Monday, July 4, 2011

Say yes, and start again

(This started off as a letter to a friend, someone I hardly ever see. But I'd rather put it here. If I don't take risks, will I ever grow? If someone sees that I am lost and hurt and vulnerable, as well as joyful and expansive and creative, will the world come to an end? Yes, but here it is anyway.)

“Progres Riport”. Not knowing where to start. Starting in the middle. Which end of a merry-go-round do you jump on? Sometimes it's an ugly-go-round. But it goes around; it goes around.

I stare outside the window of my sort-of-new office, my own space at last (and how did I survive without it? I transformed a sort of catch-all utility room upstairs into a dream space where I can really work, and dream). I see cedar boughs at all different levels, like beaded curtains or fringed canopies. The light is hitting them and they look different moment to moment, never look the same way twice. Some days they flail and heave and slap at the windows. Today they wave like palms and seem to say hosanna! They look happy. I want to be. What’s happy?

There was a big tornado in my life some years ago, and now everything’s different. Am I happy? Things have changed, that’s for sure. I can’t hang out with people who ascribe to ideas that make me itchy or downright angry. I cannot conform for the sake of being part of the group. That means no more United Church (though I did try three other churches and found them all boring, even the Unitarians, who were almost all old, but at least welcoming and nice, not putting their hand on the pew beside them and saying, "No, my family sits here"). I guess I was a different person then. Better?
I spend my most productive time blogging, or blossoming. My time with the grandchildren is timeless, and I savor every second, even when they’re being pissy or unreasonable (which doesn’t happen too often: they adore me, and are generally pretty well-behaved). It’s not that I can’t write! Heavens no. After the big crash of 2005, I honestly wondered, and even asked my shrink Pee Wee Herman(and he really does look like Pee Wee Herman) if he thought I’d write another novel, and he said, quite honestly I thought, “I don’t know.”

Harold Lloyd erupted not long after that, and I was off. Not only that, I was in love.

I have no objectivity about this project whatsoever, and my motives in wanting it in print range from the totally idealistic (I want to enlighten the world and make Harold a household name again) to the crass (I want money and fame) to the nuts (he’s been speaking to me through automatic writing for years now and telling me it’s going to be a big success). I just want this, I want it. I don’t need a reason, really. A writer writes, a teller of tales tells tales. Not to the void, but to people. Will someone finally get on board with me?

So I can still write, better than ever (I think), I can still have an orgasm (better than ever, I think: my body has awakened to a late-blooming ecstasy), I have an incredible extension of my family that I couldn’t have dreamed of, I can still perceive music in 3D and sensurround: but is it “enough”? Do I even, I wonder, have a concept of enough? I’d like to get somewhere, that’s what. I want success, and I haven’t had any and I deserve it, everyone says so, then they don’t help me. Even Harold’s biographer read the novel and said he loved it, then wouldn’t help me. No one will. So I probably seem desperate and obnoxious in trying so hard to get what I want/need.

I know I am not. I am being reasonable in wanting what I want. Walls have been knocked out of my house. Some of it just shattered, and it was awful, because it was like one of those prismatic glass wind chimes just smashing against a wall. There was no getting it back. I still have times when I feel panicky and lost. But life is not an exercise in feeling glutted and good, at least not all the time. Life is an exercise in exercise, and in feeling.

I think the instrument is more tuned, even though I no longer have any desire to play the violin which I now realized I didn’t enjoy studying very much. I was caught in this “thing” with my teacher, not an affair but something far more problematic, and he needed me far more than I needed him. He was the one who said things like “there’s no such thing as mental illness, it’s just a weak personality”, and after a while this “weak personality” didn’t need him any more. I hated practicing and was nervous as hell performing, but I put myself up to it, I dared myself for reasons of my own. I guess it was OK while it lasted, but it lasted nine years and then I just couldn’t do it any more, because I knew I didn’t sound very good and never would. I was speaking broken English, not the Thoreau or G. M. Hopkins of the real violinist.

So all this fell away. God, a lot fell away and there really has been nothing to replace it. I’m essentially a loner and even border on the antisocial, but I do get lonely sometimes. I go on Facebook and have, like, 24 friends or something while a person I know has 1,024. How in hell can you keep all those “friends” straight? Does she even know who they are? I had a hard time finding the 24 and even dropped one guy cuz he was a creep. (His name is Lloyd Dykk, by the way. Stay away from him.)

And just now, I remember how much more was happening during that tornado-time: I lost four friends. Four. One died of a lightning heart attack, just dropped in his tracks. He was exactly my age. One died of cancer, another of AIDS. Glen, whom I never met but deeply loved, committed suicide.

I want to go on my woods-walk, I want to encounter a bear or an old imaginary shamanic spiritual guide and start feeling like I’m on the “right” path. I am still living in music and I make art, but differently now. All my life is an attempt to make art. Clunky way of putting it, I know that, but I want MORE MORE MORE. I was born hungry and maybe will die that way. I am sick of trying to find out why. I’ve gained a whole lot of weight lately because I’m waiting to hear back on something very very important and I am afraid they’ll forget all about me and not even bother to tell me they’re not interested. So I eat.

I suppose if I had it all together I wouldn’t, but fuck that, eh? I “fluctuate”, like my daughter-in-law Crystal says (and she usually has it right). I wax and wane. I probably always will. I wonder if I will live a long time, wonder if I’ll die young, as I’d almost prefer to. I know now my fundamental purpose, I have absolutely not a hair of doubt about that: to love. With my grandkids I can just relax into that love and be that love and just let time flow, timelessly. But there is all the rest of life to be lived, and why do I feel like such a beginner?

You know what? I don’t need the advice that is likely rising to your lips even as I write. But I thought that I wanted to share this with you. In the moments when you forget to teach or give advice, you have great grace. Oh, maybe they’re nanoseconds, but I do notice them. I think probably it comes out of great suffering. Not that I recommend it, but something has to arise from it, because God (or the great whatever) can’t be that cruel.

I just have one more story to tell. It’s amazing, a true miracle. My daughter Shannon is friends with a woman who had two little girls. A couple of years ago when we had that big dump of snow, she and her husband took them sledding on a big hill. The girls were about age six and four. The four-year-old sledded down where dozens of other kids were sliding, but something went wrong. The sled somehow turned and veered into a road and a truck turned the corner and ploughed into the little girl and she was killed in an instant.

This happened on Christmas Eve.

I am proud to say my daughter, who is one gutsy lady and does not flinch from adversity, was the one friend who would just sit with Rosanna and let her talk or cry or whatever she needed to do. Her other friends mostly backed away, afraid of saying the wrong thing. The following Christmas, everyone just recoiled, freaked about the anniversary, and Shan called her and said, “So, I guess you guys don’t want to do Christmas, eh?” She said, “No, we don’t.” It was so straight and honest.

Little Lucia was best friends with my granddaughter Caitlin, who was heartbroken and struggling with bafflement and grief. I did my best to listen to her when she needed to talk, which she did, a lot. For a while she thought she was somehow going to die too, until I explained that an accident is an accident and no one ever wanted it to happen or planned for it.

They even lost their home. The guy who inadvertently killed their daughter was their next-door neighbour, so they felt they had to move. There was no end to the heartbreak.

Rosanna’s in her early 40s and decided to try to have a baby, her last chance. She did several courses of in vitro, and none of them worked. After three miscarriages, she was so beaten down emotionally that she had to quit, plus they had run out of money. She works as a beautician and was doing a woman’s nails, and the woman started talking about how she was a benefactress who paid for treatments for infertile couples who couldn’t afford in vitro.

She said something like “you have no idea what it’s like for a couple to miscarry again and again”. Rosanna burst into tears and ran out of the room (which she has never done in her life before) and the woman, instead of getting all embarrassed and leaving, ran after her. Rosanna told her the whole story (which she has never done in her life before!) and the woman INSISTED that she pay for just one more round of in vitro. Rosanna of course said she couldn’t possibly do that, and the woman said yes you can, and she said she’d talk to her husband about it.

After a lot of turbulent debate, the answer was “yes”.

It was the last shot, and three embryos were implanted. Things seemed fine at first, then went horribly wrong: she was miscarrying again. Shannon couldn’t even reach her, she just wasn’t talking to anyone.

Then, a couple of weeks later she phoned and said, “Shannon, I feel like I’m still pregnant.” Shannon went, hmmm. She better go see her doctor. She went, and:

She was still pregnant. One embryo had held on through the storm.

She had a completely normal pregnancy, and just gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Stella Lucia. I’m knitting her one of my famous blankies in my favourite pattern, called feather and fan. This was a story that had many wrenching twists and turns, and at any point it could have broken down and the miracle wouldn’t have happened. But it did happen, and all because they had the outrageous, illogical courage to say yes, and start again.

Alley Cat

You would not believe what I went through to get this!! I was on a search for Leroy Anderson pieces I remembered from hearing them on Captain Kangaroo, and found a ton of them (Fiddle-Faddle, The Typewriter, Plink-Plank-Plunk, etc.) Then I started hearing this piano piece in my head, over and over, and thought: could this be Leroy Anderson? It didn't seem quite right. But I couldn't get it out of my head. It had a simple, whimsical piano melodly played over the repetition of one note. But how on earth would I ever find the title?

Thank God for random associations. I remembered seeing an episode of Mad About You where the couple was on a dance floor, and this song came on, and Helen Hunt started doing all these silly cat movements. But googling cat songs got me nowhere.

Then I thought: by era? It had a '50s sound. Popular piano pieces of the 1950s? I went on YouTube, and (incredibly) the title Alley Cat came up in about a second, and I knew I had struck gold.

And yes, people do dance to this, line dance even.

Meow-meow-meow-meow! (But who the hell is Bent Fabric??)