Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Musical Musings For Mama

I found the 2014 adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” on TNT after work Friday night. Enchanting songs. My wife especially enjoyed the way the fairy tales stitched together. We were half an hour into it- I picked it up right around Depp’s first cameo – when first, I missed my Mom, and then, it hit me that who I really missed was Mama Vickie. Fanciful creatures in a musical? If she never saw this before she died last year, it’s too bad, because they made it for people like her.

It’s been noted she didn’t particularly carry a tune, not even in a bucket, but when she was enjoying herself, she never let that stop her from singing along. She particularly enjoyed a great musical: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, 1776, Sound Of Music, Grease- even that Sgt. Pepper’s thing, which is not heralded as a great musical, had a place in her heart. You don’t encounter musicals in film nearly so much as when she was young, though Glee has opened the door to a variation on the form that reaches a lot of Millenials. But isn’t it nice when you find something that suddenly brings back a loved one as though she’s sitting right there with you in the room?
I know this was especially strong for my wife, who shares the central characters’ desire for a baby, and maybe in James Corden’s baker, I saw a little of myself, uncertain if I’d be a wonderful parent, in light of the life I’ve built along the long wait. But I’d never say it was because my own father wasn’t terrific- the passing years showed me that clearly, he’d taken “how to be a good dad” and pretty well plucked it out of the ethers. Skating rinks and camping trips may not sound like fairy tale elements, but the love of fun found in my childhood’s no fiction!

I thought Sondheim’s use of heartfelt melody to carry a clever use of words in telling a story in rhyme, marvelous. I can’t match his eloquence at the moment. All I want to convey is a feeling that relies so primarily on experience, I can scarcely hope to match it.

But since Vickie passed away on the first day of summer, her words- her stories about family and her girlhood days, to say nothing of a nice dose of down-to-earth insight- have come back to me many times. Maybe the best thing I can say is how I only had the little flash of how sad it is that she’s not up and breathing, with her poor labored heart, to catch Meryl Streep playing an endearingly fun witch, the sympathetically over-protective parent with enough magic to work her will and teach that rude baker and his wife a lesson. We’d returned from our own fairy tale adventure in California, aware we really should spend time with our family before Life- or Death- butted in...so no regrets there.

No, most of the time, I just remember her honesty, her support, her tenderness- how much she loved us, and everyone she held dear, and how feel how much fun we had doing the few things left she felt she could do in her last two years. She loved her kids unconditionally, accepting them when they made life choices others couldn’t comprehend. Even if Angela Dawn’s closely-held pendant was wrenched from its rightful place, it remained long enough to serve as an anchor in her uniquely-observed grief, wherein such a spirit as her mother’s would never part that breast. Mama Vick’s love spent Christmas day with us; her presence will trundle by the grove candles this Midsummer’s Eve, her funny doings and sayings will brighten our smiles in the season to come. The lady left not a dirge, but a clever song, to give you feels and sweet memories of childhood, barefoot life on the country road and walks to places beside oceans she never saw, before the sun, rising and setting as ever.
No one’s truly lost, if you know how to find them!

She would say now and then she always wished her birth certificate said “Victoria,” as that was much more how she thought of her true self- with a little more romance and dignity than “Vickie” conveyed. I didn’t sense a moment open to me reading this at her funeral, but the words did reach those who loved her best, and they’re hers to share as we remember her with you.

In honor of our great friend today, let her name be ‘Victoria’. She told several of us, she always wished she had been named Victoria; it was her mother’s original intention! Her helpful big sis, Debra, gave the birth certificate name as “Vickie Jane,” as humble as could be imagined. But she would tell you, she was no plain ol’ Jane. In glory, she radiates like the queen she is. “Victoria” if you please.

That spry little tom boy still lived on in Victoria’s eyes, to the summer solstice day she peacefully closed them last. She told me stories of Raiford, Mildred, Debra, Randy, Barry, Ronald and all the grandparents and all the brothers and sisters, that made me her family, too. But her heart, full of all those beautiful ideals that seem so unpopular to the cynics of late, made many, many people part of her family, and if you were really her friend, you know her family was her diverse and moving work of art.

As we drove home under the first full moon without her tied to this plane alone, I reflected how,
in our loss, we are not so alone. Somewhere, others were asked to give to Time and Death the dearest sacrifice that had come to fruition. To lose a life long companion, to lose a wife, to lose a mother, to lose a family member-this is the lot of humanity.

But never say Victoria wasn’t unique! Her cheery way of making up jingles about whatever she was doing at the moment, unabashed around her house, her smoking bluntness; her utter authenticity and disregard for airs or pretense, her desire to make everyone in her family’s life better any way she could, in prayer or deed, and her invaluable discernment of people’s character- all these I will miss, but am so much the better for having known such a beautiful, true person.

She never took back her unconditionally given love. She was quick to share her candy and loved a hearty laugh. She loved babies. She even correctly dreamed predictions of their genders. She loved sleep, where much more gets done that you might realize- for there, you dream. The true motives of people fascinated her; she loved an honest question as much as an honest answer, and had an unlimited supply of both. She spent much of her final years enjoying the memories she’d piled up so vigorously, comfort to pains that piled up equally so. She was forgetful. She was a voice of Reason.

She loved a good vampire story, a true ghost story, a love story of any kind, and Dark Shadows for being all three! She enjoyed the macabre, and game shows, and her kitty, Cap. She loved Loretta, real country music, and trips to different places. When she didn’t feel put on the spot, she could break out a gospel harmony that could melt your heart. She was a smash to party with. She stood up for herself, without ever taking herself disproportionately serious. She wore herself out, cheer leading.

She adored singing any of her favorite songs with Poppa, as if they’d just come out on the radio. She laughed with Chris and hung out after work on the bed with Dixie and talked to Angie in the mornings; she helped raise three beautiful grand children with Anna, and she learned the undying nature of love with precious Joy. She worried sometimes til it hurt, found contentedness in a frosty Coke or little piece of candy; shared a lot of delicious home cooked meals; and dreamed of a lot of fun things that stayed dreams. She hated cleaning the house and waiting on her husband in the car. If you washed her dishes without asking, her love and respect were yours. They took in a LOT of strays, so long as their kids loved them. She lived until she could simply hug and kiss no more. But if you look in your heart, her words will leave you never.

Victoria knew some of the saddest, and happiest, days, any person could know, but kept faith in the way of her heart without surrender. In that way, she achieved a victory that Death can never take away, for her love lives still in you, and me, and in places yet unimagined. Cheer up!
Today is Queen Victoria’s Day. 6/24/16

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Vacation With My Dad- the real Iron Man

I’m reading Warren Ellis’ novel Normal, whose theme is the troubles that arise when one looks into the future for a living. They acquire a problem known as “abyss gaze:” the difficulties of attempting to watch trends converge towards future outcomes involve seeing trouble ahead, with no comfort of the familiarity of the past. Most fictional glimpses of the future take us to dystopian settings, parables of those problems. Even when one wishes to benefit humanity with vision, the place wherein vision is created is a “safe spot,” where one has creative control (barring a partner or assignment parameters). Around that plank into the unknown, there’s much uncertainty. Yes, the past envelopes uncomfortable, even miserable troubles, but nostalgia affirms knowledge, familiarity-the choice of dwelling on what turned out to be exciting, pleasing, involving. Choose the past of your choice- it’s an exercise where we can feel confident we know the answers. With its information on occurrences good, ill, mixed, it’s a place where we can piece together a life that makes more sense, today.

Approached with curiosity, history does have its intellectual queries: what became of the Zoroastrian scrolls that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam? How were the pyramids and Stonehenge erected? Where was the evolutionary Missing Link? But personal history’s a place where we find roots, identity, motives of our tastes and choices, the comfort of love shown us, examples set. One’s worst days lurk in past shadows, but also, the best times of our lives.

Our society’s evolved mass rituals where we observe the importance of people in our lives, passage of seasons, thanks given, and memories. I have found myself rebelling many times at the expectation I should dwell on such and such a detail simply because American society marked a calendar date! But over time, I’ve come to see these as opportunities to connect, sometimes alongside others- not mandates towards insincere emotion, but milestones for celebration and reflection.

I’ve never had the chance in this life to know fatherhood- a paternally-oriented streak, sure, towards aiding others as a would-be sage or good person might, but no bouncing babies. My own father, for whom I’m named, died several years ago, with all the golden years he’d ever have squeezed into holidays and vacations along a lifetime of hard work. It’d be simple enough to give an indifferent nod to Father’s Day, perhaps some glancing gladness for those who observe and enjoy a holiday to which more people than not give but the barest bit of thoughtfulness. Men traditionally learn not to lean overly much on the emotional outpouring of fealty more often found on Mother’s Day. Fathers have shouldered their lot without much expectation of timely gratitude. There’s planes to catch, bills to pay.

I’m not an overly traditional guy- I fall into that category of people who, when looking towards the future, sees it more in terms of creations I attempt to bring to life. But my Dad endeavored to find his way IN to something like the mainstream- fought to get himself a bit of normalcy. He didn’t grow up very conventionally, but when he stopped partying to stand apart from a pool of confused emotions, he did aspire to convention. He wanted a business that functioned as a recognizable, friendly, reliable part of the community. He attended church and discovered a fundamentalist zeal. He joined the Masons. He went to the spa. He kept up his yard and thought up plans that might put him ahead, give him more choice over his life, but also, provide the security common sense dictated. He did his part in raising his two children with his wife, and with all else done, could be found, spit can at his side, chewing tobacco and watching America’s Team, the Atlanta Braves, in the same comfy chair, all summer long.

The one exception was another nod to familial convention and middle-class normalcy: when the chair would sit empty for a week, usually the one before or after July 4th, and the four of us would pack up and head for the mountains. We’d cross ear-popping Lookout Mountain and four hours of highways.
I let the dogs- and very nearly, the cat- out for the morning, wet grass and fresh earth smells adrift in the coolness of early morning. On the porch, I took in the atmosphere, transported to the outdoors of camping grounds we’d visit from the time I was little. I’d been reading old Tales of Suspense Iron Man stories and chewing over pop culture patriotism, after taking in an unusual amount of national politics news. Iron Man evoked vacation in 1986, in particular. I bought and saved back issues of James Rhodes taking up the Golden Avenger’s guise, along with an Annual (an old summer event) pairing Shellhead with the Man-Thing and star-crossed kids playing outside. I found the latest issue, where the Living Laser sought revenge, at a convenient store not far from Cumberland Mountain campgrounds, so that year, I had Iron Man-a-plenty to occupy my lawn-chair-borne sprawl. I grew up, attached to Iron Man- along with the armor and invention motifs, Tony Stark also was the one mustachioed super hero- like my Dad, who was, after all, my first super hero.

From near as early as my first memory- of asking for Spider-Man to be on my third birthday cake- Mom and Dad had taken Debra and I on vacation nearly every summer. They were fond of camping out, which for years involved driving out to a site in park, spending the afternoon assembling tents and stringing up a canopy, and turning Deb and I loose on our Big Wheels. The burning hot big slide at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee sticks out in memory- I wouldn’t go down it without my Mom! I recall spinning on the ...what’s that spinning thing with the handles called, not “merry go round” is it, maybe it is...until I was dizzy and nauseous. I remember my crush on Amy, the park Naturalist, and my first encounter with a grand daddy long legs spider.

As we got older and ended up squatted on sheets in the back of Dad’s camper-shell-covered truck, Deb and I had a couple of great tapes of Beatles hits and the privacy of our own silly party. Dad upgraded to a camper as he approached forty, a time-saving pop-up which offered a bit more comfort. My grandparents and Aunt Linda also camped with us a couple of times, though they favored Fall Creek Falls close to Cumberland. We’d pull out board games to play until after the plastic owl lights flicked on. We melted marshmallows, roasted hot dogs on sharpened sticks over the campfire, that ancient ritual of Man. We all smelled like Outdoors Off! At least, until Dad and I donned flip flops and walked the path to the bath house with our shower supplies and towels. We’d sit up late beneath the bug zapper, telling family stories and discussing what could fit into the budget of time and money. Nature activity? A movie up in Crossville? Swimming? We’d squeeze in lots...so long as Dad had a decent afternoon or three to fold out a chair or hammock and enjoy the woods in peace.

Occasionally it’d occur to me how much more fun Mom and Dad were when they simply had time to relax. Sandwiches guarded against flies had the special seasoning of Togetherness. Dad had never grown up with anything like this with his family, but looking back, the man knew how to make a memory. He made so many good ones for me. I think we thanked him for each one, however cursorily- we were reminded to do so, as part of good up-bringing. With the hassles of the garden, the lawn, home improvements, and at least five days a week or more of the family business, all set aside, you simply had a young man who didn’t ask for a castle- he just wanted, once a year, to go have some fun with his family.
True, it did seem like half the time was spent getting everything from the television set to the camp lights set up for a very temporary home away from home-Mom would say you needed a vacation to get over vacation. But every year, we openly wished it could last just a little bit longer. That’s what would make it all the sweeter next time, he’d say. And we’d go back to our often-bug-spray-fogged house a couple hundred miles on the other side of the mountains, unpack and take a day to set things in order, to start enjoying the fresh perspective we got, getting away. In all its phases, the family never felt closer than in that much-anticipated week. There’s something about the road, making each day new. There’s something about knowing your time together is limited, but relaxing- enjoying it. There’s something about a dad who sacrifices for the good of everyone, no need of ostentatious speech. There’s something quietly heroic about a Dad whose ambition is to create a true family- like ours.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Something STill Inside - Integr8d Soul

I haven't posted here in a while! Let's rectify that! Integr8d Fix has been getting the blogspot love, partly because I've been working on comics professionally, and in that process, I've been writing about comics, for what will soon be a book for which I'm seeking a publisher already!

Music's always been part of this blog, as has a certain way of looking at life. They come together in this piece I'm previewing here for you on our new Audacity program, an experiment to keep us occupied 'til we're back in the studio. I've even updated the lyrics blog, Integr8d Soul on Wordpress, since I've hit this one- and I even put together a prototype book of this column after our friend T.J. Jones died in fall of 2015, so I do have a bond with Be Chill- just been working a lot! But what we'd do on the lyrics blog, I will also do here, without the usual discussion of how it came together, besides saying this and another tune were written a week before Christmas, seeking to catch something beneath the gawdiness and bustle of the true holiday's spirit.

I have had serveral topics and books in mind to discuss of late, so I'll try to add more here soon. And holy cow! All posts over the past two years now have over 1000 hits, so SOMEone's been reading!!!! Wow, I appreciate that.

Something Still Inside Words and Music by Integr8d Soul

Try to give them light they set themselves on fire
They break themselves upon the rock for it’s as they desire

I don’t need to be the best Just need not to be the rest
Whose holidays lead to arrest instead of time they should invest c


Something still inside
could set the world a’right
we could talk of it all night
the better days so far behind
but better ways are on my mind
for those who see that life can shine
So bright

Divine the ways not to offend Divine, the ways that might amend
Hope, our first and only friend Ship of knowing, we would send
Mama’s line where we begin Oh, in the end, there’s life again

Something still inside G C
could set the world a’right
we could talk of it all night
the better days so far behind
but better ways are on my mind
for those who see that life can shine So bright

Excised line from first verse:

what inspiration could divest the ‘what-else-do-you-do’‘s a jest