Reading Dad's Journals

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

Red tape liposuction

I haven’t blogged for a couple of months because my life expanded so much that I myself was almost squeezed out. I felt like an A4 page whose margins were set too wide on the formatting palette. The causes of the spread? I was successful with my arts grant so had 6-weeks to make a new puppetry show, which included 2 short films, and I decided to move 2500kms interstate. I therefore had to pack up my home of 4 years, including all my worldly possessions like Grandma’s tea set, Dad’s 3 art deco vases, and various antique glass-framed pictures.

I had to give notice on the most stable job I’ve ever had (five years of teaching Pilates in the same gorgeous studio), including leaving many wonderful clients, colleagues, and the greatest boss. Most importantly, I had to say goodbye to the friends and connections I’d established during 6 years in Adelaide, which meant a certain amount of grieving and letting go.

To say it was a big couple of months is an understatement.Image

Something had to give. And I’m afraid it was you, my dear Blog readers. And Dad’s journal reading. Also my short story writing. As well as my work on my book of interviews. Heck, even my Morning Pages journal got dusty, or else only had pages torn from it at midnight to make lists of stuff I had to do so I could actually get to sleep.

Instead, I worked long and hard creating a new solo puppetry show called ‘Puzzle’. It only runs for 12 minutes, but is easily the hardest thing I’ve done. At one point I had a panic attack for a few hours, trying to step up to the challenge of incorporating critical feedback, and struggling dismally. Thank god for my three wise friends, who could listen to me rant and wail, making gentle suggestions through my distress, and pushing me to push myself. We all knew I’d get there in the end, but it was indeed like a labour and birth re-enactment.

Simultaneously, I culled over 6 packing boxes of papers into just one, burning and cleansing. That felt so good. Who needs bank statements from 2004? Or those mouldy university notes from 1995? Sure, the essays are good, and the topics interesting, but really… Am I ever going to ‘need’ them again? Well I hope not, because I’ve burnt them. I got on a bit of a roll actually, and became the Cull Queen. Old daily diaries, folders of magazine clippings, defunct product manuals, unimportant red tape archives- all gone. So liberating. Love letters from irrelevant exes, boring photos I was keeping from a sense of duty, even old show programs and flyers. I knew I was treading a fine line between being pragmatic, and being callous, but seeing as the only victim was me, I went ahead anyway. I’ve thus been ‘administratively liposuctioned’. I highly recommend it. It can come at the cost of some sleep deprivation, but provides the perfect opportunity if you’re avoiding working on a new project, or packing up your house. And yet you can trick yourself into believing that it’s kind of connected to those activities, so it’s OKAY TO CONTINUE LATE INTO THE NIGHT. Image

Now I’m in my new home, my new show merely awaits its promotional packaging, and I feel bureaucratically trim, taut, and terrific. I have survived the big pack, the big quit, the big farewell, the big drive, the big hello, the big unpack, and the big ‘starting all over again’. So here I am: I’m back, and I’m delighted xx

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My aunt Wendy says grief is selfish, yet I will still cry for Nelson.

Here is my aunt’s full quote, as left as a comment on my last post:

“… I think grief is less to do with the people themselves whom we’ve lost, more about what we’ve lost in terms of our childhood, youth, a supportive relationship, etc. So essentially I think grief is selfish, but that’s ok – we have to be, to some extent, to survive. Grief is the price we pay for loving and being loved.”

This stopped me in my maudlin tracks. She’s a smart lady, my aunt; one of the elders whom I wish I could spend more time with and learning from as she heads into her mid-seventies. But she’s in a small Welsh seaside town, and I’m here in Australia, so Facebook and occasional emails are the main communication channels. I would describe her as a political animal: a feminist, a peace activist, a vocal advocate for the rights of the marginalised everywhere.

This blog refers a lot to my sadness at losing my Dad; while the rawness of it has eased, it remains ever-present, on my trusty clipboard of grief.

But Wendy’s comment shone a different light on my world, which is the best you can hope for when writing I think. I have indeed lost everything she mentions, plus the physical comfort of his voice at the end of the phone, or the smell of him when we hug hello at an airport somewhere in the world. And it IS incredibly selfish: it’s all about MY loneliness, MY challenges in living without his support, my sadness at his lack of influence on my child, his grandson.

But MY world is all I know. It’s all I have. It surrounds me completely. So when something in it is torn away, it hurts. And yes, I will survive, no doubt, although I did briefly come close to not wanting to.

So what about when we lose someone who is not just of our personal world? Someone who is a symbol of hope and justice for millions of people?

When I was 14 or 15, my Mum told me we had to stop eating any food from South Africa. I had to stand there embarrassed beside her in the fruit shop while she confirmed from where the grapes had been imported. And the mandarins. And the apples. Then in 1984 The Specials released ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and the opening chant cut through my sullen teenage rebellion. Suddenly my infuriating Mum became a cool political animal after all, just like her younger sister Wendy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgcTvoWjZJU

I still love this song.

Now the great man is moving toward leaving us. He’s lived a long, challenging life, and achieved the unthinkable. He means so much, to so many, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The collective grief we will feel on his death will be both universal and selfish; in general terms, we will have lost an inspiring advocate for equality and human rights, who has been a presence in our world since the 1960s. We will also each have a personal connection to that which resonates within us about him, ripping a tear in our unique emotional fabric. Even if it’s just the memory of forbidden seedless grapes and a ska song.

So it is with the loss of a parent. While perhaps my brothers have cried less than me, we each mourn in our own way. Communication builds a bridge between suffering humans; it may be a blog entry, a stilted conversation, or via the pages of a journal. It may unite people across oceans, and evoke support and understanding from complete strangers, such as I’ve experienced here on WordPress.

Profound communication may be achieved in the smallest of actions: our household went without certain fruit in England to let Nelson know that we supported his anti-apartheid movement. It may be a letter you write to a politician, or a march you attend, or a cake you bake. It may be in an unexpected form that reflects who you really are, and what you really think:

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Aunt Wendy is right: grief IS selfish. But so is Love. And one is indeed the price of the other. Thus while I may stumble at the cost, I will pay, over and over.

Dad was worth it, and so is Nelson Mandela.

Have I got time to process this breakdown before leaving for work?

I’ve been struck lately by how much time it takes to process emotions. I don’t just mean the ‘I’m annoyed at the parking inspector/check out chick/bank teller’ ones. I’m talking about the ‘my partner is having an affair/my parent just died/my teenager has been trying meth/my loved one has cancer’ ones. The BIG ones. The ones that hit you in the guts like a sledgehammer. Or squeeze your heart like a boa constrictor. The ones that make you fall down and weep, or lose your breath and sleep and appetite.

We’ve all had them, for a variety of reasons. We’ve all processed them, to a greater and lesser extent. But goodness they take a lot of energy. No wonder our shoulders hunch and spines bend as we age.

A dear friend has just suddenly lost her Dad, on top of a big year already which saw her deal with her dog being run over, buying a new house, fighting a lingering flu, and being a single parent while working full time. She sent her friends an email letting us know about her Dad, and notifying us of her need to withdraw for a while… Fair enough. I have no idea how she copes with all the pressure she’s under, and I’m too far away to really help.

When my Dad died suddenly, I think I was traumatised. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, certainly couldn’t function at work, and took 4 weeks off. Only when 6 months later I realised that all my food was still tasting like sawdust, that I felt like I had a smiling mask over my numb blank face, and still couldn’t sleep with the light off, did I take myself to the doctor.

Three tests later and I was registering ‘high’ for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression. That felt like another blow; that somehow I’d ‘failed’ to cope, and that I was weaker than everyone else who’d lost their dads…

It took me another 9-12 months to get out of that, and back to ‘normal’. It was hard, scary work, and my friends were wonderfully supportive and understanding. But I also have the time. I live alone with no dependent children; I can reduce my teaching and performing work to suit me; I am not weighed down with a massive mortgage or credit card debt.

Another friend just separated from her partner of 17 years, and has majority care of their son while working four days a week. How does she find the spare hours to write in a journal, or go to the therapist, or beat pillows in a counselling session?

One of the greatest gifts I was given during my ‘official depression’ came from my fortnightly therapist, who was small and twitchy like a sparrow. She talked to me about my grief for Dad, and my options for managing it. She told me this:

“Imagine your sadness around losing your Dad is like an A4 clipboard. You can choose to hold it right up in front of your face, and not be able to see anything else around you.

Or, you can spend a lot of time and effort pushing it away, keeping it at bay, but then you will have a lot less energy for anything else you want to do.

A third option is to just tuck it under your arm, or sit it beside you in your favourite chair. This way, you know where it is, and you can keep it safe. When you need to, or when you feel like it, and you have the time and space, you can allocate it some attention. Maybe ten minutes, or an hour, or even a whole day. But then that’s it; you tuck it back under your arm or down beside you, and get back to what you were doing.”

Brilliant.

I’ve written before here about my belief we need to have a day to honour our dead that’s socially-condoned; perhaps we all need to make the time to honour our sorrow, abandonment, betrayal, fears, and shock as well? I know we’re all busy, and that the dishes won’t wash themselves (although I have been leaving mine a bit lately!), but attendance to emotional crises and their ripples is important. What do you think?Image

Different people find different affirmative ways: meditation, spirituality, faith, exercise, therapy, art. And we all know the negative ways, including denial, workaholism, and alcohol abuse.

My Dad invested hours and hours writing his thoughts for 15 years. I do the same, and credit The Artist’s Way for guiding me. I also dance 5Rhythms, which calms my soul like nothing else. I want to encourage you all to find the time, make the time, swap the time, steal the time… Whatever it takes to help you feel more at peace with your dramas, and to honour their effects on you. I know I love having my ‘clipboard of Grief’ with me, and how to give it attention when I need to.

With love, gabrielle

Hands up for wealth and success? Plus a generous, open heart? And are they really mutually exclusive?

‘Raise your hands if you want to be rich! Let me hear you say “Yeah!” ‘

‘Turn to the person next to you; shake their hand. Tell them “You have the power to achieve great success!” ‘

Clearly I’m not just doing my weekly supermarket shopping.

‘What am I doing?’ That was the question I asked myself a lot during the two days I recently attended a ‘Wealth and Success’ conference. I’ve never been to anything like that before, and had to explain my behaviour to friends and colleagues alike.

‘I’m going because  a) I got a free $150 ticket  b) I’m curious about who else will be there, and what goes on (plus I’d like to be richer and more successful), and  c) How do I know that I don’t belong there unless I actually go?’

So I went. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance:

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 There were a lot of ‘power suits’ there, queuing importantly for their VIP tickets. There were lots of regular Australians there too, a real cross section of society, from the retiree couples to the covered Muslim women, from the young cocky men to the well-kept 40-something women (ooh, Hello, I think that’s me).

A program of 15 speakers over two days, 9-6pm, in a massive auditorium filled with hard, white plastic chairs, (except for the VIPs, who had padding- and I don’t mean either egos or arses).

Now here is my first, and SIGNIFICANT gripe: not one female speaker. NOT ONE. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And after sending an email pointing out this bias to the conference organisers (with no reply as yet), I raised the matter with the very nice, well-trained, well-groomed customer service manager. His response? (And I quote exactly):

‘There aren’t any good ones around.’

I can’t believe he said that. Can you? But he did. So I told him they needed to look a bit harder. And I also told him I knew several women personally who would be excellent speakers e.g. Sheridan Stewart’s http://secretsofconfidentwomen.wordpress.com/about/ and that I’d also be quite happy to do it myself if needs be; I clearly have lots of good stories in me

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[photo by Heath Britton (c) 2013]

Anyway, back to the presentations. Two warm-up speakers, talking about overcoming illness, and buying their Mum/Dad a car/house. Then the first serious subject: currency trading.

Guaranteed success. No one gets hurt. Investment of only $10 a week will turn into $1000 week etc etc.

A 90-minute pitch, which became a real hard sell in the last five minutes: a training course & software to learn how to do it for only $13,000…

But a conference special, for today only, for $5000- grab a form from the back of the room.

I kid you not: people RAN to fill out the joint application & payment forms. Old people, young people, fat people, tired people. And you know what? I didn’t run, but I went to the back of the room, and found myself doing this:

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 Why? Because I’d decided to go to the conference with an open mind and heart, and to see how it all resonated with me. I’d admitted that I DO want wealth and success, and that perhaps there is a new way to do it, as I haven’t particularly achieved either of those things (yet)?

 What I have learnt though, and this conference confirmed, was that through trial, error, and reflection, (plus thousands of dollars and/or hours on various therapies, healings, and written exorcisms), I have a good heart. ‘Good’ as in open, generous, loving, strong, active. While the focus of every speaker I saw was the creation of freedom through wealth, with a token nod to charitable work (‘probably as a tax write-off’, she added cynically), I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth about the ethics behind the program presenters. They were feeding into our wants for comfort, for security, for freedom from fear. Which is laughable when compared with someone living in the Gaza Strip, or a refugee camp in Ethiopia, or a child soldier in Africa, I know!

[But here we are: blogging and thinking and commenting and living with our laptops and our mobile phones. So don’t bag me for my status as a Westerner. Believe me, I know it, and Ben Lee’s song sums it up perfectly, we are indeed all in this together]

http://youtu.be/geZehkuUvuk

Amazingly, so often does Life offer lessons or realizations on multiple levels. Like it’s emphasizing the point, so I don’t miss it. This week, I sustained a tiny tear in the fabric of my intimate world. A romantic interest acted without due care or diligence, and caused me to take a step back from the path I was enjoying. As the conference powered its way to finale, I reflected on the importance of ethical standards of behaviour, of honest communication and trust, both professionally and personally. If I gave my $5000 to the currency trading man, would he genuinely teach and support me? Could he have a heartfelt connection with every one who signed up for his program, and enhance their lives? Would he validate them as fragile and worthy human beings? Hmmm, I’m not so sure.

A dear friend had a framed saying on her wall for years, which I often admired: ‘Do what most kindles Love in you’. Which is a wonderful sentiment. But now I’m wondering if I prefer ‘Do what most kindles Love in others’?

Goodness knows I don’t want to get into a ‘quote-off!’. Both are good. And while I’m in no way promoting a religious framework, the ‘wealth & power’ conference made me want to call for a heightened sense of ethical behaviour, and heartfelt action.

You see, I believe we all know when we’ve acted badly. I think we often know beforehand too. I know I’ve made deliberate choices to act selfishly, or thoughtlessly, perhaps even cruelly sometimes (oh my youthful recklessness at university). I know my teenage son knows when he’s being slack to me in our conversations- I can see it in his eyes, or hear it over the phone. I know my love interest knew he was being unworthy when he acted as he did; apologies and regrets unfortunately don’t prevent damage. However, they can guide new, more heart-centred behaviour, and offer conscious opportunities for breaking old habits and reactions.

I didn’t feel genuine warmth and heart-centred trust coming from that speaker’s stage (and not just because I was so far back on a hard plastic chair). Only one presenter’s speech touched me, and he was the token black man, selling nothing but the story of his adoption, double prostate cancer recovery, and love of God.

Why can’t we be more caring and loving without the drama of life-threatening illness, or the promise of eternal life?

Why isn’t America wringing its hands and examining its heart-based value-system after the shooting of those kindergarten children, and now at the Mother’s Day Parade? Why isn’t the UK doing the same in the light of the mass anti- Thatcher celebrations? Why isn’t India doing the same after the focus on its treatment and abuse of women? And similar questions for Korea/China/Bangladesh/insert your country of choice here.

Natural disasters are a tragedy; but deliberate, socially-conditioned or condoned ones are a NATIONAL AND GLOBAL DISGRACE.

 And we in Australia have our own complex issues: indigenous rights/refugees/Catholic child abuse/poverty. How long do the research committees or royal commissions or political debates have to drag on for?

 Those of you who came here to read about my Dad’s journals might be feeling a bit confused right now. What’s all this got to do with Lawrence’s innermost thoughts you ask? I’ll tell you. Attending that wealth and success conference made me wonder about Dad’s reactions to it. He had achieved both of those things, and retired well before 60. He went on to volunteer countless hours to valuable causes, such as the environment, literacy, indigenous programs, and cultural understanding programs. I’m very proud of him for that. But his journals aren’t happy; they are not happy reading. He has wealth and success, but a heavy heart.

Which makes him drink.

Heavy hearts make lots of people drink; I imagine my ex-romantic interest will have downed a few glasses of red, reflecting on his foolishness. We’ve all gotten ‘pissed’ because we’re ‘pissed off’. And we all know the problems or uncomfortable feelings are still there the next morning… The next month… The next year.

 My Dad drank all his life. Once, while I was living in Canada with him, after a huge argument about alcoholism, I challenged him to not drink for a day. Watching him get through his evening without a glass of wine was torture. For both of us. And I know he didn’t want it to be that way; he references his struggle with alcohol several times through his first journal.

 It seemed to me that many attendees at the conference were struggling. With finances obviously, with boring jobs, with a disconnected family or relationships. The small 60-something man I sat next to was struggling; when we shook hands, and I wanted to tell him he had the power within to achieve any success, all I could see was his dull desperation, unable to hold my open gaze or wholeheartedly wish me the same thing. He raised his hand when a speaker asked the audience who was working for more than 50 hours a week in a family business; that’s no way to live your only life.

 I’ve watched the following TED talk by Nigel Marsh several times in the last month, and if you’ve already invested 10 minutes reading this lengthy Blog post (THANKYOU), please do the same for this:

http://youtu.be/SXM7MpoVAD0

What impresses me most about this clip, apart from his fantastic clear pace and delivery, is his assertion that we, as individuals, must change our work/life balance culture. That every one of us, and there are indeed millions, can change our world– “…We can change Society’s notion of ‘Success'”.

 So this post is asking you to commit, with me, to acting in a more heartfelt and ethical manner. Every day. In small ways. In how you do your work, in how you treat your boss or co-workers. In how you treat the bus driver, the shop assistant, the bank teller. In how you think about and relate to your partners, your flirtations, your long-term friends and family. Little by little, step by step, with constant practice, we can expand our generous, heartfelt place in our community. And we can still have wealth, and success (just watch me!), but not at the cost of a good heart.

 In five years time, I’d like to be one of several female speakers on the conference circuit for achieving wealth and success. I’d delight in travelling the world, walking onto stages and lightening people’s heavy hearts. I’d like the banner that shows you how to find the conference entrance to be a symbol of money, love, and success, equally intertwined.

And you, my dear blog readers, have not only witnessed the planting of this loving, ethical seed for me, but will get free entry. How does that sound?

 

Birthdays can suck. But not as much as Deathdays.

It was Dad’s birthday ten days ago, April 24. He would have been 78. As usual, his far-flung family and friends toasted him with a good wine (or organic lemonade at my house), and ate Indian, his favourite food. It’s become a bit of a ritual every year now, as the time passes without him.

This year my son was with me on his school holidays (hence the lemonade), so we went to visit Dad in the Adelaide Japanese Gardens where we had (sneakily) scattered some of his ashes into the lily pond in 2009.

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 I enjoy going there very much, ‘to sit with Dad’, along with the sadness that that inevitably brings. He and I had gone there together several times when he was visiting Adelaide the week before he died in 2008; we both enjoyed the peace, and the ordered beauty of the greenery.

Sometimes when I visit, I see couples lying on the grass, snatching a quiet intimacy in the middle of the city. I see new brides, posing in their big dresses, standing on the clichéd bridge across the pond between their old life and the new one they’re beginning- honestly, sometimes there is a queue of brides waiting to be photographed- my highest tally so far is four.

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 Occasionally there is a small picnic, with the glitter of birthday food being shared. I smile, but I’m envious too. For the rest of my life now, and my son’s life, there will be a Dad-shaped hollow. No phone call, no silly card, no even sillier gift. And his family all feels sad on his birthday, but enact our comforting rituals to honour him.

 So birthdays can suck. We all know that. We’ve all had one that fell flat, whether we were 6 or 36. Hell, once I even missed one all together: camping for a week in a National Park on an island near Townsville, roughing it in tents, with no time-keepers or contact with the outside world… We just sort of missed my birthday Wednesday. Not a bad place to lose one though:

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But Deathdays? They’re harder. I don’t know what else to call it: the anniversary of the day you lost your loved one. Is there another word for that day in our culture that I don’t know?

 In Mexico (and other countries) there is The Day of the Dead, usually November 1 & 2, a National holiday, when “… families and friends gather building private altars to honor the deceased using marigolds and skulls, and the favorite foods and drinks of the departed, visiting graves with these as gifts.” (Wikepedia)

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I would find great comfort in a day like that.

I could dress up and walk the streets with all the other people who are permanently mourning, yet also celebrating the loss of a loved one, while embodying the knowledge that we too will one day be celebrated in our turn by those we’ve left behind. I feel a lack of openness in my Western culture, where to refer to dying or death is almost taboo; corpses are hidden away, cremated behind curtains, buried in closed coffins. Grief is too much of a challenge if you feel it for too long; echoes of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ still permeate our social norms.

 Even more poignant for me in terms of honouring the departed are the Japanese Jizo shrines, dedicated to lost, miscarried or aborted children.

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 Many women I know, myself included, have had miscarriages or abortions, and even, most terribly, lost a child at birth or soon afterwards. Yet it remains so often an unspoken loss, or covered over quickly by well-meaning neighbours: ‘Oh you’ll be fine as soon as you have another baby, just try again’. If only it were as simple as that.

 I have a friend whose daughter’s birthday and deathday is the same day. I can’t imagine the profound sadness of that date. And I wish we had more meaningful public acknowledgement of the personal tragedies that can forever mark a person.

Perhaps if we all gathered, united in our physical experience of the ceaseless cycle of birth, life, and death, there would be greater social cohesion and empathy?

After all, everyone’s tears taste the same when we weep.

 Still, I’m grateful that I enjoyed my Dad for over 42 years of my birthdays before I had to learn a new way to acknowledge loss on his deathday of October 30.

 Thus even though April 24 is now forever bittersweet, it is still a day of celebration for many of us who knew and loved Lawrence…

 Happy Birthday Dad xx

 

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday, and I wonder what Dad would say?

I grew up in England from 1973-1986, and Margaret Thatcher was in power there ’79-90. She had a profound effect on the society around me; it wasn’t until today that I realised just how much. On hearing she’d died (while I’m normally a compassionate and sensitive person), I felt gleeful and relieved! And I wanted to talk about it with Dad.

He was an entrepreneur and sharp businessman. He thrived in the eighties, and travelled the world while he built up his company in France. He was from solid working-class stock; his Dad had owned corner stores and milk delivery runs. But he had a sense of fairness that I always admired, and was a positive person who made friends wherever he went.

In contrast, as I reflected today on how damaging I believe Margaret Thatcher’s policies were to the UK, I realised that in essence she took away my Hope. When I was sixteen in 1982, and should have been full of excitement about what I could do with my life’s path, instead I had felt defeated before I even tried.

Britain was full of a lost generation in 1985, as I saw it and felt it. Tens of thousands of young people who couldn’t get jobs, couldn’t get better education, couldn’t aspire to success on any scale.

There was my brother’s friend Pete, who stopped training in soccer because the scholarship he’d dreamt of was cut. I used to see him kicking his ball against the wall outside the Amusement Arcade, smoking cigarettes and getting drunk to give him something to do.

There was my sweet friend Anthony, who wanted to be a carpenter, but lost his apprenticeship, so his only option then became to join the army. He wanted a wage, and structure, and a sense of purpose. Fair enough. After three months training he got sent out to the Falkland Islands, which Maggie had decided to go to war over (we had never even heard of them before), and then used to send me letters home about how scared he felt. He came back in one piece, yes, but his eyes had a new hardness that saddened me, and he wouldn’t talk about it.

Tens of thousands of little stories like these; of dreams wasted, of minds damaged, of lives restricted forever. Yet I was lucky: my Dad stepped in, and offered me a return ticket to Australia for my eighteenth birthday. I landed in this new, bright, hot country, and suddenly realised Life had possibilities, and potential… I felt the freedom to re-invent myself, to dare to dream, to try and succeed, and it was exhilarating. I felt Hope. Australia gave me Hope, and still does. I still live every day here feeling grateful for my life. I still have hope that my son will grow up happy and fulfilled, that my best friend will win the Oscar he deserves, that I will gain funding for my latest puppetry performance, that I will publish the first of my books, that I will find True Love. I hope that I will catch up with my family in Sydney again soon, that dear friends from Melbourne will come to visit, that we will all grow veggies and ride bikes to work, create world peace and marriage equality… My list of Hopes goes on…

But it didn’t in England in the Eighties. I vividly recall the mood of despair that fogged my local school and streets. The only good thing to come out of Margaret Thatcher’s rule as far as I’m concerned were all the protest songs written, especially around her treatment of the striking miners!

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlkXQm7tSCY

And I’m sure Dad would be upset at this entry of mine. He’d want me to be more compassionate, to practise some Buddhist detachment and generosity. I’d love to have been able to call him as soon as I found out about her death. We were together in Vancouver when Princess Diana died, and we sat glued to the television in disbelief, along with everyone else, tears rolling down our cheeks. Dad kept shaking his head, and saying ‘I can’t believe it, poor woman, and in Paris too, oh the French are never going to hear the last of this from the English, poor woman.’

We were together again (sort of) for another monumental world event: Barack Obama’s election as first black US President. Dad had died 3 days before, on the island of Kuauai, and we had all flown over; I sat in front of the television, tears rolling down my cheeks, shaking my head and saying ‘I can’t believe it, how amazing is this, Dad would have loved it, I can’t believe he’s just missed this.’

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[Dad’s ashes, facing his last sunset on Kuauai]

Now I’m shaking my head again, thanking Dad for getting me out of the 1980s UK so that I could live this life full of adventure, creativity, and most importantly, Hope. I have no sympathy for the woman who took so much of that away from so many people, even though I know Dad would be prouder of me if I could. But I can’t.

 

Sorry Dad.

 

I ran away for a month, and followed myself. Funny how that works.

I haven’t blogged for exactly four weeks today, which is strictly against my self-imposed discipline- obviously I’m a good rebel, but to be fair, I was also slaving away on a grant application for funding to finish my latest solo puppetry show:

BOY and OLD MAN waiting for funding

BOY and OLD MAN waiting for funding

I was also enjoying much theatre-going as part of Adelaide Fringe and Festival (‘Mad March’ we call it). To be honest, I needed a break from the churning process of reading Dad’s thoughts. I was getting too teary, too often, and writing about crying too much! I don’t want casual passer-bys to stumble on my blog and feel like it’s a vale of sadness. Many commenters have expressed their envy of my gift from Dad, of this unique insight into his inner world. And I agree. It’s just that it’s a weighty present; nothing superficial or easy about the process of discovering this new landscape.

I’m grateful for everyone’s support. I’ve discovered some lovely blogs in the month I’ve been away from posting, and my Reader is slowly filling up as I follow more and more that have caught my eye. I realised I’m a little jealous of writers who share daily events and their reactions to them; who can be a bit more ‘in the moment’ than me. Or of bloggers that are clearly very funny, vibrant humans, who have also completely nailed all the tricks of the blogging trade, winning awards left, right, and centre (http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/ more than just another wiseass) and http://gojulesgo.com/about/ comedic chipmunk enthusiast). Then there’s the quiet blogs; the musings of young folk, the musings of older folk, the musings of undead folk (http://undeaddad.com/ explorations of mindful fatherhood). I enjoy them all, and their eclectic viewpoints (http://shamanicpath.wordpress.com/about-2/). I have connected with them all by following a thread of ‘Dad-ness’, or of journaling, or from a sense of being on a journey. And some I follow just cos they are following me 🙂

My break for freedom helped me have fun on WordPress, yet also realize that there is a responsibility on my shoulders with these journals, reflected in my blog, and a sense of commitment to a process that in some ways is not just my own, but is Dad’s too.

I shared the first paragraph here https://readingdadsjournals.com/2013/02/08/1st-book-1st-page-1st-paragraph-oh-crap-i-dont-know-if-i-can-do-this/

Now I’d like to share the last:

 “3/12/88 So here you are at the very last page of your very first journal, but this will not be your last journal, not by a long shot. Feeling good about this newfound freedom of talking with myself, about myself, and how I feel about all the things that are happening to me. Wow- what a bright new world it really is, and it will continue to be so- that’s what feels so extraordinary! I love and approve of you Lawrence- you’re an OK guy!”

So at least we all know that Journal #1 has a happy ending. Phew.  🙂

‘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:

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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:

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[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:

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 “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.

 

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