Father’s Day FB Post, the Extended Version: Some things I learned from my father. By Devon Miller-Duggan

I read Devon’s post on Facebook, and was very touched by it. Here is a somewhat expanded version for Miriam’s Well. I’m grateful to have it, because this past Father’s Day I didn’t feel up to writing about my own dad.
This seems like a good time to express my gratitude to Devon for being a contributing writer here. One of her fans recently told me that she was struck by DEvon’s ability to write about things as they were happening. As little in life is ever truly resolved, I am continually impressed by Devon’s ability to express ambiguity, and levels of meaning.
—Miriam Sagan, editor Miriam’s Well

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Father’s Day FB Post, the Extended Version: Some things I learned from my father.

1. There is no end of interesting things to look at in the world: no museum too small, no scenic turnout not worth stopping at, no person whose story isn’t worth collecting, no restaurant someone else has recommended not worth trying.
2. Knowing how to do lots of things, both random and specific to your main focus, is great fun. He was a splendid dentist, and his huge hands (think Michelangelo’s “David”) could finesse the smallest, most precise work. He could also fix all sorts of stuff, ski, shoot, cook, butcher, raft, wrap gifts exquisitely, and when he was young, excel at most sports.
3. Craftsmanship doesn’t just matter, it MATTERS. I’ve had to unlearn this one a bit—perfection isn’t always useful or necessary, but that which is done beautifully is a benediction to the world. He also regarded this as a matter of character. I pretty much do, too.
4. The pleasure of arguing. He raised me to be very aware of politics, but was not altogether happy about how my politics turned out. My husband and his wife used to leave us to it and go talk cooking in the kitchen in peace.
5. Very good people can also be very bad people and still be very good people. (work that one out…) My father did a lot of good in the world. He was perhaps happiest when he was saving someone, or helping someone save themselves, or giving gifts. He was very much the person you wanted around in an emergency—calm, competent, reliable, and decisive. But he was also other things.
6. Love looks pretty weird sometimes. Sometimes it looks like extraordinary generosity and great warmth. Sometimes that generosity can become a form of manipulation (for both parties), and that warmth can turn frighteningly cold, or turn violent.
7. Never to stop living or looking for new things to learn. When he had to give up skiing, he took up whitewater rafting. He also read all those historical markers along roads.
8. He taught me that men are unsafe and capricious. My maternal grandfather taught me that men are strong and loving. My husband taught me that men are human.
9. It’s both possible and good to love people even though they’re much more complicated than they want to be.
10. Communication is a good idea. Argument is not necessarily communication, though sometimes it’s all you’ve got.
11. Even if you’re a hard-core introvert, it is possible to enjoy making yourself act like an extrovert for chunks of time. He was both charismatic and genuinely interested in the other folks in the room. I’m interested in the folks in the room, but would mostly rather not have to talk to any of them until I’ve been in the room with them lots of times and talked to other people about them—not gossip, research.
12. Beauty matters–everywhere and in everything. And he could never quite deal with the fact that I wasn’t—at least not as far as I knew. Near his death, he told me that I was for at least some part of early adulthood. You could have knocked me over with a gnat’s breath.
13. Never tell your children they’re not good enough.
14. Your children are not there to make you look good. I lost track of how often folks would tell me how proud of me he was of me, my artwork, my brains, my skills. I took up poetry partially because it was an art he couldn’t show other people. Mostly he told me what a disappointment I was.
15. The joys of storytelling.

I miss him. I didn’t for a long time, but I do now. I hate his not getting to meet his great-grandchildren. I hate his not getting to see how wrong he was about so many things in my life, and not getting to tell him how wrong I was about so many things in his. I also regret never getting to forgive him face-to-face. It would have done both our hearts great good. So, for today, I wish him great peace.

How Is Your Day Going So Far? (Please Do Not Ask Me That)

Contemporary life has it’s annoyances. I don’t like the superficiality of “how are you?” I found it particularly difficult when I was bereaved as a widow. Did the person really want to know? Should I lie? I still brush it off—charmingly I hope—with the answer “I have no idea!” Sometimes people laugh. Mostly they just ignore the unexpected.
At 8 am at the dentist’s office, I was asked “How is your day going so far?” So far? Well, I had coffee and psyched up to be injected, numbed, drilled, crowned, and charged a king’s ransom. My day was mediocre, headed for bad. Why ask?
“What can possibly have happened so far?” I said. I was unprepared for the answer, which in true New Mexican fashion looked at potential disaster with both resignation and humor. The speaker answered: “You could have been pulled over by the cops. Busted. You could have gone into labor. Someone else could have gone into labor…” I had to laugh. This sounded like some of the more plausible excuses I used to get in English 111 about why an essay was late.
So I enjoyed the exchange. Until the next time I got asked. At the airport. At 6:30 am. I’d had coffee, and psyched up for TSA, lines, turbulence, and strange landing gear noises.
This time, I didn’t say much of anything.
Next time, please don’t ask.

Letter To My Younger Self by Chasity Anderson

Once

We pretended satellites were falling stars and if we just believed hard enough our wish would come true. It was a simple wish. The need to be wanted, the want to be needed. Love. And we got that.

But.

I don’t think I need to tell you what we feared the most in our hearts. I don’t want to tell you that one day those fears would come true. One day we will be left behind, lost, forgotten… And I won’t be our fault, and it will be our fault. And the hardest we will ever have to do is

let it go…

move on…

There is nothing wrong with us, we are not…toxic…

And.

I can’t promise that even with telling you all of this that the pain will go away. It’ll show up at unexpected times, we will get sad, we will get angry. We will worry that our only purpose in terms of other people is to watch them leave, go away, never look back, and forget us. And it will happen. And I can’t promise that that part of us isn’t true. But we’ll find people who love us as well, even if they aren’t there.

Once.

We pretended satellites were falling stars and if we just believed hard enough our wish would come true. A need to be wanted, a want to be needed. Love.

Believe

Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Some days are good days for a little Rilke

Some days are good days for a little Rilke …

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), poet and visionary from Prague, became a crucial part of my life after I read his “Letters to a Young Poet,” at about the time I moved away from home in L.A. to Colorado, to study poetry. My husband, who I met that same year, had several of his books, including a well-worn yellow, green, and gold, “Selected” translated by Stephen Mitchell with an introduction by Robert Hass. The book, even more beat up, sits on the bed next to me now.

Its not just that Rilke is an amazing poet, that his language is beautiful and often startling – its also that what he pulls from the ether is profound – that it always seems to vibrate with energy. And that he isn’t afraid to talk about death. That to him death walks side-by-side, intertwined with life.

When my father-in-law died a few years ago, my husband was with him in Philadephia and I was some several thousand miles away house-sitting, alone, in Cardiff, Wales. I spent the day reading Rilke: The Duino Elegies, The Sonnets to Orpheus, Requiem, over and over, out loud until my throat ached. I sat in the Cardiff house’s kitchen, staring out the window at the gray skies, the wet chimney pots of the houses across the alley, the seagulls winging by. And at one point went out and stared for over an hour at the sunflower in a pot that had been planted by one of the young daughters of the house.

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There is a small field of sunflowers outside my kitchen window now, where I live in Santa Fe. Life connects. Today I am wondering if that might be its most prevalent characteristic … that even when you least expect it, life connects.

Here is a bit of Rilke, then, for Monday …

From “The Sonnets to Orpheus” – II, 14

Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,
to whom we lend fate from the very border of fate.
And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,
perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret.

All Things want to fly. Only we are weighed down by desire,
caught in ourselves and enthralled with our heaviness.
Oh what consuming, negative teachers we are
or them, while eternal childhood fills them with grace.

If someone were to fall into intimate slumber, and slept
deeply with Things–: how easily he would come
to a different day, out of the mutual depth.

Or perhaps he would stay there; and they would blossom and praise
their newest convert, who now is like one of them,
all those silent companions in the wind of the meadows.

Letter To My Younger Self by Katherine Shelton

Dear ten-year-old-You in your room in the house in Metairie, Louisiana, with the glass shelves on which were arranged your collection of tiny blown glass animals: the giraffe bending her neck over the deer, the family of mice lined up with daddy, mommy, babies, trooping along the back of the shelf, the rabbit with her pink ears. Beloved because they came from Venice, inherited from your Aunt Lib who’d lived in Florence for a year at a finishing school. There were three carved ivory monkeys too: see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, their paws covering eyes, ears, mouth.These came from a trip to China from your grandparents who did not live to know you. Your mother was fond of surrounding you with her educational moral cautions which you feared you’d never achieve. You were right but no one reaches those high standards even with finishing school and you will do very well at living (worry though you will).
You in that room where you’d tacked up the two felt pennants from the teams we joined at Camp Monterey named for obscure or invented Indian tribes: the Wataugas and the Nolichuckies. You were chosen as the Junior Captain of the Nolichuckies.
You in that room where your father slapped you so achingly and stingingly hard across the ear and cheek and you threw a book at him but hit the closing door.
Whatever you did or didn’t do, trust me now, sixty-five years later, to say your life will be much better than you could ever have pictured. It will be more like the glass animals and Camp and thank goodness, less like the dad.
You didn’t marry Tab Hunter though his image shone tantalizingly from your movie star scrapbook. He turned out to be gay but who knew anything about gay then except to hide it. Tab was so handsome in that tawny, all square American boy way.
Instead you found a man who could right all wrongs. Yes, my darling Katherine, you still believed this was possible, and I salute your hopeful outlook, it helped. Maybe the glass animals taught you to nurture fragility and picture new arrangement possibilities? Some truth in you found the truth in your own real “Tab,” whose feet were on the ground: a gardener and scientist, a listener, and a thinker, a loving parent to your two sons.
Oh, and he drove an MGB blue sports car! Great first date driving through the Berkeley Hills with the top down!
Love from seventy-five-year-old-Me, not as battered as we imagined, even wise as hell, same young, same old.

Letter To My Younger Self by Clyde Long

Dearest Clyde,

I write to you from seventeen years past your drop dead date. Turns out you will not replicate Dad’s fate. You will not strand three sons, you will live on and on and you will need to live life with the assumption of living. Your loss gives you the terrible wonderful chance to salvage the fatherhood that you missed as a boy. Recall the shame of a dad not there, the struggle of a mother to replace the impossible to replace. All this can build a strength you have, a scar of wisdom beyond your years more and more as the years pass. Not to death dwell, but those fears and worries that Mom has — turns out she’s right. I wish she weren’t.

Thousands of forks in the road will lead you to where I am now. Whatever else you do, be sure to ask out that cute girl from the La Raza party you met first week of classes.

Letter to My Younger Self by Lorraine Leslie

“A Letter to My Nine Year Old Self”

Dear Lori at nine years old;

Guess what? At Fifty-two you’re still wearing your hair in pigtails like you did in your fourth grade photo! Your hairstyle did change a few times in your ninth year and will continue to do so throughout your life. You will even at one point, have dreadlocks at the age of 35, but at nine you have no clue as to what a dreadlock is, neither will Mommy, so don’t ask her. I doubt Daddy will know either. Remember this summer when you fell and broke your arm roller skating outside Grandma Edythe’s house on Mountaindale Road, sporting that fetching new shag haircut?

And guess what again? You are still a klutz. Over the years you have, let me count them, at least a half-dozen trips to the emergency room; mostly for head injuries. You fall on your head a lot. I read somewhere that the injuries we sustain in our life are symbolic and have some sort of deeper meaning; for example, the many head injuries and concussions you will have in your life, might have to do with you trying to break something open in your mind or psyche, waiting for some sort of breakthrough to happen. You will feel that you have some sort of mental block that keeps you from understanding certain subjects, especially math. You will struggle with this, even as you get older. You will feel frustrated and blocked creatively a lot at times. Where am I going with this? I see you shaking your head. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to a nine year old, does it? It will later.

Okay, I am supposed to be imparting some kind of helpful knowledge to you, my younger self, but life hasn’t been exactly easy so far for you kiddo. This summer when you broke your arm roller skating at Grandma’s, it was unbearably hot and humid; a typical New York summer. Mom felt sorry for you and fed you way too much ice cream to cool you down and relieve some of your boredom. You even tried to go swimming a few times to beat the heat. Mom would wrap your arm in a plastic bag to keep the arm length cast dry. It was so difficult to swim like that; get any real exercise. You gained at least 10-15 pounds.

That bowl-shaped haircut mom gave you at the dining room table at the end of the summer was ridiculous looking. You had just moved to Putnam Lake from Yonkers and started 5th grade at JFK Elementary School in Brewster. All of the kids at school nicknamed you “meatball” not only because of the extra weight that you gained, but because you started your first day of class, with a bowling ball shaped head, and wearing a hand me down dress of orange wool, the color of pasta sauce! What was mother thinking?

It does get better when you become an adult. You aren’t exactly a fashion model, but at almost fifty-three, can you believe you made it that far; you are tall and slender with well-defined cheek bones and blonde hair. Remember when you wanted blonde hair? That baby fat and bowling ball shaped head is now gone, but for some reason it is still hard for you to get a date.

You will have trouble getting a date all through high school and never have a real boyfriend, except for a red-headed, freckle face stoner, named Ed, for about a month in 11th grade. He is a terrible French kisser. Avoid him if you can, but you won’t.

You will live at the Jersey Shore for couple of summers and work on the Casino Pier. You will be a disc jockey at the radio station where you attend college that has a view of the Atlantic Ocean from your dorm room. You will become a punk rocker. After college you will travel and live in London for two years, where you will lose your virginity to an Englishman named Russell. I know you ask, what’s virginity? You will understand this later. Remember, when mommy tried to talk you about sex because Cousin Terry got her period at age nine? You will get married once when you are thirty. You will be an artist. So take drawing in 9th grade and drop shop class. You don’t belong there.

So after all that, what wisdom do I still have to give you; to pass on to you in this short letter from your future self? It gets better, I promise. Keep your chin up and don’t give in to all the years of bullying you will endure. Be brave and think for yourself. Whatever doesn’t kill you in this life will only make you stronger. Clichéd, I know, but it will get you through all those hellish years of middle and high school. At nine you won’t know what a cliché is either, but it doesn’t matter, just know that you are still doing okay. You will one day move out of Putnam Lake; you will live in a city called Santa Fe, New Mexico. Life still isn’t easy, but anything worth doing is worth fighting for. Living is worth doing; at least once. And remember, I love you and will love you until the day you die. Mommy and Daddy and Grandma love you too. Never forget that, it will keep you strong and focused.

Love,

Lori (at fifty-two years old)