The Saturday morning after my father passed, Karen and I gathered our courage and our children into our family room and prepared ourselves to explain to Maddie and Jake what had happened with my dad.
We thought it best to share the story with them as soon as possible. The kids were already playing and waiting for breakfast when Karen and I decided to talk with them.Both of them I know, in small ways, had observed and checked our comings and goings throughout the week with mild curiosity and a bit of concern. All the while much of the true knowledge of our reality was buffered by cartoons and video games, and hanging with their grandparents.
We had shared bits of my dad’s health story, without much gravity, to this point- and often Maddie would ask ‘when is Poppa Pete coming home?’ The hope in her question always lifted me and crushed me at the same time.
I began slowly, and simply relating the events of the previous night. And as expected my tears welled up, Karen’s were falling down her face, Maddie’s sobs broke my heart into even smaller pieces, and Jake held my knee with such force that I thought for sure there would be bruising. Tissues, hugs, more tissues and then eye contact with Karen happened and we have this moment like ‘okay keep going you can do it’… so I did.
Returning to Maddie I check in ‘what are you thinking?’ Maddie is staring and nodding like she is doing a checklist in her head ‘that I’m sad’ she says. Heart crushed, I breathe in – is this even possible I thought? More tears, deeper hugs, and several tissues later. I check in with my son.
‘Jake…what are you thinking’ ‘…’ he holds my gaze but no words come. ‘Are you sad?’ he nods. Maddie’s sniffling draws his attention for a moment. He looks back at me with those amazing deep blue eyes…rimmed with tears. I say ‘it’s okay buddy, you can tell me what you’re thinking..’ ‘if you’re sad it’s good to talk’ Maddie adds. A smile moves across Jake’s face. ‘Can we have waffles now?’
I laughed and in that moment I heard my dad. Jake’s honest question was so in the moment, so perfectly timed that it wrapped up our heavy conversation with the childlike glee that only comes from having waffles. And as my son pumped his fist in the air at the thought of breakfast… I swear I hear my dad saying…‘I’m okay, you’ll be okay too.’
This challenge constantly sits in front of me and begs for attention.
My usual response is to grab a paintbrush or a pencil or a marker and start scribbling.
To ‘make’ is a very comfortable response.
I have journals filled with pieces of beginnings.
I have more beginnings than tidy endings.
Often, I will give far too much to the starting of things without getting to the discipline of delivering. This cycle of creation has lead to many rabbit holes. And like many rabbit holes, there aren’t always rabbits to be found.
Sometimes though, other things have taken refuge in the safety of the space.
“I grab them nearly unconscious as I intend to transfer these notes to the agenda, or the journal, or well, one of the four or five colour coded journals that I now have begun, nearly finished, tried to label and keep separate for the many different roles that I play. But, it hasn’t worked. The journals aren’t separated by my role or the club or the plan. My thoughts are not organized in these journals. Instead, notes spread from one journal to the next like salad dressing staining each task with some taste of a thought from another time or place. It’s all blown apart now, each club coming to a close, each class nearing an end.“
Blown apart, stained, and still spreading pretty much sums up my creative process.
Ambiguous and aimless could also be added to the descriptor list.
ambiguity + rhythms + compartments
Our school year has routed down into my creative consciousness and conscience in really messy ways. Systems that break down sometimes do not give any notification. No status reports. No analytics. No rationale.
The stories from the families and students that I support are like this. So many beginnings, no tidy endings. No safe harbour.
May 29th is my dad’s birthday. He would have celebrated his 76th. Each year FB asks me if I want to wish him a Happy Birthday. I don’t, but others still do.
I was mentioning to my Spoken Word crew that Pete keeps popping up in my poetry lately; without invitation and seemingly without reason.
The rhythms of the monthly tides must be pulling him into me. Like the gusts and waves that Melanie mentions in her piece and I have been trying to go with their flow.
It was important to mention to my poetry crew that sometimes I have to push my dad out of the room for a bit. I spend quite a bit of time with him while I meditate or while I walk in the forest. For my mental health, I sometimes have to book time with him.
He is a rabbit hole. A very engaging and bottomless rabbit hole.
truth + attention + devotion
This past week the number 215 was made real as I worked in my garden. The news from Kamloops was grim.
I fell into the camp of white privileged thinkers of being stunned and saddened. The understanding that flags at half mast would follow as would the wearing of orange t-shirts served up a heaping reminder of systems at work. And systems broken.
Some folx posted on socials that tributes are performative. Others needed a sea of orange to float on.
As I sat in my yard with my hands in the dirt, mulling whether to top up or just to turn it over this year, I examined my impulses to react. I wondered what would be a safe response. Wondered what the right response would be. I wondered where to start.
“Attention is the beginning of Devotion.” ~Mary Oliver
Devotion for me often has a slowing affect. Like the moments of kneeling in my garden and pausing a moment longer before I pushed the spade in, to lift fallow corners anew. Sunday I spent time just sitting, holding rocks and twigs. I imagined me reaching out to the families, friends, descendants.
I tried to imagine history as an active emotional state.
Rolland Chidiac and I often talk about fictional products that could be associated with our podcast. We talk about ’empathy engines’ and how a wearable piece of tech could help people share emotional truth. And in sharing it directly while it is happening, empathy could be created in real time, simultaneously between people.
The profundity of accepting and knowing that these children still live in memory is essential to whatever next steps we take.
Someone posted- ‘I have long accepted that today is everyday.’
How do we begin to understand that the beginning we notice for ourselves, is not the beginning for others?
One possible path popped up in my Twitter feed.
If you are interested in attending a monthly Words Keep Wolves At Bay meet-up, please drop a comment below and we can make arrangements for you to share your email with me.
The link for monthly digital meetups will be shared on the day of meeting.
Meetups are on the 3rd Friday of each month at 8:00 PM.
UPCOMING MEETING DATES AND SUGGESTED TOPICS
June 18 - Light and Dark. Creating balance.
July 16 - Loved and Lost. Pieces that broke, burned, or bothered you.
August 20 - Supporting people who don't support your Creative.
September 17 - Can I have more ham? Eff you it's called Prosciutto. And other misunderstandings.
October 15 - Ozymandias
November 19 - Baring bones. The structure of a Creative.
December 17 - Polymath
Post your work wherever you feel most safe and tag it with #wkwab.
Feel free to let other peeps know about our circle.
This circle is not just for words, please explore any element of your creativity. Consider the 'Words' in #wkwab to be our ongoing conversation and fellowship in this space.
its the smile and the way his
head tips up, resting on the palm
of his hand, that reveals my
father to me in that moment. his
fingers, cradle a pencil that is
rapping back and forth, end to
end, on the table beside his
laptop. i see in him my father's
far off focused gaze, listening
to the teacher whenever the siren
song of his imagination relents.