Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mere Mortals: Dead of Winter/The Stairwell.

This is the fifth and sixth installments of this "Mere Mortals" series, you can read what this series is about in my first post here.

Track Five: Dead of Winter

I sit here alone clutching these flowers, choking on their sweetness, just to remind myself of the pain in beauty. It's summer outside, the dead of winter in my heart. The kids have grown and moved on but the nest has always felt empty. I feel so old. My life's energy spent trying to understand why you never loved me. Did you do the best you could with what you had? Revered with eyes to the sky and Heaven's wisdom on your sleeve, but blind to me. Your words burrowed under my skin, trauma tempered into an armor I can't shed. The weight of your way, the weight of your truth, the weight of your light crushing all that I am. Spare your rod, spoil me just once. Did you do the best you could with what you had? I want so badly to release this sword, this fucking heirloom you gifted me. Take back this heirloom, I've already impaled too many I love with it. You've been gone so long but I can't loosen my grip. At war with the world and I'm afraid I'm winning.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend who's just started with her husband to try and get pregnant. I can't remember if she inquired or if I was just ready to spill my guts on something I'd been thinking about, but I told her one of the most complicated parts of parenthood for me is sacrificing my preferences on a daily basis to try and put our beloved's first. For the most part I think I create a pretty good balance, but every so often whatever maturity or wisdom I've acquired post-adolescence flies right out the window and I turn into a sulking, wordless, tantrum-throwing baby. It's usually over something completely benign like the realization I've not seen a single one of the Best Picture Oscar-nominated movies that everyone and their mother is talking about. As I'm having these spats I'm also completely aware I'm acting like my four year old when she's in her most four-year-old-ness, which just compounds my guilt over being a giant baby, but despite this awareness I can't seem to escape the feelings that come along. And so my beautiful wife tells me to go see the stupid movie I'm tantrumizing (yup, that's a word, I just created it) over, and some sort of balance is restored. It's these moments especially that make me wonder yet again: Am I doing the best I can with what I have?

In talking with others about how exactly we come to parent the way we do I get the sense that there is a natural dichotomy that exists. As a friend put it, there needs to be an acknowledgment that for many of us our parents did do the best they could with what they had and that they also didn't do it well enough. Most would agree that how we address parenting is basically the sum of the experiences we have from our parents mixed with the reactions we have to what we didn't like to experience as sons or daughters. It's the subconscious learning system met with the conscious resistance we present in trying to carve our own paths. It's forgiveness marred by enmity. No matter how strongly I want to critique the example woven into my bones, my mind must try to acknowledge that as I am the sum of my temperament and experiences, so too are my mother and father the sums of their temperaments and experiences. So too were their parents and so on. 

I've believed for some time that self-awareness is a luxury of privilege and comfort. As I think about how I react to the world around me, or how others react, I try to remind myself that we're all just using the tools we've been given. If we were to look at all the ways we react to things as an arsenal and try to visualize what that arsenal would look like, each of us would have a variety of devices that take precedence over the others. Some of the tools would be sharp, some dull, some completely broken, some might be merely drafts of what should be. In many ways our environments dictate which reactions become comfortable to us and which get pushed aside and rendered useless. Not that I want to sound like a broken record, but again I feel lucky I've benefitted from a model that taught me to attempt gentleness, seek justice, and love mercy. And it's not just a belief system or an idea presented but a tangible example of choices made and explained to perpetuate their function. Many are not afforded this luxury. Many have to fight every day against the model they were taught, lest they lose what they love in life. And many of us, even with nurtured tools, regularly have to re-calibrate the reactions we'd like to have versus the ones we are fleeing.

This song hopes to empathize with the undertaking that gaining self-awareness is. It longs for love. It longs for mercy. It longs for a better example of how to live in these things and let go of the heirlooms handed down that make us forget we are loved.

Track Six: The Stairwell

Audio Sample: "Okay I'm saying a few words, what do you want me to say? [Indistinct answer.] Good. I love you very much. More than words can say!"

Musically this is an interlude, a rest between Side A and Side B of the record. The audio clip comes from a DVD my parents gave me a few Easters ago entitled "Whitfield Family Videos: 1981-83." The interaction captured has nearly no visuals to it. From what I can gather my dad was tinkering with the sound quality of the video camera and wanted to see if it would catch audio from upstairs and asked my mother for help with this. Over the course of watching the intermittent clips mostly documenting myself and my sister as little tikes, my mother appears only a few times, appearing camera shy. Each scene feels classic, she seems completely un-enthused by my dad's playfulness while there's work to be done. And then, out of nowhere, comes this gem of tenderness. I literally skipped over it the first time because of all the dead space between clips, but it feels like a precious window in time. A window into a moment where there were no kids to worry about, no work to be done, nothing to tend to; Nothing but two parents enjoying a moment of discovery and togetherness. That saying, loving us "more than words can say" permeated my childhood, both Mom and Dad saying it regularly. Whatever complications have come with sifting through everything mentioned above, these words remain present, a tenderness cutting through all other noise. When I discovered the clip I knew we had to use it. When I heard it put into the song for the first time my heart nearly exploded. I know it won't carry the weight for you that it does for me. But if you get even one iota of what I've felt from it, it was worth it. 

(Image stolen from http://fineartamerica.com/featured/michigan-winter-barn-karen-zucal-varnas.html)