Some Late Musings on Fathers Day

Yellowstone - Dark Sky

Father’s Day was different this year.

The beginning of the day was busy enough that I didn’t even remember that it was Father’s Day and by the time evening came there was more to think about than usual.

My day started in Waverly, IA.  I woke up in a tent surrounded by hundreds of other tents at the tail end of the Gentlemen of the Road music festival.  The rumblings of other campers waking and packing marked the otherwise quiet morning. I drifted in and out of sleep as I listened to them and stared at the morning light glowing through the nylon of our tent. As the sun got brighter the stuffiness of the tent got worse, so I shook Tim awake and we began packing up our things.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We had accumulated enough things at our campsite that it was impossible to only take one trip to the car, so we packed half our things and walked to the parking lot. There had been so much rain during the festival that the field in which everyone had parked had muddy patches that were deep and sticky enough to rob people of their shoes and trap some cars.  Ankle deep in mud, we filled Tim’s car and drove it out along the driest route we could find.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked back to the campsite, munching on GoMacro bars I had left over from a promo.  We took down the tent and emptied the cooler as we recounted the awful condition of the parking area to our friends.  The campground began to hum with the sound of everyone realizing that a leisurely morning might mean stuck cars.  We couldn’t have timed our exit better.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

I drove.  We had a brief murmured conversation about which turns to take to get to the highway and which Taco Johns we would stop at on our way back into the cities.  And then Tim, who stayed out a couple hours longer than me almost every night, fell asleep.  I put the music on shuffle, glared at the Illinois driver who could not maintain a speed to save her life, and ate a million Jalapeno Cheetos.

And I thought about my Dad a little bit.

I thought about the idea I’ve had recently, about how my Dad isn’t one person anymore.  About how in some ways his lack of existence makes him a quantitatively negative presence.  When a person dies they become a -1 instead of a zero.  Remembering my father is to experience a gap, a blip, a moment of negative space. A zero would be something that never was.  A -1 is something that should still be.

Driving through Iowa, I briefly worried that I had missed my exit, especially when the highway randomly branched in a way that didn’t quite make sense at 75 mph.  I drank some Rockstar, looked at Tim sleeping beside me, and switched the music to a Murder By Death album (which is much less metal and much more folk than the uninitiated might assume) that had caught my ear on shuffle.

I thought about my Dad a little more.

I thought about how when my Dad died he fragmented into countless pieces in the memories of everyone who knew him.

I thought about how I have as many fathers as there are people who remember him.

That is not to say that anyone who remembers my Dad is responsible for imparting their memories of him or that they are responsible for filling roles he left empty.  Rather, my father simply exists in the minds of everyone who remembers him and in each mind he is a slightly different person.

My Dad continues to exist in my life, my mother’s life, my siblings’ lives, and his friends’ lives, but he is not the same person to any of us. Every once in a  while we will disagree about what advice he would give or what opinions he would hold. None of us know how the last eight years would have shaped his personality and worldview, and we unsurprisingly speculate in our own favor.  How could this man, who we loved and respected so much, not also come to exactly the same conclusions about everything?

And so there are all of these ethereal, inauthentic Carletons floating around in the minds of everyone who knew him.

The Taco Johns we chose to stop at was in Tim’s home town, so I shook him awake and he gave me a tour of the neighborhoods he had lived in, his high school, and the places he had worked.

I didn’t think about my Dad.

We got back on the road and Tim found out that he would not be celebrating Fathers Day with his family until later in the week.  He seemed a little disappointed, but insisted he wasn’t when I asked.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I couldn’t remember most of them, but I could remember the one from two years ago. I had just moved with my boyfriend at the time to his hometown and, despite really liking his dad and despite my boyfriend’s assurances that they would probably barely even acknowledge the holiday, I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate with them. I sat on the rooftop deck in our new building, feeling guilty and staring across the city and into the ocean while I thought about families and holes in lives.

We got back to Tim’s place where we unpacked, showered, and took naps.  We had left the campgrounds early enough that there was still a lot of light, so we biked to a nearby Asian grocery to buy soup supplies.  He seemed really down, so I asked him again if he was disappointed that he wasn’t with his kid for Fathers Day. He said he was just tired.  I was doubtful.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I thought about the line in the blog I had written on that Fathers Day two years ago that said “I’m not married with children, so I can’t recalibrate and experience father’s day as a mother instead.” and I realized that there was yet another way of experiencing Fathers Day.  And, surprisingly, that way of experiencing Fathers Day was even more alienating than the last six Fatherless Days had been.  Surrounded by friends and family with fathers and spouses, I could not only be fatherless, but also incongruently childless.

We made dinner.  I overheard the tail end of a conversation he had with his kid on the phone.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

I think we watched a movie.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

We went to sleep.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

And Fathers Day ended.

I want my Daddy

I don’t have these days often anymore.

Even immediately after my father died, I didn’t feel as big of a gap in my day to day life as I expected.  Part of that was simply that I’d just started college, so I wasn’t around home to notice that he wasn’t.  I was in the middle of trying to spread my wings and find my place in the world, so I didn’t expect my Dad to be much more than a weekly(ish) phone call, an email here and there, and a part of my visits to Minnesota.

Of course, every once in a while I would have a question that I felt like only he could answer.  He, obviously, was not around, so I’d lose it.  I’d bury myself in painting or journals or blogs and I would stop fucking sleeping because there was only one voice that I needed and that voice was permanently unavailable.  I’d break down sobbing in a circle of friends, so lost in my own tears that I couldn’t even see the stutter of confusion flicker across their faces as they processed the suddenness of my outbreak. I would pick up and leave the place where I was, move to new cities or take trips to different countries with barely any notice.  I would walk the long sidewalks of Chicago in the comparative quiet of the night with my hood up and my earbuds in.  I would close doors both literal and figurative and shut my ears to every voice that breathed.  I could handle reading.  I could handle movies and television shows and podcasts.  I couldn’t handle the kind of people who stood, flesh and bone, in front of me, because they were never the right person.

And today, for the first time in at least a year, it hit me again.

Sitting behind the wheel of my big, clunky Buick, staring at a red light and trying to shape the thoughts in my mind into something cohesive, I realized who I needed to talk to.

Whose advice I needed.

Whose voice I needed to hear.

My throat constricted.  I bit the insides of my lower lip.  The insides of my torso pulled further inward.

Because that voice is permanently unavailable.

My Dad was one of those people who was uniquely capable of bridging viewpoints that are notoriously difficult to bridge.  He was balanced, level and incredibly gifted with perspective both nuanced and practical.  In addition to this he also had a very moral core from which he rarely, if ever, wavered.  He listened and spoke well.  He expressed his beliefs with gentleness and authority.

And that is exactly what I need right now.

Part of the struggle of growing up, the reason why you need to be surrounded by people who are intelligent and thoughtful, is because sometimes it is really hard to tell if the decisions you’re making are okay.

It’s really hard to tell if the compromises you choose to make err in unhealthy directions.  It’s really hard to tell if the moments in which you do choose to stand firm are moments of childish stubbornness, moral victory or some murky in-between.  It’s really hard to tell if you’re turning into an adult or if you’re just getting older and more authoritative.

Sometimes you need someone to tell you.

I have plenty of people around me who are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful who I could talk to about my struggle to grok adulthood.

But none of them are my Dad.

None of them have his nuanced world view, his way of very kindly telling me exactly why I’m wrong or why he’s proud of me, his moral compass or his warm hug at the end of a hard conversation.

That’s all I want.

And it is the one thing I cannot have.

Often life gets distracting and full and beautiful and I think it’s healthy that I don’t always realize how big of a hole you left when you died.

But then there are days like today and the hurt is just as powerful as it was when I first heard you were gone.

I miss you.

I wish we’d had more time.

I'd take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

I’d take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

2014/2015

So we’re a couple days into 2015 now.

Welcome to the New Year, errbody.

I haven’t made any resolutions yet, partially because of that Habit RPG thing I’ve been harping on about.  I’ve already put the things that would normally count as resolutions (start drinking more water!  floss your teeth!  don’t be a slobby slobster all the slobbing time!)  into Habit RPG, so I’m pretty set with the whole self-improvement thing, New Year notwithstanding.  The goals and the methodology for achieving the goals are in their very neat 8-bit place and at this point it’s just a matter of seeing which ones stick and which ones don’t and then deciding if the goals that weren’t so sticky deserve more attention or if they were kind of a waste of energy to begin with.

Like reading poetry, for instance.  Why exactly do I want to read poetry every day?  Is that really necessary?  Or is it just one of those things that sounds good for a minute and is actually kind of stupid?

Anways.

Something that I’ve been meaning to do is the Guillebeau Year End Review.  It’s a great way of looking back at the last year, evaluating what went well and what didn’t, and identifying the areas of your life that you want to put more (or less) energy into. It’s also great at distinguishing between goal setting as opposed to resolutions.

The thing is, though, that right now I’m just super content.

I mean 2014 was exhausting.

For a lot of reasons.

Part of that exhaustion was because of the good stuff.  I traveled to New York and Panama and experienced Chickentown (Sshhh) for the first time and saw some great concerts.  I went to a lot of plays and an opera, discovered some incredible albums and musicians, saw my nieces and nephews play sports and dance and sing.  I ate some really amazing food.  I met some really, really cool people.  I read some great books.  I did some really fun jobs, from managing a hostel to doing social media for a tiny publishing company and working some really fun promos.

Alternatively, I worked erratically and frequently was booked when my friends were getting together.  I lost a couple friends.  I had an ex who had a lot of trouble taking “leave me alone” at face value.  I sometimes had trouble balancing commitments, which made me alternatively feel like a bad aunt, sister, daughter, employee, friend, and girlfriend.

So it hasn’t been perfect.  And I obviously have goals and things that I’d like to be (or am) working towards right now, but life lately is very good.  I’ve been in Minnesota for a little over a year now.  I am surrounded by my family and am slowly by slowly rekindling relationships with old friends.  I’m able to spend time with my nieces and nephews and sisters and brother and mother with relative regularity.  I grab casual dinners with friends instead of catching up with months worth of material every time I swing through town.  I have a job that is very okay that pays better than okay.  I am half of an amazing couple and my partner is a person who I respect and love supermuch.  And the feeling is refreshingly mutual.  Lately I’ve been finding time to hole up in coffee shops and write.  I have started reading the stacks of books that I’ve accumulated over the years and I have the energy to read stuff that has actual content to it instead of the fluff that I’d started to read disproportionately.

2014 was, for lack of a less cliched cliche, a roller coaster.  And my head is kind of spinning and I’m a little out of breath, but I keep catching myself being straight. up. grateful. for where I am at this moment.

For now, instead of looking into 2015 for everything that it has to offer, I’d rather take a moment to appreciate the place that 2014 has deposited me.

Because it’s a good place to be.

SECRETS SECRETS ARE NO FUN.

I had a blog entry that I was in the middle of writing and I had to stop because secrets.

This pisses me off.  Not because I think that the world will be miss out on any great insights because I can’t write that blog, but because being gagged is unpleasant.

I was going to be vague, anyways.  I was going to use relationships instead of names and I could have just pulled the oldest trick in the book and written about “my friend” instead of specifically describing how I knew the people involved in my story.  Unfortunately, I’m a detail person and I am sure that if the right (wrong, really) person read what I wrote they would be able to easily figure out who I was talking about and suddenly they would know something that I don’t think they are supposed to know yet.

They probably do know already, though, because that is how secrets work, isn’t it?  Everyone involved suffers silently, wrestling with equal parts smugness for being in on the secret and agony for not being able to talk about it.  Then years later when everything is finally out in the open, surprisingly arid now not that it is no longer spoken in whispers, it turns out that everyone else fucking knew the whole time anyways.

There are a lot of secrets in my life right now and none of them are mine.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t kept secrets of my own in the past.  I completely understand the “need” to keep secrets.

A couple years ago I moved in with a boyfriend for the first time and the only family member who knew for quite a while was my little sister. She agreed that it was probably best to keep my living status a secret from the rest of the family.  That’s the biggest, longest secret I ever kept and it was incredibly frustrating because I loved the person I was with.  I would delightedly check off the box on surveys that said “living with significant other”.  I was rended emotionally, though, because faceless statistics about me were better informed than my own family.  Conversations with friends bubbled because I didn’t have to be careful about where I said I lived.  I could guiltlessly express how much I loved cuddling up on the couch with my boyfriend to watch shows late into the night or stretch out playing video games while I waited for him to get home.  There was a feeling, close to perfection that overwhelmed me occasionally.  It always overtook me when I was doing something completely banal, like locking the door on my way to school or walking up the stairs with groceries and then suddenly I was practically bursting with a kind of joy and warmth that I had not felt in years, that I don’t think I had ever felt as an adult.  Living with that boyfriend at that time felt like having a home again after years of dorms, apartments and hostels that lasted at most eight months at a time.  Living with that boyfriend at that time made me feel fulfilled, it made me feel like an adult, and it made me happy. I felt like a balanced part of a perfect equation of two.

The stupid thing about secrets is that they are often kept for the “good” of whoever is being shielded from them, which is rarely something that the secret-keeper is qualified to do.

I did not share my happiness with anyone I was related to (except that little sister) because I thought that my happiness would be a source of pain for them.  Many of my family members are Christians and they take the values attached to that tradition pretty seriously.  (As a quick side-note, because I think that Christians are often unfairly dismissed for being bigoted, I want to make it absolutely clear that my family is overwhelmingly conscientious and loving and they are infinitely more concerned with living lives that reflect their values than they are imposing their values on others. I think that is awesome and I admire them for that a lot.)  Anywho.

My happiness, of course, would not have actually been the source of any of any family members’ pain, but it would have been similar (INCREDIBLY imperfect comparison alert) to telling them that I had decided to become a professional burglar or hit-person because the stealing or murdering fulfilled me in a way that nothing else I’d ever tried could.  My family would gently suggest that although they were happy that I was happy, I could probably find ways to be happy that weren’t morally lacking.

That is the way the conversation finally went down, by the way.  When I told my mom that I was living with my boyfriend she was sad.  We had a really long conversation in which I repeatedly assured her that this was making me happy in a way that I hadn’t been in a really long time.  We acknowledged that what I was choosing to do did not resonate with her value system, but my happiness made it a little bit easier to bear.  Interestingly, no other family member brought it up in conversation.  No one said that they were happy for me.  No one said that they were disappointed in me.  It was an overwhelmingly Minnesotan response.

Unfortunately, by the time I talked to my mother, the happiness that I was trying to convince her I felt didn’t exist anymore.

That is the other brutal truth about secrets.  They hurt everyone who is involved.  The secret hurt me because I wanted to be honest with my family, but I was scared, so I spent more time and energy feeling scared than I did happy.  It hurt my family, although they didn’t know it, because I was shielding them from my happiness out of concern for their happiness.  Which is ridiculous.  The secret hurt my boyfriend because how confident can you be in a relationship that is shrouded in half-truths?

There were other factors, but a large part of the reason that I am not with that boyfriend anymore is because my inability to be honest with my family about my relationship with him created a rift between us.

I try really hard to be transparent about my life.  I strive to increase the happiness of the people I love through word and deed alike.  I think it is disrespectful not to be honest.  It does not make sense to disrespect the people who you love.  Therefore, in order to actively love the people in your life, I believe it is vital that you are honest with them.

Is it not better to give people the opportunity to react to the parts of our lives that we think are incendiary and not have to live in fear?  I was afraid that my whole family would be disappointed in me for living with a boyfriend, but when they found out, they mostly said nothing.

That was its own kind of awkward, actually, but it was at least a kind of awkward that I didn’t have to feel guilty about.  Confused? Maybe.  Annoyed? A little.  But mostly it was just easier to breathe when I could describe my world as it was instead of how I thought people wanted it to be.

I will continue to keep the secrets of others, because it is not my place to decide what truths my family and friends are and are not comfortable with sharing.  Unfortunately sometimes you have to keep secrets because you love the people who have the secrets.

Truly, though, I think they would be happier if they could know their place in the world instead of just speculating about what it might be.

A secret is just a lie with a reason.  Very, very rarely do those reasons justify the silence that surrounds them.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly
-Desiderata

2014 New Year Goals.

One of my favorite bloggers, Chris Guillebeau, does an annual review that I have found kind of inspiring.  Most of my favorite bloggers tend to suggest making goals for the New Year rather than resolutions, which is a helpful distinction for me.  It helps me create actionable plans for the next year rather than my usual wishy washy (or way too specific) goals…like “exercising more” or “reading one book every week”.  With resolutions I either have no idea where to start or I fall behind immediately and quit out of frustration.

Three is my number, so I set my goals this year in a system of threes.  First, I divided my life into three sections.  Each section is separated into three categories and I have three goals for each category.  I’ve bolded the goals so if you’re interested in what I’m doing, but not the specifics or the why you can skim.  Gawsh, I’m considerate.

OMGCOFFEE

Flowcharts are highly superior to lists. I learned this from Swedes in India.

I.  Passion
1)  Creativity
i.    Write lyrics song to the song Jeff sent me.  I like writing songs and finally have a springboard since I have no instrumental talent of my own.  Booyah.
ii.   Create nap time story blog.  I’ve started making up stories for my niece when I’m putting her down for naps.  Cataloging them in a blog would be a good way for me to practice writing fiction and might be fun to look back on later.
iii.  Paint the awesome painting in my head.  There is a painting I really want to make and have half created…in my head.  I would love to create it, but I want the appearance of oil paint and I’m used to acrylics and it isn’t my usual slap-dash experimental style.  I would actually need to do some planning, so it’s an intimidating project.
2) Travel
i.    South Africa for Isaac’s wedding.  I haven’t been to Africa since 2008 and who doesn’t love a wedding as an excuse to go somewhere new and beautiful?
ii.   Spend about a month in Panama.  (Read Path Between the Seas first)  I would love to do some outdoorsy stuff in Panama and evidently have a family member working out there. 
iii.  Teach English in South Korea for around six months.  Get paid to hang out with kids and see a new country?  Yeah, sure.  Sounds great.
3) Education
i.    Learn HTML and CS2  I am interested in getting into technical writing.  HTML and CS2 both seem to be necessary skills for technical writers these days.
ii.   Become conversational in Spanish by  year end.  Because I’m 25, monolingual and currently work in an industry where Spanish could get me better jobs.
iii.  Finish TEFL courses by mid-year.  I am not sure if I’m doing these yet, because it sounds like not all teaching abroad opportunities really care about TEFL certification, but dependent on a couple conversations I will have in the next few weeks, I would like to be certified around Easter, because I want to head to South Korea by May.

II.  Relationships
1)  Family
i.    Spend one-on-one time with every member of my family.  Because I love all my siblings and, strange as it sounds, I would like to get to know them all better.
ii.   Make sure that I give all of my nieces and nephews presents for their birthdays.  I am not always in Minnesota, so it can be easy to forget to get a gift for nieces and nephews when their birthdays come around.  Still, presents are really special when you’re little and I want to respect that.
iii.  [SECRET GOAL INCLUDED ONLY FOR TERTIARY PURPOSES]  It’s a good one.
2)  Friends
i.    Be intentional about doing things with friends instead of just grabbing coffee or drinks.  I love just hanging out with my friends, but I think it’s wise and fun to do interesting things with the people I like.
ii.   Figure out what qualities are most important to me in friends (a la AoM and Oprah, according to the google search I just did to find the AoM link) and be intentional about seeking out those qualities in new friends and realizing those qualities in old friends.
iii.  Give.  Love.  I think I’m pretty good about this already, but I haven’t been in Minnesota for a while and would just like to be especially aware about how I interact with the people I love.
3)  Self
i.    Play more.  I could stand to be a little less serious and a little more active.  Playing more would cover both of those bases.
ii.   Fix my super meaningful tattoo that Bridgeport Tattoo so kindly f-ed the f up out of a despicable sense tattoolitism.
iii.   Take the time to figure out what virtues are most important to me and be true to them.  Know thyself.  Or something.  (In all seriousness, in this last year I constantly found myself in situations where I did not feel like I was being true to myself, but I never had the certainty I needed to extricate myself.  I would like to cultivate that sense of certainty.)

III.  Adulthood
1)  Work
i.    Publish one story and one article.  Preferably a travel article.
ii.   Work out plans for Hot Cocoa Café and decide if it is a practical business.  Not to overlink the Art of Manliness or anything, but last year they did a fantastic post on Hot Cocoa.  It made me think about HOW MUCH FUN it would be to start a Hot Cocoa Café that specializes in all sorts of different kinds of hot cocoa, ranging from the bitter to the sweet, the classic to the current.  This year I’ll write up some design plans and toy around with the idea a bit just for funsies.  If I decide that it’s a practical business model, I’ll start seriously pursuing it next year.
iii.  Write a novel.  Preferably that futuristic Plato’s Cave thing that I started when I moved back to Minnesota.
2)  Money
i.    Pay off half of student loans.  (I might be changing this to 1/4 of my loans because for some reason I keep convincing myself that I only have $10k in debt when it’s really $20k.)
ii.   Start a savings account.  I’m a quarter of a century old.  It’s about time.
iii.  Invest in a new computer.  Especially since some of the learning stuff that I want to do (HTML and CS2, especially) are going to require a more modern OS.
3)  Home
i.    Keep the place where I am living clean.  No more living in filth would be nice.  And now that I would just be picking up after myself it seems much more manageable.
ii.   Research logistics on buying an income property.  Since I’ll be out of state for most of the year, I don’t think that I’ll get around to actually purchasing an income property yet, but it seems like a really good source of (mostly) passive income that would also allow for money-making while I was off doing other things.
iii.  Find an apartment.  Consider whether AirBnB would be practical when out of town.  Also decide if I want to live on my income property, too, or if the two should be separate.

That took a long time, so I am not going to edit it.  Doneskies.

What are your New Year goals/resolutions?  Do you prefer flow charts or lists?  Do you also plan on completely, wonderfully overextending yourself in 2014?  Did you know that writing questions at the end of blogs is actually SUPER FUN and kind of hard?  Because I kind of forgot most of what I wrote already.

Your Grandson

Hey Dad.

Sometimes when I miss you I miss you for me.  I miss you because I find something beautiful in a book that reminds me of you and I want your perspective on it.  I miss you because I haven’t gotten a Dad-hug in a long time.  I miss you because sometimes it feels like I don’t remember you enough and I want that impossible refresher.

Sometimes when I miss you I miss you for someone else.  I miss you because I have a conversation with a sibling and I know that you were far more equipped to listen to them than I could ever hope to be.  I miss you because I want you and Mom to be living together at 581,  joking ever more seriously about moving to Covenant Village.  I miss you because I know you influenced strangers, family and friends alike in powerful ways and I want the world to be one person better again.

And sometimes I miss you for you.  I miss you because there are things happening and people existing that you would love and I wish that you could experience all of those things and people.

I want to tell you about one of them.

This is Axel.

He is one of your grandchildren.  The only one (so far) that you didn’t get to meet.

There are a lot of things that make Axel special.  He is energetic.  He loves people.  He’s only three, but he splits his time between the kids and the adults during family gatherings because he enjoys both.  He loves to play sports and games.  He’s goofy and creative.

And one of the qualities that I think you would love the most: Axel has an ear and a love for stories.

Just like you did.

Your daughters were being put to bed after a long day of playing.  We took a bath together and you, Dad, you poured more than one cup of freezing cold water onto our heads from behind the shower curtain.  Your laughs and our squeals, which were half delighted and half indignant, echoed around the bathroom.  You pulled each of us out of the tub individually and wrapped us head to foot, in thick, soft towels, until we stopped shivering and put on our pajamas.

We congregated on the bed.  Some of us were tucked under thick blankets, others sat on top of the sheets, savoring every last moment of freedom until bed time actually required sleeping. 

“What story do you want tonight?”  

“The scary man who ate oranges whole!”
“The junkyard story!  Tell the junkyard story with the creepy spyglass!”
“The story about the pigs!  The runt and the corn cobs!”

You laughed as we barraged you with an indecipherable cacophony of favorite stories.  Our suggestions turned into an eager silence and we stared up at your bearded face, expectant and excited.

“Why don’t we make up a story together?” you suggested.

And we did.  We arranged ourselves in a circle and, one sentence at a time we told a story that had never been told before and would never be heard again.

Over Easter weekend I noticed that Axel was always looking for a story.  We dyed Easter eggs Saturday morning at Heather and Chad’s house.  After we had finished staining our fingers in every pastel imaginable, Axel crawled into my lap and we looked at the USA place mat in front of us.  First we looked at the blank side and tried to remember the names of each state and then I started telling a story about a trip I had taken.

The story was nothing more than a mosaic, a patchwork quilt.  I told snippets and vignettes from the roadtrip Evie and I took a few years back and bits and pieces of my hitchhiking trip.  Each tidbit was attached to the last by the thin, invisible line I drew with my finger from one dot on the map to the next.  Evie joined in the story telling as well and soon the whole table was involved in the story.  Axel, specifically, couldn’t get enough.  At the conclusion of each story he would look up to either me or Evie and ask for the next part.

Axel, Jacob and I eventually started making up stories of our own. We told each other about our births at the bottom of the ocean or Lake Superior, where we found ourselves stuck in bubbles that rose slowly to the surface.  We spared no detail in the arduous journey from seafloor to sunshine, and our histories after our bubbles popped on the cresting waves were filled with robots and monsters and cows…I’m sure you would have had something fun to add.  I can imagine the smile that would have been on your face and hear your chuckle as you added new, fantastic elements to our ridiculously fun stories.

On Easter night Kaijsa, Axel and I sat outside old 581 and stared at the stars.  I asked them what they saw.  Kaijsa found a question mark that was actually the Big Dipper, which I loved.  Fresh eyes find new stories in the skies.  The call to follow the big dipper north has faded and we are left with an ethereal question mark in the sky instead.

After they told me what they saw, I told them what I had learned.  I told them about the big dipper and how it had been utilized on ships and secret, trackless railroads.  Kaijsa went inside, but Axel couldn’t get enough.  I told him that there was a W in the sky that some people thought looked like a chair and that in that chair there sits a beautiful, starry woman named Cassiopeia who is made of light and if you get close enough to her your eyes will not be able to focus.  Not because of the light, though that is powerful, but because of her beauty.  We also established that even though she was gorgeous, she wasn’t very nice.  So she sits in the sky as punishment, halfway between punishment and glory.

I pointed out Orion, with his shining belt, and told them (Kaijsa rejoined the storytelling party eventually) a wildly inaccurate story about who Orion was and what he did to deserve a seat in the stars.  (I didn’t mean to be inaccurate.  I just forgot the story and mine was more heroic and fun to reenact than the original, anyways.)  The three of us ran around in the grass, pointing into the heavens and screeching truths and giggling lies and becoming a part of the story, of the constellation, that existed for thousands of years before us.

You would have loved it.

I wish you were still here so you could tell all of your grandchildren, especially Axel, stories of your childhood.  I wish you were still here so you could create new stories with the four of them (and me, if you’d allow another adult to join you  :D).

I wish this for them, in part, but mostly I wish it for you.  I wish it for you because stories were an important part of how you interacted with the world and I wish you could see that love of stories continued in the grandson you never got to meet.

Wandering Wednesday – Home

There are two things that I need to say to preface this entry:

1.  One of my resolutions this year is to blog three times weekly.  I figure that structure will encourage me not only to write consistantly, but also to write quality material instead of constantly copping out with bad poetry.  My plan is to write every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Mondays are my free days, so I’ll write about something I’m reading, watching, thinking or feeling…typical bloggy stuff.  Wednesdays I am alliterationally calling “Wandering Wednesdays” and will be about a new place that I have visited or explored.  Fridays are devoted to fiction.  This way I get to explore three specific parts of myself (the indecisive free spirit with too many interests, the traveler and the story teller) on a consistent basis and my readers (all zero of them) will know what to expect on a given day.  So if that’s something that matters to you, that’s a win.

2.  I have had a few conversations since I returned home that have shocked me.  Not necessarily because of their content but because of their implications.  I am very close to my family.  I like to think that I know them quite well.  I know that I don’t know any of them perfectly, especially now that we have started moving out of the house and creating new chapters in our lives that have less to do with the Petersons as a unit and more to do with us as individuals who care about each other.  However, I am realizing that there are important bits and pieces of my siblings and mother about which I know nothing.  I have had 23 years worth of time to ask these people questions and grow in my understanding of them and I am still learning “new”, important things about them today.  I love that I learn new things about the people that I love.  I hate that there have been and will continue to be things that I never think to find out about them.

Today is Wednesday.  According to point one that means that I am supposed to wander somewhere new and unpack the untold mysteries of a place I have never seen before.  Due to point two, however, I thought that it would be fun to explore the house that I grew up in with fresh eyes and see if there is a part of this place that I did not know before.

I present to you…mi casa:

 

From the outside a house is almost less than a house.  It fades into the scenery just as much as the leafless trees and bushes in front of it.   The redness of my house is something I remember being proud of as a kid.  I liked that it stood out of the monotonous drone of grays, browns and light blues that characterize most of my suburb.  A red house with white trim was unique without being an eyesore like the odd pastel yellow or pepto pink ones we drove past in Minneapolis.

Workshop

I remember seeing beams of light shining through the cracks around the door to my Dad’s workshop when I brought a basketball or a bucket of chalk back into the garage after a day of play.  I would peer inside and wave at the man with sawdust in his beard.  I would jealously stare at the saws and hammers and journal about my dream (although by the time I was old enough to use the machines I’d given up on the dream) of becoming a carpenter like the two most admirable people I could think of:  My Dad and Jesus.  In that order.

I thought that if I was looking for the secrets my house has been keeping from me I should start in a place that I never spent much time in.  I figured that the garage and my father’s attached workshop were the best place to start.  They are crowded with things that I’ve rarely glanced twice at, but the only thing that I found out was that nothing there deserved any more attention than it had already received.

I took pictures of whole rooms and trinkets.  I opened drawers and sought out things that I remembered from once upon a time but haven’t seen in ages.  I tried to get as much detail into every picture as was humanly possible and even as I tried to manipulate my house into telling the story that I wanted it to tell it fought back and reminded me exactly what I learned earlier this week.

The stories aren’t in the big picture.  They are in those insignificant, dusty details that remind us where we came from and edge us toward where we are going.  And no matter how hard we try to shape them it is always they that shape us.

 

 

My house is the mailbox I never adjusted to.  The boring, identical black box that never really replaced its mottled, rusty predecessor.  Reddish brown spots threatened to poke holes in the matte, white metal.  In retrospect it was kind of embarrassing that we didn’t get rid of the mailbox sooner, but in retrospect I still wish we hadn’t.

 

 

 

My house is the pair of rubbings that hang in our entry way.  As a young adult my mother went to cemeteries with a crayon (a fancy crayon, but I don’t know the actual terminology) and sheets of long black paper and find stones with beautiful etchings.  Then she would bring those beautiful etchings home on her long sheets of black paper.

 

My house is the broken, unused and unusable lanterns hanging in the workshop.  With one parent raised on a farm and the other in the back room of a tiny small-town store they whisper of a past that is only mine by association.  Forgotten and broken, they are a secret in their anonymity.  I love them for that in a kind of misplaced nostalgia that doesn’t even belong to me.

 

 

My house is the license plate frame we were never tacky enough to keep on a car, but with which we agreed enough that instead of throwing it away we hung it up in the garage.

 

 

 

 

My house is the bunch of dead roses hanging above a probably dried out package of shoe goo where nobody will ever see them.  A love for the beautiful combined with an aversion to throwing anything away leaves them tucked away where they are rarely appreciated, but never degraded to the level of trash.

 

 

 

My house is the wall of wedding photos and the last family picture we took before my Dad died.  It is the school photos that represent every member of my family, including my father and a silhouette of my mother and all the nieces and nephews.

 

 

My house is the dog tags hanging in the laundry room.  Not used since our dog was put to sleep when I was in elementary school, they remain a reminder of the dog I still remember chasing down the driveway in a panic. My father swept me into his arms before I reached the street.  I saw visions of my puppy getting lost or run over and never returning as it ran into oblivion, but he convinced me she would return the next morning, no worse off than she was at that moment as she faded into the distance.  He was right.

 

Final Summation:  My house isn’t made of secrets.  It’s made of memories.