It’s been a good long while since I actually wrote any sort of real blog post. I took the month of January off of all my blogging duties, including Make Mine Mystery, Fatal Foodies, and my own Zhadi’s Den. I did manage one hostess duty turn at Un:Bound for Ravenous Wednesday and a couple of quick posts, and I’ve slowly been hacking away at my WIP, but pretty much it’s been a barren desert in my head as far as creative inspiration.
I have a pretty good reason for this. As most of you who read my blog know, my dad passed away on December 27th and we very recently had the funeral service Monday, February 1st (a day before my birthday, actually). Most of my experience with death and loss has been with my pets, so processing something this life-changing has been challenging.
I know a lot of writers who use stress and grief to fuel their creative fire and lose themselves in their work. I have never been one of those writers. Stress and sorrow incapacitate me, my brain goes into vapor lock mode, and all I want to do is sleep or walk. I have done a lot of walking over the last month, starting with a three and a half hour hike the day after my dad died. I walked from my office down in the Financial District to my home, out by the SF Zoo and Ocean Beach. Lots of hills, lots of greenery, lots of miles. My legs and butt definitely had a few things to say about the fact I forgot to stretch out after I got home, but I won’t repeat them. They weren’t very polite.
One of the issues connected with Dad’s death that I’ve been processing is based on something he said to me many years ago, after he’d had a few too many drinks. I was in my early twenties and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t remember exactly how or why the conversation turned to my career path, but I will always remember what Dad said to me at the time: “I’d expect a lot more of you if you were a man.”
Wow. What does one even do with something like that? Sure, it was said under the influence of alcohol, but it still had the power to burn into my brain and memory. He might as well have been etched those words in acid on a gauntlet and slapped me across the face with it because that comment made everything I tried to accomplish from that point on an attempt, subconscious or otherwise, to earn my father’s approval.
When I started writing seriously, as in getting a couple of low budget screenplays optioned, publishing short stories and essays, and finally getting my murder mystery published, I never enjoyed the small successes for more than a nano-second because none of it was ever quite good enough to get a ‘well done’ from Dad. I always got the feeling I’d fallen short because I didn’t have that million dollar sale for a screenplay or mega-advance for my book. Sure, I’d come further along the trail than a lot of aspiring writers, but it just wasn’t good enough.
Praise from other people, while welcomed, didn’t register as much as it should have. I was always looking ahead to my next project, tying myself up in knots about it not being good enough, and refusing to pat myself on the back at all to celebrate each of those small victories and steps along the way. In other words, I treated myself like crap and no doubt gummed up my emotional/creative connection many times during the writing process.
Well, now Dad’s gone. I don’t have to prove myself to him any more. Maybe I never had to do so and I certainly didn’t realize until one of those long walks brought me some clarity regarding exactly how much of my life has been about proving myself to be good enough even though I hadn’t been born male. This realization floored me. It both opened up the possibility that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone anymore…and left me feeling totally bereft that I’d never get the chance to do so.
I miss my dad. I think he was proud of me, even if it was behind my back, maybe even proud of the fact that I could write like ‘a drunken misogynistic man,’ (something I took as a serious compliment considering the narrator was a hard-bitten private detective who happened to be a zombie) at least for my story A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat. In fact, I think if I had been a son, he would have loved that story. It was hard for him to get past some of the language considering I was his baby girl.
Now I’m learning to write for myself again. As my sister pointed out, I’ve written since I was old enough to string words together, it’s always been something I’ve just done because I loved it. So time to write for myself again. Towards that end, I got a lovely boost this morning when Loren Rhoads, creator and editor of Morbid Curiosity Magazine and the anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, posted this link on my Facebook page. It reminded me of the pleasure I got out of writing those essays as well as made me realize my writing has touched other people (sometimes they laugh, sometimes they go ‘eeeuwww!’) , and that Dad’s remark uttered way back in the mists of time also shaped me into who I am now and possibly made me a better writer.
So Dad, I’m tipping back a bit of Scotch in your honor… and putting on the following song by Blood, Sweat and Tears because it’s what I had playing in my head when I said goodbye to you Monday. If ever a song captured your essence, this is it:
I’m not scared of dying,
And I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin
‘Cause it’s cold way down there.
I hear that its cold way down their.
Yeah, crazy cold way down their.
And when I die, and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on,
to carry on.
Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.
Yes only my dying will tell.
Yeah, only my dying will tell.
Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.
Oh I want to go naturally.
Here I go,
Here comes the devil,
Look out children,
Here he comes!
Here he comes! Hey…
Don’t want to go by the devil.
Don’t want to go by demon.
Don’t want to go by Satan,
Don’t want to die uneasy.
Just let me go naturally.
and when I die,
When I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born in our world to carry on,
To carry on.
Lovely post. If it’s any comfort (probably not) I think he and a lot of other men of his generation were really confused in general about how to regard women and especially their daughters. To call him the bearer of “mixed messages” doesn’t begin to cover it!
I’ve been singing the soundtrack to Hair, personally…
So much of what you shared resonated with me. I’m quite sure it did for many who read your post, but do not necessarily leave a comment like I am doing. You see, we all have descriptives and evaluations that are “put on us” in life and ones we give ourselves. Some of us are lucky to have people that shelter us from harm, others inadvertently inflict it.. some just have a way to keep us moving forward, even if they try to make us move sideways.
When I was young, similar to you..my father, after drinking, once cornered me in the hall and essentially ridiculed my “stomach” and my body .. as a young boy, I didn’t get a dad that wanted to perhaps “model” helpful advice. He just wanted to be negative and hurtful. I was 8 or 9. How much more empowering it would have been to have heard “gee, son, I don’t want to have you experience some of the health issues I have, so let’s make a date to walk after dinner together…” or “Can you be dad’s buddy and help me with my exercise. I think we both will feel better”… Iinstead I got his horrific exchange that was never once repeated or spoken of…but never, ever left me… then, as a mature gay man, off to see the world, my dad cornered me before getting on a plane to move to CA and “nicely” said he thought I’d have a very “lonely life” and for their part, he and my mom didn’t want to have anything to do with my bringing someone home at holidays, etc. Well, you imagine how “surprised” I was when over the course of many years, I met gay men/peer groups that seemed to have taken a page out of my dad’s play book. They often wouldn’t think twice about mentioning I wasn’t their type or I was heavy.. and indeed, I have had a considerable amount of “alone” time, but I’m not lonely. I suspecte MANY people have fathers and mothers that had careless words slip out. My dad and your dad and many children of men like them.. walk along us and don’t realize how they affect us, but the beauty of life’s seasons is that we can move from one to another and change- just like the weather. Your dad and my dad and their “faults” and limitations in what they may have “said”, were not from a place that has him as a villian. But it’s true they registered in not-so-heroic ways.
When I went to a medium recently, I had a strange encounter with my “dad”.. not sure if you believe in this, but without any knowledge of my history, the “medium” said my dad was there and wanted to “apologize”.. he said “please tell my son I love him, am proud of him and what I did came from a place of fear”. That was tremendously powerful to hear. Truth is I probably “heard” that within myself many times, but only AFTER dad died, did I listen. That’s the gift that life seasons give us. You will find in time that those things that we carried for so long do fall away and you see yourself and your dad in very healing ways. I think you’ve already started to listen. it’s a wonderful noise.
Much love and keep walking!!!!
I’m so sorry for your loss, I know I said it before, but it never hurts to say it again. I know, too, that struggle for acceptance that tough girls want from their fathers — and often don’t get. I’m glad you’re getting to writing for yourself. You can’t control what other people do or say. The only audience you can know for sure is yourself. I can’t imagine what it really feels like to lose your father, but I can bet it’s going to continue to affect things for some time to come.
A nice tribute to your dad and the strength he gave you. Well done — the video is terrific, too! Glad to see you back blogging. Hope it continues. Best to you.
I was having the same thought as otherlisa. Our parents were the last generation where most women stayed neatly inside their assigned gender-expectation boxes. We, their daughters, climbed out of those boxes “in numbers too big to ignore”. While our mothers stood behind us, cheering us on, wishing they could have done the same, our fathers kind of got broadsided by it all.
THanks, all, for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Lisa and Peggy, I think you’re right about the whole gender expectation/generational issue. And it is kind of comforting.
Matt, you and I have talked about parental issues before… and thank you for sharing your story here with my readers. I’m glad you got some closure with your dad from your visit to the medium! And I will walk until my legs stop working. 🙂
Kate, thank you. I’m glad this post came across as a tribute to Dad ’cause it was, albeit in a rather odd way…
I also have to point out that whoever wrote down the lyrics on the website I pulled them from spelled ‘there’ wrong. It’s not ‘crazy cold way down their.’ It’s ‘crazy cold way down there.’ Silly…
Hey love, you are awesome!
I wish I had found this and read this before I came to the S in C meeting. Glad you spotted that typo. I’m hoping to break out of my own gender assigned box myself, but as I’m almost 50 I hope it’s not too late.
Thanks, Adele. You’re pretty awesome yourself!
Maddy, I don’t think it’s ever too late… sometimes it’s just a bit more work, getting the emotional muscle memory to cooperate. It was really nice to meet you yesterday, btw!
Sorry to respond so late. We were visiting Sue’s relatives in Alabama when this was posted. I don’t know if I can add anything significant to what your other friends have already said, though I can say this: my dad never told me what he expected of me. I suppose it should have been self-evident but some information would have been nice.
As it was, I disappointed him (I was never active physically, always had my nose in a book). We never had much of a relationship though we mended things toward the end. So I guess we just have to keep going on as best we can. It’s not what I would want but it’s what we have.
Thank you again for sharing yourself. I have learned to appreciate you more than you mioght imagine. Keep flying! LOL. 🙂
Jack, given your generous nature, I fail to see how your dad would be anything less than proud of you if he were alive to see you now!
Thank you Zhadi. Your own generosity makes you shine brightly. My world is definitely brighter for having met you.
I know exactly where you’re coming from, Matt. It has to be part of the baggage our dad’s were handed by their parents. At least you did have some closure through your dad’s message. You will never be alone because you share yourself every chance you get. Shine on, friend!
just wanted to echo the sentiments posted already & let you know i’m thinking about you. as always, i admire your strength and way with words.