One of my earliest memories of my father is when I was perhaps two or three. We were at a church dance, a father-daughter event. I was too small to dance, so he tucked me in his jacket, buttoning me to his chest; then he danced us both to a poorly played waltz, like I was a queen in my reluctant ruffles, and he was a prince with roasted potato and sweet onion breath from the potluck. I remember his beard being scratchy, his chuckle raspy. I had never been so happy.
My father chastises me in bass G, and laughs at his own jokes in a middle baritone D. He whistles when he’s happy. He laments, compassionately soothing other peoples’ worries in a gravelly low C, and warm hug. He taught me about energy, photography, pretty stones, and people. He showed me how to use my cameras, shoot a gun, and change a tire. He understood my need to find things out for myself—so when I’d ask a question, or grip onto a puzzle, he’d grumble in a hoarse b minor and say, “What do you think, you odd little duck? You tell me.”
He gave me my love of travel, so I associate the D3 hum of rubber on asphalt, and the E4 of a six-cylinder engine in fifth gear with his road-trip chats, while I aired my feet out the passenger window across the most impressive byways of the Rocky Mountains. On these trips he also gave me Led Zeppelin, and Bach (on opposite sides of the same cassette), and his undying crush… Bette Midler.
My father never had a day of musical training in his 75 years, but to me, because I adore him, he is the perfect compositional arrangement. I’ll be 44 on August 5th, this year and my father has never told me I’m beautiful, not even on my wedding day when he gave me away to another man. I never felt the void of that conventional statement other fathers generally give their daughters, because I felt beautiful in the resonance of my soul pitch in direct relationship to his. I saw it in his smile. His tone was pure, his note steady, unwavering. To be honest, the fact that he never needed to say it, and I never felt the lack of it, only proves how well matched our chords synchronized in this lifetime. We had harmony.
I say had, because with all great scores, there is a transition key. A point when the notes tremble and the tempo shifts. My father is touched by Mnemosyne’s Curse, and so his linear timeline has fractured. It began about a decade ago, so I’ve had time to reconcile how I want his final days to be remembered. In the beginning, I was angry, grief-stricken, and full of pounding staccato rage at the life theft implied in his diagnosis. Minor, dissonant keys and chaotic mismatched chords and syncopated rhythms tarnished our conversations. I usually left in a mess of tears, believing I had lost him, even though he is still struggling to hold on to this reality, he cannot leave his children behind just yet. I sense he needs us settled so that he can rest.
There was a great chasm, a long empty drift in our connection right after his announcement. Over time, I realized the bitter blessing in this stage of his life; he only remembers me as I was in his favorite recollections, those moments he repeats to me again and again. They are often not my favorite or brightest moments… that’s not important, because they are clearly his. What his fractured timelines brings up, I am able to see through his eyes, the dolce delivery of our history as father and daughter, as his final refrains are moments when he watched me grow beyond needing him. When I took my steps to become a woman of this world. When I stretched myself to find a purpose and fulfillment. His repeats are the moments he was most proud of the fact that I surpassed him in love, building community, or chasing my own dreams; dreams he had been too afraid to reach for himself. I somehow, unintentionally, gave him the coherence he was searching for on his fatherhood quest—his voice is full of song when he shares those memories.
He’s so far gone, I cannot expect him to understand that I only achieved those dreams because I stood on his firm resonance, his bass voice and sturdy tones. He was the foundation from which I found the courage to leap.
I sometimes wish for him the clarity to understand what I mean when I tell him, “We did it, Dad. You did it. You broke the cycle. It’s okay to rest. Take a break.”
On a good day, I have about an hour with him. On a bad day, his memory resets every six minutes or so. On those days, when he resets, I say first thing, “I love you, Dad.” Each time his voice lights up, and he says he loves me too, like I haven’t just told him every six minutes for the last hour. It’s just as newsworthy and welcome to him each time—so I am happy to say it as often as it delights. When 44 years is distilled into six-minute intervals, there’s no room left for blame, or accusations, complaints or judgment. There’s no room for regret. There’s only redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance. There’s only enough meter for gratitude.
I realize now that his refrains, those looping moments are his last dance with me. Our waltz is a very long goodbye. Over the years the waltz has gotten slower, legato, softer. I take time to cherish it. This disease he wrestles with has purified all emotion and memory into its most crystalline integrity.
Neither of us are the youthful people setting out to discover a lifelong friendship anymore; me in my reluctant ruffles, and he with the raspy chuckle and sweet onion breath. Our duet and final meanderings in ¾ time of six-minute intervals around a room are conversations of old events, hazy with displacement, rich in love.
And really, why do we do anything at all, if not for that? For that perfectly synchronized harmonic merging of notes into a powerfully unbreakable chord?
I apologize for the nostalgia. It’s fresh on my mind, as it’s my dad’s birthday today, so the language/music is easy to access. The point is, we are all a collection of sounds, as you know. Sounds that are meaningless, unless in connection to or relationship to someone or something else. Only in the interactions do we become chords, and keys, and rhythms, even if that connection or relationship is internal, spiritual.
That music and language can affect the human body without touching it, is the closest definition to what I might call divinity.
My father was a violent and religious man in his youth. During his mid-point reversal, he went down a different path, a spiritual walkabout to discover the divine feminine and Eastern philosophy. He gave away his guns and swore a path of passive non-violence. He sought a newer kind of salvation. In doing so, he had to leave the God he’d loved, and the church that had been his home to embrace totality. Thus it is that I learned about divinity, not God, but music and language and the principles of agape, bliss, and eternal grace from a man who’d forsaken the pulpit—to give his daughters, whom he named after goddesses, a better chance of success in a man’s world.
If that’s not the very definition of an Aria… I don’t know what is.
(The song of my father. Excerpt from musical scoring notes and musical theory study)- Athena
As I’ve officially hit the edge of the map on my previous experiences, and everything I’m picking up now is new information, skills and practices—I’ll be honest. It’s really uncomfortable. Exciting, sure. But definitely not comfortable.
Is growth every really comfortable?
One of the most surprising things I’m currently struggling with is my weight and measure. I don’t mean, like body image weight, I mean like NEED/EXPECTATION weight. Even more so---I don’t actually KNOW what my measure is, because I’ve never been here. It’s nearly impossible to gauge my volume. Am I too loud? Too soft? Too wide? Too loaded? Too heavy? Conversely, am I too slow? Not enough? Lagging? Outdated?
I can’t tell if I’m too far ahead or lumbering behind, because I haven’t locked into anything stable yet.
I can’t tell. I have zero frame of reference for my voice outside my own head, or how the acoustics of what I’m asking for resonates with others. I don’t know where I am in relation to other things, ideas, people, tasks, or workload. Evidently, this is what happens when you’ve isolated for too long, built a massive project, then try to re-emerge into the world with an unwieldy behemoth and rusty social skills.
Am I being obnoxious? Probably. I won’t know until I learn my own form of temperance under these new rules. Do I dare slow down when I have this level of momentum, though? Not really. I know me well enough to know the momentum will hit its own wall in its own time, so best to use this hard burn creation space while it’s available—and just hope I don’t burn any of my new collaborators out with the force of the escape velocity push.
It feels a bit like I imagine G-force might be as I know I need to leave the woods—but the gravitational pull here is super powerful, so only a hard hot burn is going to break the lock and re-orient my view. In the process I’m yelling over the sound of engines, and my bones are rattling, shaking off old habits and toxic relationships. The timeline is crushing, falling away behind me, and while I’m shouting directions, there’s a soft voice in the helmet earpiece.
“You don’t need to scream over the rockets. I can hear you just fine through the mouthpiece. Yes, the view is glorious. I see it, too.” There’s a pause. “You’re going to be okay, Athena. Stop clenching. For the love of God, breathe.”
I’ve picked a few people I believe will give me boundaries when needed, and I’m just going at whatever volume I have the energy for and when they tell me to stop—I’ll divert or correct. Simply, because I don’t have the time or energy to guess where and what is acceptable quantity outside the forest bubble. Relying on people to use their healthy boundaries while I learn the edges of the new territory is a whole new exercise in trust. I don’t want to hurt anyone with my clumsy fumbling or mass.
I’ve always worked alone. My speeds are either teleporting wormhole lightspeed OR garden slug with very little regulation in between. But now that I’m working with others, collaborating, I need to learn to find their rhythms, cues and tempos. I’ve always been lead on my own dance floor.
So this… this trying to pace and process others’ timing is—weird. I keep tripping over my own feet, stumbling on words, forgetting what I was about to do or say because I’m trying to slow down to be a good partner to people offering assistance.
While there is a version of myself who is twenty years younger who’d say, step gently, wait, be cautious and tiptoe in. Wait to be given tasks. Wait to be invited, etc. I also know that is the surest way to lose any and all momentum, and to embed a system of non-authentic interactions. Waiting to be invited to speak is the fastest way to be eclipsed out of your own build.
I’m a creator, we don’t sit around waiting for permission to manifest. Timelines, yo. Timelines and places to be.
I’ve had the bountiful luxury of six years of uninterrupted creative build time out here in the hinterlands to put together a project with a scale that I find downright thrilling. It’s been a blast. That said, I starved myself of all the other wonders of an enriched life in order to meet the goal, set the mission up for success.
My social skills and niceties got rusty. My ability to anticipate other’s steps grew stagnant. I’m slower to recognize cues.
I guess what I’m saying is, that when you go beyond what is familiar, the learning curve of your new belonging needs a compassionate and patient re-adjustment period. I’m trying very hard not to be someone else’s problem or burden; constantly re-evaluating and second-guessing my asks. Then I realize I cannot set the edges yet; the edges have to be defined by me running into them. If I guess at edges, I’ll end up creating blockages where there were none.
Again, it will come to trust that others will recognize this stage is temporary…then politely, move any fine China out of my stumbling reach and offer a few thoughtful re-directing boundaries for my orientation.
Anywhoo, this is an unexpected part of the re-emerging and growth process. There has been a slew of ego deaths in my life recently, one right after another. This is just part of the new ego birthing. A friend kindly said something like, “Don’t worry about your energy right now. You’re like a puppy putting everything in its mouth. You’ll figure out what’s safe to eat, and who is safe to love, eventually. Welcome back to the real world, Athena. We missed you these last six years.”
So yeah, what she said. Thank you all for your patience, and for moving anything fragile out of my reach until the wave settles. So much love.