I always expect that I'll feel something on my birthday. Feel different.
Especially big ones. This is a big one. Fifty.
But it feels a whole lot like turning thirty. Or twenty six. Or forty two. Or
maybe like it will feel to turn seventy one. Or ninety four. But not like turning
eighteen. Or twenty two. Those sucked. And turning seven and twelve were still
very exciting. Before birthdays became occasions to count all the things that were
still wrong with me. Shit, I completely skipped thirty six. Too much going on.
Couldn't be bothered.
I want to remain young, but have begun to accept that I won't. I am trying to treat
the reality of the clock ticking with reverence and so I behave as if every day
Except when I don't.
I worry about whether I can survive any more hardship yet I know there might be more
and I resolve to gracefully handle whatever the great crow in the sky drops on my
head. Fingers crossed behind my back.
I've outlived many of my heroes and that should offer perspective that leads to
gratitude. But it just makes me feel small. That they contribute more dead than I
do alive. A legacy is a complicated thing. Poor Vincent Van Gogh. Poor Virginia
Woolf. Poor Eliot smith. Poor Bruce Lee. Fucking quitters.
When I was small I was enamored by musicians with long hair and reckless behavior.
I loved how Jim Morrison looked, moved, and didn't care. And so when I found the
self destructive accessories of a rock and roll lifestyle, I was equally drawn. I'm
still intrigued but no longer aspire to their ranks.
More and more often I can see what nice people and Buddhists tell me about an
artists' work being good if just one person is moved by it and to not measure
success by reviews and money. It's different on other days. When I only see the
expense and the anonymity.
From here forward I want to laugh more. And to keep crying.
I laugh when I'm filled with delight. More, please.
But I cry when I feel sadness. Fear. Humility. Gratitude. Despair.
I don't remember much of it, but my childhood seems to have been one continuous,
hysterical fit. The resounding theme being "I never get what I want".
I remember being a young teen and thinking, "Wow....I haven't cried every single day
in quite awhile". Growing up? Getting a grip? Getting happy? Nah. But certain
coping mechanisms must have been learned and some of those must have been employed.
One would think that would make it easier....not just bawling about everything that
hurt but instead either accepting it or dealing with it. But along with turning off
the cranky tears I also stifled my ability to distinguish them from the venting,
bonding tears. The ones I would eventually cry with loved ones and dear ones,
present or not. The ones that would let off steam so I wouldn't explode and which
would lubricate my heart so it wouldn't crack.
There was just so much to be upset about. A powerless child naked in a storm of
grown up chaos....my parents were always lost or losing it and hadn't the means to
expalin it to me and could it that have helped if they'd tried?
I cried if there was no more cake for my evening snack, or if I stubbed my toe or if
my father looked at me in anger. What could I have done with an explanation that
included details of mental illness, substance abuse and a world that was way too
dangerous to live in? The tenants office knocking on the door to discuss late
rent. The "blacks" my confused mom was afraid were going to hurt us. Vietnam
casualty counts and WW2 documentaries daily on TV. Or perhaps some underlying sense
of these larger problems was precisely the reason that smaller things prompted my
fits. Maybe I knew it all sucked and just needed a good cup of spilled milk to get
the tragedy train up to speed.
And when I'd drive my parents nuts with my frequent carryings on, my dad would
sometimes say, "I'll give you something to cry about!,". That's one that I'd like
to ask him about. When all else fails, threaten. He never hit me, of course.
He hit my brother
I had plenty to cry about. That was the point.
So I'd get depressed and eat too much chocolate and hate the mirror and fear bullies
and climb into network programming and live there with Fred Sanford and his son
(they always worked it out...maybe my brother and my dad can too), or MASH (war
actually looks like fun!), or the Partridge Family (music makes everything
better...and better looking). And music.
I remember little nurturing. Being told to cut it out or being laughed at rather
than consoled. And being read to only once....my mother and I sitting down to a
book on human reproduction when I was maybe ten. It got graphic and real and she
closed it, patted me on the back and told me to finish it alone.
I have no specific recollection of being tucked in or told that it would be ok.
My dad would peek in the room once I was quiet and say, "Cousin dreams". I was the
baby cousin in my small family and so I looked up to the rest of them and thought
this was a nice thing to wish for me. I should spend my dreams with my cousins.
I'd begin when he left the room, imagining running in a rainstorm with Cheryl or
playing catch with Glen. Being admired by the cousins who had moved to Florida...
"God...you're getting BIG!" Or getting the facts straight so I could brag about
Bruce, who was in medical school or his brother, Marlon, who was a cadet at West
Point. Harley, a great dancer. Their mere names would plug me into something
closer to ideal than our household offered. I was grown before I realized that dad
was not actually saying, "cousin dreams". He was saying, "Pleasant dreams". I
was sad. How generic.
I have vague, early memories of being carried, kissed and tickled. Told I was
special. Being put in special classses and programs and being told my scores were
among the highest in the school and in the district. My mom bragging about me on
the phone. Being called gifted and called on in class to clarify facts and
operations other kids were struggling with. Taking creative writing and violin
classes at the college while in grade school. I suffered several concussions and
other personal distractions and I remember test scores dropping a bit and being told
I could do better. Math beginning to look like Chinese and short stories never
ending. I remember being asked what was wrong and being told I had to work harder.
I didn't want to work at all. My mother blamed my friends. My brother. Girls.
Where she might have sat down and worked with me or gotten me a tutor, she expressed
disappointment. That's the way we did it in my family: we all knew I was too good
to be true. She told me that maybe the teachers had been mistsken. About what?,
I asked. That maybe I wasn't gifted, she said. Fuck you. She was possibly
right, but probably wrong. But she was still mom and although we can disagree and
all evidence may indicate the contrary, Moms voice defies rational thought and
overrules every bit of truth.....it invades every crease in your brain, every pump
of your heart, every fiber of your existence and wills HER truth. Forget you and
every thing you ARE. Here's what you're NOT.
Crying. Face in my pillow. Head in my hands. In bathroom stalls at school. On
long walks home from my after-school job.
It was easy to make me cry. Just be cross. Break a plan. Hold hands with a girl I
liked. Grade me. Judge me. Ignore me. Mug me. Show me a war scene. Call me
faggot. Kill King Kong. Kill grandma. And Freddy Prince. And John Lennon.
In the absence of explaination, comfort or repair I'm sure I simply would have
ceased to be, were it not for crying. Combusted. Exploded. Died. If it weren't
for the tears, there would have been no relief. Crying felt like a hug from the
heavens. Nothing fixed. No better understanding of what was present nor anywhere
to go from here. But a coming up for air. A breath of mercy. A mirage, and then
I'd continue on thorough the scorching dessert of my adolescence until the next one.
The next mirage. Cool water laughter. Refreshing pretty girl. Sweet relief rock
and roll. Or until I die. Whichever would come first.
I got a shitty haircut yesterday. Again. I tell her what I think will work and no
matter how carefully I explain, she does something different. Sometimes I just try
to be ok with whatever she does. Drop the vanity. Be mature. But no matter what
approach I take, it's bad. Yes...I know I have dry, thick, annoying hair. But
c'mon...she cuts hair for a living.....this is what she DOES.! It's the same shit
very time. As a kid, this would make me cry. Now I just wear a hat.
When I was twenty four I was driving my friend Danny away from a talk with his
girlfriend. She had AIDS and was dying and while they had stuck it out and he was
totally devoted to her, she had begun the process of distancing herself from him and
her other friends. She was leaving to spend her remaining time with her parents in
Canada where she was from. Danny is the most even and reasonable person you'll ever
meet. I've spent most of my life trying to be more like him. Driving away he drew
his knees up toward his chest and was shaking oddly. His fixed his unblinking eyes
on the road ahead and he grunted. Only context made me confident that he was not
having a seizure or a baby and I asked if he was crying. He said he didn't know
HOW to cry...that he had hardly ever cried before. It seems to me that if ever
there was a good time to cry, it was now. I rubbed his shoulder and talked with him
and breathed with him and told him to make some noise and I made some with him and
he softened. Then he cried. Audible, goofy, fabulous tears. He cried for Louise
and for heartbreak itself. And so did I. And we smiled.
My Dad began crying after my brother died, my mother lying in hospice care. He too
stiffened up and said, "I think I'm gonna cry." When I said to go ahead, he voiced
a long held belief...he said crying is for babies....for the weak...he hadn't cried
since he was a kid. Didn't even cry in the army. I put my arm around him and took
deep breaths and told him it was ok. He was very rusty. But he cried.
No wonder he got impatient...disgusted with me when I cried as a child....when I was
supposed to have be manning up and dealing with disappointment......like a man?
No. He was wrong. I had plenty to cry about. It was ok. And it still is.
My story is an oak and its foundation is non-negotiable. I might always return to
deep rooted bothers and chronic bummers just to confirm that I'm me. These things
have molded me just as surely as singing songs or being in love. They are the sad
songs of my soul. The sweethearts of my dismay.
Maybe the roses are the bricks. And the shit....the mortar.
And maybe this tower I've built over the past half century is a fine starting point.
A fort from which I can launch my attack on apathy and fight for the restoration of
my innocence. I'm ruined, for sure. But there's a child inside of me that needs to
be heard. An artist with broken hands who needs to paint. A man, standing over
them both...who needs to cry.
It's a big beautiful fucked up world and there are, after all.....so many good
reasons to cry.