Prince, My Granny, and The Meaning of Life

grannyp

I didn’t know Prince. Though I was lucky enough to attend a few of his shows, I actually passed on several opportunities to meet him. Growing up in Hollywood, I’d developed an intense aversion to celebrity worship and any sort of fawning or buying into that hierarchy. I’d heard enough firsthand accounts of the fickleness of Prince and the precariousness of interacting with him to know that, given my tendency to be awkwardly forthright, I’d “accidentally” say hello to him without being invited to or I’d spout off about some detail of some facet of some thing that crossed some seemingly arbitrary line.

In retrospect, I was a fucking idiot. There was always the chance that my spirit would have resonated with Prince’s. Or, perhaps more likely, I would have been banished in humiliation. Either way, I’d have a memory to cherish.

Why cherish?

It’s reasonable to say that without Prince my own precious children wouldn’t exist. Mathieu, (my ex and father of our kids) credits Prince with fueling his passion for music and sparking his desire to move from France to the U.S. to work in the industry.

When we first got together in our early twenties, his preoccupation with Prince struck me as juvenile. I had long since outgrown my “Prince phase.”

Even though my own step-dad* had worked with Prince and I had grown up in the music business, I had NO idea the scope of his genius. I got schooled. Fast. Rare footage, unreleased tracks, hours of exposure. Prince on bass, Prince on drums, Prince on piano, Prince tearing up the guitar, Prince singing a cappella, falsetto, baritone … hours and hours of eduction that segued into exposure to Prince’s influences: George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic), Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Shuggie Otis, Richie Havens, Betty Davis, too many to list, most of whom had slid by my radar while I was busy following the popular tide from Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, toward alternative music and only occasionally looking back to worship the Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Guess Who and a few other rock and rollers embedded from my youth.

Mathieu’s love for Prince as an artist transcended idol worship. It was founded. That’s why I was able to appreciate it. Prince was blended into the fabric of our relationship in a way I never realized until his death—his music the soundtrack to the most consequential relationship of my life. It doesn’t necessarily make it anymore personal or profound for me than for others, it just contextualizes my own swell of emotions.

On the heels of Prince’s death, my kids and I traveled to Toronto to attend a Canadian music industry event honoring my step-dad for his years of artist management. It was one of the highlights of my life to see his decades of work acknowledged. Prince had said of him that he was, “one of the good ones.” Quite a compliment, and I agree.

Following the festivities, we headed to Montreal to visit my grandmother. She had recently turned 99. Yes, 99.

Though several years had passed since I’d seen her, I’d been forewarned that she was in bad shape. No longer speaking coherently. Immobile. Photos of her broke my heart. I steeled myself for the visit.

I’m sure no one loves visiting old folks’ homes. I have a particular aversion. My biological father died of brain cancer when I was 12. His final weeks were spent in a convalescent hospital. Watching this handsome, vital 42 year old man, disintegrate into a corpse, fostered my subsequent preoccupation with the lack of fairness and probable futility of life. Further fueling this cynicism were the haunting memories of hallways full of abandoned elderly men and women. My guilt for not rescuing them, with their pleading eyes, is only assuaged now because they’re all deceased (it’s been 32 years).

The corridors of my granny’s nursing home evoked scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Classical music played from an unidentifiable source. Lining the walls were rows of wheelchairs filled with photo-doubles of the elderly I’d struggled both to look at and away from three decades prior. It hurt. I’m a grown woman and my teenage boys were with me so I kept it together, but my chest was full of ancient emotion welling up and threatening to burst.

99 years is a long, long, long time.

There she sat. Once the paragon of dignity—having been widowed and charged with raising two children alone—the matriarch, the vocal, self-possessed, sassy, always donning matching jewelry and coiffed hair, strong-willed woman—was now relegated to a babbling, half-blind, subsisting, almost-angel with thin strands of hair inadequately shrouding her scalp. She’d be mortified if she knew. I prayed she didn’t.

We had what was, under the circumstances, a wonderful visit. My teenage boys were delightful with her. There was no way to discern if she knew who they were, but she set her one able eye on whichever boy was in front of her and the light of life and love shone through. If she wasn’t marveling at the radiant innocence and promises of futures that stood before her, I certainly was. And as I watched my step-dad kiss his mother’s forehead, witnessed him somehow, magically rouse giggles out of her, connect beyond the crassness of common interactions—those we take for granted, fail to follow up on for confirmation that our words have been comprehended, that our intentions represented, our love received—as I watched this subtle exchange, I felt both profound grief at the inevitability of loss and relief that the essence of devotion exists in another realm. In that moment, there was palpable evidence.

Prince was 100% Prince. More-so than most of us will be our full selves for even a week, he was his full self for decades. That’s not a projection. I’m not pretending to know him or pulling this out of my ass. It’s common knowledge. One of the strongest sensations I had in the aftermath of his death was a desire to muster the courage to be myself. Just to know what it feels like to take all the constraints off and be a vessel for something pure to emerge. I know that sounds like esoteric new-agey word salad. It is. But, I’m trying here. I mean, the specter of death looms for all of us. We’re always balancing our will to live and thrive against our awareness of mortality. What we do in between means absolutely everything and absolutely nothing.

My granny lived a more simple life. Her purpose was to put food on the table, raise decent humans, eventually love a second husband until his death, be a granny, and now … I guess, keep living until she doesn’t anymore. I really struggle with this, the notion of purposefulness as pertains to someone confined to a life without the option of purpose. Maybe her purpose is to expand the hearts and compassion of those who love her. I don’t know.

This past January, my granny had her 100th birthday. My father died at 42. Prince passed at 57. People die tragically young everyday, yet my 100 year old granny continues to breathe enough oxygen to stay alive. I’ll never be able to reconcile the randomness of that. Trying to make sense of it just plunges me into an existential vortex reminiscent of my teenage episodes.

What’s it all for?

I wish I could impart some concise profound wisdom, but we all know it’s impossible to fully intellectualize our existence in this realm, in this incarnation. I feel pretty certain it’s a worthwhile pursuit to strive to be our uninhibited selves and to connect with the world and each other from that authentic place. Beyond that, for now, I’ll defer to the simple, jarring eloquence of the Purple One:

You better live now before the grim reaper comes knocking at your door.

*I only used the term “step-dad” for clarification since I had two fathers, but in every meaningful way, my step-dad is my real dad.

I don’t know wtf to do about the murder of black people in America

I’m white so I generally take a very respectful, reserved approach when speaking of my own pain and grief in watching black men and women needlessly perish at the hands of cops. Murder is what it’s called. Government sanctioned murder. But the truth is, I cry every time. I’m haunted every time. I think of Sandra Bland every single day.

I’m a pacifist, averse to images of violence. I watched the video of Alton Sterling’s murder, not because I’m sadistic, but because we deserve to suffer through watching the horrific truth of what’s being perpetrated on black people. You don’t get to look away. We don’t get to look away.

I saw a man murdered. I immediately recalled the words of Jesse Williams “… we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.” It’s undeniable.

I cried this morning. I tweeted my outrage (as if that does a damn thing). I accompanied my son to a national basketball championship where there were hundreds of young black boys with their doting families. Our own teammates among them. And I struggled to hold back tears. And I wanted to talk about Alton Sterling but that would be a sort of emotional terrorism. We were there to celebrate these dedicated young people and their bright futures. And I kept thinking, it could be him next, or him, or him over there. And I’m white and I know that, as much as I worry about my sons, I have the privilege of assuming unless my kid goes way the fuck out of his way to literally force a cop to shoot him, I do NOT need to worry about him being murdered by the police. And, I realize that growing up with his privilege and the safety and security of feeling at ease in his skin, gives him great advantages in every facet of his personal well being. I’m a mother. I worry enough. But I can only imagine parenting, living with this level of fear, alienation, and oppression.

I’m a mother.

I love these kids. Every one of them. I’m not ok with this. I’m not ok with our children growing up in these conditions. I’m not ok with people of color getting fucked economically, educationally, socially, environmentally and then, on top of it, disproportionately incarcerated and murdered.

I’m a white woman. I’m privileged. I know that, but my heart is breaking and it’s not enough to post on Twitter or write a blog post or walk around a coliseum crying with no one even knowing why.

I must do something. We must do something. I honestly don’t know what the fuck to do.

What Loss Can Do

6ae81d5e0d9be37caadcfb373fde0ea9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loss can crack you open

Until you almost break

Or until you break

And either stay broken

Or put the pieces back together

Ignore the cracks?

Embrace the cracks?

Seal the cracks with love and gratitude?

The cracks remain

Loss can make you feel

Too much

Too often

Too fully

Or just enough?

Loss can remind you

That you cared that much

That you could again

That some things do matter

And some things don’t

Loss can make you choose

To live with it

To accept the deal

To risk its barbs

Again

And

Again

Loss can make you

Realize

It’s worth it.

 

On parenting and the speed of time…

IMG_3076-1

I was just speaking with someone who has a six year old.

It brought back memories of those days—long and full of Legos and questions and battles over getting in the bath followed by battles over getting out of the bath. Nights were filled with cuddles and kisses and remembrances of the day, as if the day had been a fairytale set in a long ago time with vibrant characters and morals easily extracted. Having witnessed that innocence so intimately brings me to tears, even now, especially now.

Six years old. That was my younger son’s age when my ex and I split, when we attempted to penetrate his naive determination that things are like this or like that, with an alternate reality, that things are really about to be a whole other way. An inconceivable way.

It’s impossible for me to know if time would have sped up otherwise, but our world spun off its axis and sparked a sort of chaos and warped speed that never slowed. It’s felt like skipping and tripping and sprinting and juggling ever since. Even in my quietest moments I don’t feel I have caught up to the present. It’s better. I’m closer to being in my skin again, like the younger me but with more humility and willingness to cede control.

My kids now tower over me (both more than 6 feet tall) with deep voices and man gestures. I find myself daily saying out loud, “who are you and where did you come from?”

And I think maybe that’s just how parenting goes, no matter how present you are, no matter how conscious of the adage that “time flies so fast,” there is no way to avoid the inevitable moment where you wonder where the time went and how these adult looking people are lumbering through your house, with insatiable appetites and distinct, passionately espoused interests and world views.

I’ll never know how things would have evolved if my marriage hadn’t ended. Life knocks us all on our asses in multiple ways. Perhaps there’s just a limit for how long one can remain in what feels like an intact, manageable existence, to the extent that time doesn’t seem to be running ahead of us.

You tell me? Do you relate? Is this part and parcel to raising kids in general? Specific to divorcees? I can only assume any trauma or upheaval can have such an effect. I’m interested to know how other parents have experienced the passage of time…

More Perspective and Some Great News…

So, last I posted, my best friend was awaiting a surgery date to remove a brain tumor. I’m thrilled to report that her surgery was a success, the tumor was benign, she’s recovering well and back in the flow of her life.

It’s been pretty remarkable to watch her navigate such an emotionally and physically challenging disruption. It’s been inspiring to witness her handle it with grace, dignity and stoicism. That’s not to say she never expressed feelings of fear, frustration and intense discomfort, of course she did. But she moved so quickly into acceptance at each turn and expended the bare minimum of energy on the things over which she had no control.

That’s the great news! She’s alright. And when you think about the possible alternative outcomes, that’s where perspective comes in and profound gratitude.

Do we need to be faced with actual mortal perils to elicit this state of gratitude? Maybe sometimes, especially during tough times, the trick really is to contemplate all of the possibilities of what could be so much worse in order to appreciate what is wonderful in our lives.

Acceptance, perspective, gratitude…all feel very passive but they’re so powerful. I’m looking forward to exploring and expounding on how people hone these skills and rely on them especially in crises.

God-Damn, Mother-Fucking Perspective!

Scan 2I’m certain you’ll excuse my language when I disclose that my best friend was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. So I can cuss as much as I fucking want, right? And blaspheme for good measure?

Talk about limbo, she’s currently waiting for her surgery to be scheduled. She won’t know the outcome or what, if any, permanent damage has occurred until she’s well into the month long initial recovery period (how long does it take to fully recover from brain surgery? No one knows). So, in the meantime, she’s on steroids and pain meds and functioning in the fog, ruminating over the possibilities and maintaining an admirable sense of humor and stoicism.

“Surviving Limbo” has felt like an apt title for a blog about living in-between married and divorced, but since I chose it I’ve felt a subtle shame due to the relatively first world, non-dire nature of such circumstances. It’s certainly a painful inconvenience to struggle with identity and philosophical crises and restructuring a family. It can be life-degrading, even life-threatening but there’s a measure of exaggeration in the application of the word “surviving.” You only have to witness someone truly imperiled to recognize the distinction between lifestyle issues vs. life and death issues.

One of my ambitions has been to broaden my scope and tell other peoples’ stories of surviving limbo, whether facing divorce, mortal threats, or any significant transitions, how we survive and thrive in the midst of ambiguity, doubt, fear and confusion, fascinates me.

It’s dreadful that I now find myself compelled to pursue this course, not by my own self-motivation but by the provocation of my closest, dearest, life-long friend living out the epitome of surviving limbo. I won’t say her name. I won’t tell her story right now (it’s just begun and she may not want it told) but tonight I’m fixated on perspective.

A wise teacher once said, “if you have a problem, you just need a bigger problem.” None of us really need that bigger problem, we just really need to recognize the potential, the frailty of our existence, the fact that we live in a state of limbo from the moment we’re born until the moment we die; the whole of our experience, at least in this incarnation, occurs in the in-between state. All unknown and rich with variables from the most exhilarating and joyous to the dreadful and agonizing. We live here, perpetually. Sometimes, that is highlighted by surprises, like an unexpected love affair, employment opportunity, or … brain tumor.

So, how we live and thrive in this overall limbo can be informed by how we live and thrive in the most challenging and traumatic limbos. These are the stories I want to explore and share in the hopes of providing insights, inspiration and perspective.

To be continued…

Photo: Miles Bitton

Time to Buck the Fuck Up!

Ugh, I feel like such a wimp sometimes. The demise of my marriage completely knocked me on my ass — to a degree that is very hard to rationalize. Though I know many can relate to my experience and of course I understand my own psyche, I’ve often said to myself, “come on, big fucking deal, your marriage ended, happens all the time, get over it already.”

Well, I’m finally over it. I mean over the break up, over the loss of the vision I had for myself and my kids, over the disappointment.

But one of the most annoying things about traumatic events is that typically when it rains it pours. It’s like when a boxer is on the ropes — that moment of weakness leaves him open for more hits and the more times he gets hit the harder it will be for him to get back up. But he gets back up, he has to. And you just don’t know until the damn thing ends if that worn out bruised and bloody disoriented mess of a person is going to pull it all together and win the match.

I’m not bruised and bloody, but I was a disoriented mess of a person for a long stretch after my husband left. And I’d get back up and get hit back down. Whether it was drama with the ex, dating disappointments, work prospects falling through, a friend’s betrayal, or some other let down, every hit seemed to weaken me further. Each blow sent me spiraling back into that pit of insecurity, with panic attacks, nightmares and pervasive self-doubt. The thing is though, each time the recovery has been shorter and more informative.

This shit comes with the territory of being human. I’m not in a war-torn country, I am not starving — I am not suffering the fate of many, if not most, people on this planet. I am simply alive and facing the music.

So, today it occurred to me that I need to buck the fuck up. It doesn’t mean I won’t be sad or feel insecure or get hurt again, it just means I need to keep my big girl panties on and keep going.

At the bare minimum, bucking the fuck up can mean just staying alive. Yes, that counts. If you’re depressed, just staying alive is brave and bold. And hopefully from there it is getting out of bed, engaging in life, taking some risks. And if you get hit one, or two, or three times, take a breather, lick your wounds, and then get back in there. None of us know what is coming next and when some gust of inspiration, fortitude, or kismet might propel us forward.

It would be so lovely if we could give ourselves credit for getting up off the ropes and back in the ring. When in the midst of despair, it takes great courage to respond with a renewed commitment to risk loving, caring, and engaging in life. It takes awareness to appreciate that it may seem to get worse before it gets better, that our resolves may be challenged over and over again. This is how the best stories unfold, how we get to know our own strengths and weaknesses and how we discover who we really are and how to fulfill our own potentials.

There are so many diverse and inspiring quotes about courage. When I read them I feel humbled and sort of ridiculous for thinking there is anything particularly unique about my journey. The greatest thinkers have made it explicitly clear that they had to buck the fuck up and so must we.

Sometimes it Hurts

I don’t have to tell you that sometimes it hurts. You know that.

But I want to tell you. Because it’s easy to forget that everyone struggles. It’s easy to take it personally when things fall apart. It’s easy to surmise that we are each so uniquely flawed and alone in our doubts, insecurities and suffering.

I wonder how we make this mistake, allow this delusion to disguise itself as realty—that somehow others have it easier, are loved more, feel better more often. It’s really a crock of shit. Continue reading

Divorce, Shame and What Century Are We In?

I have these bouts of feeling back in my skin. Thinking I’ve found my new normal and having regained my confidence, I put myself out there in one way or another — professionally, socially, romantically. Before long, I find myself cowering in my cave, wanting to shelter myself from the inevitable slings and arrows of real life.

I’m in the cave stage at the moment. Continue reading

Death, Divorce and “The War of Art” …

It’s been over five years now since my husband and I split up and about three and a half since I gave up any hope for reconciliation.

Looking back, what fascinates me most is how I could have possibly sunk so low, how my identity and sanity could have been so rattled by the unilateral move of another human being. It’s not that I don’t understand intellectually—my family is everything to me. But, how could I have forgotten the inevitability of loss and suffering in some form? How could I have deemed myself immune from having my reality shattered in one way or another? Continue reading