Today is Dad’s birthday. He’s 78. I talked to him tonight and made him laugh a few times. It’s a gift, this ability to say the thing to make him not cry. It was a gift that I used during the two days we stood by Mom’s deathbed. I helped my sister through, too. So that was my present to Dad tonight. I made him laugh. It was something small, but it was something.
I’m numb. It’s been a month and five days since my mother died and it feels…wrong. Strange. Inconceivable (and, yes, it’s okay if you read that in Wallace Shawn’s voice, I did, too, as I wrote it). She was a force of nature. And now…
I’m told I haven’t been the same, that I’m not myself. Everyone expects it, of course, but still. I haven’t had a full breakdown moment, yet, where I wept and cursed the heavens or anything like that. My crying has come in moments, flashes, and then gone. I have laughed a lot, telling funny stories about Mom, which I think she’d prefer anyway. But still, I’m numb.
Very quickly, I found the one thing I could do was write. I’ve been working on the new novel pretty well. I’m just over 64,000 words into it and know the story is rolling. It’s mainly telling itself. I’ll call it The Monster right now, because it fits the book, though that’s not the working title. I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d like because I’m taking a state-mandated course for my teaching license, and the general exhaustion I feel through this time of melancholy, but I’m still doing well. I submitted Echoes on the Pond to an agent. Well, the query letter and first ten pages. I’m hoping he’ll bite. It’s a good book that I think deserves a chance in the sun. Once I finish the first draft The Monster, I’ll begin editing/revising my middle-grade science fiction novel, which I’ll call SpaceGirl for now. G and Pamela loved it and I think it also deserves its moment in the sun. It feels good to be wordslinging again. It’s falling into place in a way I haven’t felt in a long, long time.
One of the things I’ve done as I mourned is listen to Bruce Springsteen. All right, let me revise that. If you’re a reader of this blog (or my social media, or you know me personally), you know that I listed to Springsteen a lot. Well, of course I’d listen to him during this trying time. I’ve found The Rising to be an album that rises to the challenge. No pun intended but feel free to laugh. “The Rising” itself is a song about having died and going to the Great Beyond, whatever that is. But songs like “Lonesome Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” “Mary’s Place,” and “You’re Missing” are built for this kind of thing. Maybe I’ll write about these songs in regards to this.
One of the things I’m afraid of is that I’m talking about (or writing about) Mom too much. I’m worried people will think I’m trying to play a pity card or something. I’ve been assured by friends that it’s natural, but it’s still a fear.
Anyway, I’m bouncing along, doing what I can. I feel lost, still, most days. My mind allows me to jump to jokes and stuff like that to protect me, I guess. Either way, I’m working on a dream (to steal from Springsteen again) as I write, and I’ve been very lucky to have a good support system around me. That’s where I am right now. I hope you’re well. And I’m glad I got to make Dad laugh for his birthday. I did something good today.
So last week I sat down to watch John Green‘s Vlogbrothers video called, “A Middle Aged Man.” The title should have tipped me off right from the start. But it didn’t. So there I sat, ready to be entertained by Green’s witty, intelligent, and machine-gun-paced monologue when he points out, right at the beginning of the video, that he’s a middle-aged man. The realization of that shocked him. I laughed. Ha! He’s right! He’s 36 years old, he is, indeed, middle–
That’s not possible, because I’m 36. Not only that, but John Green and I were born on the exact same day. I mean, Steve Guttenberg and Rupert Grint also share a birthday with me, but they were born in different years. Guttenberg is 19 years older and Grint is 11 years younger. But John Green and I? Twins. From different mothers. And different locations.
Goddamn that got weird.
So it stands to reason if John Green is middle-aged, then [gulp] so am I.
Which began to make a lot of sense.
When I was a kid in the 1980s, there were a lot of movies and TV shows about adults reaching their mid-30s. I didn’t understand why at the time because in the mid-1980s, I was too young to get it. Between The Big Chill and Thirtysomething, various movies and TV shows where people went back to their hometown or told stories of their childhoods in the 1950s, there was a lot of it. As I got older, I saw even more of that as I read Stephen King’s novel It and novella The Body (the basis of the film Stand By Me) or listened to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. which features “Glory Days” and “My Hometown,” amongst other songs looking back. Billy Joel was “Keepin’ the Faith” and it seemed everywhere you looked, people were coming to terms with this thing called adulthood.
That has been me for the last year. I’ve been longing, with an ache from my core, to return to those Saturday mornings when cartoons played on TV, and the Creature Double Feature aired on Channel 56 out of Boston. I’ve been longing to go back to the local mall as it looked back then, hit the Waldenbooks, and get myself stuff that isn’t available anymore. To be in a place, for just 24 hours, where the Internet didn’t exist to the public. When movies relied on more than CGI effects and explosions to hold a mass-audience’s interest. I mean, don’t get me wrong, 1984 was no walk in the park. And as Billy Joel sings in the aforementioned song, “The good old days aren’t always good/Tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Make no bones about it, I know I’m looking at things through rose-colored glasses.
But that feeling has been so strong for the last year or two, and I couldn’t figure out why. Until John Green pointed it out. I’m middle-aged. In 30 years, no one would be shocked if I dropped dead. Yeah, 66 isn’t exactly elderly anymore, but…. That’s a chilling sentence to me and I want so badly to delete it, but I’m going to keep it because it makes me uncomfortable.
I work with teenagers, I have a daughter who is turning 16 in two months, and another who is 15-months-old now. They help keep me young, all of them. But still….
There isn’t the kind of looking back now as there was in the 1980s because the Baby Boomer generation was so plentiful. They focused their attention on themselves and on the fact that the generation who would help change the world had become part of the establishment. Rampant crime, the destruction of business laws, the dissolution of personal freedoms, and the biggest chasm between the rich and everyone else since the Great Depression is what they left us with. They also left us with the Civil Rights Act, Equal Rights, free love, and the idea that we are both individuals and parts of a community. Oh, and the ability to be completely self-absorbed.
What will my generation leave behind? Cool status updates and Tweets? Some blogs? Superhero movies?
I don’t know, but I think it’s time I need to think about some things.
Since I haven’t posted in awhile, and since it’s the holiday time of year, I decided to post something festive. Maybe it’s that I had both the teenager and the baby with me for the last few days and the baby is conscious of presents and fun. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, but I seemed to have been craving Christmas music lately. So I decided to post my favorite holiday music for you. Keep in mind, this list is not set in stone and could change by tomorrow, but it’s mine and I love it.
10. Blue Christmas as sung by Bruce Springsteen
This is a recent addition to the list. By that I mean, it’s only a few years old. I’m not a huge Elvis Presley fan but one of my favorite songs of his is “Blue Christmas.” Back in 2010, Springsteen and the E Street Band played a show in Asbury Park, New Jersey that was taped. It was to promote his re-release of 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and new album of previously unfinished and unreleased tracks from that era The Promise. The show featured only tracks that appeared on The Promise. Except for this song. I love the way Springsteen arranged it and the general atmosphere of the performance. Also of note, it would be the last “live” recording of Clarence Clemons with the band. He died the following June.
9. Happy Christmas (The War is Over) by John Lennon
Let’s call this one my Artsy Fartsy entry. I don’t know the words, it’s not on my iPod, but I still know it and like it. And it’s John Lennon. Come on.
8. Frosty the Snowman as sung by Jimmy Durante
I wouldn’t have even thought of this if not for a recent trip to the grocery store where this was playing. We grew up watching these specials and sometimes, the versions from those specials are what sticks. That’s the case here. Besides, it friggin’ Durante!
7. Jingle Bell Rock as performed by Hall and Oates
I love Hall and Oates. There. I said it. “Maneater.” “Your Kiss is on My List.” Egads, need I say more?! This song, along with its tongue-in-cheek hokey video, was a part of childhood I always loved. And I just like the song, too.
6. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry
Look, if you grew up with parents who came from the 1950s or 1960s, you had this song played every Christmas. Growing up, the Gene Autry original was my least favorite version. Now, it’s the version. Well, maybe except for…
5. Silver Bells as performed by The Chipmunks
Christmas with the Chipmunks was the Christmas album in my household growing up. I loved it. “Rudolph” and “Frosty” and so many others were done in that madcap Chipmunks way with Dave Seville yelling constantly at poor Alvin. It was my life, only instead of Dave it was my parents and instead of Alvin, it was me. “Silver Bells” was a rare exception. It’s sung by Dave Seville and is a little sad. As a kid, I liked it but it was…well…quiet. Now, it’s the only version of “Silver Bells” I hear in my head.
4. Christmas in Hollis by Run D.M.C.
If you were growing up in the 1980s, and you were open to rap, you love this song. The video is even better. I remember my parents being…shocked? upset? amused?…that I liked this song and probably thought it was just a phase. Yeah, well, guess who rapped it to a 1-year-old the other day? That’s right. This guy!
3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town as performed by Bruce Springsteen
I love the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I loved the stop-motion animated special. I did not love the Springsteen version. Until recent years. The video shown is good, but the original recording from 1978 (I think, maybe ’81?) is where it’s at. The verse after the sax solo shows a reckless abandon and joy that is pure Springsteen and pure rock n roll. It’s a fun song, okay?
2. All I Want For Christmas is You by Mariah Carey
Yes, I love this song this much. I am not ashamed. It’s a damn good song. I like the music. I love Carey’s vocals. It’s a song that makes me happy. So there.
1. The Chipmunk Song by Alvin and the Chipmunks
This is Christmas to me. This is my favorite song on Christmas with the Chipmunks. It is my favorite Christmas song, period. It made me laugh when I was a kid. I could relate to it. It was just fun. And it still makes me smile. Love it!
Honorable mention goes to “Must Be Santa,” a song I never heard recorded but loved to sing in elementary school.
For me, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday. It’s a day (or time period) to spend with family and friends, to be together, perhaps exchange gifts, eat, and have fun. And enjoy some music. So have a happy Christmas, if you celebrate. If you don’t, go be with people you love, eat, and sing some songs anyway. We could all use a little more of that, right?
There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”
So it’s Sunday afternoon, 4:55 as I write these words. There’s a hurricane heading toward New Jersey. Its name is Sandy, like in the old Springsteen song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”. Al Roker was in Asbury Park this morning. Apparently, the storm’s hitting there.
I’m further north, on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. I’m not on the water, more inland. The school I teach at has already called it. No school tomorrow. I was originally going to write about fall and how it seems like the perfect time of year for writers and artists. Maybe I will before fall disappears. Right now, though, the storm is on my mind.
I’m not worried about the storm. That’s the problem living where I do. We’re often told a big storm is coming but by the time it reaches us it’s usually wimpy. The reports say that’s not happening with Sandy. She’s supposed to come and kick some ass. I guess time will tell. I am worried that this is when my wife will go into labor. I mean, it’s a clichéd happening, isn’t it? Of all possible times to give birth, in the middle of a hurricane is when the water breaks. There’ll be a mad dash to the hospital. Maybe the car will be swerving around branches and felled trees. But I don’t think that’ll happen.
I’ll be plugging in my e-reading devices so I can continue what with what I’m reading (The Twelve by Justin Cronin) but even that’s not a big concern, I have plenty of books that don’t need to be charged or updated. I can write, at least for a little while, even if we lose power, with the computer or iPad. I can go old school with paper and pen, too. Shit, I can grab one of my manual typewriters.
And, of course, there’s just spending time with my wife, which is always great.
So we’ll be hunkering down. If you’re on the East Coast, be safe. Find a good book and enjoy it. One of my favorite memories is reading Stephen King’s The Stand by candlelight during Hurricane Bob in 1990. Enjoy yourself and be safe.
I began writing a long, in-depth piece on Bruce Springsteen’s new album Wrecking Ball but stopped. There are several reasons why:
- There have been many reviews of the new album, all of them spectacular.
- The Boss doesn’t need my help.
- Why the hell would you care about my readings of “Shackled And Drawn” or “We Take Care of Our Own”?
So, basically, it works like this: I love the album. Big surprise there, right? There are some pretty cool elements to it and I enjoy it. I wish I had the dough to see the concert when it comes back around these parts (Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Boston about a week and a half ago by this writing). If you really do care about what I think, and you haven’t bought Wrecking Ball, do so. I promise it’s intelligent, heartfelt, and damn fine listening.
I finished my third reading of The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands the other night and am now reading volume IV, Wizard & Glass. It amazes me how much I enjoy King’s work. His talents are so damn sharp and he creates such a great world, I sometimes feel as though I’m living a fool’s dream writing my little stories and books. Yet, I can’t stop. So, what’s a guy to do?
Keep writing, I guess.