What I’m Digging

Listening, reading, and watching much right now. The world provides much rich fodder.

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Excerpts from President Obama’s Inaugural address. Here’s the full transcript.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

…We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

…Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

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From Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem:

The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs…

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.

…I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.

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Jodie Foster, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. Full transcript.

I hope you guys weren’t hoping this would be a big coming out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the stone age. In those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family, co-workers, and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met.

…I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle.

ImageFrom Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:

It snowed. It snowed all day yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl…

…My mind has been a blank slab of black asphalt for hours, but that doesn’t stop the sun’s wild wheel. I set my coffee beside me on the curb; I smell loam on the wind; I pat the puppy; I watch the mountain.

For Maureen: a three-legged race

I feel so angry, sad and confused right now that I’m not even sure I should be writing. But maybe writing through these feelings will help me make sense of them, because at this moment, there is so much that makes so little sense.

Back in July, I wrote about a childhood friend that suffered a massive heart attack and slipped into a coma. Despite all medical efforts, healing thoughts and prayers, the damage to Maureen’s heart and brain was too great. She passed away Sunday morning. She was 40 years old.

Maureen leaves behind her husband, Mark, her five-year old daughter, Natalie, her lifelong best friend, MaryBeth, and a host of friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.

The knee jerk reaction to this sudden, unexpected loss is to ask why. Why does a wonderfully loving wife, Mom and friend die this young, this tragically? We try so hard to figure it out. We cry; we yell; we shake our fists at the sky.

Maybe the space between life and death is only as wide as a strand of hair after all. Every moment of every day, there are near misses: semi trucks that just miss plowing into cars packed with kids, falling glasses caught seconds before smashing to bits, blood that slows almost to stillness and suddenly finds its flow.

Maureen: It’s not so many years ago that we were playing kickball and hopscotch. We don’t have to dig back far in our memories to remember days spent running three-legged races across each other’s yards. It’s easy to hear your voice in my head.

I think of Natalie, age five.

At five, our parents are magical beings, capable of great feats: keeping us safe from real and imagined harm, carrying us high on shoulders, sending us off to sleep, molding the way we experience the world.

I don’t know.

Perhaps there is no reason in any of it. No lining up of facts. No theories to prove. Life and death exist side by side, because one simply cannot exist without the other.

This is when it hurts.

This is why the ancient Aleutians bound tightly the limbs of the bereaved. Without it, they feared those in grief would, literally, fall apart. Or so said Annie Dillard in her novel.

I can’t leave it like this. If there is sadness and anger, it must also mean that happiness and joy eventually follow.

So I go back to basics.

Back to girls with legs bound together, arms linked, running and laughing hard, leaning on one another.

Friendship has no end.

 

 

On our Dads

Dad and me: 1974

Annie Dillard on her Dad, Frank Doak, from An American Childhood:

“I looked up from my book and saw him outside; he had wandered out to the lawn and was standing in the wind between the buckeye trees and looking up at what must have been a small patch of wild sky. Old Low-Pockets. He was six feet four, all lanky and leggy; he had thick brown hair and shaggy brows, and a mild and dreamy expression in his blue eyes.”

Anne Lamott, on her Dad, Kenneth Lamott, from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing and Life:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Mary-Louise Parker on her Dad, John Morgan Parker, from Esquire magazine:

“You just wanted to make sure all of us on the sidelines watching you run were taken care of and felt good about ourselves. Maybe that sounds like you got a bum deal? No, sir. You’ve had tough breaks, but I never met anyone better at enjoying what was put in front of him. At hearing new things, testing the unknown, conjuring the miraculous.”

Me on my Dad, John Paines Badman:

“Once in a while after dinner, you’d walk into the study and take your trumpet down from the top shelf of the closet, pop the latches of its crinkled leather case and lift the purplish-red satin that revealed the horn in red velvet repose, patiently waiting for its cue. Putting the mouthpiece in place, you’d exhale your warm breath into the horn, giving it life. You’d walk aimlessly through the house, playing whatever floated through your mind. Bits of jazz standards, songs whose origins I wonder about now. I never knew what prompted you to pick up your horn on any given evening. I never asked you to play. It seemed sacred, mysterious, and magical, far beyond what clumsy words could ever convey.”

Mary-Louise Parker to her Dad:

“We all miss you something fierce…to convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.”

List of love

One of the most thought-provoking moments of my college career was when my Anthropology professor hit us with the notion that we are all taught to love. That love is learned. Like walking, talking, learning to tie your shoes, or algebra. I think of that every so often, especially when love confounds me.

What is very clear is the love I have for the items below:

The commercial that defined my childhood vision of a romantic Valentine’s getaway. Which probably explains a LOT.

Love and only love will endure. -Neil Young

Just finished reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids. It was so good that I simply opened it back up to the first page to begin reading again.

My niece, Callie, and me in 2001.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table. – Billy Collins, Litany


9 or so minutes in Passaic, New Jersey, 1978.

Modigliani

All Will Be Well. Because it will.

The hardest battles of all within ourselves. Thanks, Katie.

Annie Dillard. Her memoir, An American Childhood, is one of my long-time creative wells.

“Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, because it makes me think of the world’s best Valentine, my Dad, who never let a Valentine’s Day pass without giving me the gift of chocolate. Oh, and unconditional love. Thanks, Dad!

Now, go throw your arms around the neck of someone you love. As in a hug. Or a good-natured headlock. Your choice. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dear Dad

Happy Dad: sandwich & scotch

Today marks six months since my Dad died. This is one of my favorite photos of him: standing on the patio in our backyard during a party, sandwich in one hand, scotch in the other, supremely happy.

The idea that six months have passed is both hopeful and daunting to me. Never have I been more amazed at the way time expands and contracts, accelerates at break neck speed and then stops entirely.

The experience of grief is something I constantly remind myself not to fight against. When in doubt, I try to breathe and surround myself with friends.

My Mom and Dad both trained me to “look up” the things I didn’t understand. So, like Joan Didion, I often turn to books for research, for solace. I have read Didion. I have read Auden. I have read Lamott. I have read Dillard. They all help.

My Mom spent the holidays with me, our first without Dad. They were strange days, one of us trying to “out-happy” the other one day, talking at length about the man I called Dad and she called husband over oysters and beer on others.

During the first weeks after Dad died, I thought I might have lost my ability to write…or perhaps my reason. The first words I “had” to write for a work project following his funeral felt wrong and sounded hollow to me. The client was happy, though, and I realized that it might be a long time before anything felt right or sounded good to me.

That’s grief.

I agree with Joan Didion that grief is nothing like what you hear. Nothing like we expect. The better news is that my moments of joy are also nothing like what I’d expected.

This morning, I flew back to Charleston from an incredible weekend away. As the plane took off, I looked at the glittering lights, a sight I always love. It occurred to me that if my Dad is truly in me and all around me, he was seeing it, too. And while I still carry the ache of missing him, I am happy knowing that perhaps my Dad and I share something larger: vision. And I can carry him with me wherever I choose to go.