Her Name Was Grace

I’m in my bed, reading, about 10:30 at night, when my twenty-three year old daughter pops her head in. She’s so beautiful, in her glasses, smiling to see me still awake.

“Has it been a long day, Dad?”

“Yes. What about you?”

She grows a little more animated as she starts to tell me about how the work day went. Her image and her voice grow blurry within my dream, as I desperately try to hold on to what she is saying, what she looks like. But I can’t – she’s fading.

She’s gone.

Her name was Grace. She died six months into term more than twenty-three years ago. But she still visits me in my dreams, some nights.

I always know it’s her.

My ex-wife and I had a son after that; the doctor figured out why it happened and we got a baby to term. We then split up about three and a half years later. I remarried a couple of years later, to a woman who had three daughters, ages 10 to 16. That was eighteen years ago.

But still she makes these visits. Because every child we have, and every child we don’t have, aren’t just part of us, they are us.

The best part of us.

The eternal part of us.

I wish I could have held her once, and told her that her Daddy loved her.

So I tell her in dreams, and in whispered prayers before I go to bed at night. Even after all these years.

Her name was Grace, you know, and she was my beautiful daughter.

And she always will be.

Ashen

I’m out here, in the one place where uniformity of opinion makes sense, that is, by myself. And I still can’t manage it.


The air is ashen with the smell of woodsmoke, floating over from distant chimneys. My skin is ashen from the unaccustomed cold; it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). It is supposed to warm up rapidly later today, rising above freezing by around noon.

This being the southern United States, and the roads being frozen, my workplace was closed yesterday, as was the local government. I had a few conference calls that went on, but otherwise, I stayed inside, writing poetry for the other site.

Our sleepy neighborhood has had more than its share of excitement this week, with one of my neighbors being shot at (seventeen times) and a car having skidded off the road yesterday uphill into our yard and back down again, which left an interesting set of tracks. Neither my wife nor I heard it when it happened; I was in the back writing, and she was one room over, watching a movie.

The gunshots I had heard the morning before last, a little after 5:30 in the morning. Our neighbor interrupted four or five men robbing his truck and was shot at for his trouble. He hit the deck in his carport, and his wife closed the carport door from inside; luckily, no one was hurt.

The real world is violent, ugly, and messy. So I write a couple of highly stylized blogs, and use exquisite watercolors like the one attached to this essay (© Maryna Kriuchenko | Dreamstime.com); I also listen to beautiful music, and spend a certain amount of time hoping the outside world won’t impinge on my world of escapist fantasy.

But it always does, in the end; for me, and for everybody else.


In my twenties, I developed the following theory. I ask for some indulgence from any of you who may have heard this before.

There are two types of people in the world: those for whom life is boring, and who therefore seek excitement; and those for whom life is stressful, and who therefore seek peace.

For reference (although most of you will know this already) I am in the latter category.

These categories do not exactly correspond to extroverts and introverts, nor to night people and morning people, nor any other division I know of under some other name.  There are, however, some large areas of overlap.

Because I was frequently looking for dating opportunities at that age, and because the proportion of people in each category seemed to be roughly 3:1, I came to the same conclusion that other young people like I am had come to; namely, that I needed to go where the excitement was if I wanted to meet women. The most popular of these types of place was, where I lived, dance clubs and bars. So I went there.

There was just one problem — I hated being in those places: too loud, too competitive, too stressful. I was self-conscious as a dancer and no good as a drinker.  I was extremely unconfident about my own appearance, or, rather, I was confident that my appearance would win me no contests among women. While I did occasionally find someone who’d dance with me, I got no phone numbers, and, essentially, met no one.

My therapist then gave me, at around age twenty-eight, some really good advice. He said to go somewhere where I could meet women and men, and which involved an activity that I wanted to do in and of itself, regardless of whether or not I met anyone I could date. This resulted in me getting into community theater as a pianist or musical director. I like theater and love to play, and I’m decent at it, so I was actually there for a reason and not just hoping to hookup with somebody.

I made a number of new friends and met some people I ended up dating, including the woman who became my (now ex-) wife.

To people more advanced, socially, than I was, the advice I got might seem obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so, it was good advice. It got me out of situations where my concentration was on how uncomfortable I was, and into a situation I was enjoying for what it was.


A few years ago, when probiotics were first introduced to the wider market, my son made the joke that he thought

“… we could at least all agree on being antibiotic. I mean, has the pro-bacteria lobby really infiltrated our society to such a degree that people and products are now proudly displaying their probioticism?”

Which I thought was hysterical. I’ve often repeated the joke since.

When the Internet first came into wide use, its proponents touted its capacity for “bringing people together”. This has no doubt been true, in many senses; politically, however, people are as polarized as ever, and, arguably, more so.

Because of the oddities of maintaining a fictitious identity as a writer, I have two Facebook pages under my real and pen name. Between the two pages, while there is some overlap, two diametrically opposed views of the world are dominant, and neither even acknowledges that the other view exists, accept to parody and vilify it.

All views are accessible to all. Yet, I find that many people have no real idea of the reasons (where there are any) that political figures they admire are criticized.

And this goes for both sides.

The conclusion I draw, oddly enough, has nothing to do with politics, which is, to my eyes, as it ever was. The conclusion I draw is about technology. Tools, of whatever kind, are not intrinsically good or bad; its their use that makes them so. All power to do things can be used either way. The Internet is neither good nor bad, except insofar as how it is used.

Another way to say this is that the Internet has made both facts and propaganda more accessible, and contains no better mechanism to distinguish the two than we had prior to the Internet.


I was notified a few minutes ago that my office is opening this morning in spite of the roads still being frozen over, because it has been long enough, I guess. Being the cautious type, I may wait a little longer before venturing out, as my two-wheel drive bumper-car would probably go straight off the road the first block.

But I’m kind of two minds. Even when I’m by myself.

You Don’t Say

… or, I don’t, at least. Often.

Readers of this and the other blog may have noticed, on occasion, that posts will appear briefly, then disappear. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed with other people’s blogs as well, indicating what might be called “posting regret”. This is where the writer decides, upon further review, “no, I didn’t really want to post that.”

In my case, in virtually every instance, the deleted post is (a) angry; (b) about me; or (c) both. I’m not afraid of expressing anger, but, typically, rereading these, I think “there’s a better way to get that point across” or “no one is going to know what I was getting at, there”.

Like most authors, I want readers to feel, or to think, upon reading; unlike some authors, however, I do not really seek controversy (some amount is unavoidable). Fights don’t change minds, they just bruise bodies and spirits.

Understanding often comes, though, in less dramatic and more unexpected ways…


I went to lunch with a female coworker a few days ago.

She’s brilliant, in her mid-thirties, and we’ve been friends now for something like seven years. She’s also very beautiful: stylish, elegant. Born and raised in eastern Europe, and separated from the land and family of her birth, I’ve probably become something like a second father for her.

After we each ordered our meals, I asked her how things were going at home.

“Not great. We’ve agreed to … co-parent. [They have three children.] He’s a great father. When I get home, dinner is on the table. I get to spend all my time with the kids when I’m there.”

“Do you avoid him?”

“Yes, pretty much. I avoid him, and I avoid thinking. When we were on vacation during the holidays, and there would be moments of downtime, I read books. I read five books in a week. I can’t have time to think, or bad things would happen.”

I didn’t ask her what ‘bad things’ she meant; I thought I probably knew.  The only thing lonelier than being alone is being with someone you can’t connect with.


It had warmed up a little by lunchtime, so we walked in the tiny park behind the restaurant.

“What about you?” she asked. “This job has been killing you this last year.”

“Yes, it looks like they are going to move me.”

“What have you been doing for stress?”

“I work out, and… I write, as it happens.”

“I did not know that. What do you write a book, a blog, what?”

“A blog. I don’t really talk about it at work. Or anywhere else, come to think of it.”


As we entered the building where we both work, we stopped before going our separate ways.

“Thanks for driving to lunch.”

“And thank you for inviting me. It’s good to get out.”

“It’s nice to get a chance to catch up.”

“Yes, and it’s nice to have someone listen.”

“Even to what we don’t say,” I added.

“Especially to what we don’t say,” she rejoined.

Seal Lullaby

Rudyard Kipling is one of those poets almost every literate English speaking adult has heard of, even if they know very few of his poems. The poem “If” is probably his most often-quoted one, in my lifetime. I don’t know that many people could name more off the top of their heads. Here, however, is one I read for the first time today, from “The Grey Seal”:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

It’s a lovely poem, really, but it was the following choral setting of it that had me absolutely transfixed. It’s worth a listen to with headphones if you have them.

Beautiful choral music had a way of bringing tears to my father’s eyes, I remember, and it does mine as well. This certainly did.

Trolls Do Not Need Reasons

“Sorrow knows no seasons,
Trolls do not need reasons.”

We had around eight consecutive hours together yesterday, mostly in the car. As usually happens when we get the chance, our conversation ranged over almost every conceivable subject. At one point we were discussing a couple we know whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating, even though their problems seem relatively minor.

“… they are each so anxious to prove that they are the more aggrieved party, neither one is really trying to fix their problems,” she concluded. “They look at counseling like it’s a court that can convict the other person, and prove themselves right.”

“So it has become a contest each one wants to ‘win’,” I summarized.

“Yes, even if ‘winning’ means losing everything.”

Her text message alert went off, so she spent a few minutes there as I drove along, thinking.

When she was back from that, I said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that’s why online trolls do what they do. They neither believe nor even care what they are saying, they just want the fight.”

“I picture people like that,” she added, “friendless, stuck at home, proving they can make something happen, no matter who it hurts. Like that guy who faked the 911 SWAT team call and got some poor guy killed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That was horrible. What was that text about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Remember Gary and his wife, Josetta? Her brother committed suicide a few days ago.”

I was stunned. “What happened?”

“They don’t really know, yet. I’d heard he’d had a lot of problems over the years. And the holidays can be so hard on people.”

We stopped a few minutes later to get gas and buy some salt water taffy. I carried her purse out to the car to warm it up while she spent a few extra minutes inside, and my brain constructed the little couplet affixed to the top of this essay, apparently encapsulating our recent conversation.

As she ate her Reese’s cup, I had some taffy.

“I didn’t even know they still made that stuff,” she said.


Photo credit : me, view from our hotel this chilly morning.

Are, Too!

I recently made a six hour drive, through mountains, in the rain and fog, to watch Star Wars : The Last Jedi with my twenty-two year old child.  We also got about three hours worth of visiting with each other in. Then I had to drive home.

I naively thought, in my early parenting days, that if I loved my children enough, and always had time for them, they would be happy. I now realize: that’s simply not true, and it never was. The dependency our children have on us when they are small, and the intensity of our own love for them, combine to create the illusion that we have (MUST have) the power to provide them everything we would want to provide.

But we can’t; or at least, I can’t.

As for the movie itself, I will say this: I grew up in the world of perpetual fictional reboots you get with comic books and adventure series (like the Hardy Boys). Different writers see those worlds and characters in different ways, and each series goes through seasons shaded by the views of different creative teams — which I tend to like, as a feature. In fact, were you to go back to Batman issue #300 (circa 1976), you find a page-long letter from 13-year-old me, under my real name, talking about this exact feature, and extolling it. I hate to refer to anything so mundane as my real name, but, there you have it.

I like variety. I enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy, I enjoyed the prequels (yes, I did; and yes, I know I seem to be the only one), and I have enjoyed these new Star Wars films. Would I do it differently if I was in charge? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate different imaginings of that universe and those characters.

I talked to my child afterwards, and the review there was positive as well. I also got a follow-up positive review of my parenting, so the visit seemed appreciated.

I spoke to my mom on Christmas day, and it was bad. She wasn’t quite sure who I was, and when she realized who I was, she didn’t really care. I found out later that she had a cough and so had kept herself confined to her room for the week (she lives in an assisted living facility), and that her boyfriend had gone home for the week, as well. In other words, she was having a bad week.

It blows my mind to think of it, but, when my mom was born, not only were moon rockets and television a thing of the future, Hitler had yet to be named Chancellor in Germany. Things like “Star Wars” were certainly far beyond her dreams as a child. The changes of the world can weigh us down, too, along with all the other grief and loss that comes with aging. So, you find what joy you can in family while you have them — even when they don’t seem to be getting that much joy out of you.

“We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda says. Our children typically outgrow us, as we did our parents, and they did theirs. Which I find oddly comforting, for some reason. There is unity in the acceptance of differences.

There is also peace in the acceptance of change. So peace to all of you, with whatever changes you might be experiencing… even if it’s uncomfortable changes in your favorite film series.


Photo credit : ID 77103536 Clif Haley | Dreamstime

Images

I was watching a documentary on World War II, and I realized how ridiculous it all is. I mean, the Hitler character is clearly a Mary Sue. He’s some kind of Austrian corporal or private, and then suddenly he’s dictator of most of Europe. It strains credulity.


I was looking at some photos of my wife and myself way back when we got engaged, and I had forgotten how outrageously good looking we were:

To be fair, my wife actually IS that good looking. I look more like someone you’d try to identify in a police lineup.


Most dramatic scenes in the history of… dramatic scenes:

3rd Place: The death scene from “La Traviata”.

2nd Place: The scene in “Terms of Endearment” where the mom has to say goodbye to her sons.

1st Place: My four year old grandson, when he thinks no one will play with him.


Of course, I have a lot of room to talk about being overly dramatic. This is pretty much me:


Here’s an actual picture of my wife and I, getting ready to set out on a road trip: