9 Years / Sisters.

9 years ago today my Dad died of cancer.

My family has had a lot of conversations about my Dad in the last nine years. We speculate about who he would be if he was still living.  We share the dreams he appears in.  We try to explain the brief, magical moments in which it feels like he might be trying to say something through a stranger or an animal or a snowball.  We laugh and cry and roll our eyes as we reminisce about who he was nine, eighteen, or twenty something years ago.

Nine years gone, he does not feel like a large part of our lives most of the time.

I was not thinking about my dad’s deathaversary a week and a half ago when my sister jokingly told me that I should tag along on their trip back to Chicago and I hastily packed a bag and got in the car.  Nor was I thinking about my dad’s deathaversary when I booked my flight away from Chicago for the morning of the 7th instead of the 6th or the 8th.

Not only was I not really thinking about the significance of today leading up to it, I also found that the conversations I had about him last night and early this evening felt a little hollow and unimportant.  There is only so much that can be said about a death and maybe nine years is enough time to say it all.

Regardless, Evie, Sarah, and I decided to have dinner together tonight, partially to commemorate our dad and partially because it is my last night in town.

The three of us looked around the table at each other. We had each just told a funny dad story and none of us was sure where the conversation would head next.

Evie said that she could not remember the Thanksgiving we celebrated before Dad died.

A moment pops into my mind. It is Thanksgiving and the conversation is moving around the table in an organized circle as each of us dutifully recites something for which we are thankful.

“Do you remember – ?”

I start and then stop and then start again, “Was it that year or the year before when he said he couldn’t think of anything he was thankful for?”

The pitch of my voice raises briefly before it breaks. I swipe at my eyes with hasty fingers and laugh over my tears.  “I didn’t expect to cry tonight.”

“It was that Thanksgiving.” Sarah’s voice is quiet. Tears flicker in the wells of her eyes.

“I don’t remember that.” Evie’s eyes skitter in their sockets. Her brows raise.

“It was so sad,” I explain it to them even though they already know, “It was so sad because that isn’t Dad at all. That isn’t something he would ever say.”

I haven’t talked about my Dad in the present tense in eight years. It’s a verbal tick I thought I had outgrown.

Over the next two hours the three of us share and share and share.  Some of the conversation is familiar. There are certain stories that surround Dad’s death that we tell often enough that we could probably tell them for each other.  Where were we? What time did we get in? Who was in the car? Did we sleep the night before?

But tonight we share peripheral moments and inner monologues that we’ve each held close for the last nine years. We have told snippets of them in the past, but never like this. Never to each other like this.  We let our regrets be regrets and our hurt be hurt in a way that I don’t think the three of us ever had together before.

We talked about being too close, too far away, too late, and too tired. We talked about the people who made us angry, the ones who hurt us, and the ones who gave us life.  We talked about how our situations were imperfect and draining and how awful it was to experience death so young. People who are the ages we were have trouble doing the right thing in ordinary situations, much less life-altering ones.

Like the northern lights, our stories dance and flow, contrasting and harmonizing all at once.  I am surprised that such revelations are possible after so many years. My own history seems a little clearer in the light of their stories.  At the end of the night our three stories hang as one above our heads and shimmer.

I am so grateful for the series of coincidences that put me in Chicago this weekend.

I am so grateful for the conversation I had with two of my sisters tonight.

I am so grateful for our shared stories.

I am so grateful for the shift in perspective that resulted that I think I needed.

I am so grateful.

 

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.

Writer’s Terror

I have been writing a lot (when I’m writing at all) about writer’s block on my blog lately.  Because it’s on my mind.

Lately I’ve been really good about accomplishing all of the tasks that I want to do on a daily or weekly basis.  Every day I read at least one poem and I read a book for at least half an hour, I write two longhand pages worth of a journal, I try to make conversation with a stranger, I get 30 points in Duolingo, I learn something new, I even floss.

But almost every day my “30 minutes of Writing” goes unchecked.  Because once again, I haven’t managed to find 30 minutes of my time to devote to doing what is supposedly one of my life forces.

It’s pathetic.

There is so much that I could write about.  So it’s not that I don’t have ideas.

Father’s Day is coming up again and somehow every new Father’s Day brings with it new revelations about what it means to not have a living father anymore.  I have already written the first paragraph in my head, but it hasn’t edged any closer to either screen or paper.

I’ve written two thirds of what I think could be a really great children’s story, although it probably is not the picture book that I originally envisioned.  I wrote the first section more than a month ago.  The second section earlier this week.  Who knows when the third section will be written?  Hopefully sooner than the month that it took last time.

I’ve wanted to start a blog (I think I actually did create it several months ago, but I forgot my login credentials) in which I review different things like plays, movies, books, restaurants, etc.  But…I just don’t.  There are so many people already saying what they think on the internet, that it is sometimes difficult for me to see the need to add one more shout to an already overwhelming horde.

A friend of mine and I recently made a bunch of Fireball recipes.  I had mentioned that I might write a blog about the things we made.  I didn’t.  She finished hers in less than 24 hours.

So it isn’t writer’s block.

I have plenty to say.

Instead, it seems to be part fear and part exhaustion that keeps me from writing seriously.

In the last year I have slowly returned to my childhood dream of being a writer, but I’ve lost the focus of childhood. I have ideas, but I don’t know what I want to write.

When I was young, stories flowed like rapids through my being.  It was easy to write because I was so full of things to say and stories to tell that they fell out of me in games I played with my siblings and in stories I told to my cousins when we were supposed to be sleeping and, when I didn’t have people around me, they were scrawled into composition notebooks and what were supposed to be journals.

My ideas are still there, but they are not longer torrential.  They drip like spent raindrops off the corners of homes after the storm has passed.  They accumulate quietly and unobtrusively like an underground reservoir that doesn’t expect to be utilized.

The energy is gone and I am left terrified of disturbing the pacific nature of the pool containing my inspiration. What I should probably do is dive in, swim hard, and see how deep the water goes.

At least today I can say that I dipped a toe in.

Shedding Technology

When I was in college I used to do a thing that I called “Tech Free Tuesday”.  I always tried to get people to do it with me, but it was a surprisingly tough sell.

Regardless, every Wednesday night I would turn off my phone and computer and hide them both in a drawer for the next 24 hours.

On my tech-free days I would read, spend time outside, and hang out with anyone who was okay with keeping their screens hidden for as long as we hung out.  I wouldn’t watch movies or television or listen to music.

So it was just me.  Me in the quiet of nature.  Me in the hustle of downtown Chicago, people streaming past me with devices peeking out of their back pockets.  Me on the floor of my room, paintbrush in hand.  Me, baking in the baking. Me, biting into a sandwich at a distraction-free lunch.  Just me.

And the quiet could be overwhelming.

That’s the twisted irony of our devices.  They connect us to so many people that, though on the outside we might seem solitary, in reality we are consumed by the voices of thousands of other people.

The overwhelming nature of the quiet was always exactly what I needed to recenter.

As I’ve grown older, I find that it’s harder to do my tech-free days. I want them just as much as I always have, but I have to be on call and ever-quasi-present online for my work.  Ducking off of social media for 24 hours and not checking emails or texts for 24 hours loses me jobs and annoys people who work with me.

And yet sometimes shit gets heavy and you just need to drop it all for a while.

The other day I deleted every social media themed app off of my phone.  I deactivated my Facebook, which was a pain in the butt because I got booted off of Spotify and Goodreads and probably a few other services that I was lazy about signing up for.

But it feels so good to be cut off from mindless scrolls down pages and the constant barrage of articles that I’m only really halfway interested in.

It feels so good to not be chasing digital versions of people that I shouldn’t be chasing.

It feels so good to have a little space from the masses who usually follow me (though it’s really me following them) everywhere I go.

Now I just need to make it super official, get a tent, and go sit in a forest somewhere for a year.

And I am Writing

It is 1 pm on a Thursday and, according to the last 6 months of my life, I am not where I should be.

According to the last six months of my life I should be doing one of the following things:

1) Taking a rather pitiful lunch break, which would usually consist of me either reading a book over a plate of noodles or running up and down the stairs in an effort to cancel out the hours of sitting I had just suffered through.

Or:

2) Sitting at a desk for hours on end re-emailing or re-calling the same people about the same things I’d asked about the day, the week, the month before and typing their numerical answers into little boxes before saving their emails into digital folders as PDFs.

The work I did in those six months was uninspiring, it was mechanical, it was devoid of challenge, stimulation or social interaction of even the most minute depth. The excessive monotony of it took over other aspects of my life. The art that I like to do slipped through my fingers and I. Did. Nothing.

Two weeks and two days ago I told my boss that the work wasn’t right for me and that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. After two weeks worth of tying up loose ends I left.

And it was lovely.

We ate cupcakes in the office and I made a list of everyone who was currently ignoring me and what questions they were supposed to answer. We talked about how much we had enjoyed each other and I cleared all of the excess paper off of my desk. I clipped things neatly into binders so they could be easily managed and found by my successor. Tasks that usually would have frustrated me in their interminability were suddenly almost enjoyable because, though they would remain interminable, I wouldn’t be the one chasing gray scale rainbows anymore.

When I returned my keys the weight of six months worth of paychecks I appreciated for work that I did not was removed from my chest and I could breathe again.

So today did not begin with the usual screaming alarm at 6 am, followed by a joyless shower, standing breakfast and commute full of the usual jerkfaces cutting people off for no reason.

Instead, I woke up later than I am used to, read for an hour and took pictures of the boyfriend’s cats so he would know I was awake. I did yoga in his kitchen while listening to a Louis CK comedy hour and nibbling on breakfast. I went outside to a spring day, every bit as perfect as yesterday’s. The sun, the breeze, and the budding green accentuated both my relief for one chapter closed and my excitement for the beginning of the next.

And now I am sprawled out on a deck in the suburbs as the wind whips around me. The sun glares out of a perfectly blue sky.

And I am writing.

I am writing.

I am writing.

On What People Think About Vegetarianism

Recently I’ve started this quasi-vegetarian diet, in which I can still have meat, but only if it was harvested in my state or a state touching mine. It’s a carbon-footprint thing.  Preferably (and so far almost exclusively) that meat is either wild game or raised on a small farm.

Being new to this whole quasi-vegetarianism thing, there are a few things that still baffle me a little bit.

“Gross.  This pizza is vegetarian.”

The other day I ordered one vegetarian and one “the works” pizza for a meeting I went to and almost everyone skipped the vegetarian pizza without even opening the box to see what it looked like. It was covered in green and black olives, green peppers, red onions and mushrooms.  It tasted so good.  It looked so good, but because the box said “veg”, no one wanted it.

Don’t get me wrong, I loves me a good meaty pizza, but it makes so little sense to pass up on something because it doesn’t have meat in it.  Like what if I refused to give any dessert a chance unless it involved cake?  Chocolate pudding?  Ew.  Creme brulee?  Gross.  Ice cream?  Wtf.  Cookies?  Hells no, you cannot have a dessert without cake, losers.

Fun side note: at the end of the meeting everyone was grabbing a last slice of pizza and someone made a snarky comment about the vegetarian option.  “I dare you to look at that pizza and tell me it looks gross.”  He rather abashedly admitted that it looked good.  Someone else looked over his shoulder and exclaimed over the green olives he hadn’t noticed.

There is so much delicious food that does not have meat in it.  Similarly, there are plenty of foods that kind of suck even though they have meat in them.  Using the source of protein in a dish as the primary measuring stick for how good it is going to be is childish and, dare I say it, stupid.

Don’t be stupid.

The Vegetarian Menu

It is weirdly difficult to find items on menus without meat in them.

Appetizers:  Plenty of sliders, chicken fingers, tacos filled with meat, etc. And then a veggie spring roll that your host warns you also has a little chicken in it. Or a veggie platter that is only celery and carrots.  Wheeee.
Salads:  Maybe one of them will not have meat sprinkled all over it.
Sandwiches:  One veggie option.  Even if it is a sandwich store.
Burgers:  Again, one veggie option.  I mean seriously, how hard is it to have two options with, like, a different cheese or sauce or combination of toppings on it?  That’s all any other burger is.  Same beef patty with different toppings.  Also, can we please get more portabella burgers everywhere.  Those things are make me drool.
Entrees:  Chicken centered dish.  Pork centered dish.  Steak centered dish.  Seafood centered dish.  Pasta…with your choice of bacon, lobster, steak, chicken, etc.  You want something vegetarian?  Get that one salad that doesn’t have meat on it.
Desserts:  OMG SUDDENLY IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE SOMETHING WITHOUT MEAT WHAT HAPPENED SOMEONE TALK TO THE COOK WE HAVE A PROBLEM WHERE IS THE CANDIED BACON.

The Vegetarian Tax

Usually, I don’t mind getting the vegetarian option, but it is frustrating to go to a place, see no vegetarian options, and be told that you can order the same thing as everyone else and just ask them to hold the meat, as though meat is that onion that you don’t like or something.

So you’re telling me that I can order something off of your menu, ask them to take off the most substantial part of that order and pay exactly what everyone else pays.

#thanksobama

“I could never be a vegetarian.  I like meat too much.”

This is the one that really irks me.  Mostly because I’ve used this line plenty of times myself, but now that I’m on the receiving end of it, I realize how little sense it makes.

Before I go any further, let’s take a moment to remember that I’m not a vegetarian.  I’m coming at this argument as someone who also loves and eats meat.

With that in mind, saying that you couldn’t be a vegetarian because you like meat is very much like saying:

“I could never stop drinking.  I like wine too much.”
“I could never stop smoking.  I like cigarettes too much.”
“I could never leave the office as early as 5.  I like working too much.”
“I could never give to charity.  I like spending money on myself too much.”

And yes, these are definitely things that people say.  But we react to them differently because if someone 1)  drinks too much they’re an alcoholic, 2) smokes they’re giving themselves lung cancer, 3) is always in the office they’re destroying their family life, and 4) only ever spends their money on themselves (and has the means to do otherwise) they’re selfish.  Every single one of those excuses is justifiably met with an eye roll.

If I was you right now, my reaction would be this:  “I get what you’re saying, Holly, but you can’t compare things like alcoholism to eating meat.  Alcoholism is a disease.  It destroys relationships and peoples’ bodies.  Eating meat doesn’t hurt anyone but animals and hullo food chain.  It’s falls completely within the natural order of things for animals to eat other animals.  Plus, people can drink and work in moderation and what people do with their money is their own business.  And smoking is gross.  Steak is not gross.”

Since those are my would-be reactions, obviously I agree with you.  Eating meat will not destroy your body or your relationships and every example I gave above (with the possible exception of smoking) can be done in moderation. Just like eating meat.

However, it’s significantly more rare for a person to be concerned their meats’ origin or environmental impact than things like the balance of their work and personal life or how many drinks are consumed in a night.  Which is not surprising.  The effects of drinking too much in a night or not spending enough time with your family are much more obvious than something as obscure as the carbon emitted by the meat industry before your food ever even gets to you, but the statistics are there.

The Carbon Foodprints of Different Diets

This photo is linked to its source, which has more carbon footprint food information.

Just as a friendly reminder:  I eat meat.  I had bacon last weekend (my farmer’s market has THE BEST BACON).  The best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had used beef broth and I was all about that shit.  My favorite dinner is chicken fried with kale OR, like, a giant plate of cheese and prosciutto and sausage and smoked fish with a baguette on the side and a glass of the smokiest red wine you can find.

I am definitely not attacking anyone who eats meat, because I get it, dudes.

However, as intelligent thinking creatures, I think we can agree that it is ridiculous to say “I can’t do *insert good thing here* because I like *insert contrapositional pleasurable thing here* too much?”

Fucking join the club.  Sometimes you don’t get to do the things that you like as much as you’d like because you’re a human and humans are supposedly smart enough to realize that the choices they make have ramifications.

This brings us back full circle to the conclusion of my first point:  do what you do, love what you do, think about what you do and, above all else:

Don’t be stupid.

On Writer’s Block

I came here today to delete my last post.  The one from January 29th that’s right below this one.  The one that slowly trudges toward zero and that surprised all of us by actually grinding to a halt at -5.

The reason I was going to delete this post is because a couple nights ago my Mum and I were chatting and she told me that it was the worst post of mine she’d ever read.

Before you get all righteously indignant on my behalf (thanks, me too), both my Mum and I tend to say things a little more forcefully than we mean to.  Because of this I took what she said with a grain of salt, but, much like salt, her words still stung a little.  I thought about it for a little bit and then I tried really hard not to think about it and then I thought about it some more because HOW COULD I NOT. Even when you know that the thing you made wasn’t a masterpiece, you still don’t want to think that it’s bad, much less something that someone called “the worst”.

Long story short, it got to me.

I decided to delete it.

But I must be a bit of a masochist, because I decided to read it first, fully expecting to be embarrassed and to feel awkward and to feel absolutely nothing but a sweet sense of relief upon hitting that delete button.

I didn’t, though.

And the post is still up.

The post is staying up.

Turns out, I like it.

I didn’t write it to be read, and I only posted it after it was complete and I realized that if I didn’t post it I would have failed to accomplish one of my goals for the day.  There is a certain beauty in things that aren’t created for an audience.

Was it flowery in parts?  Yeah?  Was it collar-tuggingly confessional in others?  Maybe a little.

But it worked and I liked reading it.  It was a pretty honest expression of what it feels like to have one thing that you really want to be doing and another thing that keeps getting in the way of the thing you love.  It was, simply, an expression of writer’s block, and it was not illiterate.

One of the goals that I have set for myself is to write 500 words a day, which is a struggle sometimes.  I didn’t do it yesterday.  I took a nap and watched a movie instead.  (Speaking of which, watch Virunga).  I didn’t do it the day before because I was taking a bath.  I didn’t do it the day before that, either, because I was busy for other reasons.  It was probably just as stupid of a reason, honestly.

Clearly the habit hasn’t stuck yet.

But every once in a while I get frustrated and I actually follow through with the goal and my words appear on paper or on a screen and even if I’m the only one who likes them, I think I’ll let them live.