Monday, March 31, 2008

The Flood of Words



It is a phenomenon that began for me as Lynda's death approached last year and has not only continued but has done so with great force. I am talking about my newly re-discovered passion for writing. This journal is in itself some evidence of that, but unseen here are the many poems I've written and the handwritten journal I've been keeping daily since Pierre died. It's almost as if there are simply too many words built up in the back of my brain, calling for release, they require me to write in almost all of my 'spare' time. It seems that whenever I have a minute, or even if I don't (I am at 'work' right now) I am compelled to write something, as if the words will not let me escape nor allow themselves to be repressed as they were for so many years.

What I find happening now is the release of the creativity that I have long sublimated to the service first of my mother then of my son. Now freed of those twin obligations, I can actually concentrate long enough to bang out a paragraph or two, a poem or two and the liberation is delightful. Would that I could have remained mute and focused my efforts on helping Pierre, but now that that is no longer an option for me, I find I have little to impede me from writing as much and as often as I am able. If I have any real hope left, it is for my life to find meaning in words, and to leave behind some words that will serve others and perhaps recall me to them in some not-so-distant future.

So now there are in my head and on my desk all sorts of journals, poems, plays and plain old stream-of-consciousness blather. It is all coming out now. All I need do now is to improve as I write, to hone the edge and cut through to the resonances that will ultimately prove the worth of my work. In spite of the long odds and lack of immediate reward, I am committed to creating an identity for myself as a writer.

I've also committed myself to reading as well. I have begun to explore the world of poets and the tradition to which I wish to contribute and belong. I see that I have much to learn, but find that I have much to say that still has not been said. There is a world today that didn't exist for Yeats or Keats or Milton or even Ginsburg, and this is the world that I will envision and reflect. It is pointless to speak of modernism, so rapidly do things change in this modern world, but it is possible to hope that my work will reflect both what is new about my world as well as what is unchanged since Homer. There are old resonances to explore and new words to put to paper, but these will be hard to understand and eventually overcome without the context that reading brings me.

I feel as if I am re-born into the world of words, and begin this year as a child first learning to read an write. There is much to be done and I am here to do it!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Time for Thanks

Well, after re-reading my previous post, it seems that what was undertaken as an expression of my desire to save my loved ones from pain actually came off as a rather selfish move to gather in all the grief to myself. What I had hoped was a desire to spare the ones I love and who love me the pain of separation, was in fact a move to deny the others who loved Pierre the opportunity to feel the pain that they should rightly feel in his absence, and for this I apologize.

Though I obviously often forget some basic human courtesies, especially when writing, my goal is not necessarily nefarious and I know that no one sees it as such. In fact, if anything, I have so far not managed to state it clearly, so here goes.

It does seem to me most natural to allow for a pain that no one should be able to usurp; to each his or her own moment of grief and for each to find a way of living it. On principle, I would not presume to take this from anyone, and, but for the fog that surrounds me and prevents me from making good judgments of late, would promise to hold to that principle. Doubtless I will cross the line again, but it helps to know where it is. I'll keep my eye out for it.

What I haven't done enough of, here in this journal, nor especially in 'real' life, is to say 'thank you' to all the family and friends who have supported us emotionally since Pierre died. So many people just opened their hearts and made their way to our house during those first few days, I cannot accurately recall them all. Believe it or not, there are times when I have to ask Valery if someone was at the wake just because I can't, with certainty, recall the memory of that day, or even, unfortunately, that whole month.

This thought is relevant not simply because I find myself thinking about that day often, which I do, but because yesterday was the first day that I've sat down to try and make a list of people who deserve thanks for their love and support. The stack of cards is quite large, a testament to the caring quality of our relations, whether they be by blood or not. The list of attendees at the wake was an equally impressive measure of the love that so many people felt for Pierre and continue to feel for us.

Though I haven't actually begun to write the thank-you cards, it is nice to know that I've got the list ready. Desiring, as I do, to write each person an individual recognition of their thoughts and thanks for their sympathies, it will doubtless take some time to get through the list, but it will thus remind me of the gratitude I have yet to fully express.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Relative Grief

Gentle reader, I am not sure how these dark thoughts come to me, or why I subject you to them here, but I guess it must be an attempt to put my loss into perspective. It's a macabre sort of self-torture, almost like picking at a scab. It hurts and I know I shouldn't do it, but I am nonetheless compelled to obsessed on the subject for a while, at least, and writing about it here does indeed help. I've edited this a bit to make it less dark and brooding, though enough remains to make this an easy post to skip.

Lately I've been wrestling with the idea of relative grief. One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with Pierre's death has been seeing the terrible toll that his loss imposes upon our family and friends.

Because I am his father, it seems natural enough that I should have to bear the heartache of losing my son. What I did not realize at first is that, however unfair it may be, it is also natural that many others would have to feel pain on my behalf. Selfishly, I ask, "After all, is not a father's anguish enough? Why must so many suffer?"

But that's a self-serving argument and my point here is not to be noble or self-sacrificing. I can't help wondering, even as I contemplate the many who suffer needlessly from Pierre's death, how this loss and my grief compare to others. Relatively speaking, things are just not that bad. I know that there are many, many parents who have not only lost a son, but whole sets of children. There are fathers who have buried their whole families on a single day. Then there are the circumstances of death. I know that there are many fathers who have had to endure far worse.

On the other hand, simply knowing that that the river of grief is as deep as it is wide is of no comfort. I do not know if I will be able look at the world in the same light again. This does not mean my world is unlit. Far from it. I have much to be thankful for and to look forward to with Valery and Maddie and the rest of our family. So many people came to embrace us with love and sympathy that I am just now realizing how much we are loved by so many, and I'm deeply grateful to and for our family and friends.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts of Lynda



Today is Easter, and oddly, with this earliest of high Christian holidays that I can recall, come thoughts of Lynda. Seemingly forgotten in the rush of events that began with Pierre's death, thoughts of her that have lingered in the back of my brain are bubbling up, and it is time to pay some attention to the life she lived and the person she was. I cannot lose sight of how much she meant to me nor forget the things she taught me, so it is time to move forward.

I--we, the whole family--had planned, but just tentatively, to have a memorial for Lynda in the spring, and even with the lost month of February somehow miraculously regained, would have not had enough time to figure out what would best best and most fitting.

There are many details to be worked on, but on one we have agreed on is the date: May 13. David will be in town with David and Anne and Eric will come down from New York. Though there are a number of people on the 'guest' list, it is of most interest to her children and the cousins who knew her well, and will bring a closure for us all, if such things are possible.

I for one, am of course, still torn apart by Pierre's death and so cannot quite yet distinguish between the grief I feel for him, the grief I feel for Lynda, and, quite honestly, the depression I have experienced for what seemed like the longest year of my life. So 2007 remains an awkward blur, full of painful details best repressed if never forgotten, and I am still waiting for the tears to come. Perhaps they will not.

The Final Year

The final year
was a
long goodbye.

The final fear
was of
life gone by.

The final tear?
Frozen,
in my eye.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Portland: II

From Portland

This is the smile that Maddie wore pretty much the whole time that we were in Portland, especially when in consideration of the parts that involved actually going to school, like seeing the kitchens, or, in this case, window-shopping at a fancy cooking school store across the street from the Institute.

I didn't get to all the topics I wanted to cover in my last entry, and though it's clear I won't get to all of it this morning, I do want to remind myself and readers of this journal, of Maddie's enthusiasm about attending the Culinary Institute and her consequent determination to get there and work hard with the photos here and in the online album.

From Portland


My concerns for her ability to cope are soothed a bit now that I am home in the evenings to work with her on school more closely. I see not an inability to perform tasks, even well, but, as always, it is the interest factor that is missing from this part of her formal education.

I worked with her on her government project and my word, it makes even me, who is something of a political fan, bored by the subject! She actually helped me by suggesting a way to work through the definitions faster. She looked them all up in advance, then read and summarized them for me as I typed them up for us later in the project. Her tutor, Claire, is coming over today to help her work on it. My assignment today is simply to get the printer ink:)

Now, I certainly wish and even think I could have done better in terms of her basic education, but for the most part, I have tried to let her find her way though the maze with as little hindrance as possible. This was, perhaps, a mistake, but when I see her enthusiasm for Culinary School and couple it with my knowledge of her ability to make practical choices, I am encouraged to believe that when she lifts her wings to leave for Portland, they will find the air to help her fly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Portland: I

From Portland

We went to check out the Western Culinary Institute (WCI), where she'll be pursuing a 'Patisserie and Baking Diplome'. It is the first step in what she hopes will be a career in the kitchen. I certainly was there to be convinced that this school was the real deal, so to speak, and not just because I had not yet had a chance to give it the old 'smell' test. Someone had recently raised concerns to me about the credibility of the institution and I wanted to be certain that this was the right choice for Madelaine.
From Portland

Fortunately, the school more than passed any test Maddie had for it. It certainly satisfied me that it is not only a 'real' school, but a good one at that, one capable of giving her the basic training she's looking for and some opportunities to get experience. This she can do both by working while going to school, and in the 'Externship' that comprises the last six weeks of her nine-month education. In fact, we learned that she can do the externship anywhere, so she might even return to Austin for that.

From Portland

The WCI occupies the top two floors of a large building in downtown Portland. It turned out to be only two block from our wonderfully hip little Ace Hotel. The school is also very close to the downtown stop for the light rail trains (MAX) that she'll be using to commute to and from Beaverton, which is where she'll likely live. Maddie had an ear-to-ear smile on her face the whole time that we were in the school. She beamed constantly while touring the six or eight kitchens and prep areas that she'll be using/seeing during her time there. We saw the pastry and candy/chocolate kitchens are where she'll spend most of her time, but we also saw the other line kitchens, where she'll also come into contact with a variety of students of all ages and and from many places.

Maddie? She's scared and excited and yet outwardly calm, as always. She has the ability to compartmentalize her fear so that it doesn't overwhelm her into reversing her decision to do something. From one vantage point, this is called stubbornness, but from another, it can be seen as the ability to focus on a goal. This might seem to many a low-level goal, but I believe that this determinedness turns out to be a very valuable coping skill. It won't be easy, but I believe she will make it. And I'm not just talking about 'making it' in school. Living on her own is another task she faces with seeming fearlessness, though we did in fact do some work to lower, at least, my anxiety level about where she'll live and how she'll get to and from there.

From Portland

The second day, we actually took the MAX out to Beaverton, as recommended by the Katie, the WCI guidance counselor, for a walk-about. We got the numbers for several apartment complexes within walking distance of the Beaverton stop.

From Portland
It looks like a typical 'student-ville' but was clean and seemed to be fairly safe. There is a strip-type shopping mall nearby, with a grocery store, etc., also within walking distance. She might get a bike, but then, I've never known Maddie to be the type to ride a bike very far if she didn't have to:)

From Portland

So, we'll see, of course. First on the list, though, is graduation from High School, and there is no absolute guarantee of that! With the help of her guidance counselor, Ms. Ferris, and her tutor, Claire, plus my efforts now that I am home most evenings, I think we/she should make it. In fact, I am betting on it. Maddie is the type of person who manages to push forward, get up and go in, almost no matter the day or mood. This, though it is not a particularly glamorous trait, is a positive attribute that will serve her well as she figuratively spreads her wings and literally leaves the nest for the first time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Weddings and Funerals



Readers of this journal who have come expecting gloom today will be disappointed, for though I am in a particularly bad frame of mind, it may be just the right time for observing some very black humor.

I know! Let's go to a party. This weekend, it was a wedding for my best friend, Henry, to his best friend, Glenda. It was a great wedding. First of all it was short. The ceremony didn't last more than about seven minutes, according to those digital photographers who must measure their pixel memory in seconds elapsed. Suffice it to say that it was both simple and exquisitely elegantly done. The food was good, the wine delightful and the toasts both short and appropriate (I even made one:) In sum, the party itself was perfect; relaxed and unfettered by the many complications that often infect and affect first (and, sadly, even second) weddings.

But there's this too. Do as we've just done, and go have a party. Remember, assemble only those friends and family whose presence truly adds meaning to your life, eat well, drink sufficiently and in doing so, raise a glass to better times to come. Most excellent, but change the crepe paper from white to black and it is a funeral instead of a wedding. Party on!

It seems to me that we humans come together to embrace one another and love each other and laugh with each other for the most trivial and unmemorable of reasons every day. But there are certain days which are neither trivial nor unmemorable. Curiously, though, it seems to me that in their most basic outline, the frameworks of these events can hardly be distinguished from their causes. It's a party, and whether the attendees be happy or sad is almost immaterial. Give us a reason, any reason will do, to get together for some food and drink we are there! It's occurred to me that the reason that peace talks are so often held in Geneva or Paris is so that the participants can at least get some good food and wine out of the ordeal.

Of course, I'd rather attend a wedding than a funeral, or god forbid, peace talks, even if they were in Paris. More to the point of this essay, is the not simply the fact that I was privileged to be invited to Henry and Glenda's nuptials, but that I am pleased that my friends have found each other's embrace to be enduring. The most important thing that their wedding ceremony has brought back to my mind is that the assembly of love and the living embrace of individuals makes of any celebration a declaration of the things we truly know, life and love.

Oh, and food and wine.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Why Write?



As a writer, I have decided that I need to practice my art in many forms, and practice reading even more. Making the decision to re-create myself as a poet is more than an assertion that I need to write, but it is actually a declaration of my intent to learn to read and write all over again. I some ways I feel like the amnesiac who must re-learn all of the basics just to be able to live a normal life again.

Interestingly, it's not Pierre's death that has so crippled my writing and reading abilities, but rather long years of purposeless neglect. Looking back, I have to say that if I failed to write, it was not the sacrifice I thought it was going to be. The failure was not in devoting my waking life to my family and jobs, but that I should have used at least some more of that time to read and write and express tthose passions with my family. I did this intermittently, but now realize that I should have done more of it; for them, with them.

With Maddie leaving and Pierre gone forever, it seems I've missed my chance to tell them that I am a writer. For them, the many mere words I've mumbled over the years should/could have been much more than that. However, I still have hope. If I can now manage to get some of those words out, written down now rather than mumbled, they will begin to form a body of work, from which I may indeed find my voice, and use that voice to call out the words of love, pain and passion that have since forever rattled around in my brain.

So, all that to say that this journal is just a part of my new direction and one result of my effort to become the poet I know myself to be. I must also keep a daily journal, and now, I've come to realize that I must re-learn to write actual letters. Of course, I'll now forever be an e-child but there is something elemental about writing words on paper with a pen and ink, then sending same to someone who will not just read it, but may actually save it; re-read it and remember the author in the words held so close.

Writing, if I am to be serious about it, must be more than a hobby. It must become the object of my intellectual purpose and the best hope I have for actually contributing something to this tradition to which I aspire.