The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Month: August, 2009

A New Morning

It’s a new day today.  I hope that you awoke feeling refreshed.  After all of this grief and loss this month, it feels good to have a lot of rain – it feels refreshing and cleansing.  I am not saying that I am ‘over’ any thing – not sure that I will ever be, but the sting is abating and acceptance is taking its place in my heart and mind.  We are still assessing damage done to long standing relationships – thought they were mighty oaks, but I guess they were as shallow as willows.  There are still a lot of hurt feelings, and I’m not sure that will ever be resolved.  Still going to take it one day at a time, and for now I’m going to go make a batch of pancakes.


Goodnight, Ert and Jim.

In the last ten days, I have lost my dear father-in-law and my mentor from high school and college.  It has been an emotional time, there have been a funeral and a memorial, lots of connections with people I had, until this week, lost touch with, and lots of new connections with family members I had never met before this.

If you knew these two people, it would probably seem strange to read me writing about them both in the same essay as they were so very different from each other in what they did for a living – one was a teacher, and the other was a man of many hats, but generally a salesman.  They came from different generations, and had different takes on most things, but I’m sure they would have gotten along tremendously.

One thing that they had in common was that they both were larger than life.  They knew what they had – that life is precious.  The could both tell stories for hours and make you laugh and laugh.  They were both mesmerizing.  And they both were universally loved.

What I loved about each of them is that I always felt like I was seen.  I was an interesting person to them.  My ideas mattered, and I was more able to articulate them through knowing them.  Ert, especially, helped me with this.  I was in his Speech class in high school, and I took it so, so seriously.  I remember writing and rewriting my speeches.  I wanted them to be perfect, to strike the right tone, to say the right things.  I never took any of my other assignments in high school so seriously.  Any of them.  Never.

Now I am probably taking this blog too seriously.  I have started it several times over the past two days – it seems impossible to strike the right tone and tell you exactly why I loved these two people so much.  But maybe it’s not important that it be perfect, maybe I have only to say that I did love them both, and that both of them have shaped my life in ways that they will never know, and that I will try to be as natural and wonderful and loving as they both were.

The Second Order of a Minute

The ghost of Tyrone Guthrie

wavers and walks again

across the city in which he slept

built dreamed thought acted

action impacting thousands

even as his body rests

and his face, always larger than life,

stares for a time down Washington Avenue

while we walk, jog, run

acting on the small stage of Minneapolis

under the influence

of the flour sacks

and the ruins of mills

We know our bones won’t last as long

as the stone arch bridge

even with its trusses

its heart surgeries and such

our time is a moment

and we still do not understand the nature of time.

Theater Saves Me Every Time.

This week has been hard.  I am grateful that I have been able to volunteer this week and see six Fringe shows.  I saw: The Most Massive Woman Wins, Thrower of Light, Spermalot, Needs/Wants/Desires, Danny is Going to Die, and Bard Fiction.

Between these shows, my father-in-law passed away.  This has been very stressful on all of us.  Some people react with simply crying, some drink, some grow angry and hurtful.  Me?  I go see plays, get lost in the plays, calm down completely and think about writing plays in the future.  Plays are my gin and tonic.  Plays are my beer, my meth, my crack cocaine.  My cigarettes.  I don’t need any mind-altering drugs – I see a play.  Even a crappy play – doesn’t matter.   Plays let me out of my life.

Dance, too.  Thrower of Light is dance.  I don’t have a dance vocabulary, but I can say that I loved it.  I felt that there was something communicated.  I had emotional reactions to what I saw.  There seemed to be a story that carried through the first four or five pieces, the story of love triangles and jealousy, I think.  Then the choreographer came out and said some things, after which there were 2 more pieces of a completely different timbre.  They were joyful and fun rather than dark and mysterious.

During the first part of the dance, I was wondering to myself how people are able to plan and execute such intricate and beautiful dance.  I literally thought to myself, “why are they doing that?”  I am befuddled by dance.  I don’t understand how it works – yet it’s so moving and it feels profound.

I had an interesting conversation with an author of one of the other shows, and he was saying that Minnesotan’s go gaga over dance, but we hardly seem to acknowledge excellent acting when we see it.  I hear what he is saying – the energy in the applause for the dance was not the same energy in the applause for the plays I saw, but maybe that is because dance itself is so energizing.

I think I like plays more than dance because a play rarely leaves me wondering why they are doing what they are doing.  In Bard Fiction, it was clear that they were doing a Shakespearian send up of Pulp Fiction.  That’s all I need to know.  It doesn’t leave questions in my mind wondering what they are up to or what they are trying to say.  It was just good fun, I recognized some lines from Shakespeare and some from Pulp Fiction.  Thoroughly enjoyable, cute at times, funny and well acted.  I’m glad I got a chance to see it.

So I mentioned crappy plays above – I didn’t think any of these plays I saw were crappy.  But some were more polished than others.  I think The Most Massive Woman Wins was probably the most polished.  But it was also an already-published work, so I think that puts a layer of polish that would be very hard to attain with the premier of a new work.  Nothing stood out as bad.  I do wonder, though, about trying to put together short pieces in order to fill up an hour, like with Needs/Wants/Desires I think I’d rather see a cohesive half-hour.  Or maybe some sort of transition to make shorter pieces flow together – this is something I have wrestled with in the past, so I certainly don’t fault them for trying.  I just thought the final piece, which was the longest, was definitely the strongest.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  I thank all theatre people everywhere for doing what they do.  You might feel that your show is a simple way to pass the time, maybe it’s a frivolous comedy.  But you never know who might be sitting in your audience and what your efforts might mean to them – I know that for this week, theater and the Fringe Festival saved me and helped me to remember what being human is about – connecting with other humans.

Symbolism isn’t enough.

Hey.  I try to be chatty and casual in these here blog posts, but I’m just not feeling it lately.  I am so sad about my father-in-law passing away.  I can’t think about anything else.  Even the Drop Kick Murpheys didn’t help.  I am also doing something different for me – I am not telling people how I feel.  In person, I mean.  I am telling you… I guess that has always been my MO – I write about my feelings.  Sometimes I talk about them, but that’s usually when I am having good feelings, not sad ones.  So maybe it’s not different.

This death is hitting me hard.  It’s reminding me of the first death that was significant to me, as I recall:  Grandma on my Dad’s side.  Maybe it’s reminding me of that because we had gone up North for a wedding; Grandma lived with us, so she was going to stay in the hospital for the weekend.  She insisted that she would be fine, and that we should go and enjoy ourselves.

We stayed at my Aunt Carol’s house, no doubt we had dinner with Kenny, who I wrote about a blog or two ago.  We were sleeping downstairs in the bedroom behind the woodfire furnace when the phone rang.  Uncle Bud came down to tell my dad that it was for him – this was at 3:30 in the morning.  My mom must have made a remark that we know what phone calls in the middle of the night mean.  I didn’t really know, but I found out soon enough that they usually meant someone had died.

Grandma had a heart attack in the hospital.  I think I went into shock, or maybe I didn’t really understand what it meant, but I remember Dad kneeling at the side of the bed and telling me that she died.  Then I think I remember him looking up at me and saying, “aren’t you going to cry?”

I felt bad.  I didn’t know why I wasn’t crying already, and I probably did start crying then.  I really don’t remember.  What I do remember is that I kept a photo of her and made myself cry while looking at it.  I did this well through high school.  I don’t know why I felt so guilty – like I had done her wrong somehow by not crying instantly.

Jay and I were up North visiting my parents when we got the call from Linda that Jim wasn’t doing very well and was in the ICU.  We came home, and it seemed like he was maybe doing better.  We had averted the curse of leaving town when a loved one isn’t in top health.  But it didn’t last.  Three weeks, can it possibly have only been three weeks?  Three weeks later, it’s over.  A delightful person is gone from this world, lost to us.

Maybe I’m grasping at insignificant similarities in a hope to make this meaningful or symbolic somehow.  I don’t think it’s going to work, though.  Even if it did, I don’t know if it would really help with this big gaping hole in my life.  Guess that’s going to take time. Time and thinking.  And talking.  Guess I’ll go do some talking right now and let the healing process begin.

Memories of Kenny

My cousin Kenny died last week.  He had a heart attack.  He was only 56.  The story I heard is that he was working in the yard, came in and said he was tired, went to rest on the couch, and died. This story, while shocking, reminds me a lot of the story of how my grandmother died, except that she had an anerurysm, and she wasn’t working in the yard, she was cutting cake.

My memories of Kenny are vague.  I remember playing at his house, which was very close to Aunt Carol’s house, I remember sleeping there, it seems to me that I remember celebrating Easter and maybe Christmas there.  I definitely know that his house is the only place I ever got to see Captain Kangaroo as a child.  I remember STP stickers, Kenny being outside and working on cars.

I also remember a lot of laughter.  All my memories of his home are colored in a sunshiny warm yellow glow – although I don’t remember talking much, which is unusual for me.  Oh, and they always had Alphabet cereal.  I don’t remember the actual name of it.

I am sad that I never even knew Kenny.  He was already grown up with kids of his own by the time I knew him, and I never saw him once I became an adult.  I would go to the funeral tomorrow, but my husband’s father died yesterday, too, and we have a lot going on down here in the Cities.

My heart goes out to Kenny’s children – all younger than me – and his wife, a woman I never met.  I hope that they will cherish their good memories and pull together as a family, just as we are trying to do here.

Being Called a Traitor is Mildly Amusing in Real Life

So, this happened:  We were at the VA Medical center in Mpls. waiting and worrying over my very ill father-in-law when some person took it upon himself to write us a nasty note and leave it on our car.  It said, and I’ll have to just approximate because I don’t have it in front of me, “You are a vet and you voted for Obama, and you’re proud of it?  TRAITOR!”

Hell yes, I’m proud of voting for Obama.  I wish I could vote again.  But this is beside the point that I want to make right now.

Our car has been the lucky recipient of several of these notes over the years – we have probably 40 or so bumperstickers that just give a brief outline of some things we agree with.  We are somewhat to the left of moderate liberals, in fact I’d say that we are Really Quite Liberal.  This does not make us traitors.  This simply means that we believe that the US could do a better job, that we could be better people, could do better for people.  That we believe in equal rights, for each and every individual human being on the planet.  I don’t think that’s so crazy, and it’s certainly not against the ideals of our country.

As far as I understand, being American is supposed to mean that we strive to do good.  That we strive to be ‘the best’ in the world.  I don’t think this means the best at dominating others, the best at killing people who are helpless, the best at taking away other people’s liberties.  I think it’s supposed to mean that we are the best at doing what is right, selfless, helpful and fair, which is what the people at the VA have worked for.  I would think that guy would be proud that he defended a country that has free speech in which we can display our thoughts, whatever they might be.

Three Coins in a Fountain

You never know when a song is going to go from something you know as a casual acquaintance to a song that will forevermore make you think of a certain place, time, or person.  This happened to me recently.  Today, in fact.  My father-in-law, a unique character, is in the hospital.  They are moving him into the hospice today. 

We shan’t be able to speak with him again.  And we will not hear him sing.  He won’t tell stories until our sides ache, and he won’t be able to tell us that he loves us, as he always did when he was able to speak.  Letting him go has always been one of my most difficult things – being with him in person had a magnetizing effect, and I was always stuck on him.  More than once, a dinner turned into sleeping over  because we simply couldn’t stop talking.  Or rather, we couldn’t stop listening to him talking.  It might have been easier if he wasn’t headlong into the next story – but a moment of silence is a rare moment in the life of a born story teller, salesman, and charmer, and we wanted to listen, anyway.

I have been trying desperately to think of the stories he would tell – they slip out of my grasp whenever I reach for them.  If I’m not thinking, I will get snippets that come to me.  I never memorized or wrote any of them down.  I took for granted that I would be treated to a retelling at some other time.  I don’t know whether I regret this or not – time will tell.  Maybe as the grief I’m in now starts to ease and acceptance takes it’s place I will be able to command more clear memories.

At the time of this writing, it has been about four days since he has said anything beyond one syllable clearly to me.  This is where the song comes in.  Jay and I were visiting, and the family had brought in a cd player, with one of his favorite cd’s, a Frank Sinatra.  As we were chatting and trying to make sure he was comfortable, we brought up the music a couple of times – we asked if he could hear it alright, ‘yeah’ we asked if he liked it alright, ‘ yeah.’ 

As we sat and held hands and just spent time together, Sinatra was simply background music to me.  Then he repeated a line from the music – he sang the words, “three coins in a fountain,” and that was it.  He hit the notes, as musical as could be although I have never heard him sing before.  I looked at Jay, and he was crying and laughing at the same time.  It was a delightful moment, surrounded by the dull gray of the intensive care unit.  I’ll miss that sparkle.  I’ll miss that person who sang that song in that moment.  And that song will never sound the same to me again.

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