Reading Dad's Journals

My beloved Dad kept journals for many years. He died in 2008. And now I have to read them…

Month: February, 2013

‘I’m not a chicken. But why did I cross the road?’

Well, I crossed because he waved me over. That old man driving the dated sedan, with flower head hub caps. And his simple, chivalrous gesture brought tears to my eyes. I tried to gulp them down, re-absorb them somehow. Damn body fluids, always overflowing. He just opened his hand, palm up, and glided it across the dashboard as if I needed help choosing the best direction to cross in. And there he was: my Dad, doing the same thing to pedestrians for as long as I could remember.

In the seventies, he did it to the sound of the Bee Gees, or our favourite childhood movie soundtrack:

Image

In the eighties I always had ‘Wham’ in the tape deck, and then The Clash or The Cure as I experimented with the dark side. The nineties was classical radio, or one of my younger brother’s mixed reggae CDs, and always not too loud.

He gestured through France, England, the US & Canada, and here in Australia.

As I sit at home now in Adelaide, I’m realising how much reading this first journal of Dad’s is stirring me up. I admit I’m only half way through the first of seven, and it’s exhausting. Not easy topics: relationship difficulties, possible child custody arrangements, a sick parent, frustrating family dynamics, more relationship difficulties… And most telling? Dad’s struggles with expressing himself, with communicating honestly, with being ‘heard’, and being brave enough to confront others.

Shall we cross over to my journal stash from The Artist’s Way for a moment? Can you see where I’m going with this? They are full of the same damn complaints!

Dad and I are similar chickens:

Image

[Here we are on New Year’s Day 1996, in Sydney, dressed up to go to the races. I love this picture best because it caught Dad when he wasn’t quite ready, so his smile is 100% genuine, not the slightly ‘posed’ one I often teased complained teased him about in photos]

We drive the same: a little fast, confident, generous to pedestrians, and ruthless in our use of the horn. We can each tell a good story, holding our audience, working our way skilfully to the punchline. We both love to laugh, and eat good food. I’d like to think I’ve inherited his entrepreneurial mind, although perhaps I’ve applied mine more to the arts world than to business? We were good friends, and I loved spending time with him…

BUT it is confronting to realize that I struggle with the same interpersonal issues. That I too have had so many experiences of not ‘being who I am’, or asking for what I want, or of not feeling ‘heard’ and understood by my partners. [Hell, I don’t even understand myself sometimes, so how can anyone else?]

In the real world, I know I come across as direct, confident, and honest. I am all of these things, it’s true. But reading Dad’s diary fills me with flashbacks (or are they flashforwards??) as I recognize my own complaints about myself in his curly handwriting, 20 years on.

A friend of mine commented here that diaries are a time travel machine; a portal to another world. He’s right. I feel both taken back to the past, yet onward into my future as well. So much of Dad’s life was a background to my own, even while mine was also a background to his for him. And in twenty years forward, I don’t want to be struggling with the same relationship difficulties, a sick parent, or frustrating family dynamics. I really don’t.

I’d like to be crossing roads in the sunlight, enjoying fresh adventures, content within myself about who I am, and what I’m feeling. I’d like to smile and say thankyou to drivers who give me right of way, and I’d most like to know that I’m loving and loved.

*Sigh*

This diary-reading business is not easy. But then neither is this living-business either sometimes (first world problem, I know).

So what challenging traits do you think you’ve inherited from a parent, and how have you changed them?

Valentine’s/Schmalentine’s. But still, where’s my card?

After hours of exhaustive research  clicking on Wikipedia, I found this:

“The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).[1][3] Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[11]

   So on this day of Western social programming around the commodification of romantic idealism, I admit I class myself as a ‘cynical romantic’. This means I have loved deeply and lost several times, been proposed to twice (were they really serious?), and had seven serious partners in the last 20 years. I love the idea of my perfect ‘soulmate’, but think I’ve definitely met more than one already… And while contentedly self-sufficient and happy, I do still sometimes long for my ‘perfect match’…

    Therefore, while some of you out there are celebrating with a partner (of any gender), or feeling sad/relieved/neutral that you do or don’t have one, I’d like to offer up this little story:

    Every year since I was 16, my Dad sent me a Valentine’s card. No matter where he was working in the world, or later on, where I was travelling, a red or pink envelope would turn up in my letterbox. The year I turned 34, and gave birth to my son at home in Australia, he didn’t send one. And got into so much trouble! He explained he thought it was a bit silly now; he was quietly pleased (I could tell) when I kicked up a fuss and insisted the ritual continue.

   I have had my favourite one stuck to the outside of my bedroom door in each house I’ve lived in, and it’s on there now:

Image    Inside the inscription reads: “Stay away from all the pricks”.

    Thanks Dad, I will. Sage advice for us all hey?

    I miss you Lawrence.

    Let’s celebrate Love today, not just between two people, but between us all   x

 

1st book. 1st page. 1st paragraph. Oh crap, I don’t know if I can do this.

  I re-arranged my work shifts for 2013 so that Friday became my ‘Stay at home and Write’ day. I have banned myself from making appointments or social engagements on Fridays, and sometimes I don’t even raise the garage roller door that leads to the outside world. I am committing myself to a ‘creative cave’; an essential discipline in my writing quest.

   But now, this journal-reading process is making me feel like Fridays equal a trip to the dentist. Just for the record, I didn’t go to one for 8 years. Only when food got stuck inside my aching back tooth every time I ate, and one day I realized there was an entire piece of long grain brown rice caught in there, did I go (six times that year).

   Sorry Dad, but opening your first journal really sucks. It’s like a dental appointment, but knowing you’re going to have a root canal through your heart.

  So here goes with the first paragraph:

Image

 “Still suspicious & mistrustful, how can that change, not sure it can, and if it can’t no point in carrying on, that’s not how I want to live- being suspicious and mistrustful…”

    Oh crap. I’m so scared. I have no idea how to handle this. It’s very confronting to know that I’m going to discover more sides to my Dad now that he’s dead than those I knew when he was living. I know there is a gift in that, and I hope I will feel grateful one day, but right now I’m just scared.

    Every post on this Blog has upset me, either before or during writing it. But today was the worst. I feel like I’ve cracked the top off a volcano, compelled by a sense of responsibility, creativity, adventure and love. What a damn stupid idea. I am a very small human being, and a volcano is a potentially very destructive mountain. What was I thinking??

    How do I deal with writing about these emotional experiences, on this world wide web? What about privacy issues? I know the people mentioned in these pages- do I need to ask their permission to read about their interactions with my Dad, as a courtesy? Not to mention my plans to write about them all. I know it’s 25 years ago, but still… Is there a statute of limitations on diaries?

 

Help, please. All advice or references gratefully received.

 

I opened The Damn Box and survived to tell the tale

After all this drama and procrastination, you’d think the process would be full of pomp and ceremony wouldn’t you? But no. Just me, on a regular Wednesday afternoon, crouched on my back lawn, blades of grass tickling my ankles as I lifted the lid. No fanfare, no blinding light, no sigh of relief. Just a mess of Styrofoam pieces protecting a man’s innermost thoughts.

Image

I sat quietly with the open box, warm sun on my neck, and let feelings rise up to announce themselves. First came Sadness of course, holding hands with Loss and Longing. Adult Anger marched in beside the little girl of Rage who wanted to tantrum and get her Daddy back. A slice of Defeat carried in the awareness that we will all too be gone one day, despite our mammoth carryings on. I sat and sat, feeling and watching the Emotion Chorus wind its way through me, while my cat wound his body round my legs.

Finally, it felt like time to move on. So I took a deep breath, and laid out the journals one by one.

Image

Stepping-stones? To where?

 Or tombstones perhaps:

Image

 But their symmetry made me smile: Dad had bought the same brand, year after year, once he’d started with that cheap blue one from his local supermarket in Paris.

It seems like a good point here to reveal that I too keep private journals, and have done so for about 10 years. It became a more committed part of my life after I read ‘The Artist’s Way’ in 2005, and now I can’t imagine life without them.

BUT, (and this is a huge, capitalized, boldly-coloured ‘BUT’), I write under the assumption that no one will ever read them– hell, I don’t even want to re-read half of the whiny, small, sad crap I get off my chest! I write whatever I want: death wishes against bad motorists/rampant ambition for world domination/lists of things to-do today/dream contents/career complaints/romantic fantasies/financial worries and money-making schemes/positive affirmations/creative drives/child-rearing struggles, and of course relationship highs and lows. It’s all there, over and over and over, in 200-page spiral-bound A4 notebooks.

 

And the one person in the entire world that I would most hate to read any of them? My own child.

 

%d bloggers like this: