Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Questions. And Answers.

Back in 2004 or so, about the time my marriage was falling apart, I would find myself visiting my folks a lot more often.  A lot of times, after I'd get back home from visiting with my friends, fairly late on a Saturday night, I'd walk through the door to see my dad, still awake, watching one old movie or another.  A lot of times, as I sat on the couch as a prelude to heading to bed, I'd ask my dad what he was watching.  An easy hour or more later, Dad and I would finish up a conversation that covered everything from movies to music to his childhood memories to... anything.  I'd head to bed, admonishing him to go to his room and not fall asleep in the chair again, and that would be that.  Those hours were honestly the best times I ever spent with my Dad. 

Come the morning, after church, Dad and Mom and I would sit around eating breakfast, or watching the news, and they would work the crosswords while I read and occasionally shouted out the answers to the clues they said suspiciously aloud.  But we didn't talk much.  More to the point, Mom and I didn't talk much.  See, growing up, I was much closer to my mom than I was my dad.  She was around a lot more (by this point, as I recall, Dad was working nights at the shop) and so I just knew her better.  It was easy to talk to her, because I knew what to expect when we would talk.  Dad was a little scary.  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I poured my heart out to my mom, it's just that I could talk to her in a way I couldn't talk to my dad.  So cut to all those years later, and I think my mom knew how important it was that I talk to my dad, to try and make that connection we never had when I was young.  All of us were focused on my dad in those last years, and so I think none of us minded putting him, and our relationships with him, ahead of our other relationships.

I know my relationship with my folks was never all that close- there was love a'plenty, to be sure, but not always understanding.  Make no mistake- they supported me in everything I did, or even thought of doing- but they rarely seemed to understand why I walked the paths I did.  They didn't often ask me.  And for my part, I rarely, if ever, told them.  Those years talking with my dad went a long way to correct those mistakes- maybe not covering all the time we'd lost, but making all the time then and going forward so much richer.  But in all those years, I never, or rarely, talked with my mom the way I did with my dad.  I had grown up to know my dad in a way I suppose only comes with time and distance and lessons, and so talked to him with that new knowledge.  But my mom?  She was the rock upon which the family was built, steady and solid and unchanging.  There didn't seem to be anything for me discuss with her, to ask her about or share with her.  She was the solid, steady rock of the family, while most of my time was spent flitting from idea to wish to wondering, head in the clouds and never standing firm.  Then Dad died, and everything seemed to crumble.  

I'm not going to go into how my family changed- not now.  But one thing that I did start realizing was that I didn't know what to talk to my mom about.  I didn't even know exactly how to talk to her either.  It had been so long, I'd forgotten the language.  She had lost her partner; I had lost my hero.  We'd both lost the same man, but it seemed like there was a gap in our lives that we couldn't bridge.  Sure- when it came to the things that 'needed' talked about, I could do that.  Believe it or not, I'm actually pretty good at handling crises, from the mundane to the profound.  But the things that we 'should' talk about, or the things we 'want' to talk about, I was helpless.  I would call and ask her the questions I'd always ask, she'd give me the answers she always gave, we'd talk about what my niece was up to, how good a kid she was, how the cats were, and after exchanging 'I love you's', we'd hang up.  

But every so often, I would find myself surprised by spending a great deal of time on the phone, talking with my mom.  Not always about the most important things, but a lot of times, really important things.  And I would stupidly find myself surprised at how much my mom knew and had to say about a subject.  I don't mean silly things like politics or science or the world- I mean the important things, like love and family and pride and honor and faith and strength- the things that count.  She knew so much, and knew just how to say it so I understood what she meant, and would give me great examples, and she showed me so much I didn't know about both her and my dad, that it often left me crying and smiling at the same time.  I don't know why I was surprised; she's a mom after all.   

Those moments aside, life got in the way and routine, that hobgoblin of the mundane, led us back to the the quiet lands- we spent less time talking, and more time speaking.  We would talk, but we wouldn't talk about things.  It was back to those same old phone calls, except we'd be together.  I loved being around her, but I just didn't have anything to say.  What was there to talk about?  Ask her if she played any different lottery numbers?  Tell her about how well I counted steel?  And so, silence reigned. 

Then fate stepped in.

Over the past ten months, I've been given a new way of looking at my mom, new eyes by which to see her.  Instead of going home and spending quiet time with the woman who'd raised me, I went home and started talking to the woman who had 38 years of life lived before I showed up, and tried getting to know her.  Things I never thought to ask, for all those years, things that made my mom into that woman I mentioned above- the one who knew so much about the important things?  This could be my chance to discover how she learned all those important things. 

It wasn't always easy.  Mom has had a very, very rough few years.  It's not always easy for me to ask her the questions, and I feel that it's probably hard for her to give me the answers.  She always answers, but sometimes, mostly, it's just the answer.  And sometimes, when we talk, it's mostly me telling, and Mom listening.  Those can be really hard.  But those times I ask her those questions?  It's not a conversation, but it's something.  It's okay- I know it's hard, and she doesn't always have the strength to discuss things.  But she always answers, and each answer is another piece in the mosaic. 

But then, there are nights like tonight.  I asked her about her 'dream home'- where would she live? (meaning back when she was young; there is no place like home, now).  What kind of house would she like?  And she answered me, telling me of the place she and my dad first lived in, and describing how she'd like a place that was bigger, but not too big, with some land you could grow things on, and wasn't too crowded by other people.  She told me about the places her family lived in, then the apartments her parents lived in, then moving her mother into the house after my grandfather died.  It was really great to hear her talk about it, because I didn't really know those things, and it was a good answer.  

Then she asked me where I liked living.  Did I prefer the apartments, or the house? She didn't just answer- she asked me a question back.  And then we were talking, conversing, having a discussion about what the apartments were like, what my house was like, the merits of each (pride of homeownership v. not paying for repairs)... we were talking.  My sister came in, and I found out that my grandmother and sister shared a room for years, and that they talked for hours- to the point where my dad would tell my mom to make them 'knock it off'- which surely sounded silly even to him.   It felt so... amazing... being able to talk with them, and talk not with those old worn out scripts, but to share in the conversation of our lives, learning and teaching and just experiencing our family, in a profoundly simple way.  It was just a short talk about housing... and it was a conversation about the most important things. 

I learned so much tonight- not just about my mom, but about my sister, myself, and my family.  I learned that no matter how well you think you know someone, they always have more to teach you.  I learned everyone has something worth hearing, if you are smart enough to listen. 

I learned that sometimes, asking the question is the answer. 


Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010: a (Retro)Perspective

Well, here we are again, you and I.  It's been a long time, hasn't it?  Even just stopping by for a casual visit, it's been too long.  I know, I haven't kept in touch like I used to- things just aren't how they used to be, life has a way of doing that.  Changes aren't permanent, but change is, right?  And not only has it been a while since I stopped by, it's been even longer since I sat down to talk about the Year that Was.  But what goes around, comes around.  And this year has given me so very much to talk about.  So make yourself comfortable; pour yourself a drink.  We'll talk, you and I, about 2010.  My 2010. 

So how to do this?  I just finished reading 2008's  year in review (sorry 2009- I'm sure you were wonderful, but I was in a difficult place back then- it's not you, it's me.), and I'm not sure how much I'll follow that pattern of "good and bad"- but as I like easy-to-digest lists, I'll try...  

First off- I think I can truly understand what it means when Dickens wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  This year... I'm not sure if I can honestly describe to you what this year has been for me.  I've been putting off writing about it for a while now, because in a lot of ways, I'm still trying to figure out what it's meant to me. 

(I realize this is a three-paragraph introduction to a list, but as you know by now, I take my time getting to the point)

-I watched some of my closest friends, more family than friend, suffer through some of the worst times of their lives.  I've seen bonds I considered unbreakable fracture and strain under pressures I can't imagine, ones that cause me to question so much of my own life, my own ideas of importance and value, even my idea of love.  But they are all strong, and they each fight each day to make it better than the one before.  Sometimes, I see them struggle so hard to make it through that day, to get by when everything is falling apart around them, but I see them pull themselves through the day, and face the next.  They are so very strong. 

-I watched my mother struggle still with the unimaginable loss of my father and the very recent loss of her brother, as well as the insidious nature of old age, as it slowly (and sometimes not-so-slowly) takes its toll on her.  I watch her stumble, literally and metaphorically, with the ravages of age, its dulling of memory and sensation and so many little things that add up to so much.  I sometimes watch her fight to remember recipes she's made dozens of times, or tell me again about something she mentioned earlier...  But I've been left speechless from laughter as she places a smart remark with more skill and dexterity than anyone I know, and she reminds me time and again of the most important things in life, the things she never forgets.  She tells me repeatedly how her meals aren't as good as those her mother made, yet she doesn't seem to realize what it means when I have several helpings of whatever she makes, or just how damned good her homemade bread is, still.  She curses herself for being weak- all the while shouldering such a heavy burden with such simple grace and honesty it leaves me breathless.  She always tells me how strong my father was, how smart he was- while I look on at her with amazement for her will and her heart, and realize why they loved each other so much.  They were equals in the only ways that mattered. 

-I watched people I care about, family, mentors, and friends, fight against one medical problem after another.  I watched them do it sometimes with a smile and steamroller-confidence, sometimes with their head down and simply putting one foot in front of the other.  Always, though, always with a will to fight, and to persevere.  It never ceases to amaze me how much one can accomplish with nothing but will. 

By now, you've probably noticed these paragraphs all start with 'I watched'- and you're probably thinking, much like I was earlier, all these bad things that happened, they didn't happen to you- where are your complaints?  What bad things happened to you? (for as we all know, modern society seems to thrive on the suffering of others)  You know what?  That's not why I'm here, not really.  When I look back over the year, at those things that most upset me, or worry me the most- none of them involve me.  I won't say I have nothing to complain about (everyone knows me too well)- but when I look back, they're not worth mentioning.  I can't look back in anger or sadness or pity at whatever 'terrible' things befell me.  I'm looking back at this year, and I've got some pretty incredible things to talk about.  2010 has really shown me just how lucky I am.  Here's the good stuff, for me- the things I will remember, the things that made this year the best of times, even as it was sometimes the worst of times.

-I read a hell of a lot of books, again.

-I saw more movies, though less than before. 

-I found my new favorite movie of all time (yes, even more so than 'The Thing From Another World'). 

-I cried an awful lot.  Which I don't consider a bad thing.

-I got to spend another great week with Family #2

-Another amazing, all-new and all-different, weekend at Chincoteague with my family of engineers.

-New Doctor Who!  Brilliant!

-I was introduced to a lot of great music.

-I was reminded that I'm pretty damn smart.

-I got to hang out with my sister and realize that though we're very different people now, things haven't changed all that much since she and I used to be inseparable (and she still calls me hunya).

-I spent more time with my niece- she's really pretty awesome, not just as a mini-me.  I've come to realize she's one of my favorite people in the world, and she makes me feel pretty good about tomorrow.  I've realized how much I missed of her growing up, and it's made me resolve not to miss any more. 

-I've gotten to see more lives welcomed into the world, changing my friends in ways big and small, and making the world (big and small) a much brighter place. 

-My Mom told me she was proud of me.

-My sister called and asked me for advice about her car- with the caveat that 'no one knew more about cars than dad'- which is true.  But she told me that since Dad wasn't here, I was the next best thing.  That's probably one of the highest compliments I could be given. 
-My niece gave me a hug, and told me I was doing a great job.   

-I've been told I'm a good friend. 

-This was the year I realized why I went through all the pain and suffering and loss years ago.  It wasn't because I'd done wrong or because I deserved it- it was because, when my friends were hurting and confused and torn apart by so much anguish and torment, I could be there for them, and understand just how they felt- I had already walked that path, and though everyone walks on their own, I could walk beside them.  I hurt so I could help them.  When they stumbled, or felt lost, I could be there for them, to tell them that it wouldn't always hurt that way, and to help them find their way back.  They didn't have to be alone.  And between you and me, my pain was worth it, to be there for my friends. 

-I discovered that the bonds of friendship I've forged over the past decades are even stronger than I imagined; my friends were there for me when my whole life fell apart- they kept me together, in some ways kept me alive.  This year was the year I stood by them when times were hard.

-I realized whenever I was most afraid of doing something, that was when I knew it had to be done.

-I've slowly started to accept that I am the man my Father knew I was.  Sometimes in those darkest moments, I can hear him, and I know why he put his faith and trust in me. 

-I realized that hate and bitterness and anger just aren't worth it.
-I found that I have more patience than I ever imagined. 

-Lots of gray hairs, and I don't mind.  Lots of lost hairs, which I kind of do mind.

-I learned that I've changed a lot more than I thought I could, and that I've come out stronger for it. 

-I let go. 

-I realized this was the year I'd been waiting for, for a very long time. 

-I found that the place left of center wasn't as cold and dead as I'd thought- it only needed fire.

-I had two of the most amazing concert experiences of my life.

-I was pushed- and I learned that sometimes it's okay to be pushed. 

-Whenever things seemed to fall apart, I picked it up and put it back together. 

-I have been called a good man.

-I discovered I am stronger than I ever thought I was.

-Walls came down, or were simply walked around.

-I talked about movies, music, books, comics, loss, laughter, tears, strength, weakness, pride, shame, defeat, victory, death, life, all the big things, and all the small things that make our lives worth living- in one long conversation that's still going on. 

-I kept drawing.  Not as much, but I kept drawing.  

-I wrote- more than I have in a long, long time- and realized how much I still enjoyed it (sure, you haven't seen it, but there's more than just a blog to write)

-I learned to talk, even when I was afraid of speaking.

-I decided to let go of fear, and hold on to hope.

-This was the year I learned, finally, to believe in myself. 

-This was the year I learned there are a whole lot of people who have believed in me all along.

-I learned the small things can mean more than the big things.

-This year proved to me that there is such a thing as a second chance, and it's up to each of us to either let it slide past us, and leave us standing still, safe on known territory- or to reach out and take it, grab hold, and let it take you into the unknown, into the endless possibilities... so what do you say to taking chances?

- I said 'yes'.   

-This was the year I came back to life, because I found my reasons...

-Dragon, Josh, bacon chocolate, Who, tea time, scones, walking, acronyms, emails, good morning and good night, 3 o'clock, tears, not walking away, stars, beach, Scott and Ramona, Mumford, family, sighing just a little bit, Featherstone, chats, Crazy Heart, scarves, Rockwell, mustaches, hands, mail, fun facts, cards, thoughts, talks, quiet, smiling just a little bit, voicemail, grocery store aisles, candy, buttered popcorn, movable armrests, phones, cheerleaders, psst, lyrics, singing, steampunk, zombies, long drives, sticks and stones, romantic flight, forbidden friendship, first flight, poetry, 'if', comic art, wishes, daydreams, secrets shared, patience, bravery, compassion, Sigh No More, comicon, cappuchino, wine, questions, laughter (oh that first laugh), dittos, scars, always amazing alliteration, a perfect sunday...


That was, in its way, my 2010.  The list is hardly complete, of course.  That's the funny thing about memories- there are so many of them.  There are so very many good things about this year... but some of them, I'll keep to myself.

Thank you for joining me again, or for the first time.  It's been a while, I know, and I feel terrible for having gone so long without stopping by.  But it felt good to talk like this- I have missed you, in my way.  Perhaps we can do it again sometime?  Soon?  Sure, we'll see what happens.  But I do have more work to share with you, thoughts are always bubbling below the surface, sketches still waiting to be brought out of the pencils, more images to manipulate.  I'm certain I've more words to spill out across the internet, and you've been so accomodating in the past, I'm sure we can come to an arrangement.  I'l be back, of that I'm sure.  You take care of yourself, and I'll do my best to do the same.  It's not always easy, I admit- but I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings, and there's no place I'd rather be.

And what of 2011, you ask?  Well, let's see what it brings.  After all, every day is full of possibilities, of another chance to get it right... So what do you say to taking chances?