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Saturday, January 03, 2004
And an artist has to spill, eh? Especially we failures. Successes have their money, their fun, their respect, their activity, their satisfaction to enjoy. We have our story to tell and that's fucking IT. Begrudge me that, willya?
Let's skip the brutal experience of organizing and enduring Dad's sendoff. The funeral directors were surprisingly naked in their zeal for immediate, exorbitant payment. They moved from mock-tenderness to steely avarice as fast as a record biz cocksucker goes from initial sneer to final brush-off. But that's just par for life on Earth.
Let me remember the friends who came and called and wrote, and the love that they brought. Dad had an acute bullshit meter, and good people stood tall in his regard. Nothing else impressed him. My family was surrounded by people like that through that cold, horrible week.
Immediately after Dad's burial, Mom got very ill. The flu or something. Antibiotics. In order to keep the babies safe we had to keep them away from her. So, commencing with the blizzard, she was stuck ailing in bed with Brian caring for her. The less said about Brian's state the better, but I was proud of his determination to take care of her when nobody else could. She talks about dying... selling the house... various things one would rather not discuss. She does rise and shine when we bring the babies over, so maybe that indicates enough "oomph" to help her survive awhile and enjoy what remains. Money looks bad all around.
Dad's birthday was December 20th. Rough day. By then we were able to bring Miles and Lily to see her. Everyone got through.
In the meantime, the looming holidays. Me smoking again. Gifts ordered too late for timely delivery, no time to prepare for Christmas and no desire at all to even bother with it all. No tree, no cards to send, no eagerness at fucking all. The 3 hours of sleep we average a night with the babies blends with grief and depression to make one rather addled, and not very much seems to get done ...or matter.
I love Christmas passionately. Knowing from too early in life the depths of darkness in Dickens and Capra, I have never viewed their happy epiphanies as in any way corny or false. Nor, god knows, easy. I know that the world is full of pollyanna douchebags who never acknowledge yonder shadows, but I also know there are legions of bitter-bitten frauds who have not earned the sarcastic perspective from which they seek to beshit all beauty. Most of us can appreciate the contrasts in those works; we've personally sweated "this fever called living" enough to recognize how tightly the grim and the glorious are intertwined.
Religion-wise, I still love the hymns (God or no god, they are holy), but largely regard this as a secular American holiday celebrating kin, auld acquaintance and life by means of (symbolic / actual) consumption / consumerism. I do not mean this to sound negative or smart-assed; it's a valid series of traditions and aspirations in spite of anything hippies, pinheads and holy-rollers think.
After an especially bleak December, Xmas Eve came along. I decided to go over the folks' house and help clean the place up a bit for the next day's gathering of our remaining family. There were very few visible signs of the holiday in that house where so many years of laughter and love were celebrated on so many December 25ths. Things are hard enough for Mom without a stark, somnabulist Christmas day. It wouldn't do. If nothing else, there were 3 absolute musts:
The nativity creche my Mom made while she was pregnant with me.
The village of paper houses and lead skaters that had ringed the tree every year of my life (and well before).
The tree itself, that fine pagan symbol of winter revels.
After Mom went to bed, I snuck outside, quietly opened the noisy cellar door and crept about the basement getting old totems out of old boxes. I'd made a few visits to Xmas tree vendors beforehand, but it was too late. I considered climbing a fence and stealing one, but I'm too old and unhealthy. Fortunately, I found a small plastic one in the basement, never used, which someone had given us years ago. So I quietly brought the creche and skaters and treelet and lights upstairs and decorated the house.
Dad had always watched me do the decorations in the weeks before the holiday, making deliberately annoying suggestions all the while ("Hey... you have too much blue over here... that space there needs something..." oy!). Xmas Eve was always me and him. I'd be doing last-minute wrapping as we watched some concert on TV... The Messiah or Yule Log or one of those things (He loved "Silent Night" and "Little Drummer Boy" ...his pretentious son favored "Sheep May Safely Graze" and 'O Come O Come Emanuel"). We'd have a nip of whiskey and quietly reflect on the occasion. He'd always smile and comment on the magical effect of the lights on the tree, as if this was the best one ever (and it always was: we were together RIGHT THEN). Midnight was when I'd go get the Jesus figure (it was kept out of the scene - hidden away until then) and place it into the creche, officially beginning Christmas proper. Btw, a hint to all my Christmas-celebrating brethren: don't want to waste Xmas and Xmas Eve consorting with your (probably temporary) mate's insufferable, dickbag relatives? Marry a Jewess. There are another million equally good reasons, but that's a solid one)
I was not completely forlorn this time, despite Dad's absence. Too busy. But when I realized there was no holiday music to accompany my tasks, loneliness blew in the window. The TV had some obnoxious shit on it... Judge Judy or some wretched fucking MTVideo, I dunno... so I flipped to ch 21 or 13, where there'd usually be some bunch of Rollos falsettoing "The Holly and the Ivy" or something.
It was, in fact "An Irish Christmas" this time, and I took this as a fair chance to imagine that Dad was reminding me he was with me, as always before (If this kind of "message" is a delusion, it's no more silly a delusion than the idea of human decency or hope or the sanctity of life, all of which are completely provisional, elastic and subjective... Gimme Dad and keep your philosophies of irrelevant "reality").
Anyway, satisfied with the possibility that Seamus was sending an astral hi-de-ho, I completed the home-trimminz.
The effort paid off. Mom was delighted with the scene greeting her when she woke up, and it occurs to me now that this was a small payback for all those childhood Christmas mornings where Petie and I would rush downstairs in our pajamas to discover a wonderland of toys, sounds, smiling faces and colors. Shit, we were lucky kids. I still love toys, and that's why. They're holy relics of those years and they hold a whiff of the joy, and I want to remember the feeling and give it to Lily and Miles. Toys and colors and music.
Lots of toys this Christmas. Old and new ones, and a lovely bodhran and a set of Dean Martin TV shows on tape. And the dwindling family still managing to smile more often than you'd expect. Me and Maureen watched a wretched "Babes In Toyland" with the incomparably talentless Keanu Reeves and a very young Drew Barrymore. We also joined Mom in viewing an old Miss Universe Pageant ('69... Miss Israel tells Bob Barker she speaks little English, so he sez: "That's OK; you can give your answer in Yiddish!"), among other diversions. Mom breaks down often and often laughs with Lily in her lap. We hope the laughter trumps the breakdowns.
Many friends again, sending holiday cheer. I'm lucky. Maybe it's time to look away from the unattained victories and survey instead the unacknowledged triumphs.
I have a tin litho toy guitar Shelley gave me this past birthday. It is, of course fairly untunable, but I landed on an "it'll do" tuning. It's a poly-atonal open chord with which I've worked out a pattern I play habitually. It's a bass note-pluck / chord-rake / neck bend lick that nobody would recognize as music but which hold for me the same "all of music" compression of certain Ives moments. I tried to get something of that across on Magic Beans... the way music binds me still to Bobby (and, as it happened later, Pete) (and, now, Dad), bridging the gulf between childhood's dreams and adulthood's disasters... spanning the vast, sobbing void between today and yesterday. Pretty tunes and neat, coherent arrangements cannot hold all that. You need dense, mythic noise and ambiguous, wispy arpeggios. You need bluntness and nonsense and screams of confusion and dirty jokes all at once to even approach IT.
And how many people have ears for that or minds, hearts or souls for it? Still, you need to TRY and do it. If not, then what else? My Dad has sent me musical comfort twice by now.
Maybe more music will have to be made in the spirit of my Xmas Eve "elfwork" in the house.
More life has to be lived, at any rate.
I need a splash of daylight on these silent-movie eyes.
Excelsior, you fatheads!
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