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The Things That Shape Us.

May 4, 2013

My father looks away. His throat is sunken in as if he just swallowed or laughed. His hands are crossed over his stomach in a way that suggests he might be happy or at least as happy as he will ever be. He’s looking away at someone. He’s far away already in this picture although he doesn’t know it yet. There’s a plant behind him and a box with a bowtie on it. A Christmas card, Santa Claus on the front. The picture is ripped and has tape on it from being taped to a wall at one point or another.

My father is smiling in the picture that is ripped with the tape on it and I wonder if it all boils down to that? To the small moments, taped together, ripped at the edges. The moments where we were as happy as we knew how to be.

How happiness doesn’t weather with age but rather ripens and becomes as iconic as all large things have the capacity to. Our happiness taped to a wall. Our happiness remembered in glimpses, in faraway glances and old photographs of ourselves, or dead people we loved.

I’m trying to write a book and I don’t know what that book is. I wonder how I will remember the details of my life since I didn’t write anything down. My brain is an unreliable source and I don’t trust it very often. It’s misshapen.

The book should be on happiness. The book should be on loss. The book should be on all things that are fleeting in nature. The book should be on fear and how it crawls up the walls into your home and before you know it, it’s in your bed holding you hostage like some goddamn character in a play. It should be a play, not a book! It should be on all things large. It should be small. It should be a poem. It should be on how everyone has sides and those sides don’t make a house like they should but rather they make some lopsided fort and some days the sides collapse and it’s less a fort and more a pile of pillows on the floor. How everyone’s just a pile of pillows. How about the book’s about that? Pillows and bedding and interior decorating. The book should be about manifesting. Manifesting is real and whatever you want you can have including a book so write the book but what is the book about and are you ever going to stop writing about your dead father?

Probably not.

These things shape us. (What things?)

The things that happened to us. The things people said, The things that we were born into. The things we lost along the way. The people who looked at us and said March your butt up the stairs, kiddo. The people who left, the people who stayed. These things shape us. The things we learned in kindergarten. The things we learned before we could speak, when we were just lying there in the corner of the room listening to the hum of the television and the breath of someone called MommyDaddy. The things we took. These things shape us. The way that person held our hand behind the van across the street and how the snow kept us home from school. That shaped us and why shouldn’t you write the things that shaped you as if they hold some sacred geometry? They do.

It doesn’t mean you are stuck this way or that. It just means that this picture right here, the one that’s all mangled, with the tape, that picture is one of the reasons you are who you are. Just try and get undone from it all. See what happens.

You can’t.

You never recover from things.

You can become a better person and you can do good in the world but you never recover from the shock of being born.

Of being born from that particular man and that particular woman. And that’s okay. Because if it weren’t that way then you wouldn’t be who you are and what a cliché that sounds like but also what a truth because trust me if your mom had had sex with that guy with the red hair from Ohio instead of your dad, you wouldn’t be sitting there in your DNA with your set of solitary problems.

My friend, a few months back, over a dinner of Greek food and red wine, suggested that I stick with what I know. With what I am good at. (Am I good at anything? is the age old question I ask) but I nod and say Okay. He is a famous writer and I am taking notes. What do you want to write about? What do people respond to? he asks over souvlaki.

I write about my dad and I feel guilty. Enough already, I say. It’s got to come to an end one day, I say.

Well, fuck you motherfucker. Motherucker being guilt and anyone who is sick of reading about my dad.

See, it shaped me. This shape, which at the moment feels black and blue and old and stuck and misshapen, is made from all that has led me to where I am now. The biggest thing that has led me to this misshapen moment is my father dying one July night in 1983.

Why do we bury our grief? Why do we feel as if we should get over everything as if loss occurs in a vacuum?

This book should be about beauty and the hunt for it and what to do when you can’t find it.

What do you do when you can’t find it?

We live in land where people go to therapy to heal and forget and move on so they can do great big things without the trauma of death or whatever else happened along the way. Except the thing is, it’s a lie.

We heal, yes. (Sometimes.) We can still do great things and be funny and awesome and lovely and horrible and all things human but all the things that shaped us will have always have shaped us. They will never not have happened.

So why not write of them?

Most people who no longer acknowledge their pasts are still doing so in some way or another. Not consciously of course, but they are acting out their hurts in dreams or they are writing books about taking responsibility once and for all for your life.

Maybe that’s what the book should be about?

You can acknowledge something without letting it own you. You can say I see you without letting it sit on your chest in the middle of the night while the blue of the television mutes itself against a wall.

You can do that, you know. You can do anything. It’s your book.

Your life is art.

(It’s your art, Motherfucker, the book can be whatever you want it to be!)

All the things that made you, made you. And no matter how many times you sit on a couch and cry and roll a tissue in between your fingers until it turns into nothing, your father will still have died so why shouldn’t you write about it?

The things that shape us are where the beauty resides.

If it weren’t for the moves and the operation you had to remove the tumor and father dying, how would you know what fear was? Or what loss was? How would you know what happiness was if you didn’t have those little ripped photographs of people you loved? These things shape us and you don’t have to necessarily retape them to the wall but you can very much look into the eye of where you came from and stare it down.

Maybe the book should be about eyes or tumors or photography or maybe it shouldn’t be a book at at all but a series of photographs of eyes? Or tumors. Or pieces of tape?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Maybe we are who we are and all the worry is for naught. Maybe the worry is indicative of the time we live in, the time which suggests You must get over it. You must recover. You must forget. You must be happy.

Or at least pretend to be.

Maybe the book is on pretending.

What has shaped us into these creatures that crave so much and give so little? As we get older we learn how to give more but our nature as babies is to need and it’s hard not to fall back into that as we age. I need a reason. I need to know. I need a purpose. I need a child. I need.

The book should be on need. The book should be on want. The book should be on babies.

So much of life is the process of being undone. Undone from what happened. Undone from all that came to be until this moment on a Saturday evening in May.

So you let yourself be undone and then you realize that it’s not what you expected. That it’s grim and boring, and that the memories, although at times painful, made  you feel awake and alive.

What is being undone anyway?

Is it hitting the floor with a thud and staying there until you get up in the morning, naked, with no memory of what came before?

Being undone means going inward until all that has made you is right there on the table like a thief’s booty. Everything: right here. For you to see. Being undone is turning on the lights and going Oh My God, no one’s home and this house is full goods. And all those goods are laid out.

And then the people come home and walk in and everyone is right there, awkwardly standing around the table and, for a moment, no one can hide or run. And it’s all right there, out in the open.


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No Comments

  • Reply authenticalive May 4, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    Jen.. My life is all about babies right now.. My babies and the different circumstances of how they came into this physical plane.. the places where “I did great” and the places where “I did okay”. and grandchildren.. the sacred honor they fill in my life.. I helped “midwife” at a birth recently.. So this is how I see it.. tonight’s blog was astoundingly truthful.. You radiate truth to me and I am “the midwife” supporting you to tell us Your Truth.. Lovin’ and Missin’ you.

  • Reply Diana May 5, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Amazing post Jen. Finally someone who says it: we may never recover from shit. I thought it was just me. I feel misshapen and now I know it might be useless to look to “fix”that. I just have to look at that blob and recognize it, and eventually accept it. Astoundingly truthful. Rarely seen. That is your gift. Thank you.

  • Reply Denise Dare May 5, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Jen, I so appreciate the breaking open and spilling of such raw, vivid, crystal truth…maybe the things that shape us are, in the end, what allow us to be happy, present, at ease with what is…

    Thank you for cultivating a sense of wonder, heart opening and possibility with your words!

  • Reply Lynn May 7, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    My dad died one night in May, 1973. One week exactly before my 8th birthday. It is a motherfucker. Your’s. Mine. Ours. I am forever that little girl. I own her and I cannot discard her or replace her, she is me. Keep writing about your dad’s death. Nice photograph, too.

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