I used to feel happiest when traveling. Experiencing new places, new people, my only job to discover and explore. It was a hack to feel present, when in reality my inner life was fixated on the past or worrying about the future. My self-worth was based on what exciting new adventure I was cooking up. The truth is I was running – from responsibility, from commitment, from myself. My constant companions were anxiety, credit card debt, and a bunch of photos of the places I’d been that nothing to anyone but me.
Today, being at home is as fulfilling as being abroad. I especially love my office. It overlooks the yard with the pond and the majestic tree. The light is more buttery and brilliant than anywhere I’ve yet seen. This is where I’ve cooked up Forever Flowers, essays and blog posts. This is where @machetebangbang and I have written Moon Manor, with our dog / cat / chameleon colleagues nearby. My office is on the other side of the bathroom, a weird secret hovel high up with the squirrels and scarabs. My mind feels good here. Passport stamps are cool, but inner peace is the best high of all.
On June 8th, 2018 my dear grandmother “Ruby Love” departed this world for the next. She was 102.
For years I took her dinner every Sunday and painted her nails. Being closer to her was one of the best things about moving to LA. We would discuss what she was reading on her Kindle (she thought 50 Shades of Grey was “mildly entertaining”). She wore shirts that said “Seen it all, done it all, just don’t remember it all.” She loved the Lakers and Johnny Depp. Most of these photos were taken when she was 98, 99, and 100. Dear lord – I hope I have her genes. She was born before women could even vote, and yet she was my biggest teacher of tolerance – people of all faiths, colors and orientations were welcome at her table. I’m trying to not focus on the last 2 years she spent in a home, Alzheimer’s obscuring her personality, although this was also part of her journey and doesn’t need to be banished from her story. Ruby Love was a grand dame, and a muse. Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Ricky wrote a song about her, the first screenplay I ever had optioned was about her. Muse-ship doesn’t end just because a body has finished hanging out on Earth. I’d like to think it’s just the beginning.
The essence of my grandmother is best told in the small details. For years, her exercise was walking inside the perimeter of her apartment, the route so well-worn it was a dark track in the carpet. She liked her nails painted beige or silver, never pink. She wore chic pantsuits and was a champion bowler. She loved Gatorade. My sister Jessica remembers how grandma raised a family and made her extended family important, each and every year, that she loved going to lunch, and shopping at the 99 cent Store.
My grandmother was unsentimental, blunt and sassy. She was not cookies and doilies, she was low-fat and LeSportSac bags. But in our every Sunday routine, the night would inevitably end with me putting my head in her lap so she could rake her long nails across my hair, not unlike how you’d pet a cat. Once we fell into the ritual we’d both go quiet, silently enjoying each other’s company.
I really only knew my grandmother as a single woman living on her own, since my grandfather passed when I was little. She was living proof that a woman cannot only be happy living on her own, she can thrive.
It was only in her late 90s that she started to slow down, and that was only after she fell off a treadmill at the gym. Being on the treadmill at that age is incredible in and of itself! Assistance came in the form of Uncle Jimmy, who heroically put up with her passenger-seat driving on their errands around town.
And I want you to know something about the documentary on grandma I’ve been low-key filming for years – she was directing the footage with me. She came alive when I got out the camera. We had an agreement that I would film everything, not just the happy funny moments, but her whole process into the end of her life. She was always ahead of her time.
Hotel rooms strike me as the loveliest and loneliest places on earth
Everything is fresh, the illusion of perfect
A temporary home in a tower of travelers
When you don’t have to worry about clean towels or making the bed
The mind can dive into more existential pursuits
The square of toilet paper origami
The smart appeal of bleach
A room service pre-order form, so you can eat bacon and eggs two minutes upon waking
52 channels to flip through, the only place left to watch basic cable and feel like a kid again
But after a few days, your clean paradise becomes a prison
And it’s depressing to be in a room masquerading as your own but it belonged to the guy before you and the family after you and really it belongs to the maid
And the plastic key is so plastic
And they politely request in an aggressive way
That you check out by 11am
Where once the bland painting on the wall was blessedly free of personal attachment, it’s now offensive in its non offensive-ness,
And maybe you peek behind it and see a doodle left by a past resident
And you’re disgruntled you didn’t think to do something edgy like that
The bad coffee in its single serving pouch makes you mad because you’re a single serving person in a single serving room in this single serving life
And so you go home, where the to-do list lives, and boxes that need sorting left over from when you moved in, and the oven needs fixing
But it’s perfect in its imperfection because it sounds like ice cream trucks and lawn mowers outside because it’s a neighborhood
And it’s a home
And it’s yours
It’s 2:21am on New Year’s Eve, and I’m starting 2018 how I intend to live it. Writing. Processing thoughts into words. Taking action to share those words.
This is something I wrote on Christmas Eve, but didn’t share on my blog because my dad subscribes and I was nervous for him to read it. It’s nothing I wouldn’t say to him in person, but I get shy being so vulnerable. Well, anyway. Here it is.
Dad, when you read this, thank you for the wild ride this year. We did it. I love you.
My dad’s doctors don’t want him traveling during the holidays, so we’re going to stay in our sweats this Christmas and watch movies and unpack his new apartment for his new life, for his new liver.
Tonight we revisited the photo book I made him several Christmases ago, the early 70s photos from when he was the guitar-sitar-dulcimer player in the band/collective called ONE. They were discovered by Jefferson Airplane, were a staple in the magnetic Bolinas, CA music scene, and even played John Lennon’s birthday party.
I’m over the moon my dad is talking about music again. I hold my breath for the day he picks up the guitar again. And I can’t believe how much we resemble each other in these photos. I’d really love to remake the photo book for him, as a coffee table book along with the story of his band. Anyone know anything about the world of publishing art books?
A lot of the photos from the time are double-exposed, creating these surreal images I’m obsessed with. These photographs only resurfaced recently, the photographer from the record label found them in his garage and somehow tracked down my dad.
ONE’s music was ethereal, folksy, experimental. The lead singer had his name legally changed to Reality D. Blipcrotch. The “D” stands for “Dopey.” This is mild compared to the other characters and stories my dad tells. When I look at the photos, I’m also struck how they feel like a generation finding itself. After the big shifts of the Summer of Love, where would the dust settle?
I made the photo book to cheer my dad up for the first Christmas after my mom passed away. We started talking about the project again when he had cancer. Now it comes back out post transplant. But with so many “career building” projects to work on, making this book with him feels like something “we’ll get to eventually.”
It’s funny how life and death situations spur you to action, you think you’ll always live thereafter with the beautiful perspective trauma can bring. But alas, you don’t. You seep back into the minutiae. You procrastinate. I try to remind myself it’s a gift to be caught up in the petty stuff. It means your life is calm. Free enough from major hurdles that you even have the emotional bandwidth to sweat the small stuff.
I hope everyone has a lovely holiday. May your worries in the new year be petty and small. May you have the gift of health, the only gift that really counts.