Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 16 - A Song that Makes You Cry

That is the prompt that called to me today (okay, yesterday, when I started the post). Although I like to think of my musical tastes as not too narrow, if there is one little corner of the music world that I go back to repeatedly, it is modern folk/alt-country, especially by women. When I really want to listen to music, that is often what I pick.

Patty Griffin is a brilliant storyteller of tragedies large and small. It's no wonder she and Emmylou Harris collaborate so well together. I could pick any number of her songs, some more subtle perhaps. But "Poor Man's House," from her first album, aptly named Living With Ghosts (recorded essentially as a demo) is spare and hard . It starts:
You know you've done enough
When ev'e'ry bone is sore
You know you've prayed enough
When you don't ask anymore
You know you're coming to some kind of 
When ev'e'ry dream you've dreamed is past
And you're still standing 
I could go on, but that last line... There aren't too many people I know who have to live with that kind of sorrow and defeat. "Every dream you've dreamed is past and you're still standing."  Why bother standing at all? Is it an act of courage or duty to do so? Or is it because if there is any glimmer of hope at all, it tends to shine. What is left of us if we have no dreams remaining, not even for someone we love?

I think that there was a time when I was so overwhelmed with grief that I had no dreams left. I remember telling my grief counselor that I had nothing to look forward to and that I had squandered my life -- that I would never be successful at anything again. I truly felt that at 34, there was nothing but downhill left. I guess that I had dreams for my children, but they seemed so remote that I couldn't focus on them. And yet, I was duty bound to them so I didn't consider suicide in anything more than a passive sense.

Daddy's been working too much 
For days and days and doesn't eat
He never says much 
But I think this time it's got him beat

I imagine that what kept him standing was his children, knowing that the alternative would only be worse for them.  The more I think about it, the more I think it was purely duty and not hope that kept him going.

Perspective....I got my ability to dream back over time. My ambitions eventually reignited, with a lot of help. And on the other side of that coin, I would go so far as to say that I have less fear now, less inhibition. A year ago this blog was visible only to me. I had never submitted anything I wrote or created (with one exception -- I did submit an essay to This I Believe) to a public forum. Writing and photography both help me work through grief and also give me a feeling of accomplishment. I'm not quitting my day job, but I am okay with that.

There is no video for this song that I could find, but this is the song put to images. At least you can hear it in Patty's voice, rather than a cover.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gettin' Her Parade On

Best part of the costume is really not part of the costume; they are her green Reebok high tops, natch!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 24 - Where You Live

I grew up in Northern New Jersey and when my immigrant parents pulled together enough money to move us out to the suburbs from their original landing place (a semi-permanent port of call for many), they bought an awkward house in a town that I am belatedly willing to admit is largely --like the cliche would have you believe-- just an exit, or rather, several exits, depending on which of the highways you're on. The town is what is left over after the highways have had their way with the land. With no sense of irony, we would ask each other which side of what highway the other person lived on. There is no main street to speak of. There is no community there that I could ever find. Maybe some people had a sense of community there, but I doubt it had anything to do with the town.

D and I moved to the DC area, where I went to college and where we had a decent number of friends, a couple of years out of school. Despite the vague idea that we'd go back to NJ someday, we have never left and I don't think we will. Even my mother has instructed us not to return. Home for me now, the home of my and D's making is in direct response to the good (mostly his) and bad (mostly mine) of our hometowns. We're in our third house together and our third city/town. I feel, this time, we may have gotten it right. Sure, we too capitulated and moved to the suburbs like so many middle class capitulators before us, fleeing the city at the first sign of procreation. And yes, most of our friends have now left that city, too. But, and I hope I'm not just making excuses here, we love this stinkin' town. We love that we can walk to the diner and the pediatrician and, most importantly, a Dairy Queen. We never really and truly loved our expensive-yet-still-oddly-transitional first neighborhood. Our second town was too remote and sprawly and that was the house of bad ju-ju, where the bad things happened (another post for another day). What we have now and what I am completely grateful for every time I drive or walk or bike around is a place where there are local businesses, great schools, an exercise trail, recreation/community centers, a main street and holy smokes, a camera club that I just joined (my first evah!). We've always had pretty nice neighbors, but we are in a tight-knit community now, something my parents haven't won in the 25 years they've lived in their house.

Tonight, one of our town's most important events is set to take place (rain or shine): the annual Halloween Parade! Of course, that exacerbates what I consider to be our biggest problem: traffic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gripe List - AKA Day 27 - Your Worst Habit

I am the giant sucking sound at the tail end of this meme. But this is blogging and it's supposed to be fun, cathartic, or generally something other than obligatory. I bristle at obligation. It is one of my passive rebellions against my upbringing.

So, while I hope to circle back around at some of the other topics about which I may have something to say, I have decided to cut to the chase. Here it is, warts and all  -- or perhaps, just the warts.

I think I would have said, up until last week, that my worst habit is consuming sweetie treaties after the children have gone to bed. You see how I have tried to gamely deflect from the awfulness of my habit by giving it a cutesie name? Oh, the shame!

But the truth, laid plain by my husband last week, is even worse. We were in the car, on our shared commute (#11 from the "20 Things" post) when D mentioned someone and I replied that while I liked the person (I think it was one of the kid's teachers), I had a reservation. Apparently, I always have, sitting attentively in the front row of my consciousness, a short, but pointed list of the concerns I have about an unsightly proportion of the people that I meet each day. Worse still, I can recall these infractions at a moment's notice. This is precious, precious real estate that might have better served its purpose in learning to balance equations, speak properly in my mother tongue, or win me just one game of Trivial Pursuit in my lifetime. But no, instead, I have a petty yet encyclopedic knowledge of all the ways in which I have disagreed quietly with people I know. Hello, my name is Audrey and I have a gripe list.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It is a very old vinyl bag in caramel brown with about the same capacity as a kid's backpack. It's dusty and there is nothing ergonomic about the strap. I didn't know that it existed or that I would be its new owner until after it all happened.

We have visited D's grandmother twice in the past month. We went last month in a harried trip for grandpa's funeral and this time for a celebration of grandma's hard won achievement -- becoming a Bat Mitzvah in her mid-80s. Since most of the family was there, and those who were not were represented by their proxies, many of grandpa's personal things were distributed.

This was a strange new experience for me, having never met my maternal grandparents who died when my mother was a teenager (and for whom Eva is named, actually) and being an ocean and a half away from my paternal grandparents when they died (I was a small child anyway when my paternal grandfather passed away). Even if I had been there, I am fairly certain that the scene would have unfolded very differently. I imagine that there would have been small precious things (but, what?) unwrapped from small pouches or pieces of fabric or very thin paper. It would have taken place in dimly-lit room. The lighting was never very good in their apartment. I can't help but think that objects would have been pressed deliberately into palms following the unspoken but unwavering boundaries of obligation and tradition. It is all a mystery to me, I'm afraid. My people don't really talk openly about such things. But, I know this much; there would have been no display and no choices in the matter.

They were from another time and place; time was not as generous in allowing people to accumulate their treasures and people simply didn't have very much that was tangible. I never could understand how my grandparents had so many kids in that apartment. I will have to ask my father about that.

In the apartment D's grandparents shared for a quarter century, neither one of us was entirely comfortable with a brightly-lit dining room table and people handling and claiming his things. But this family is more fortunate and there was more than enough to go around. Here there were no obligations and little hierarchy. People could just take what appealed to them, what they felt connected to. In the end, when the most favored of the watches and cufflinks (Grandpa's whole career aside from WWII was about timepieces and jewelry) were claimed, it was the box that held them that I received. And that felt right to me.

Later that morning, I think the luncheon at temple the day before caught up to me and I just wanted to get home. Under the circumstances, there were no goodbyes, let alone time for things to be pressed into palms. Instead, I ended up acting out one of those drunken puking out the car scenes, something I have never done before. So, yeah, I'm all for new experiences. D drove and I tried to be still until, strangely, the whole episode just passed and I felt fine. I think it was then that D told me about the bag.

I didn't want to open the bag right away. I knew it was a camera bag, but until I dragged the zipper's pull from one side to the other, it could have been anything -- a Hasselblad [swoon], a Leica [gasp], a Brownie [a solid nod], anything. Inside were two 35 mm cameras  (a Konica and a Minolta) and a third lens -- a telephoto zoom. But what surprised me was that Grandpa had a teleconverter (used to multiply the focal length of a lens, thereby simulating a longer telephoto) and a set of close-up lenses, basically convex glass filters that allow you to focus in closer than you could otherwise, a cheap alternative to a true macro lens and well before such business could be accomplished simply by turning a dial.

I have owned both of those items, but what caught my eye was the set of close-up filters. Just two nights before, I had used one to take this photo of the engraved plate on grandpa's box before I had opened  the bag. The Grandpa I knew was a devoted painter. Now I see that at least for a time, he used more than brushes to create. I'll have to dig some film out of the fridge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 7 - A Photo That Makes You Happy

Friends, this was a simpler time. Determined to be an active father, D started running during my first pregnancy. This photo was taken on the day of his first race and we entered as a family, he in the 5K and my son and I in the "fun run." Not satisfied with his stroller-based experience, N took off on a run of his own at one point. I love that his tail is aflutter. Because you must also see the front view to fully appreciate this costume, here's another:

I bought this Halloween costume online and was utterly shocked (heh...) to find that the costume lacked a certain authenticity. So, we created our own, ehem, authenticity. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 6 - 20 Things

1. Cooking with wine on a Sunday afternoon (in a glass, not in the food)
2. Writing with a fountain pen
3. Singing along
4. Crisp Fall Days
5. Deep breaths, when I remember to take them
6. A clean house
7. Crossing things off the list
8. Holding them deeply
9. Walking downstairs after putting them to bed
10. Reassurance
11. Sharing the commute
12. The view from the mountains
13. Poetry (or really, anything) read aloud
14. Dark chocolate
15. The moment after the pan has been lifted from a cake, assuming it is intact
16. Girls with guitars
17. My silkie
18. Blowing glass (back in the day)
19. Warm Spring days
20. Acceptance

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Day 3 - TV

Flight of the Conchords was just so much fun to watch. I think that first season was such a surprise, both in that it was as good as it was and in that we were able to enjoy something. Amid all the documentaries, this show was respite. Yes, we bought the album.

The Wire. Simply put, this show is either the best show I've ever seen or a close second to Six Feet Under.  I actually think it edges out Six Feet Under because it was, in my opinion, more consistent. The first season started a little slow.  But if you give it a chance, this show gains steam. It is just phenomenal.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Day 1 - Song

Everything on VH1's tiny rotation during the time I was in the hospital (Dec 06 to March 07) brings me right back to that place of uncertainty, that feeling of free fall, particularly "Read My Mind" by The Killers. It is one of the few songs, paradoxically, that I grew to like, though. Even after, we sang that one to cheer ourselves up. My son, 3 at the time, always sang along. I am so grateful for those impromptu karaoke dance parties.

For me, it is generally snippets of songs, or rather it is the longing in so many songs. Every other longing, despite the fact that is usually of the romantic kind, is the longing I feel. 

It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
From "Leaving of Liverpool" No idea who wrote it

When I was sure you'd follow through,
My world was turned to blue.

When you'd hide
your songs would die,
so I'd hide yours with mine. 

From "Fair" by Remy Zero

Birds may be singing
In my eyes this day;
Sweet flowers may blossom when i smile;
My soul is stormy
And my heart blows wild;
My sweet heart rides a ship at sea.

From "Birds and Ships" Lyrics by Woody Guthrie. Sung by Natalie Merchant on Mermaid Avenue

But THE song is Amen Omen by Ben Harper. It is the song I used when I made a montage for Eva.

Can I find a place within to live my life without you? 

Gah! That line alone gets me. Crap. Can't I just go back to telling embarrassing stories about myself?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Day 2 - Movie

Yes, I am coming to this late, and starting out of sequence. Can I just pass that off as charming and whimsical instead of what it really is -- disorganized and lazy?

Well, nevermind, on with the show. I went through a heavy Why Does Africa Get Crapped On So Much phase in the first few months. It was decidedly not normal and possibly not healthy. I think my husband put up with it as one of my quirks or part of my grieving process, but needless to say I watched many of these films and countless online episodes of Frontline alone.

Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Lost Boys of Sudan, Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April (which was great and crushing, by the way), Lumumba, The Battle of Algiers, and probably others.

In retrospect, I think I was trying to put my loss in the context of more widespread and senseless tragedies. Call it the "it could have been worse" technique.