Sunday, October 30, 2011

How I Came to Hate Halloween

Okay, so maybe hate is too strong a word but I am not a fan of Halloween.  I think I have a great sense of whimsy and a decent aptitude for play.  After all, I 'm the one who names all the inanimate objects in my life - Wilson (iphone), MacHenry (MacBookPro), Oskar (my silver bug), Sammy (my bike) and on and on and on.  So hear me on this:  I am not afraid of whimsy, I am not too stuffy to dress up.  I am, however, too busy or, more accurately, not interested enough to deal with this festival of costumes.

I view Halloween as a kids's day - a day for kids to put on their fantasies and play to them.  As an adult, my fantasies aren't camouflaged in costumes.  My fantasies involve time alone and/or time with good friends. I don't want to have to pretend to be a witch or a lego or an 80's aerobic instructor.  I just wanna be me.  I don't want to spend ANY time looking for a suitable costume.  I don't care about it.

Additionally  think Halloween is yet another example of a cool little thing gone way over the top.  Trick or treating in your immediate neighborhood for a half an hour or so is great.  It was fun as a kid to go to the homes of the neighbors and let them comment on your costume.  But when kids come back to their homes after canvassing the town for two or three hours and they have  pillowcases of poison, that's just plain wrong.  I used to feel as if Halloween belongs to little kids only and 12 was about the cut off age.  I must admit that I have changed my mind about that and I think trick or treating is fine for older kids - IF they do their part and wear a costume.  I never bother to make a comment though if a kid didn't wear a costume.  I just think what a loser that kid is.

Perhaps the key word here is simplicity.  If Halloween could have stayed just a one night thing (or even just a one week thing) for kids, I might have continued to enjoy it.  Perhaps it is my cynicism operating but I am keenly aware of the marketing behind Halloween (and Christmas and Valentine's Day and Mother's Day and all the rest).  I hate feeling manipulated into buying bags of poison to hand out to anyone coming to the door.  I hate being manipulated into wearing a costume and pretending this is all very cool.  I DO enjoy little kids living out their imaginations and pretending to be something new - how fun!  I DO like a little infusion of fall colors here and there.  I just don't want to be pushed into the whole charade.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hello, Fall

Hello, Fall, 

     I know you think I favor the other seasons over you and you have good reason to believe that.  When I was a way little kid, I liked the fall because it meant Halloween and that was one of those wild and mysterious kinds of days.  But I outgrew Halloween and, in fact, grew tired of Halloween by the time I was 13.  Didn't like the costumes, didn't go for the candy, and didn't like the spookiness.  There was no reason to like you.  Sorry, but it is the truth.

      Through my twenties, your appearance  just meant school starting and the days getting shorter.  This wasn't a big deal because I was fairly oblivious to things like the light and the shortened days back then.  I was too wrapped up in college life and post college life and boyfriends and dealing with all that garbage.  When Alex and Meg were little kids I could get into the Halloween thing with and for them but, again, that didn't last.  Then my father died in mid October and that kinda squelched October all together. Now he's the first thing I think about when October comes around.  And you and October are synonymous in my book.

      When you come to town, the air always feels electrified and not in a good way.  Too often you cause electrical tension and shocking stuff.  I don't like it when you do that.  The late afternoon sun shines at a slant and the brightness can be blinding.  It makes me squint and feel tense and irritated (especially if I have to drive at that time).
Sadly, you scare away the summer light and the the days grow as tired as I am and they shut down earlier and earlier.
    But over the last five to eight years, I have come to appreciate your brilliant color.  I must say that I never gave you sufficient appreciation for the beauty that is you.  I know that when I ride my bike these days, I can completely freeze in order to hold an image in my head.  I can stop that bike and just stare at the blend of brilliant colors in front of me.  I watch the trees at school every day and loudly and daily proclaim your beauty to anyone who can hear.  I see you.  I see your brilliance.  I know now that I was not alive enough before to catch that.  I am alive now.

    I do hope you will forgive me for not seeing you earlier but that's what time can do to a person.  As I let other things resolve, as I stop caring so much about the things that don't really matter, I can open my eyes to the light and the beauty around me.  Not just in the trees and the sky that you wear but, if I am really alive and unencumbered, I can see your beauty in the faces of the kids at Halloween or the couples walking in the park.  I can see your beauty in friends and feel your beauty in the warmth that comes with your late year sunshine.
      Will you forgive me for taking so long to see you?  I know how I feel when I believe I am invisible to someone.  You are not invisible to me anymore.  Here's to sweet fall days, luscious in color and holding the promise of change and anticipation.

      When you leave town, I will sigh at your departure.  But, when you come back next year, perhaps I will have learned to embrace the darkness that is your traveling companion.  Surprises do happen, you know.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Too Much Work Blues

Damn phone rings all day
'rents want my time
their kids cry salt tears
I got the too much work blues.

The schedule says build me
web page is weak
report cards to process
I got the too much work blues

E-mails to answer
mysteries to solve
kids to console
and me with the blues

Doors to unlock
staff to appease
plans to write
and me with the blues

I got all the F-ing work I need
so he says in the song
lordy, I hear you
I got the too much work  blues

(inspired by Mark and fueled by a Monday)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Robert Paul O'Neill

My father died fifteen years ago this week.  He leaned towards silence, but his voice was powerful and heard by all his children, myself included.  Even as a child, I was saddened by what I knew about my dad's early life.  I knew he grew up in great poverty in Detroit, Michigan.  I knew one of his brothers died in infancy.  Although he was an intelligent person and a curious autodidact, I knew he hated the rough Catholic schools which he attended as a boy.  I knew that he left school during the Great Depression to sell newspapers and do whatever work he could get in order to help put food on the table for his family. Hardest of all for me was that I knew he  HAD TO GO FIGHT A WAR far away.  To top it off, when he got back from the war, he had to go to work everyday at a job he appeared to hate in a place that was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  I hated  that he only had two or three weeks off in a whole year.   I always felt as if he got a bum deal in life.

I carried all these sad feelings around about my dad.  As a kid, I lived with the repercussions of his early life  but I never blamed him for stuff.  I know now that he and my mother did the best they could with  the parenting tools they had.  If you look at most definitions of parental success (are the children healthy? are they responsible citizens?  are they compassionate and contributing members of society?) then surely you would say that my parents were successful at their parenting.  All nine of their children meet and, yes, exceed those criteria.   As an adult, however, I am saddened by the distance that was part of their style (at least from my perspective) but it wasn't intentional.  It was what they knew.

I was scared of Papa until I moved far away and found my own life.  When I was growing up, there were long periods of time when he would arrive  home from work and a black cloud would descend on our home.  There would be tiptoeing around and unease everywhere.  Dinner would be silent except when he barked orders (SALT!) or when he rejected something (I can still remember him shoving pork chops that were too done or not done enough or something out of his way - and I felt for my mother who had made the dinner - why did he have to be so mean about it was my thought).  He would silently and brutally retire to the living room to sleep his evening away while the tv blared on.  I was often scared of him and often overwhelmed with sadness in his presence.  I couldn't let go of the fact that he had a rough life and that I couldn't do anything about it.  In my world, I didn't think he could do anything about it either.

 And I remember his raging.  HIs yelling and throwing things around.... and one Saturday morning in probably 1969 or 1970, he said in my hearing that he wanted a gun.  If he had a gun he would shoot himself.  I was scared and I was incredibly sad.  I suspect I felt guilty too - as if we (the kids) were part of the problem.  In retrospect, I don't really think we were part of the problem.  He had wanted a large family, he was always happy about a new baby, he was proud of his brood (though he never said that), but, of course, he had to support them.  I think the changing world was why he raged on that particular Saturday.  I also think the hardships of his life, combined with family patterns and perhaps a genetic predisposition, allowed him to turn to booze (his term) to find some peace.

I believe that  the cultural changes that shifted his universe beginning in the 1960's really rocked his life.  I am sure the Kennedy assassination shocked him but, there were also changes afoot in the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church had offered stability to him through all the dark times of his life and now Mass was being said partially in English. Later in the decade, people would be shaking hands as part of the holy Mass and his familiar Latin hymns and chants would disappear.  The anti war movement must have been hard for this war veteran - though I never knew where he stood on the Vietnam War.  He was a real Democrat - a salt of the Earth kind of guy - but all the protests must have been unsettling.  I know he strongly supported the Civil Rights movement.  He spoke highly of Martin Luther King, Jr prior to his assassination.  I remember the evening of that assassination and my dad was very clear to us that the world had lost a powerful and important leader. I think the feminist movement confused him.  It took away the basic framework for his life.  It put family on the back burner and he was all about family.  Beyond all this, I think he felt disconnected from his kids.  Things weren't going the way he thought they would.  His kids weren't getting married and having grandchildren.  Bigger than that, his kids weren't going to church.  Eventually, he worked his way through that disenchantment and, eventually, he did get to meet grandchildren.  In a rare moment of self disclosure, he once told me that his biggest disappointment in life was that most of his kids did not go to church.  Even though he acknowledged that, he was able to accept his children and their decisions, even if he didn't approve or understand.

There was something so gentle about that man and yet he had the toughest walls ever.  He was remarkably generous with both his limited money and his time.  He was a man of deep compassion and I can cite numerous examples of his quiet generosity.  He could be warm and friendly but he was never one to have a wide collection of friends.  His family of origin and my mother's family of origin supplied his core group of friends and the church community rounded that group out.  I think his days as a medic in the South Pacific must have forever affected his ability to make friends.  After all, having to literally pick up the pieces of the body that was once your friend cannot inspire more friendships.  

He was a tender man too - I wish I had seen more of that.  I remember fondly the Christmas  I was five and I got a book of storybook tales.  He sat on that bench in the kitchen while the turkey was cooking and he read me Dick Wittington and His Cat.  He clearly enjoyed that and I felt happy to be with him.  There were times when he would go to the hardware store and I remember going with him.  Mark and I would tag along.  Why?  There was nothing of interest to me at the hardware store. Maybe I was bored? I think  it was just about being with him. I remember there were three times when he took me - and me alone - to the drive in movies with him.  I suspect he just wanted to see the movie and he wanted company and Pauline couldn't or wouldn't go - we saw Cat Ballou together and Ship of Fools (which was way too sophisticated for me).  The creme de creme, was when he took me to see Gone With The WInd.  I remember that I really really really wanted to see it after I read the book for the first time.  It had recently been re-released but I didn't drive and I couldn't get there by myself.  He knew I wanted to go and so he took me.  There was also this Father / Daugher dance the year I was a sophomore in high school -- I think his friend Carmen Cavezza - whose daughter went to my high school - asked him if he was going and , by golly, he decided he wanted to go.  I had the nicest time with him.  But then he would go back to being pissy and mean.  Sad.

He was largely a self educated man.  As noted above, the 1930's rough Catholic schools in Detroit did not work for him and after the war, he went back to night school to get his high school diploma.  He was never able to go further with formal education but he was reading all the time and he devoured information.  We subscribed to two daily newspapers and he would watch a blend of informational and entertainment tv programs.   On the nights when he was talking at dinner time, he would go around the table and ask us, "What did you learn in school today?"  It was clear that education mattered to him and that he was an intelligent and reflective man.  He was also creative and his creativity found the most wonderful outlets.  He was into telescopes for awhile, for example, and worked at creating one of those.  He got into tile work and created a number of beautiful tile tables.  He was a brick layer and a builder and always had a project going (building trailers, boats, barbecues, and houses, for example).  He was a jack of all trades and master of many.  He earned his salary as a welder and that required skill and creativity but his life is replete with examples of his creative nature.

He was the first person in the family that I told about my first husband and me splitting up.  Years later I heard from my mother  that she was very hurt by that - that I told him before I told her.  But he ASKED me.  He brought it up,  There was also a time in the Safeway in Willits - just Robert and I were there.  I don't know why it was just us  but he asked about Ken ( a long term boyfriend).  When I told him we had broken up, he actually got this sweet smile on his face and said, "there are plenty of fish in the sea".   I know he liked Ken but he was also being supportive of me. The one and only time he ever told me he loved me - actually spoke those words - was the Christmas that I brought Michael to Bell Springs for the first time.  He seemed really happy that year.  As I recall, a lot of us were up there and I was laying out the bedding on the floor. He was not drunk, I remember that and he was also getting ready to retire to his bedroom.  He came up to me and put his arm around me, checking in about our accommodations for the night , and ended with those three words "I love you".  Powerful and unforgettable for me.

What kind of a connection did I really have with him though?  Obviously not one of conversation but more one linked by similar temperaments and family ties.  I  wish I knew more about him.  I wish he would have talked more.  I have a few letters that he sent me over the years and a few pieces of his poetry.  I think he hid well.  I do believe I have a lot of my father in me.  As noted, I have a tendency to build walls. I also live with compassion and tenderness.  I can turn to alcohol when I want to go underground, when the world feels like too much.  I am a political liberal who favors the underdog and who wants to spread out the wealth.  I am always eager to learn new things and am never without reading material.  I do not go to church and I do not value the Catholic Church as it has come to be but I do value the core teachings of the great religions and I do find my self in the dark and light of spirituality.  I somewhat doubt that my father knew how much he had really given his children.  I don't know that he wanted to ask and I didn't know then exactly what I had gotten from him.  I know now that my father's influence can be found in my own children and so he lives today.  I know that as long as I live I will still look to his life for guidance and that says a lot. I will toast him today as we remember his last day on Earth and I will wonder what lessons I still have to learn from him.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Owning a LIfe

      The notion of choice has been weaving through my thoughts all weekend.  I recognize that a person really does choose many things in life.  People don't choose their  families of origin and they can't choose many aspects of childhood.  Once, however,  they reached physical maturity  say, age 18, the choices they make become their life.

     The thing about choices is that you have to keep making them. You have to realize you are doing that.  Your decision making must be intentional.  I suspect many lives end being dismally empty or mediocre.  The owners of those lives may well feel as if they didn't have choices along the way (ie, I had to have a job, I had to stay married, I had to buy a house, etc). The real truth is that they did have choices but they didn't recognize the choices at the time.  Or, perhaps they initially saw the choice (I am choosing to work at this occupation) but then fell into the clutches of security and routine (I can't leave this job; I need the paycheck or I am too ________  to try something new - you fill in the blank).  

      I maintain that it takes courage to see life as choices.  It means that you are owning your own life.  It means that you understand that if you are carried away into mediocrity or living a life that is less than you want it to be, then it is your choice.  I can appreciate  that  security, and, grandest of all obstacles, cowardice, can lead to a life of mediocrity and bitterness.  Mediocrity and bitterness are by products of  choices made, even if the choices are made under duress or somewhat unconsciously.  Life will be a disappointment unless you think about everything you do, unless you make every choice the best one you know how to make.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unexpected Intrusions

Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is.

                                            HERZOG, SAUL BELLOW


An adventure that started without your input.

A basket overflowing with fruits and nuts.

An ocean spilling waves on your feet.

Cool shoes that can also hurt your feet sometimes.

A small fire that grows hot and powerful and cools to ashes.

Babies, criminals, queens, brokers, bartenders, cowboys, bitches.

White hot passionate kisses that close with a sigh.

Red sharp rage slashing away wisdom and reflection.

Baby toes and walkers, freckles welcoming wrinkles.

Killing, kindness, cartwheels , wailing, wishing, why.

Daffodils, daydreams, destiny, despair.

That is what life is.