I'm a day late with this post. The past few days my dad and I spent hanging out with my nephew Quinn (Dad's grandson) before he deploys to the Middle East. His twin brother, Lane, started Ranger school on Sunday. I wanted to share (with his permission) the letter I wrote to him this morning, before he left.
24 April 2018
I’m glad we had a chance to spend some time together before you deploy. While I will be concerned for your safety, I’m also excited for you, because I know you are excited to have this opportunity. During our conversations there was one thing you mentioned that I thought was important to both acknowledge and also address.
You mentioned in passing that there are some things you only discuss with others in the military, because they are the only ones who really understand it. That’s true. Each world of work has its own lingo, its own culture, its own rules and experience, and no one who isn’t in it truly knows what it means. Anna can never fully convey to you what it is to design a dress and see a model take it down a runway, Your mother can never fully convey what it is like to face the empty page and bring characters and a story to life on it. Your dad, Hattie, even Lane, who will have and already has had different experiences of becoming an officer than you have – all of them, all of us who were there last night, on Sunday, each have our own worlds in addition to the one we share and interact in with family.
At the same time, each person in your military world, even the people you work with every day, has a different experience of that world than you do. Even when we are most connected we are also most separate. That’s the human condition. We all feel a range of emotions, have a range of experiences, yet no other individual will experience them in exactly the same way you do. So things like a good musical, a good book, a good movie will tap into a universal experience of love or grief in a very specific way, like Rick in Casablanca, and though we are not Rick and experience love and grief in our own ways, we understand his and feel for him.
Whatever experiences you have, we can’t ever know exactly what that will be like for you. What we can know is what it is to feel completely alone and isolated, and that no one in the world can really understand what we are going through. That we all know at one time or another. As close as you and Lane are as twins, he can never fully share your years at West Point, you can never fully share the Ranger training he is going through right now. What you do share is the experience of being tested and pushed to the limits, and the comradeship you have with those who are with you in it.
Dainin Katagiri-roshi, a Buddhist teacher who taught several of my teachers, wrote that when you go deeply into practice, or any experience, you feel more connected to people and the world. At the same time, the deeper you go, the more alone you are. I suspect your faith will help to carry you through your life, and I also acknowledge that for some people, their faith is not able to sustain them. I don’t know why it is different for different people, but it is. What I do know is that if you are aware of the universality of the sense that no one can understand exactly what I’ve experienced, that awareness is already connection. At the times of greatest distress and despair in my own life, that awareness has kept me going, sometimes one day at a time, but always still going.
Safe travels and lots of love,
There have been many gifts in my life, and one of them goes by the name of Nushka. Now she will come to the workshop with a project of her own, and it will be my chance to nourish her work. All I have to do is follow her example.
Thank you Nushka,
When I was a kid, Mom always did the laundry. I wasn't allowed to touch the washer or dryer, but when I was in fourth grade I had my introduction to ironing. Yes, I was born in the 50's so we grew up with ironing as part of daily life.
What did I learn on? Pillowcases. Pillowcases, and my dad's handkerchiefs. They were flat, small, and relatively easy for a fourth-grader to navigate. Over the years I learned to iron sheets (yep, we did those too!), blouses, jeans, and skirts. Eventually, as I learned how to operate the washer and dryer, the ironing became less and less frequent.
The emotional currents of that river lie in my memories of Gary’s teaching, his humor, the sense of fun and play that he and Nushka brought to each workshop. They also lie in the nourishing atmosphere in which writers “diagnosed” other writer’s manuscripts instead of “critiquing.” And in the games of pool with Lorin on the top floor at Bristol, played as we discussed our writing and the classes; campfires at Marydale enlivened by stories and songs; and listening to Frank Strunk play his guitar and sing (at Marydale with Alice Orr doing the singing).
Two things happened this weekend that on the face of it are unrelated, yet when I look a little deeper, I can see the connection. One was the March for Our Lives. The other was American Idol auditions.
One of the interesting things in watching American Idol, is the moment you realize the judges aren't simply looking for the best voice. Some of the people they choose from the auditions are raw, a few even make mistakes. Yet they are chosen over someone who sings perfectly. Why?
There is a quality of authenticity that eclipses simple talent. The ones who have that ability to project something that is purely themselves will move on, otherwise they get a no. Lionel Ritchie told one person he/she needed to go home and find out who they were. It wasn't a matter of performing someone else's material well, it was a matter of performing it as only he or she could.
In the past few days I've read comments from several people who seem to feel the students who initiated the march had no idea what they were doing. Yet those students were not afraid to say - we are the future, we are the solution, you have done nothing - a myriad of voices, each one of them sounding genuine, heartfelt, and very real.
Today I witnessed magic. A DVD came in the mail, and I stopped everything to put it in and watch it. It was Robin and Mark and Richard III, and if you’ve not heard of it that’s not so surprising. It’s a Canadian documentary in which the late theatre director Robin Phillips works with Canadian comic actor Mark McKinney on playing William Shakespeare’s Richard III, the title character of the play. It's only sold in Canada as far as I can tell, and it's wonderful.
At the time I had no idea what made Robin’s work unlike anyone else’s – all I knew was that during the intermission of As You Like It I had to get out of the theatre and away from people. I felt raw and fragile and had never experienced Shakespeare quite like that before.
If you want to see for yourself, there is a trailer for the film on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/robinandmarkandrichardthethird/) and there’s another 5-minute film with Robin done by Hubert Davis on the National Film Board website (https://www.nfb.ca/film/move_your_mind/).
As I’ve mentioned more than a few times on this blog, I tend to re-read books, over and over again. Lately I’ve made a serious effort to read books I haven’t read yet, and to read some newer, more recent books. I still love my old friends, and now I’m getting to know some new friends as well. I’m going to share some thoughts about three books I’ve read recently and what prompted me to read them and stay with them.
From the first page, I was caught up in the story, caught up in Free’s emotions and the world and the people she loves. By itself, that’s great. When you add a sense of humor that had me laughing out loud at times, and the bass notes of genuine heartbreak and broken dreams, you have a book that I find hard to put down. I have to say also, that there were two plot twists that, while they made perfect sense, I didn’t see coming at all. That made it a really satisfying read for me. It left me wishing I could go hang out in the restaurant and the community with the folks from the book.
But it might have started way later than I think without my noticing anything at all. You see someone, but you don’t really see him, he’s in the wings. Or you notice him, but nothing clicks, nothing “catches,” and before you’re even aware of a presence, or of something troubling you, the six weeks that were offered you have almost passed and he’s either already gone or just about to leave, and you’re basically scrambling to come to terms with something, which, unbeknownst to you, has been brewing for weeks under your very nose and bears all the symptoms of what you’re forced to call I want.
That was it. I was hooked, and had a hard time putting it down from that point until I finished it.
I had to put this book down frequently and go away. The sense of foreboding and doom was so strong from the very beginning, it was palpable to me, and made it painful to read. At the same time, it was an incredible, beautiful story, and while it was Shakespearean in theme, it wasn’t necessary to be familiar with Shakespeare to appreciate it. I felt tremendously frustrated at the end. It felt like Edgar became a victim, instead of the hero of his story. I won’t say too much about why, because readers should decide that for themselves. It is not a book about which I could pretend indifference. It was a tough read, and yet it was compelling.
The court clerks who handled shepherding all of us (about 150 total) through the day, did it with calm, clarity, and patience. Considering the latecomers, the folks who don’t listen to what’s going on, and those who simply don’t understand, that was pretty remarkable. At midafternoon, the clerk who dismissed about thirty of us thanked us for our service and assured us that our time was not wasted.
It’s easy to laugh because we’ve heard a lot of this since we were kids at school, or we’ve seen it on television. What made this different was, in part, the setting. We were in a room that could be used as a large courtroom, though it was being used as a jury selection room. The other thing that brought a certain gravitas to the proceedings was that the people in charge took it seriously, and yet seemed to enjoy what they were doing.
As I look back on the day, my primary emotion/sensation was curiosity. I was genuinely interested in how the day was going to play out and was open to whatever happened. In the end, you could say it was uneventful, and that would be true. At the same time, it was a glimpse into another world, the road not taken (I went to law school but never practiced). And it was a day pulled out of my own world, yanked out of my comfortable space and thrust into a room with 150 strangers. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
My family moved into the house I’m living in now a little more than 50 years ago. My mother died six years ago, and my brother and sister and their families are all over the place. I’ve been back and forth across the country several times over a number of years, and returned to live here with my dad.
Way back when we first moved in, my sister and I shared the room I’m in now. I was going into sixth grade, she into seventh. In other words, we were pre-teens. I know that means something different to all of us, but at the same time, there is some common ground when we think of pre-teen. Young enough to be far from driving, old enough to be thinking about dating (not doing it, but thinking about it). And in my case, right at that perfect age for teen idol worship.
Almost as if she knew, my mother bought each of us a bulletin board on which we could put whatever we wanted. Maybe she did know at that, since my mother was one of the screaming teenagers who went downtown to see a very young Frank Sinatra perform, wearing her trench coat and screaming, “Frankie!”
Eventually I discovered Tiger Beat at the drugstore, and my world expanded. Their pictures were glossy on every pages, not just the covers. Between the two, I spent several years adorning my bulletin, celebrating the ritual of the changing of the pictures. The time came when the subscription to 16 wasn’t renewed – I wanted something else for my birthday. The bulletin board had big gouges in the cork, and one week when my sister and I were away, my mother redecorated our room and when we returned, the bulletin boards were gone.
Why do I choose to write about this today? Well, today I put up a new version of a bulletin board in that very same room, more than 50 years later. Actually, it’s three smaller bulletin boards in hexagonal shapes, and of course, the pictures and items on it are quite different. The one similarity is that, just as it was more than 50 years ago, it is an expression of who I am today – what matters to me, who matters to me, my priorities, my dreams, my memories. It isn’t complete yet, but when I finish posting this I will go to my printer and take the little copy of the Mark Lindsay picture and put it up on my new bulletin board. I will honor the person I was then, and the dreams of my youth. I still dream, though my dreams look a little different now…
This week I thought I'd do something a little different. I'm going to share some pictures from the last few years and write a little something about each one. These will all be pictures I've taken myself.
The sun is trying to break through the mist at Asilomar. Beyond that mist is Pebble Beach, where the Pro-Am golf tournament is underway. The wild winter ocean is raging, and you can almost taste the salt in the air.
Can you see the double rainbow on the left picture? It's harder to see on the left (same rainbow). I was driving home from work when I saw this, and had to stop and take a picture. At Asilomar, of course.
Hope you've enjoyed this little tour of Asilomar and the Aquarium. Enjoy the rest of the Olympics!
Carol (Doc) Dougherty
An avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Wake Up and Write Writer's Retreat Workshop