standing on the shoulders of *my* giant
Hi you! It’s been quite a while. When I wrote here last, it was mid-July and the noon sun was directly overhead and my sunflowers were tall and working as landing pads for my bees. That post was my 15th anniversary post and I made a promise to you that I’d do something different here. That I’d try to help you bring more writing into your lives.
Well. That promise of doing something different made coming back here harder. I’d sort of set myself up, don’t you think?
Also, two weeks after that post, my dad went into hospice.
My beloved dad. The one who came here and left comments like this. He’d had a long hospitalization in 2019–complications of pneumonia–and he’d never regained the strength he had, but still we hadn’t expected things to go downhill so fast. He had surgery for skin cancer at the end of May and I guess it was too much for him.
One thing you should know about my dad: he was the King of Wordle. We had a daily group Wordle text with him, my brother, and my Uncle Denny, my dad’s twin. My dad seemed to get more 2s than the rest of us combined. I’m no slouch at Wordle, but he was better.
I get my love of words from him.
After the surgery, when he was suddenly taking all six attempts to guess the words and couldn’t do it? We knew something was wrong.
He had only had ten days in hospice. He communicated as best as he could. One afternoon he held my hand and said, “You brighten my day.” The next, as I was leaving: “You’re the light of my life.” (Light has always shown up as a metaphor in my writing. Maybe my dad knew that. Or maybe he’s the reason why.)
One day I gladly indulged his request to massage his sore neck. Then he pointed at my mom. “Share the love,” he said, wanting me to indulge her too.
When my girl called from New York to talk to him (through tears), he said, “I love you the mostest.”
As the week went on, he began to lose his words, but not his sense of humor, his sense of Dad. Saying goodbye one day, I asked him to smile for me. He surprised me with one of his classic, lunatic, so-very-Dad grins.
The last day I saw him conscious, he had a Navy blanket over him, given to him by the hospice nurses. He kept tapping on an image, which I referred to as a boat.
“Ship,” he said. Silly me.
On the afternoon that he stopped breathing, I took his still hand and grasped his wedding ring, the wide gold hammered band that had been part of that hand for as long as I knew it, and did what I had to do, what seemed unthinkable, tugged it off. Placed it in my mom’s palm.
Surely I will always remember these things. But some of them I didn’t remember. All of them I wrote down.
Two months passed from the time we put him in hospice, visited him there, watched him go, planned his funeral. Writing his obituary, giving his eulogy mattered to me. Around that time I heard the writer and artist consultant Beth Pickens say, “We rely on artists to help us understand death,” and I felt that compulsion. I wanted people to know my dad’s story–what he came from, what he did with the life he had. Why I will never stop looking up to him, my 6’4” dad, even if he isn’t here.
The obituary, the eulogy–that was the only writing I did in those two months. Well, the only writing outside of my morning pages, and my Lynda Barry-inspired daily diary. I’ve written about my morning pages, my daily diary before. But I thought I’d bring them up again because if you don’t have such a practice, maybe you’d like to?
The daily diary is a gridded-up page listing things I’ve done, seen, heard. There’s an image of some of my pages in that linked post. Writing this post, I went back and reread pages of my dad’s last days and I’m so glad I kept them. I’d forgotten the Share the love line. And how he told Lily, I love you the mostest.
I grid up my daily page in the morning and try to add to it throughout the day. If I don’t complete a page before bed, I finish it the next morning. I’m pretty good about doing it on weekdays; on weekends, not so much.
Writing this post, I didn’t go back and read my morning pages. Morning pages–according to Julia Cameron, who first wrote about them in The Artist’s Way–are meant to be three pages of continuous, stream-of-consciousness rambling. Stream-of consciousness as they are, I was afraid the posts about my dad’s last days might wreck me. Right now, at least. I don’t tend to write my morning pages as a record to return to–though someday I might be happy to have them. I’ve plundered my old journals while writing my memoir. (My memoir! I have lots to tell you about that, but let’s save it for another day.)
What I’ve come to love about my morning pages is how my intuition almost always shows up right about 1.5 pages in. Almost always! And you know from my anniversary post how much I’m thinking about intuition these days. So often in my morning pages, I figure something out, get an idea I hadn’t expected. Those realizations are golden, and enough to keep me pulling that journal off my shelf each morning, even when those mornings are so dark that I have to click on my overhead light. (I don’t usually write the full three pages Cameron recommends. My excuse is that I’m writing in an oversized journal with tiny gridded lines. (Expensive, but 365 pages!) Two pages takes me, what, thirty minutes? More? An indulgence. And I’d argue, a necessity.)
Which brings me back to wanting to offer you something here.
A possibility: If you don’t already keep a diary or a journal, maybe you’d like to try? The Lynda Barry-style 4-minute diary might work for you if you think you don’t have time for a diary–maybe you’re a busy parent? (No need to get fancy. Barry recommends writing in cheap composition books–you’ll go through them!) And if you’re someone with a little more morning time, who wants to better hear your intuition? Maybe give Julia Cameron-style morning pages a try.
If you already keep some sort of daily journal, diary, record–or aspire to–please share with us in the comments!
It’s December now, and everything is different. It’s holiday season. We have a new war to worry over. The July sunflowers in my garden are long gone–though I bought bunches of them for my dad’s September funeral, sunflowers and sunflowers and sunflowers. My long-legged dad, my optimistic dad. Sunflowers will always make me think of him. Thank you for indulging me and thinking about him too.
P.S. I’m still not sure what I want to offer you here. Ways to bring more writing into your lives, sometimes, but maybe not in every post? So much of my attention right now is on the freedoms kids have lost in the world and I’m trying to figure out how to make that relevant to you all, too. I changed my header up there to a place to muse on motherhood, education & writing. Let’s see what I can do with that. Maybe I can offer some sort of possibility with every post? Possibilities were my specialty as a homeschooling mom. 😌
Instead of sharing my usual links here, I think I’ll try sending out a separate post with links, a different day. I get that our inboxes and our attention are overfloooooooowing and maybe I’ll write more often if I don’t aim to make every dang post here into a Nat Geo Wild and Wacky Encyclopedia of Fun and Random Stuff.
You brighten my day. Wishing you light in yours.