Hello, David Bowie…

David Bowie’s passing knocked me back on my way to work this morning, while I was driving mindlessly forward, half asleep in an under-caffeinated allergy haze. This warm winter has been strange enough…and this past year filled with loss and unseasonable change.

I was not a #1 Bowie fan. I suppose I took for granted that he’d always be around, as much of his music and colorful cultural interjections have always been in the background of my life. He was the wild seventies into which I was born; he danced across the TV screens that raised me in the eighties; he echoed through the high school hallways in the nineties as Kurt Cobain crooned his songs to the grunge generation; he was a familiar tune that popped up in the two-thousands when I’d go out to dance with my grad school buddies. There has never been a time without Bowie, and I believe there never will be. His power is too bright.

He was an outcast who became an emblem for individual expression, musical shape shifting, political exploration, gender fluidity, theatricality with artistic depth and substance. Challenging norms, he sought equality, to provide power to those who were marginalized. His ongoing wonderful weirdness will be missed. But think of how lucky we are to have a long and wide-ranging catalogue of his creative and humanistic endeavours. David Bowie has always been and will always be…

“Let’s Dance”

“The Man Who Sold the World” Live at the beeb

David Bowie spoke out about the lack of black artists represented on MTV, from Bitch media

“David Bowie: What I’ve Learned…” from Esquire

 

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy: On a New Year

This past year, I survived my first surgery and my millionth break-up; I lost and found both of my mothers again; I felt true support for a few moments, a type of love I could briefly accept, from my now-ex boyfriend of several years; I took several steps backward in physical activity; I stopped coloring my hair, gradually cutting off the detritus; I saw my mother in fear of her life, hospitalized three times, then settle back home in a more grateful place; I heard my grandmother laugh at her own forgetfulness and take cheap shots at all of us under her breath, and I admired her grace; I’ve felt defensive, hurt, and fearful more than usual but was able to push it aside to plough through much of the above.

But at what cost? To be a hurt child afraid of nearly everything takes so much from experience, especially joy. There have been many moments in 2015 that brought great relief, appreciation and gratitude, but rarely proper joy. I think I felt it when Ryan came home in 2014 for the academic year we had mended some things, or were at least willing to put those things aside out of care for each other and to move forward. His transition to school so far South was not easy, so the idea of him coming home to re-evaluate was comforting. While it brought no promise of staying, it brought at least physical proximity and time together to heal.

While he was a great source of patience and kindness to me in many ways throughout the years but especially this summer, when my mother was struggling with health emergencies, and I had my own surgery, things still built up. There was still a residue of resentment when he left, or when I could not pretend fully to feel happy about his departure, or struggles with a disorganized PhD program that seemed to be stringing him, and therefore our relationship along, in terms of how long it would take him to complete his degree. I was and am glad for his pursuit of what he loves, but could not deny that while I was tolerating the long distance (much better this time around, I thought) that it was still daunting.

After my family health crises subsided, all of the stress that I had put aside to confront the details of getting us through it came down hard. I was not easy to talk to or deal with. I felt simply like I needed to fall apart a bit myself finally, once I had the time and space at all to do it. Of course, that did not yield any good results…I felt selfish and demanding, but after a lifetime of taking care of people I really needed some affirmation that someone could maybe take care of me, even if I was being childish, disagreeable, etc. That bit of vulnerability was tough for me to reach and that is rarely the case…and as quickly as I reached out I snapped shut, angry and fearful of being hurt, of all the people I had almost just lost (my grandmother also had surgery, and my biological mother was in a nursing home facing the loss of her leg), all those I had actually lost, and will lose. It turns out, now I have lost Ryan, too, and no doubt due in part to some of that behavior.

I have felt like I was organizing and coordinating, helping and assisting for a long time. It is in my nature, but it can become me too much, and I forget my other selves, and those people close to me who need more than just a two-dimensional version of me. I don’t like admitting it…it seems to be a functional coping mechanism, but it’s not been worth the damage it’s caused in my personal relationships. I thought I could trust Ryan again, and really be fine with the distance and him having an entire life separate from me. That was simply not the truth, no matter how much I loved him, or how good I know he was to me in many ways through my many issues. Still, I thought just staying and trying was support, and would will us through all things, considering all the things we had already willed ourselves through.

We want to believe, and belief is extremely powerful. It can influence our health, change our minds, create our afterlives. But it can also make us try and try and try again when we should know we need to rest, pause, and sit alone with all of our thoughts. Not just the hopeful ones, the familiar ones that we wish to become the truth, but those that can actually bring us to a fulfillment that remains, one that is fully dimensional or real.

Perhaps that is not a life without disappointment (and I doubt that there can be), or one that allows us to perpetuate our illusions of control, or our imagined path, but one that fosters a kind of unremitting joy only born of taking risks (sometimes those risks are small, or may even be taking care of yourself instead of putting others above your health and happiness), being vulnerable and getting hurt, only by all the things we allow ourselves to interact with and sense, not the phantoms of years past when we felt somehow certain that things must finally work out for us, even when they didn’t.

Too often they don’t, but I know how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do to see me through it, who can provide some wisdom and insight from making their own mistakes, but not allow those mistakes to undo their self-worth.

Take risks, and have a joyful 2016!

Commemoration, Grief, Celebration

The Lives They Loved is a series I wish I had known about before today. Still, now I can read what others have posted about those close to them that they have lost in the past year, taste these slices of life. I’ve had many conversations lately with people about how we neglect our grief in the United States…disregard it, pretend it is gone just as the body disappears, out of sight, ignore it in public while it tugs on our minds like a persistent child at our hems. I’ve not had a grief so close to me in my adult life like some people I know, but there have been some departures that make me see what’s to come. I’ve lost some colleagues, some old friends that I have not seen in years that I truly enjoyed knowing but was not very close to for long; not a parent, really (although there is the biological father I never met who died when I was about ten, the adopted father who has been out of my life since I was about thirteen; all in all, my therapist disagrees…I’ve mourned the loss of parents since I was set off  at birth, first to foster care, then to my current family).

I lost my grandfather but could not fully understand it at 18 (even if it was not my first death), when I was in my first year of college. When my mother and I arrived at his house late in the night, my uncles gathered there, my grandmother was huddled up, tucked into her sorrow on the couch. It was one of the first and only times I’ve seen her cry. My mother said, “Go see your grandmother.” Dutifully, but afraid of the open expression of sadness from the toughest woman I have ever known (who is still going, about to turn 87 in a few weeks), I whispered a meek and useless, “I’m sorry, Grandma,” through my own tightening throat, as I leaned down to kiss her cheek.

So while this series is now a closed submission, we can all still follow in its path. Write a snapshot, even a six word memoir, a haiku, a short list of jagged associations, memories, qualities or characteristics alongside a photo of someone you have lost. The genre, style, appropriateness, and grammar do not matter. All that matters is honesty. There is no one, right way to grieve, and the process is unending as we lose parents, children, close friends and beloved pets. There is little sense to death for any of us, especially if we choose not to acknowledge it and are sheltered from it in a culture where it becomes completely private, although surely many of us are enduring it each moment, in sharp or soft, but often unexpected thoughts, every day.

We need to make time and space to let our mortality enter into our lungs with breath, as it does and is doing, even when we cannot feel it, or when we choose to allow it without acknowledgement. Don’t we all, in our passing through each others lives, through this one sure life, deserve that much?

Related links (I include these authors’ works on death in one of my classes):

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation

Jessica Mitford’s “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain”

New Poem/Is it Still There

Is it Still There

 

The home that warmed you after that winter trip

downstate from Canadian border where Catholic charities

hoarded babies for those without to pick like flowers.

 

The small, blue house with a thin roof and windows

creaks and whistles, chilling the workroom

cabinets your father built to store memories.

 

The cherry china closet in the dining room,

where your mother’s Polish tchotchkes stand

among her finest dishes, an homage to her orderliness.

 

He, a woodworker, she, a nurse, took you and the boy

when you were just toddlers. Though you shared

no blood, you became one another’s keepers.

 

Family portrait: your brother’s dark curls

so contrast your blonde waves,

and your mother’s deep chestnut coif.

 

You are only a teenager here, posed

in a blue dress to match your eyes,

but soon you’d be kicked out of the picture.

 

But brother was the one they could not keep for long:

He fled in his twenties unexpectedly hemorrhaging

under his skull; no one anticipated aneurysm.

 

Now, in your fifties you live alone,

having survived the war of parentlessness twice,

one more thing we have in common.

 

But the burden of the house–leaks feeding foreclosure

in an IV drip, stretch marked cement steps

pregnant with ice–is too much labor.

 

When the snow comes to blanket us in its quiet,

everything is still:

Water hangs mid-air from gutters.

 

Sharp-edged and glittering winter wears woe

like some silent film star. She’s all contrasts:

Withering and convalescent.

 

What you mean to ask is not if the house

still stands to her elements, not if it can

distill life, eternally serve to memorialize.

 

For all that you’ve lost is greater than this,

one small, blue house that cannot hold

your father’s last incoherent words,

 

your mother’s latkes, alongside her advice

to offer me to those without to be picked like a flower,

the way she and your father picked you and your brother.

 

What you mean to ask but cannot is this:

Am I still here if I cannot be within those walls,

without the only ones I have known as my own.

 

Dec. 2015-March 2016