When I went out East in August, I was beginning to feel lighter.
I felt invisible at BlogHer, but that was mainly because you have to work so hard to be visible at BlogHer, and I’m not much good at doing that on my own behalf. Having my son in tow and my liveblogging shifts, I didn’t have much energy for it. Meanwhile, my email inbox and east coast conversations bustled with unexpected work possibilities — things to consider or do when I got home and Declan started going to school full time. I was looking forward to this hard and glorious autumn full of work and schedules and cool air and time for coffee with friends during the day and possibilities.
But when I came home and started following up, my emails went out like arrows, got stuck in the wall behind the people I was trying to reach and weren’t returned. Or minds were changed. I searched for new possibilities and found some really promising ones, but the same thing happened. It’s been frustrating. The more I try to advance, the more I feel like I’ve been checkmated.
So I’ve been doing invisible things. Like spending time in places I usually drive past with the windows closed. Places that have been invisible to me. I’ve carried household things my mom or friends didn’t want to an apartment complex that used to be another blur on the side of freeway. Now it’s home to a friend who is restarting his life with little more than what people have seen fit to give him.
I’ve sat next to a hospital bed, trying to keep an ear on the medical staff as they tended to a person who told me she loved me the first day we met. Another person who has shown me that you can lose everything, that your whole life can turn over, and you can come out of it better than you were before.
I’ve spent time inside of an urban church so humble you could barely distinguish it from an old used furniture shop. I sat on one of its folding chairs and stared at its plastic purple flowers. Just like the old urban church that is now a Buddhist temple that I frequent, I have found that it’s a place of extraordinary grace.
And there’s so little I can say here beyond that about these things, which are the things I can feel in my chest the most right now, I wonder that I should be writing here anymore at all.
It’s a funny thing, this business of living through periods of chaos. A long term illness ends. A person dies. You’re insanely busy getting a funeral together and somehow after that, you think that things are going to get easier, that the natural rhythm of your life will return.
But chaos and I had made peace. I had gotten used to waking up in a house that isn’t my own, bracing my son, my mom or my stepdad in whatever ways I could, then carving out deliberate chunks of time for myself to make sure that I didn’t collapse beneath the constant weight of things. Crisis was this thick brush I could cut through and then look back on. There was this satisfyingly clear path behind me, slivered with grace.
But things got harder when I expected them to get easier. Grief has been itchy, with shooting pains. Sleeping has been harder. I’ve polished off a bottle of Zantac and my right foot has done a lot of tapping in the middle of the night. Another friend died. The idea that I had that I would have a real 40th birthday party for myself later, on a day when we weren’t asking “is he still breathing?” every half an hour didn’t pan out.
But nice things have happened. I’m an honored blogger at BlogHer ’10. On Friday, in New York City, I’ll find out how some visual artist or photographer has interpreted this post. I have found the organizers that I will be working with as a volunteer to be utterly gracious and accommodating to a mom who is traveling on her own with a 5-year-old son. When I went looking for a place to stay, I found a truly generous and kind roommate. I became an aunt for the fifth time to an early but healthy boy on Friday.
And when BlogHer is over, I have plans to reconnect with surrogate sisters, childhood friends, family, college friends and past colleagues. Best of all, I have plans to play with my son in the city I identify with my best childhood adventures. We will climb onto a plane today.
I haven’t had time to fret or obsess over who I’m going to meet at this conference. I’m going wit my heart open to people, not products. And I expect little, other than a mallish form of chaos, and I’ve established that I’m good with chaos.
I will try and tweet the links to the liveblogs as they happen. I’ll also obviously be at the gala on Friday night. Wave your arms at me if you’re one of those people that isn’t too keen on smalltalk. Hope I find you there.
I’ve run along the periphery of Columbus music for 16 or 17 years, and sometimes right through its center. I’ve written about it, talked about it, consumed it, even married and had a child with one of its central stewards.
Let me tell you, it’s a world full of dudes. Dudes who play, editorialize about, promote, gloat over or criticize, but ultimately love music. Several of those dudes have only ever referred to me by my initials. Why call someone Tracy when you can call her TZT? I’m okay with that. It makes me feel like an honorary dude.
In this scene, there are jerk dudes, frustrated genius dudes, drunk dudes, well-meaning dudes, lecherous dudes, armchair comedian dudes and awkward dudes. And then there are the kind ones. The ones who are generous of spirit and might play in the realm of dudes, but you quickly discover that they are also good, decent men. They are the ones who don’t run away from you when they hear you lost your job or that your grandfather died. They see you out in the city and they walk toward you. They put an arm around you and acknowledge your loss openly, thoughtfully. They say something encouraging or offer a listening ear. The whole thing may last all of five minutes, and you may not see that person again for weeks, even months, but you walk away from a man like that and you just feel happy that you know him. Happy that you walk in the same circles and will surely see him again soon.
The city lost one of those good men this weekend. A man who gave body-crushing hugs and radiated warmth. The news broke last night that Andy “Andyman” Davis – a veteran of local radio – drowned Saturday while on family vacation, and the more that I sit with that fact, the harder I find it to accept.
I’ve seen a lot of friendships made through music. You find out that someone loves what you love, they relate to what you relate to, and suddenly, you are connected. You may drift apart or even have a falling out, but if that person introduced you to a song or artist that’s continued to keep you company, their dearness is never completely lost. Andy is that kind of friend to countless people that he hasn’t even met because he’s been the face and voice of one of our only local, independent stations for so long.
To me, he was a local media colleague and a social friend – someone I probably saw and shared words with weekly to monthly in my twenties and early thirties at my husband’s clubs, Andy’s bar or some other show in the Columbus universe.
He had been a dad for a while by the time I became a mom. Once I made that transition, I only saw him once or twice a year, but our casual conversations shifted. When I saw him at Comfest last year, I got one of his bear hugs before he held onto my hand and stood with me, looking at my son the same way I do – like something miraculous and joyful. He pulled out the pictures of his two boys and told me about his third baby coming. I don’t remember the words we shared exactly, but that feeling of belonging you get when you relate to another person about music? Change that to two music-bound people talking about being parents and the feeling is amplified by a zillion. I love being a mom. I know he loved being a dad. That’s what has my heart caught today.
I’ve been through a fair bit of grief and loss lately, but please don’t feel the need to console me for this one. There are certainly hundreds, likely thousands, who are feeling this loss. Between social media and the airwaves, you can sense our community grieving. My hope is that every one of us who has felt that warmth from Andy, be it first-hand or through the airwaves, can reflect it back to his family — especially his wife Molly and their three sons — and surround them with it for years to come.
You can find information about a memorial fund that’s been established for them at the CD101 web site.
My son and I went to the grocery store today. It had been days.
As we finished up in the self-checkout lane, an older woman behind us didn’t wait for us to finish bagging before she threw her groceries onto the conveyor belt. One package of applesauce cups came flying down to us. Then another. And another. And another. We could tell where our groceries ended and hers began because of the growing barricade of applesauce.
“Sorry,” she said. But she didn’t stop what she was doing so that we could finish bagging. She looked hurried and preoccupied. I flung the rest off our things into bags and got out of her way as quickly as I could. Not that she noticed.
“That was a lot of applesauce,” said Declan. “Do you think maybe her husband is very sick? Or maybe he could be dying.”
When a person can swallow very little, but still needs medication, applesauce is one way to deliver it.
My stepfather passed away the morning after my birthday. Quietly. Peacefully. In my mother’s home, where we are staying. It took three days before hospice came and took the hospital bed. It was six days before we held the the funeral.
Today, I woke up thinking about yesterday’s solar eclipse, wondering if it will really change the world as much as astrologers said that it would. Today is the first average weekday since our little world shifted. Our perspective on just about everything has shifted. Including applesauce.
Growing up, I remember the phone ringing at the butt crack of dawn on every one of my birthdays. Once, as a teenager, I grouched a little at my mother as she came in and nudged me out of sleep to answer it.
“You won’t have this forever,” she warned me, whispering. “You will miss it someday.”
Early this morning I woke up, squeezed my eyes shut and listened for the sound on that phone line – the sound of my grandparents, their voices chipper and full of the rural Ohio upbringing that makes every R sound like a sharp turn while the Gs in ings go awol and yous come out as yas. They always wanted to be the first to wish all of their children and grandchildren Happy Birthday. And mom was right. I miss that. I do.
Today my mom sang to me while Declan held my face and waited to tell me, intently, that on Ni Hao Kai-Lan, the children sometimes travel inside of floaty bubbles. My brother called and sister-in-law called sang while their son punctuated each line with an aggressive “CHACHACHA!” Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I’ve already been flooded with messages and I’m starting this day feeling loved and hopeful.
Two things guaranteed that today would be a quiet celebration. First, the biggest fireworks in the city happen downtown, which would be like asking friends to sit in traffic gridlock if I wanted to, say, meet them for dinner.
And then there’s my stepdad, who has passed the point of speaking or eating or doing much in the way of responding to this realm. We’ve been bracing for the impact of his passing for a couple of years, more intensely in recent months, and round-the-clock for the past several days. I’m well past dreading the idea that he could pass away on my birthday. Instead, if I could take some of the good juju and love I’m receiving for this birthday, I’d pour it into the wish that he finds whatever love he needs within himself in order to let go peacefully.
I’ve decided to honeymoon with 40, and celebrate it with a crowd of people that I like soon because I want to and I actually think I deserve to. But today, this is how I want to do it. I want to be mindful and prayerful through the day and to pretend that things are brilliantly exploding in celebration of my future and my stepdad’s past through the evening. I want to meditate on passages and new beginnings and eat crab legs and be hopeful.
Earlier this week, Dec gave me the best possible birthday gift I could have asked for. He’s been reading individual words for a long time, but worried over trying to read a book by himself and often refused to try. I gently reminded him on Monday night that I still learn a lot of new words, and that lots of things that he thinks are easy, like astronomy, are things that many people would consider hard.
He slept on it, and the next morning, started reading some of the Bob Books at the breakfast table as though he’d been doing it all his life. And as silly as those short, confidence-building books are, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.
My stepdad’s life has been filled with books and I know that he would be so proud of this. So Declan read “Fun in the Sun,” to his Grandfafa before bed that same day, and I talked out loud about how many books were in the house, how avid a reader his Grandfafa had been. My stepdad tried very hard to say something in response, so I know that he heard and received this gift as well.
So far, 40 is birth and death and new language and hope and memory and a pain in the pit of my stomach. It’s Buddhist mantras wrapped in silver around my thumb as I dive through this zero, sheathed by reminders of our impermanence. It’s a call to live well and let things happen, make things happen, to live by the serenity prayer and be more open, more loving.
This song came up on my iPod on my way to my son’s camp this morning, and it strummed every nerve in my body: Calling All Angels.
Listen, be well, have a beautiful weekend and if you’re into prayer, say one for my stepdad, ok?
I know I’ve been quiet since my brain dump a few weeks ago. Our “only way out is through” era continues with plenty of days that feel semi-normal, in spite of the fact that things remain anything but. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me here, in private email, on Facebook, in phone calls and in person. It made my tummy ache to hit “publish” on that post, but the compassion I’ve received since doing so has been overwhelming. I have some half-posts written that I’ll finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I’d like to change the subject for a moment because I really do need to talk about breasts.
Nearly 20 years ago, someone or other (via some lawsuit or other) realized that Columbus didn’t have any law on the books that outlawed the baring of female breasts in public. Women decided to start exercising that right at our long-standing, volunteer-run Community Festival (Comfest). I worked at a local alternative weekly at the time, and while I don’t remember all of the legal details, I do remember the small media melee, including a whirlwind of bad boob puns and fairly silly editorials on the matter. The spirit of the thing was clear – women of all shapes and sizes (and sometimes ages) would partake in the ritual, promoting positive body-consciousness in a sort of homegrown, goofy and easily misconstrued way.
Flash forward to today: Naked, painted boobs have become a tradition at Comfest, as well as the city’s massive Pride Festival (which sometimes share a weekend). It’s a central feature of the fest’s many eccentricities. There are still plenty of women doing it for body-positive reasons, but the phenomena has started to turn the corner into something kind of creepy. The vibe has become less of a bold feminist statement for the “party with a purpose,” more of a cruising spot for the producers of “hippie girls gone wild.”
It’s not the women who have changed so much as the festival-goers. For the first time this year, I saw more joke t-shirts on men that said things like “I love boobies,” and more guys cruising the street fair, hollering commentary towards bare-chested women (and the women that they felt should remove their clothing) than I saw actual bare, painted breasts.
When I went to Comfest as a teenager, it was probably less than a tenth of the size it is now. And it was the place where I met and connected with my first local, radical feminist elders, who loved the fact that a newly minted driver would come to their urban homes on a Friday night to discuss reproductive rights, body image and pay inequity. Comfest brought me into the political counterculture of a city which, by most other appearances, looked about as mainstream as you could get.
So it’s kind of breaking my heart that this year, if you happen to be a teenage girl visiting Comfest, it has become a place where you’re more likely to be confronted by men who are comfortable yelling “show me your tits,” even as they feign political progressiveness than feel the presence of interesting political women.
I also imagined the festival as a place where my son would see some of the better male role models in the city – men who are activists, who happen to care about the world and volunteer to improve it. Maybe even a few men that had a better grasp of what it means to respect women. I don’t have a problem with my kid seeing bare breasts, but I do have a problem with him seeing women treated like beauty pageant contestants or live snapshots in a street version of Hot or Not. I imagined him seeing women positively celebrating their bodies without a constant stream of commentary from drunken creeps.
Just so I’m not whining here, let me provide a suggestion or two for next year. Let’s change the nature of Comfest’s dialogue about breasts. Make the festival’s slogan one that educates the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Then take it one step further by designating one part of the park as a family friendly space (not the playgrounds, which sit in the crosshairs of three stages and are a sensory nightmare). Make it smoke-free. Put a cooling tent for nursing moms there with moderately comfortable chairs and changing tables. And preferably, drop it on the North end of the park to disrupt the place that everyone now refers to as “derelict teenager hill.”
I have no idea whether or not earlier closing times curbed the elements that the organizers wanted to see curbed. But I do know that Comfest’s social justice currency doesn’t only lie in its financial ability to give grants – it lies in the power of the event itself. It has the power to be hospitable to more than drunks and people whose perception of “hippie” seems to be entirely about fashion (or anti-fashion) and the use of substances instead of the values that brought the event into existence.
I wish I felt comfortable writing my way through this time.
I’d like to tell you about the fact that my son and I have been living at my mother’s since February because I needed to separate from my husband. I needed things to change. It was excruciating for a while and it is still not easy. We’re at a crossroads. We take things day by day. Sometimes I’ve only taken them moment by moment. We still plan on doing another radio show together. We are still family, connected by this amazing person we created — this person that I wouldn’t want to deprive of his father’s love or the ability to know who and where he comes from. One way or another, a new life will be built. I just have no idea what that life will look like.
I’d like to tell you about the remarkable meetings and support groups I’ve found for the families of addicts and alcoholics. About the evenings when I find myself in a room with people I never imagined knowing, let alone being vulnerable with, and how they humble and lift me. How this 78-year-old woman heard me state the facts of my life, asked to hug me, and, once I agreed, whispered “that is one heavy load you are carrying.” She closed her eyes and pressed her hand over my heart with a prayer. Her warmth thawed my many years of cynicism about Al-Anon meetings. She helped me to hear what I needed to hear, to take what I needed, as they are so fond of saying, and leave the rest.
I’d like to tell you what it’s like to live with a stepfather who is dying and has Lewy Body Disease, which combines the debilitating physical symptoms of Parkinsons with dementia. About the things I can’t see that are apparently here, like cars that keep pulling into the house, dead dogs lying around, men moving freezers, people with scissors and family members that have long since passed. How, before he stopped being able to walk a few weeks ago, he showed up in my room one morning because he couldn’t find my mother. He thought he had to hold his breath for as long as she wasn’t in the room with him. As I watch my mother try to manage each day, I see just how brutal the business of caregiving can be.
I’d like to tell you what a house feels like after hospice swoops in, about the book they gave my mother that details what to look for in the last weeks, days, hours and moments before a person dies. About how strange and refreshing it is to experience health care that probes a family about its mental, physical and spiritual well-being and looks for ways to help. About being the bearer of bad news to my stepdad’s sons with each clear and dramatic decline, especially the brother who has been my close friend since I was 19 and has a baby on the way this summer. About how generous the heart of my stepdad’s paid caregiver is as he shows up every morning and evening (on the days he’s not working) to carry him from the hospital bed to a recliner in the family room and back.
I’d like to tell you how vulnerable my son was before all of this. How frighteningly perceptive and unfairly aware he is of the world around him, of cells and stardust and disease and disaster. Or how often I feel like I’m on a razor-thin line, some days thinking that this experience, this period, could be a profound opportunity for him to understand more about life, relationships and death, other days terrified that all of this will screw him up, scar or emotionally maim him because it’s all so, so much for someone who is freshly five to carry.
I’d like to tell you about my uncle who passed away this past Sunday after his years-long battle with cancer. And I do mean battle. He fought for every moment he had on this earth, and didn’t fail to live each one that he could. During one early remission, he traveled to Africa and nearly got himself killed by leaving the tent when hippopotamuses were around. I would know so much less about what a strong, loving family man looks like if I hadn’t known him. I would know less about what a self-actualized, truly indefatigable person looks like. I also wouldn’t know how hostile to humans and dangerous a hippo can be. While I’m not planning a safari, that seems like an important thing to know.
So I’m telling you.
It’s been months now that I’ve felt like a person walking around with an oozing, emotional gunshot wound on her chest, visible only to those who know me or know what’s been going on because even as I avoid writing about it here, I say these things out loud when I’m out a lot. I have to. Friends — especially so many beautiful, generous, supportive moms — cautiously ask me about how things are going, and I keep disappointing them with clammy, sad facts, because I’ve become lousy at sugar-coating things. I had started to feel like I’d suffocate if I didn’t say what felt true today out loud, so I do it, and almost always immediately feel lighter because there are so many people who can understand or relate to some piece of what’s going on here, no matter how small. They honor me by listening and offering help and I feel totally selfish each time they do because I am so overloaded with my own stuff right now I don’t listen the way I usually do. I usually pride myself on my ability to listen.
Life feels inverted. I cry the most when good things happen. Each offer of help is a salve. Each small solution that I see hospice offer my mother chokes me up. Joyful moments make me so, so grateful. Each expression of love and friendship, each person who has said “you are doing better than you know” to me, each person who looks at me like I’m hemorrhaging but knows she isn’t a surgeon and offers some small kindness to me anyway has been a gift this year.
I’m turning 40 in three weeks and I don’t remember a more difficult or uncertain time. I also don’t remember feeling more blessed or more open-hearted. On bad days, I feel very alone, but on the good ones, I am less alone than ever. I am more grateful than ever.
A couple of Sundays ago my stepbrother put my little, strangely nonfunctional family unit on the guest list for his big music festival. The three of us saw Michael Franti and Spearhead, who we’ve loved for a long time. The band brought little kids onto the stage for the encore, “Say Hey,” and my son danced, jumped, pranced, twirled, sang and ran next to Franti, apparently without an iota of fear or apprehension in his body. He told me looked for me but couldn’t find me in the crowd, where I was smiling so hard that my face should have cracked open.
When he came down from the stage, he asked, “could you hear my little tiny voice up there? I was singing as loud as I could so you would hear me.” And while I couldn’t literally hear him, I could hear him, and see him, and feel him up there, so fully himself, there to enjoy more than perform, so full of energy and faith and confidence that he is, in fact, loved. That he was certain his mother was out there somewhere listening for his voice made me feel like a pretty good mom.
The next morning, I woke up with him clinging to me the way he has every morning since we’ve been in this place — like a life preserver. He snuggled up to my ear and sang the song, punctuating each line with a hug around the neck: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
You are five today. That is a little bit of a relief because I can’t remember the last time you met someone new who would have guessed that you were only four. Between your tall physique and your extensive vocabulary, I’ve had more than one person look at me like I must not remember the actual day that you were born.
There is no doubt that you are growing up quickly. And that I can barely remember the time before you were able to talk to me, when you were a babbling bundle of roly–poliness with ticklish, chubby folds on your legs.
These days I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time while you pick words you recognize off the page and ask me to tell you when I reach them. You work out math problems on your fingers. You close yourself in the storage ottoman and tell me you’re headed through a black hole, out a white hole and into some other part of the universe. You mix up magic fairy dust in a little tin and whisper wishes into it. You love dogs and babies. You laugh hysterically at mispronounced words and plastic dinosaurs that bite. And no matter how much you rationalize that they can’t hurt you, you seriously cannot stand bugs.
I’m grateful to Stephen Hawking because he reasoned that the imperfection of the universe is what made us possible. Now, when you make mistakes, I have a higher authority than your mother to invoke, which helps to keep you from being too hard on yourself. Sometimes this works for me too. Beautiful things can come of mistakes, now we know what to look for when we mess up. “Perfection is not possible,” is your new mantra. I made this point to you once. You’ve made it back to me at least a dozen times since, probably because I’ve really needed to hear it.
You’re also growing up in ways I wish you didn’t have to. Your preschool experience has taught you, and re-taught me the value of going through our feelings instead of around them, so maybe we’re at least better prepared for several of the challenges that are right before us.
Hospice workers, with all their loving care, have just descended on our family. And as much as I don’t want you to be burdened, as much as I want to protect you from feeling that you have the obligation to help, that obligation lives in you. You like to push your Grandfafa’s dining tray in so he can reach his food. You pick up things that he drops. You ask him what he needs when he calls out for help and you help him adjust his chair. Most of all, you do what a lot of us have more trouble doing around him – you laugh, you talk to him about all the science dancing around your brain. You impress him with ballet jumps and happy energy and provide him with little glimmers of pride and joy. You snuggle with his wife, my mom, your Giga. You are one of the best caretakers I know.
A few days ago you asked me not to put you in any summer camps for a while. What you want, you told me, is for us to have our own adventures, to do projects, to be together. You know you’re starting Kindergarten this fall, and they say a summer filled with shared experiences is the best preparation for this transition. I’m hopeful it will prepare me too, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to soar in school. I’ll be the one who is a wreck, having less of you in my day.
I wrote this thing after you were born. And every day you give me new answers to the question I asked that day in Delphi. I have been privileged to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, and you are one of the greatest. I am so proud to be your mom.
I love you as brightly as a quasar, as infinitely as the stars in all of the galaxies in the heavens and as powerfully as a hypernova.
Have you seen this wandering tribe? Since they are a caravan, I assume they are wandering and not still standing on this golf course lined with rainbow flags, but I’m not sure. Who wouldn’t follow a love-preaching guy with this protective jewelry and waistline anywhere that he asked you to go?
Like so many things from the 1980s, this is something I never knew I wanted to remember. The song and the video are awesome in completely different ways — it’s like an archeological dig that’s turned up sweatbands, day-glo fingerless gloves and the cartoonish international archetypes that early music videos embraced so shamelessly.
I’m hopeful that the Isleys have set the crowd straight by now, because the shoulder-padded huddled masses’ sense of rhythm is atrocious. If I find them, I’m bringing a set of klavés.
P.S. I’m your brother.
P.S.S. Watch the whole thing. It out-mesmerizes the Trolololo dude.
We visited with somefinelocalwomen and children yesterday after recovering from the news that we didn’t hit the lottery for any of the urban magnet kindergartens that we were hoping to. We’re waitlisted everywhere, and only certain to get into the one that I’m most lukewarm about and Declan is a little afraid of.
I’m feeling oddly okay about it because I have other hopes in reserve. And I know that my kid is the kind of learner that any good teacher dreams of teaching. I don’t expect that there will be many years ahead of us that won’t require us to find him a number of challenges beyond school walls.
We went to a science-y library program yesterday too, where the kids learned a few things about trees. After getting over a bout of complete and total shyness, Declan told the librarians that “trees are the lungs of the earth.” A fact gleaned— not from school or any eco-moralizing on my part — but from his kids’ yoga video.
When we got in the car, he seemed puzzled.
“How was that science?” he asked me, though he liked it. It was earth science, I told him.
“Huh,” he said, thoughtfully. “I thought that all science had to be really cool or really gross.”