I have been thinking a lot about my dad lately. I don’t often listen to the radio. I often feel the music is either putting me to sleep or screaming at me and I am not fond of either while driving. However, the last few weeks I have been driving my husband’s car so the radio has been playing.
By some weird quirk of fate, the first day was Father’s Day, and Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing and I thought of my dad immediately. Since then, oddly, most of the time when I get in the car, something my dad would listen to has been on. For my dad, symbols were super important. The anniversary of the day someone dies. Visiting the actual grave. Viewing the body before someone is buried. For me, those things are completely unimportant and empty. I don’t want or care to make a concerted effort to memorialize the day someone died. I want to remember the way someone lived.
My father had enough time to know the end was coming to plan his funeral exactly as he wished it, and it was therefore perfect. I disliked it intensely. All the talk of how he was a good father or a loving husband, etc., was just talk. Not that it wasn’t true—but it didn’t really scratch the surface of the amazing, complicated, irritable, valiantly generous person that he was. Just like the gravestone he picked out himself doesn’t bring back memories of him.
Music does. He loved music so much, and my relationship with him is a soundtrack of music from the Beatles, Bad Company, the Moody Blues, Jim Croce, Three Dog Night, Meatloaf, and so many more. So I am most likely to think of him when music is playing. I remember him waking me up in the middle of the night when he got home from working late to scratch off lottery tickets and how excited we would be when we won two dollars. Or how many friends and acquaintances took up temporary residence on our couch because they needed a bit of help. Or watching him dance around his living room, singing to my daughter. Or how he was completely and totally bewildered by pretty much every decision I have ever made, but he was so proud of me, anyway. They are little surprises, presents, that come with the music. And I think how amazing a thing memory really is. And how much dementia truly takes away from a person.
When I first created the patchwork memories flowers they were little tributes to a few of the friends I was thinking so much of. Another friend of mine, Mysie, fell in love when I shared them, and reached out. We ended up having an entire conversation about her memories of her grandmother, who quilted and loved flowers and grew up with acres of peonies. I thought the way she wrote the words was poetry, and I saved the conversation.
Two weeks ago the peonies were in full bloom. Normally, I dislike peonies. They are not a flower I feel I can have a conversation with. However, there was one peony bush on my walking route that caught my attention very strongly, and I ended up taking about a hundred photos of it from different angles. That same day I went digging in my files for something and came across her memory that I had copied. Who am I argue with fate? So this is “Mild Red”, since the flower is pink and it was a thing between them. So my thanks to Mysie, for sharing that bit of poetry with me.
In other news, with everything that has gone on with the Supreme Court last week, there is a lot of quotations from Ruth Bader Ginsburg swimming through my social media feed at the moment. Right before the pandemic hit, I took my daughter to see the documentary, RBG. She was an impressive woman and the documentary clearly had several themes it wanted to get across about her. It was a successful endeavor. However, the thing that struck me most wasn’t one of their main themes, and it wasn’t about what she did, or who helped her do it. It was what she didn’t do. She was a woman of incredible focus. She knew the changes she wanted to see in the world, and she wielded her chosen tool of the law to try to bring those changes about. She didn’t door knock. She didn’t operate a phone bank. As far as I can tell, she never attended a rally. She kept her goals in mind when decision making, put her energy into the things she felt she was best at, and didn’t deviate.
I have realized recently that I do nothing but deviate. Part of that has been because I am surrounded by people who love their jobs, and seem like they’ve always known that was what they wanted to be or do and I have been trying to find that one job myself. I’ve blundered about basically blown on the wind, trying things at random, trying to find that thing. It is only recently that I discovered that it is okay not to have that—that I can still do work that makes me happy and be effective, working in a less conventional way. However, while in the process of figuring that out I have let myself become immersed in the projects of my friends, and my own projects have been of the lowest priority, fit between the cracks and resulting in complete exhaustion. I can’t remember the last time I haven’t worked until it was time to go to sleep. I looked at my priorities for the next two months (summer) and none of those priorities are me or my own work. They are good things, things I am happy to help make happen, worthy things–but they don’t get me any nearer my own goals.
So! My summer belongs to other people, but September, and the girl going back to school, is going to start a new chapter of my life. I am going to end my involvement in all projects not mine, regardless of how complete or incomplete they are. And I am going to focus on the changes I want to see in the world, my goals, and the skills I am best at—not just the one’s that prove useful for other people’s projects. It feels unbelievably selfish, but honestly, it is the far more difficult option. It is so much easier to help others out than to focus on your own things–even when those things will (hopefully) help others. And I have heard RBG called a lot of things–but never once selfish or self-indulgent. Even when enjoying herself at various art related events, which she was such a strong supporter of.
To that end I leave tomorrow morning for a Creative Retreat where internet and cell service is deliberately removed so that attendees can concentrate on their endeavors. My goal is to come home with a clear plan of what I want, what is needed to make it happen, and a strong deadline of September 1st to start implementing it. When I return it will be to a week already scheduled full to the brim with obligations to other people without even any cracks for my own endeavors to squeeze—the result of carving out the time for this retreat, which shows just how out of balance I have become.
The summer is for other people, and that’s okay. Fall is going to be mine, and that’s okay, too.
Side note: If you message someone out of the blue, with zero context, and ask them the name of their dead grandmother, it is entirely possible that that might weird them out and that they might think it was a truly bizarre account hacking experience. Just letting you know, in case that ever comes up. La la la.
Also, I will leave you with one of the songs that always makes me think of my dad. As a 200 pound woman myself, I no longer view it in quite the same way I once did, but I still love the song.