While this may be a tribute to my late Pops, make no mistake, this post is really about love, fear, and outer fricken space. Yes, I have been watching a lot of Star Wars lately…and Interstellar is not only never far from my mind, but makes perfect sense for this piece as it was one of the last films I saw with my Dad.
My Pops died just about 1 year ago today. Cancer is a cold and heartless bitch. No. Scratch that. Cancer is a cunt, and I only use that word for worthy causes, this one being obvious. I wish I could be like the artist Panda Bear, who wrote the song, “Tropic of Cancer” about his Father dying of cancer: “ “Sick has to eat well too. And you dumb it down”. Overall, [“Tropic of Cancer”] is about sympathy for disease. Trying to forgive disease, seeing it as just another thing in the universe that’s trying to survive.” But like I said, this is not about that and I’m not there yet.
During his younger years, my Pops was a famous musician. Not only did he tour all over the world, performing for some very powerful people, but he was also nominated for an Academy Award for best song in a film- “Come Saturday Morning” in The Sterile Cuckoo…never saw it, (put that on my to do list). He was also set to perform at the Academy Awards, but allegedly got black balled by Frank Sinatra after he refused to allow Nancy Sinatra to sing “Come Saturday Morning”. The story goes that Frank approached my Pops and the band, asking if Nancy could perform the song at the award show. The band thought that he was implying she would sing back up for them or even with them, but Frank really wanted them to sing back up for her. Well, they refused, and not only did they not get to perform that night, they were not able to get any gigs after. Black balled. So the story goes…I would have to hear this story time and time again by my Grandparents for years to come. I swear my Grandpa, (RIP), would spit a little every time he brought it up. I never let on that I was/am a semi Sinatra fan…mostly just Summer Wind really.
The band broke up eventually, my Pops met my Mom, they became pregnant with me, got married, and the rest is history. Apart from The Sandpipers memorabilia scattered about our home and random friends’ parents fanning out over the idea that their child’s friend’s Dad is the lead singer of a band they used to swoon over, you would never know that my Pops was a former star of the music world. Sure you could catch him playing his guitar from time to time, but it was very brief, and always hidden in the confines of his room. The only time I knew of him to play out in the open with anyone was with my husband, Mike. I think he very much loved that I married a musician, and a good one at that. The two of them would always talk music and, at times, share what the other was working on. It was the only time I really saw that light in my Pops eyes- the light that can only be described as when you see someone living out the purpose of their soul… really doing what it is they were meant to do. Passion. Love. Life. Light. I saw it in his eyes when he would play and talk music with Mike and I loved it. I heard later in life that he would jam with some other musicians, but I think it was perhaps a fleeting fancy, although, I will never know. Oh to be a fly on that wall!
I think every one of us asked him to play in some fashion at our weddings. Each time we were denied. I know I felt confusion and anger- why would he not want to play at such an important and meaningful event in all our lives?! What was his damn problem?! It took almost one year after his death for me to truly believe what I even understand at perhaps a superficial level. Fear. Gut wrenching fear that he was/it would never be as good or even close to a whiff of what it was like when he performed all those years ago. I get it. That is a pretty tough act to follow. Filling in your own former rock star shoes. I wonder if he even entertained it. How interesting must the battle have been in his mind. Or perhaps, fear took over right away and shut that shit down. I will never know. But I know that all his life, he has taught me about fear. Heart wrenching, gripping at your innards, grasping at your soul fear. Hell, he even bought all of us girls a book about fear, (The Gift of Fear), for Christmas one year with a handwritten note- I hope you never have to use this book, but should you need it…The irony of it all is that he challenged me to step out of my comfort zone in many different ways throughout my life. He would often tell me about his own fear when he was performing back in the day, (a rare glimpse into his life and mindset at the time, one that I always cherished and would lean in ever so close as he spoke about, watching the words flow from his lips, as I knew this was special and I was witnessing gold…even more so now). When he would go for auditions or have to perform with other artists, he would watch them and say, “I knew some of them were better than me. But the difference between us was that I wanted it. I wanted it more than them.”
The truth is, a part of my Pops died when he stopped playing music and was never fully recovered. Eventually, in his later years, he gave up on life and lived a very comfortable and safe existence. Hell, he ate the same breakfast every day, wore the same clothes, rarely showered, did his daily crossword puzzle, continued to vote for Bush, and occasionally hit a few balls at the golf course and driving range. He did allow the light in his eyes to make a cameo here and there when he would volunteer for the food pantry at the local church, talk about God and life with the inmates at the local prison, or allow himself to engage in some scintillating conversation, the love of a movie, or cook some good ole fashioned sauce. But other than that, to any outsider, and perhaps most of us insiders, he lived a very surface level and unchallenged life, even until the bitter end.
I cannot repeat this mistake. I do not want to live on the inside of fear. In yoga, there is a mantra or chant to aid one from dying before their actual death; to know one’s purpose and live it so one can truly be LIVING while they are alive. It is no coincidence that after the initial fog of his death began to lift, this mantra presented itself, no, more like forced itself upon me and helped me get through this past year.
I also believe it is no coincidence that I recently stumbled upon this great article from The New York Times- Learning to deal with The Imposter Syndrome, by Carl Richards. (http://www.nytimes.com/…/learning-to-deal-with-the-impostor…)
You know when people have that ability to put into words exactly what you are thinking, in a much more succinct and interesting way? Yeah, this is it. The article is basically about fear- how it controls us and how to combat it: “When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value. Why is that? Well, we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world. In fact, the very act of being really good at something can lead us to discount its value. But after spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?” Okay, so we know the why, now, a story about Buddha for the how: “All of this leads to the final and most important step: learning how to live with the imposter syndrome. I recently listened to Tim Feriss interview the clinical psychologist and author Tara Brach. In her book “Radical Acceptance”, she shared a really cool story about Buddha and the demon Mara. One day, Buddha was teaching a large group, and Mara was moving around the edges, looking for a way into the group. I envision Mara rushing frantically back and forth in the bushes and trees, making plans to wreak havoc. One of Buddha’s attendants saw Mara, ran to Buddha and warned him of Mara’s presence. Hearing his attendant’s frantic warning, the Buddha simply replied, “Oh good, invite her in for tea.” This story captures beautifully how we should respond to the impostor syndrome. We know what the feeling is called. We know others suffer from it. We know a little bit about why we feel this way. And we now know how to handle it: Invite it in and remind ourselves why it’s here and what it means.” Now this one is a face slap, as I am a seasoned counselor with a Masters and License in Social Work. I even realized this during my own grief work with the death of my Pops when I encountered a poem about grief being like a giant, purple elephant, when it arrives, simply ask it to sit beside you and be with you. And even as I write this, I completely understand in the literal sense the meaning of it all, and yet, I do not feel the message of this after school special has found it’s niche inside my heart yet. BUT, I want it to and I know it will in time.
It was only after seeing a cardiologist at the ripe, young age of 34 that I realized that my heart is really trying to tell me something here and perhaps I needed to give my brain a break. I had been experiencing what only could be described as heart palpitations. Perhaps just like the rest of the population, I experienced these from time to time during a stressful situation, but this was different. They began to increase both in the amount per day as well as how long they would occur for and they seemed to be happening at strange times- lying down, after I ate, and at night, mostly, but then, just to throw me off, they would happen during the day, or while I was standing up. Baffled and a tad bit afraid as my sister had just underwent surgery to repair this mouthful of an issue: idiopathic ventricular tachycardia, I decided to go and see my Doctor. One 48-hour holter monitor test later, it was suggested I try the month long test, equipped with removable electrodes, a belt clip and a blackberry. I conceded. I did not realize they made Blackberry’s anymore, so I felt like I was back in the ’90’s with a pager attached to my pants, except that pager was attached to wires that looked nowhere near as cool as my ’90’s throwback memories, and I never actually owned a pager. One month and 4 hickey looking suction cup marks on my torso later, I was back in the Doctor’s office, ready to hear the news. It was then that I decided that I really liked this man. His bed side manner was amazing, and even though he was Prince sized in stature, he had a voice and calm yet strong presence about him so that when he spoke, I felt both safe and in awe at the same time. He began talking about how when he first started his residency after med school, there was this surge of people coming in droves reporting about heart palpitations, or what he called extra beats. Some of his colleagues decided these beats needed to be suppressed for fear they lead to heart attacks and death, and they were clearly alarming and freaking out the masses, so they prescribed everyone medication and all seemed well for a bit. However, much like with most sciences, with time and a published study looking at those individuals taking the prescribed medicine to suppress these extra beats versus those taking a placebo pill, those on the meds actually fared far worse than those that received a placebo pill. In the end, they realized that it is actually not better to suppress these extra beats, that they are in fact “normal”, and to just let them happen and all will be okay. As he spoke, my mind wandered to all these unfinished projects that I have embarked on throughout the years- the meditation project, Lilypants, and the busy book, how I have loved acting for as far back as I can remember, despite never setting foot in a theatre or doing any acting for about a decade, and how, for my whole life, I have loved to write and draw, yet have never actually allowed myself to do anything with these passions in terms of really exploring them. Starts and stops. My life has been full of starts and stops. He continued to speak, now explaining how these extra beats worked, much like pistons in an engine, and I immediately thought of the movie Interstellar. Now, stay with me as what I am about to say may seem strange to some, but I know I was having a beautifully crafted “Aha moment”, one that just entered my brain and began to play on the screen of my mind and, feeling almost paralyzed by my feelings, all I could do was be a witness and watch. I kind of felt like Cher in Clueless, walking aimlessly about after some retail therapy, trying to sort out her feelings, and then, AHA! The water fountain suddenly burst into action and she realized that she loved Josh. Much like Jessica Chastain’s character in Interstellar, I felt that I had finally realized that my Pops was trying to pass me a message, but not through the ticks of an old watch and instead through these extra beats in my heart. What if these extra beats are my Pops trying to jump start my heart, reminding me to be brave, encouraging me to have more completions rather than starts and stops, to delve into my passions through art, helping me to know he is there, has been there all along this past year, and that I can suppress them no longer. While my brain tried to make sense of all of this, telling me I was crazy and was reaching now, really reaching, my heart silenced the fears, confident that this was truth in it’s pure form. This was my all knowing Pops who had watched me struggle and push through, start and stop, succumb to fear and succeed, letting me know he sees me and that I can, no, I need to see these extra beats for what they are- a plead from the depths of my art nerd soul to do this already.
I remember walking out of the Doctor’s office feeling surreal, as if I had just woken from a beautifully artistic, yet intense dream. Floating to my car and landing in the drivers seat, I sat for a minute thinking about what had just happened. I don’t think I shared it with anyone. Not out of fear, but more so due to a phenomenon, much like when you are traveling and witness something so moving and beautiful, and you go to reach for your phone or a camera to encapsulate it forever, but instead realize some things are better off being photographed by the heart and soul, and not a machine. So you don’t, and instead just observe, taking it in through all the senses, feeling at peace, knowing this experience was meant for you and you alone.
And you’d think even with an out of body like experience such as this that I may have jumped on it and came out with a rough of my Starry Night or Still Life with Woodpecker, or even researched plays to audition for. No, not exactly. BUT, as I said before, I want it, now even more so than before. I am just not sure of the what and the how exactly, but I do know that I will not get there sitting idly by, cozy on a couch, in a lounge of the inside of fear. I need to see where these extra beats take me, trusting in my Pops, my heart, love, and all things magic. However, just like the poem and the advice in the imposter syndrome story, I first need to sit here, on this bench, with the giant, purple elephant, and observe these fears for what they are. So, that is where I will be for a bit, sitting on the dock of this bay. I do not anticipate I will be here very long, as, like the Cheers song, everyone here already knows my name. I am hoping this place will be more like an island I visit when needed and not one I have purchased a retirement home on.
And for those of you that were waiting for the Star Wars tie in, isn’t it obvious? The force is our innate purpose, light, love, passion and the soul, and the dark side is not only just fear, but also the cancer. Like the song, it’s just an object, another thing in the universe trying to survive. It’s survival of the fittest, really. Go into the light, Carol Anne. There is peace and serenity in the light. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll go with Tangina on this one.