:
"President Kennedy was shot this afternoon in Dallas."
A pause.  A sound like weeping.  "Pray for him."
Dozens of eyes,
watch the teacher sit in stunned silence at her desk,
tears welling in her gray eyes,
the ruler grasped still tightly in her palm,
some connection to the world which has ended so abruptly.
Her face quivers, the gray in her hair even duller,
and her head slips to the desk.
We look at each other, recognizing
that something is terribly, unalterably wrong,
and bow our heads as well.
Eternity goes by.
No sound in the room but the humming of the clock
and the almost imperceptible click of its hand
every minute.
An airplane in the distance rattles the blinds on the window.
Somewhere a woman is calling someone,
her pained voice reaching out into the bright autumn sky.
Somewhere a baby is crying.
And we sit, heads on our desks, unsure exactly
what it all means,
still as we have ever been, waiting.
And the history book images flood back in:
Abraham Lincoln was a President who had been shot, but that was long ago,
very long ago,
and the quaking voice from the speaker had said, "this afternoon."
Voices from the mind: fathers' voices, mothers' voices,
in dinner conversation,
working around the edge of a roast,
red and dripping,
saying something about a new age, a new life for the country,
a new hope.
The speaker comes to life again, startling us out of our thoughts;
the voice is choking back tears.
"President John F. Kennedy died this afternoon in a Dallas hospital."
Wailing from somewhere down the hall.
Silence in the classroom.
Our faces blank, our minds blank.
All silent.
The speaker fades.
In the halls, there is silence.
Something terrible has happened, something
which will shape and define our lives.
So young, but we know that.
And we file quietly to our buses,
no tears in our eyes.
On this day, the tears are left to the grownups.
On this day, it helps to be a child.
And the buses roll through empty streets,
early afternoon traffic
stilled by the flickering blue light
of the television screens all are staring at,
and we go home to the arms of our waiting mothers,
and the blue lights transfix us too
Perhaps some of us cry then.
Perhaps some of us wait
for the scratchy images
of a frigid November morning
with a horse-drawn carriage
rolling along the street lined
with men in black and
women in dark veils and
the young boy raising his hand
in a silent salute,
or perhaps we wait until the small flame
begins its eternal vigil,
solitary on the hillside,
or perhaps we never cry at all,
and return to our desks
next week,
bursting with children's vigor,
forgetting what we have seen
and heard,
not fearing the next crackle of the tiny speaker.
But there are some memories,
stark or vivid,

that haunt and cling and will not let go.
And there are some tears, shed or withheld,

that never go away.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Provocative Measure For Measure

So anyway...

I saw Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure on Saturday night at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. I had already seen a production of Romeo and Juliet in school (a traveling company) on Friday, so this seemed like a weekend of Shakespearean immersion; I felt like finding a festival somewhere.

Anyway if you happen to live in the Chicago area I just thought I’d let you all know that it is a typical Robert Falls production, which is to say that it’s not for the Shakespeare purist but it is certainly worth seeing.

 Falls has always had a tendency to set his plays in unusual eras and twist them accordingly—some might recall his post-apocalyptic Midsummer Night’s Dream from the 1980’s—and this is no exception: it is set the extremely decadent NYC of the 70’s and the sex, drugs, rock and roll (and disco) are plentiful. Measure For Measure  is a perfect vehicle for this. If you are unfamiliar with the play, it is about a Duke who has coddled the decadent elements of his kingdom by turning a soft eye on the harsh laws that are in place. Seeing the depravity of his country and knowing himself responsible, he cannot stand it and decides to vanish for awhile, leaving a successor he knows will not be up to the task to try to clean it up and fail miserably (so that he can return and lead his people back to a new golden age, one assumes). That successor is the two-faced ass Angelo, who decides to impose a harsh, Puritanical interpretation of those aforementioned laws and clean up the streets despite his own secret sins.

Falls incorporates the kind of broad comedy that the play is known for in his use of his ensemble, but this is at its core a dark, serious and troublesome script—it features the attempted rape of a nun—and he treats its central characters seriously—so seriously, in fact, that an appended scene features one of them being murdered in the renewed violence of the city’s debauched streets. It is a provocative, racy and often very funny theatrical experience—exactly what one would expect from both Shakespeare and Robert Falls.

If you live around here, it's worth seeing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Romeo and Bella and Edward and Juliet

So anyway...

It's been a while, but I'm back. Lots to do in these past few weeks and I have not posted for quite some time. So, what issue of world-shattering importance drags me out of my self-imposed mini-exile? Would you believe the Twilight Saga? 

I know, and you're right: Twilight is a pretty slight entertainment. It's likely that many of you don't even like it, deeming Meyer a less than capable author, and it is also reasonable to assert that she (like Rowling before her) began with a story rather than any discernible unique skill set. Still, it's a cool story (even if these vampires do sparkle for no appreciable reason). And I am an incurable romantic--and a teenage girl at heart--so I readily admit that I read all four books and watched all four movies and enjoyed all of them.

But why bring it up now? It's over! Even the last movie is yesterday's news.

Well, here's the thing:

Bizarrely, I found myself on facebook this weekend doing something I never imagined I would be doing as a 56-year-old writer/English teacher: spending over a hour of my time defending the honor of Twilight and its characters! (I don't wish to go into the whys and wherefores here; it was a tired old internet meme that seeks to equate 100+ year old vampires protecting human girls from dangers they cannot possibly foresee with hypercontrolling, creepy, abusive boyfriends, and in my mind it is ridiculous. Edward Cullen is not Adam on "Girls.") The point is that, in doing so, I found myself actually thinking deeply--God help me--about the Twilight Saga.

And this is what I wrote at one point:

Ultimately, this is a story of the same kind of obsession that drove Romeo and Juliet. One look is all it took to seal them for life. For Bella, this may have been something in her teen nature. For Edward, perhaps it was a fragmentary remnant of his humanity; who knows? For both, it is clearly impetuous, as it is dangerous and forbidden. They should never have embarked on it, but once they did they could not stop. In Meyers' version of the story, as the dangers of the world seek to destroy them, they discover that they are the only thing each other needs, but also the only thing causing the danger to each other. 
Edward, being the older, wiser and stronger, tries to break it off, but in the end he is too far gone and, as do Romeo and Juliet, in Book Two they both find themselves crying and bemoaning their forced separation until, in Book Three, they are brought back together to be wed. Once wed, though, a whole new manifestation of their trouble occurs: in R & J, that is personified by Tybalt; here, is comes in the form of Renesmee. Book Four, as Acts Four and Five of the play, is the playing out of the inevitable climax of all of this drama. 
That Meyers elected to keep her heroes alive is more a matter of playing to her teenage modern audience than anything else; I would like to think that something inside of her would have liked them to die and leave the baby to Jacob and the Cullens, united as the Capulets and Montagues after the final sacrifices. I even suspect (hope?) that, somewhere, a draft of that version exists.

Now I have not read New Moon in many years, and I was utterly unaware when I wrote these lines that the novel actually begins with the following epigraph:

These violent delights have violent ends
And in the triumph die like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume.

These lines come from, of course, Romeo and Juliet.  With a bit of internet research today, I see that Meyer did in fact consciously pattern her second book after that play, even (and I did not recall this either) having Bella and Edward watch and discuss the play and its lovers within the text. I do not feel here the need to rehash what has already, it turns out, been thoroughly hashed elsewhere, so I'll merely make my own point.

Meyer has acknowledged her intentional pattern in her second novel, but I think that the entire series is built on the Shakespearean story. While one can certainly find within the plot arcs of New Moon the story of Romeo and Juliet if one wishes to do so, I would argue that it is not that simple. The fact is that it is the first novel that takes us through the first two acts of the play. For Act One of the play, you truly need to read the original Twilight, in which the dangers are established as well as the uncontrollable infatuations, as in Shakespeare. Twilight takes us through the Act Two balcony scene as well, in which they pledge themselves to each other despite all odds, though Edward remains sullen (Cullen?) even after this because he knows too much of the danger he and his life bring to her. He is in fact both Romeo and Mercutio--though he lacks both characters' wit--and he knows it. He fears the darker Mercutio side of himself and all that attends it. And then it concludes with a violent battle that signals the impossibility of the life they are planning for themselves.

The reason many people are unhappy with New Moon--and I know many who are--is that Bella spends the whole novel whining and doing little else. But if you look at this novel as a microcosmic exploration of what happens in Act Three of Shakespeare's play after Romeo kills Tybalt, but before the ultimately catastrophic plan with Friar Laurence is concocted, you might better understand it. In that section of the play, Romeo, having done that deed, is banished from Verona and his "three hours' bride," Juliet. Our lover's response to the punishment?

Banishment? Be merciful, say death
For exile hath far more terror in his look
Much more than death. Do not say "banishment." 

Meanwhile, Juliet spends her time crying so deeply that she cannot be comforted, and the excess of her tears is so dread that her father, mistaking them for grief over her dead cousin, decides to speed up Juliet's marriage to the County Paris from a month from now to two days from now, bringing about even more fits and sobbing.

Oh, shut the door, and when thou has done so
Come weep with me, past hope, past care, past help.

It is Romeo and Juliet in this mode (and this mood) that Meyer is showing us in her second novel. Once Edward decides, with finality, that they are "past hope, past care, past help," and tells her so, Bella lapses into a despondency so deep that she cannot come out of it, much as Juliet did upon losing Romeo to the Prince's proclamation. Juliet would do anything to see her lover again:

Chain me with roaring bears
Or hide me nightly in a charnel house,
 O'ercovered quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls...
And I will do it

For Bella it is much the same. She begins to have visions of Edward everywhere, but discovers that they appear to her only when her life is in danger. So she determines to put her life into more and more danger, even at one point diving recklessly from a high cliff into the sea, her actions mimicking a line of Juliet's--"O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris / From off the battlements of yonder tower"--and at the same time fooling the clairvoyant Alice into believing she is trying to kill herself and ultimately setting into motion a sequence of events that leaves Edward believing her to be actually dead so that, like Romeo, he determines to kill himself as well.

Of course this is where Meyer swerves off the Shakespearean path at very high speed in a bright yellow Italian sports car. Bella rushes to stop her lover's suicide and succeeds at the very last minute, and they both live to see another act of the saga. But this is all Meyer jumping ahead of herself: we were mired in Act Three and she simply skipped ahead to the ending of the play. Whatever happened to Act Four and the rest of Act Five? Easy: Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

With the Volturi now a huge threat, Bella and Edward must marry, so the third book is a giant tease, making it a perfect metaphor for Act Four, which in any Shakespearean play is the Great Holding Pattern between the climactic Act Three and the denouement of Act Five. During Eclipse, events (intense though they may get) just play out to get everything in place for the monumental occurrences of Breaking Dawn, when all hell will potentially be unleashed.

So now we are nearing the end, and we finally get the big bold wedding that Romeo and Juliet never received, complete with invitations to the Capulets (Jacob/Tybalt and the werewolf clan).We've momentarily jumped backwards in the play to that brief scene before the lark sings its morning call and disrupts the young married couple from their one blissful night together, which I suppose is fair since New Moon jumped right to the end of the play. After giving them their bliss, though, a new enemy arises, and it comes from within: Renesmee, the baby who at first threatens to kill her mother from the womb and then threatens to kill all of the Cullens through her mere existence.

Death does indeed take our young Juliet--as it does in the play--as she attempts to give birth to her half-immortal baby. It is only through the supernatural interference of vampire blood that she is saved, and her salvation is uncertain for awhile--as is the case in the play as well. Our despondent Romeo, though, this time has his family with him as well as his new baby, so he is safe at least for the moment. And besides: Meyer has already played out that ending and has a completely different one in mind.

She has carefully set up two possible scenarios: one in which Bella and Edward do not survive, and one in which they do. (Giving Jacob his own narrative section in the final book was perhaps the best authorial decision Meyer made in the entire saga.) But, as this is a commercial and not an artistic series, there is really no doubt as to which she will choose. As I said in my little blurb above, I really hope that somewhere there exists a version of the end of Breaking Dawn in which the fight with the Volturi that we witnessed in the film (the stand-in, of course, for the chaos that reigns at the conclusion of Romeo and Juliet, but which this saga is missing) actually happened, and Edward and Bella die valiantly in it, leaving Jacob with his child/lover and the knowledge that

A glooming peace that morning with it brought.
The sun for sorrow would not show his face.
The internet would yap of what was wrought
Some wishing Jacob could take Edward's place.
There'd never be a tale with more tears shed
Than this of Bella, and her vampire Ed.