Prince, My Granny, and The Meaning of Life

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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.

What Loss Can Do

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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…

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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.

Life Lesson: “You can’t just play defense!”

Silhouette of a Teen Boy shooting a BasketballLast week my dad came to watch my 12 year old son’s basketball game. The opposing team was really aggressive but our team was maintaining a fat lead (around 15 points). I turned to my dad and said, “They just have to keep them from shooting right? Just hold them off to win this thing.” My dad’s gaze shifted from the court straight to me and with exasperation, he exclaimed, “What? No, that’s not how you win. You can’t just play defense!”

Immediately I personalized this comment. With a chuckle, I affirmed, “yeah dad, I get it, you’re right.” His focus was back on the game when I muttered, “hmm, this could explain a lot. I’ve been playing defense. It might be time for me to play offense.” I hadn’t even intended for him to hear that part but he swung his head, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “yeah, it is time for you to play offense. Get moving.”

The game turned into a nail biter with both teams playing hard and giving 100%. My son’s team won by only a few points. No doubt, if they had let up at all, it would have been a loss.

Ever since, I just haven’t been able to get my dad’s message out of my head. Only a month ago I wrote about feeling like a fighter on the ropes needing to stay in the ring. I’m tough. I’m ready. On alert. I’m playing defense. All the time. No wonder I’m exhausted. No wonder it’s hard to muster, not just energy, but enthusiasm.

We all take hits in life and get thrown off our game. It’s so interesting to me to suddenly become aware that ever since my husband left my approach to life has been one of warding off trauma and difficulties—protecting myself, protecting my kids and doing a great job of it for sure. But not fully directing my own life, not really living 100%.

Dad’s wisdom was so simple and so universal. Now, I’m contemplating how I can translate my awareness into action. I know for one thing, I’m going to have to start taking more risks.

This was my son’s first season playing basketball and he had the guts to take shots when he wasn’t sure he could make it. It looked like fun and it worked. His whole team took and missed a lot of shots but ended the season undefeated. I’m going take a nod from those champs and start doing the same.

 

Well, That Went Fast!

2015twoIt feels like just a minute ago I was whining about being alone on Christmas, kissing off 2013, and gearing up for a stellar 2014. 

Christmas turned out just fine but my ambitious plans for 2014 were swiftly thwarted. The rest of the year, well, let’s just say it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The entire planet seems to have gone berserk (too many examples to link to) and personally, I accomplished less than I’d hoped.

So, here we are, just days from Christmas 2104, and I suppose it’s progress that I’m not plagued with sadness over the state of my awkward family. I think I’ve arrived at a place of tolerable acceptance and that’s quite a relief.

I also became a certified mediator, was published on Huffington Post, and have finally designed a career plan for the coming year! My kids are doing well in school and are intelligent, thoughtful, funny humans of whom I am very proud.

Paying more attention to current world events has conjured much gratitude for my own peaceful existence and for the health and well-being of those closest to me. Now I can grieve for how fucked up the world is instead of harping on my own condition.

The past year sped by too quickly, however, I’m glad it is coming to a close. Aren’t we all?

A new year is a new opportunity to realign with our values and to dust off the muck from the prior year. While it may be symbolic, it can also be powerful.

My wish for 2015 is that beyond just focusing on our personal resolutions and goals, we collectively commit to the basic tenets of being a decent human. I can’t define “decent human” for others but for myself it entails practicing: kindness, patience, honesty, humility and generosity.

I promise to try harder in 2015 and I hope you will too.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Standing in the Rain

Fall / Autumn concept - Rain boots in mud puddleThis afternoon, I got an impulse to stand in the pouring rain. It rarely rains here in drought stricken Southern California.

The air gets so nasty and dense with smog, sometimes visible, sometimes not, but always toxic.

So, when the rain comes, it’s such a gift. It washes away the muck, turns what is a rather drab city into a lush expanse surrounded by mountains touching a picturesque blue sky.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s still raining. This is a long stretch for us (been a few days on and off now). Neither these streets nor the drivers who traverse them are prepared for rain. Intersections flood and cars hydroplane. Some people drive dangerously slow, while others’ accelerated speeds scream “death wish.”

These houses don’t have roofs constructed to withstand onslaughts that wouldn’t come close to being referred to as onslaughts in most other places.

This rain is such a big deal!

So, I got this impulse to go stand in the rain. I hoped the rain would wash away every morsel of dingy, lingering painful impressions left upon me from past experiences (some recent, some long ago and some probably pre-cognition).

I stepped out into the rain. Rain that beats down so hard when it hits the ground but is actually quite soft as it lands on my head, my torso and eventually my feet.

This rain isn’t strong enough to wash away my angst. But it feels so good anyway.

My dog is peering at me from inside my house. She glares in an expression I can only interpret as concern for my mental health. But she’s a loyal dog so after a few minutes, she takes a few tentative steps toward me. Then she barrels into a full force crazy run and bucks her body about with apparent joy.

I can’t help but smile.

Lighten Up And Laugh

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Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow. – Oscar Wilde

Things have been pretty heavy around here (on earth) lately.

The planet is in peril. Politics is corrupt. The middle class is dwindling. Racism is rampant. Wars are ensuing. Hunger and disease abound. There’s a lot to be upset about.

I, and everyone I know is struggling to get by, to stay optimistic, to balance our ideals of what the world should be against the reality that there’s so much we can’t fix or control.

Confession:

The other night, in an effort to lure my children away from electronics and compel them to spend some family time, I agreed to play Cards Against Humanity with them. The game is patently inappropriate and not intended for those under 17. I perused the cards and decided that a) in light of all the violent shit they’re exposed to in movies, video games and even literature, this was pretty palatable. b) this is probably how they converse with their friends and I could get a glimpse into what they know and don’t know.

Well, hilarity ensued and within minutes I found myself laughing to the point of tears and  nausea. My kids were equally amused, having free rein to use profanities and observing my overt discomfort. As I struggled to catch my breath, it occurred to me, I don’t laugh enough.  

When my kids were little, there was so much play and laughter in our home. Everyday moments cracked me up and I found myself dressed up, hiding in forts or chasing someone through a sprinkler.

As the kids have aged, with their dad gone most of the time, me stressed out and dealing with “serious” grown up concerns, and their individual responsibilities mounting (homework, social pressures, puberty etc), there’s been a void where joy and enthusiasm used to be plentiful.

It’s not to say we never have fun. We do. It’s just, I’m charged with so much hustling and haranguing, I’ve kind of become a bit of a sour pill a lot of the time.

I’m upset about world events and passionate about so many issues. But, life is short and it’s definitely time to lighten up.

I absolutely CANNOT recommend playing Cards Against Humanity with kids under 17. I doubt we’ll do it again anytime soon. However, I do recommend—with the holidays approaching and amidst all the stress on us grown ups to make everything just “so” for those we love—don’t forget to have fun! Play! Laugh! Put on some music and dance your heart out. Find something to smile about.

Thanksgiving is the time of year to express our gratitude. For many of us, it is also riddled with challenges in the form of family dynamics. Of the many things I have to be grateful for, humor is moving up to the top of the list. I intend to laugh my way through Thanksgiving dinner and hopefully find some creative and age appropriate ways to have more fun both with my kids and without.

Here’s to a happy, hearty, humorous Thanksgiving (and beyond)! 

There’s Something About a Wedding …

Beautiful flower wedding decoration
Since my husband and I split up, I’ve become a bit cynical about love, monogamy and marriage. But, yesterday as I sat under the ornate high pitched ceiling of an old Catholic Church awaiting the entrance of the bride, the anticipation summoned a youthful optimism and simple delight that only weddings can conjure. 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