"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Sunday, June 21, 2009

lesson from my father #88: Love.

... That was as far as we got before we arrived in San Jose. I would like to hear more about Dad's life growing up and learning more about the family, which still remains a mystery. How did he meet Mom? How did he know, when did he know, that he loved her?

My cousin Sam told me his dad, my Uncle Danny, would wait for his mom after class every day at BYU. They were students and didn't have a lot of money, and the popular thing to eat on campus were these 15 cent hamburgers, because they were so cheap. But, they would always sell out really fast, and my Aunt Pearl, Sam's mom, had one of the later classes. So my Uncle Danny would go and save her a place in line. He won her over one 15 cent hamburger at a time.

Uncle Tony, Jocelyn explained at the funeral, met Aunt Evelyn when they both worked for China Airlines. He stood outside the terminal waiting for her every day, with an umbrella so she wouldn't get wet when it rained (and it rains a lot there). He did this for 7 months before she finally agreed to go out with him.

I love these stories about my uncles because it makes me nostalgic for the kind of love that is hard-earned and a long time coming, a dedicated, patient love. Hearing these courtship stories doesn't surprise me at all, knowing the kind of supportive, devoted husbands and fathers my uncles are, but they remind me that romance and love aren't make believe or reserved solely for the movies, that extraordinary deeds are performed by extraordinary gentelemen every day, and that I'm just so lucky to have such men in my life as uncles, as a father. They remind me that love isn't so much about the grand, dramatic gestures, but in the quiet dedication it takes to love someone so powerfully every day – the love it takes to be there every day with an umbrella when it rains, or the 30 cents when you haven't got a dime for yourself – and never lessen or waiver in knowing that you would be happy doing this every day for this person because it brings them happiness. Selfless, constant Love.

...As my dad pulled up to the curb to drop me off as he always does while he goes to look for parking, he tells me, as he always has, that the only thing he wants is "for [me] to be happy." My dad has never been controlling or even overbearingly curious, like my mom. He has been supportive of my decisions without injecting too much of his own opinion. As with my college decision, my decision on which high school to go to, and my career aspirations, so with my love life; Dad was there to offer support, but never judge. He just wants me to be happy.

Even though I'd heard it a million times before, this time I smiled, gripped his hand, and kissed him on the cheek. These last few weeks have been incredibly hard for my family, but, at the same time, it has made me remember we have so much to be grateful for. There is so much beauty, so much life, and so much love in the world, it's hard to remain sad for very long before you're overwhelmed with gratitude.


to all the fathers and the uncles, and especially to my own,
happy father's day.

with so much love,

Friday, June 19, 2009

i wanna be sedated

hello and sorry for the lack of writing. something about June this year has me sedated. i've lost the passion for many things. eating and sleeping included. i haven't cooked anything for myself in weeks. i've been eating sandwiches and hors d'oevres for sustenance. carrots with whatever new dip looks interesting in the grocery aisles. for whatever reason (and i'm about to list possible reasons), i feel sad all the time. sometimes angry. this morning i feel angry (the morning commute is always good reason to feel angry, but this morning, it was because this huge bitch of a bus driver decided to cut me off and delay my arrival to school and then had the audacity to open her window and scream down at me. 71018. i vowed to report her. not like anyone will do anything.)

anyway, in the last month, a variety of things have happened. here, a list:

-my uncle passed away suddenly, and, for the first time, i found myself dealing with a combination of grief and guilt. any pause in activity would cause me to start thinking about it again and devolve into sobbing fits. taking a cue from Huxley, i found tv and the internet were the best opiates.

-wrapped up my year-long commitment to TFA. woo hoo.

-at 2 pm today, i will be pupil-free until august! i'm 99.9% finished with my first year of teaching!

-next monday will be my last day of summer grad school, because wednesday night i'll be in the air on the way to Istanbul.

-for the next month i'll be in France, Italy, and Turkey. (notice the banner change? that's what i feel the next month is going to be, lots of staring out of train windows.)

-leaving tonight for San Fran for my uncle's funeral. i'll see my mom and dad again, which will be good, i think. i need to see my dad and be sure he's doing ok.

-i need human contact. i miss having conversations that end with laughing. i need to be held and told things will be ok, i feel like i've been bearing this huge weight by myself and i'm going to break soon if someone doesn't help me.

-it occurs to me if this is what the working life is like, i don't want much more of it. i was having lunch with a colleague yesterday and i found myself drifting out of the conversation and thinking in a 3rd person way about myself, thinking about how weird it is that my brother must say "my sister is a teacher." when did i go from being just a sister, just a student, just a girl, to being a teacher, a "Ms.", a ma'am? i feel miles removed from where i've been.


the word sedated is totally appropriate for how i feel lately. doing yoga last night was, for the first time, mentally difficult, i couldn't find the energy or motivation to breathe properly. i've just been sitting around, feeling this weight sinking me. i keep thinking, i'm nearly done with this crazy year, i should be celebrating, i should be excited. maybe i'm depressed because i'm finding that's not true.

i want that feeling again, you know? getting really drunkenly happy and dancing around the living room, singing at the top of my lungs, feeling infinite and untouchable and uninhibited.

sorry. i'm sure a list of updates isn't what you come here for. i don't know why i come here any more either.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

on the nature of grief

something about mourning feels compensatory, which only adds to my feelings of grief – i wish i didn't have to make up for anything now that it's too late, but that's always what it comes to. that's, what i think, bereavement is supposed to feel like. like you didn't do all you could. always making up for something.

this is the distinct difference i experience between deaths of "celebrities" and deaths of "ordinary people." celebrities had their whole lives to be celebrated, they had the advantage of fame. when they die, it's published on the front page, given a retrospective at the Oscars, and every person in every corner of the world shrugs their shoulders, moves on. maybe it was someone's favorite childhood actor, but you still have the videos on tape and could buy the anniversary addition dvd if you wanted it. there's footage there, there's documentation, there's always remnants of the lingering past.

ordinary people, no matter how extraordinary and wonderful they are, pass unnoticed. photographs here and there, maybe some traces of video. some footage may have been lost. but there is no video of his life, no documentary we can all watch to remember, to bring him back to life. only fragmented memories, and regrets. no matter how handsome of a man my uncle Tony was, not everyone had the pleasure of knowing him. many people will no longer get the opportunity.

this is the marked difference, and what makes grieving so exhausting and consuming: the feeling of missed opportunity. while with celebrities the state of fame exhausts their human potential and makes it so easily accessible and oversaturated, the real people in our lives are still mysteries, rare opportunities, special occasions. they are people with unique mannerisms, a one-of-a-kind laugh, a smile that could light up the room. they have all the qualities of famous people (charisma, charming good looks, philanthropy, amiability, talents), but their humanity was evident before your eyes, and you are compelled to wonder why it is that they are not famous, but feel so lucky and blessed to be part of such a magnificent secret. and because their lives aren't broadcast ad nauseum, you can never get enough. every moment with them feels like such a gift, and you always want more, always worry about the moment all that will be taken away, missed opportunities making up the bulk of the gap.

i'm now in my 4th day of mourning, and though the crying fits have decreased, the grief has not subsided. when my mind is let to wander, it keeps going back to all the times i saw him, and even more, it lingers on the times i could have seen him, but didn't. pondering the finiteness of life and how if i had only been more aware of life as a space between to brackets – [ ] – would i have spent the intervening time so far away?

when Kurt Vonnegut died, i felt sad. but mostly it was a regret that i could no longer meet him and tell him i loved his books and beg him to autograph one. when my uncle Tony died, i was thrown into what felt like a maelstrom of depression, regretting every summer spent so far away, regretting these months i've been living so close, but just far enough that i didn't visit more regularly. regretting not going to San Francisco when i had the chance to visit him, take him out to dinner, watch him eat and talk and pour his tea, give him a hug and tell him how much i love him and how much i think about him.

this regret is the most painful kind. and so, the nature of my grief.

Friday, June 05, 2009

like a father to me

"you know Uncle Tony loved you, right stef? he loved you so much, and he was so proud of you."

i knew. i started sobbing. i knew, no one had to remind me. i never doubted for a minute that he loved me. i doubted if he knew just how much i loved him.

i loved the way he reminded me so much of my father, how the first time i met him, i knew they had to be brothers, they had the same face almost, but my uncle Tony had a friendlier smile. my dad doesn't smile much, he looks stern until he laughs, and then you know he's happy. my uncle Tony had a warm, honest smile. he didn't have to laugh before i knew i liked him. his smile was enough. quiet and calm happiness exuded from him, and i loved to be around that kind of presence. going to san francisco never meant going to Fisherman's Wharf, or the golden gate bridge. to me, it was always having one dinner with my uncle Tony, sitting near him, studying his every move with almost an obsessive curiosity, fascinated by this little man, a smaller version of my father. i wanted to sit next to him and pour him tea, watch him eat meat off bones, watch him talk to my dad and see them mirror each other's actions, both taking off their glasses to dab at the tears in the corners of their eyes from laughing too hard at the other's joke.

it was always such a pleasure to sit between the two of them and understand, through chemistry and some kind of beautiful, tangible magic, the meaning of family. between the two of them, i could fill in the gaps between the present and the past, imagine a childhood they shared, boyhood fraternity that spanned decades, continents, and many obstacles in between, and understand what my parents meant when they told me and my brother growing up that siblings are the most important people in your life.

when we say our goodbyes at the end of a trip to San Francsico, everyone goes around and gives thanks, love, good health wishes, and hugs to everyone else in the circle. the SF branch of our family lines up and me and my brother would go around the circle and embrace everyone. i always wanted to hug Uncle Tony first. it was important to me to show him in some way how grateful i was for him in my life, but lacking the adequate Mandarin to express my feelings, i had to opt for symbolism instead. even English words are hard to find for the wealth of sentiments and gratitude i have for him and what he meant to me and my father and what i could see as his wealth of presence in our entire family.

and now, especially, i am at a loss for words.

it's difficult learning grief for the first time. it is a complex emotion that you experience in layers. shock at first, almost a stupid ignorance of impending tragedy. when i first heard the news i didn't give it a second thought. it was like someone had just told me the time. i immediately thought "things are going to be fine. he's going to get better and we'll all be back to normal." and then details become apparent, gradually. one phrase leads to others, verb tenses change, suddenly i'm forced into speaking the language of death, phrases such as "the body", "the funeral," "brain dead." "was."

i can't comprehend how such a unique person can just suddenly disappear. will i never see that smile again, except in pictures and memories? will i never get to hug him goodbye again, squeezing his sweater vest with my forearm, watch him laughing with my dad (and will my dad ever laugh like that again?) feeling so selfish and stupid, all these days living so close by but without a visit, without a phone call? suddenly the phrase "visiting family in SF" makes me feel despondent, rather than hopeful and excited. i imagine a house empty of his presence and suddenly it's not a home with family (i can't see my dad there). i think about times when i was so close to where he was, and the last phone call, and how i didn't get to say everything i wanted to say, and how i'd always held it in my heart to tell him that i was thankful for him, that i wanted to make sure i eventually got the words right, but never knew a better way to say it than the first hug goodbye.

and now, just powerlessness. again, words don't feel right for such emotions. it just doesn't seem fair that life should go on as usual, when i feel my world is falling apart.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

my uncle passed away last night. some kind of accident, he was sent to the hospital yesterday morning because his brain was hemorrhaging. he became comatose in the evening and they pulled the plug this morning. i just heard from my uncle Danny. my dad doesn't know, he's heading to San Francisco now, but there will be no body there. it breaks my heart to think about my dad in that moment.

it's hard to understand that such a beautiful life can just suddenly disappear like that. i still can't believe it. on the phone with my cousin last night, the word "funeral" felt so strange and cruel in my mouth. to say "passed away" is strange, i imagine him still in the hospital, imagine a way for him to come back. i feel selfish, when i first got the call from my cousin i didn't even think about going up to SF. i thought things would be fine. things happen so quickly, i feel so terrible and powerless.

mourning is strange, difficult. words are hard to find. eating seems selfish, checking my email or getting on the internet seems trivial. i can't fathom how all of life can just go on with such terrible tragedy. i want everything to stop and honor the gravity of the moment, you know? but it's thursday, and there are classes, children laughing, traffic continues to stop and go. it is so strange, to feel so alone in one's sadness and grief.