(Eulogy for) My Granddad

My granddad’s memorial is in one day and 14 hours. I got off of work less than half an hour ago. Tomorrow my partner and I are driving to the memorial. The extent of my packing thus far is: three pairs of underwear and one pair of pajamas.

All week I have been submerged in Ann Pattchet’s latest, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (review to follow), mostly because Ann Pattchet satisfies me in a way no other author does and partly because the book was due back at the library today. Looking back now, I suppose I could have been putting off packing. I am very much looking forward to seeing so many members of my family. I am at least equally and positively anticipating hearing what anyone and everyone will have to say about my granddad. And, even though I know that at some point everyone needs to die, I still don’t want to go and admit that he’s gone.

Here is the best way (thus far) I have come up with to sum up my granddad: He was a man’s man with enough sweetness to help raise two thoughtful, intelligent, charismatic, and loving daughters.

He was good throughout. In the last few years he would say things that I knew I could have objected to, but I did not because he was so good all the way through. And, because I feel that we should let those over 99 years old say what they say—so what if we need to set ourselves aside to better see their meaning. But mostly because he was my granddad.

He was a man’s man. He could tell a story—he included all of the interesting and pertinent details and left out all the rest. The stories he told were extraordinary and descriptive, and he was always willing to stop and explain if the listener had any questions. He had manly stories that lacked bravado about fascinating topics like the Dust Bowl, logging, sleeping in banks under tarps, and working in factories. And unlike many storytellers, he was just as good at listening.

For many years I could only picture my granddad in the sharp bucket hats he used to wear. These mental pictures also often included my granddad smiling with a dirty trowel. I remember him gardening. He was always tending to the tulips or sprucing up the back yard. Later after my granny’s Alzheimer’s began to really assert itself, the trowel in my memory is replaced with a pie server or a can opener. What kind of person learns that their partner has Alzheimer’s and teaches himself to cook and bake? A: The kind of person my granddad was.

I can see him with a newspaper. Maybe he’s reclined in his chair reading it, or maybe it’s resting on a side table next to a wooden puzzle as he dozes. The puzzles that used to litter his living room have since been passed on to my partner, because aside from my granddad, my partner is the only one who can solve them.

How can I explain my grief in any words but “all-encompassing” and “bittersweet”? I am near senseless in how grateful I am to have received the gift of knowing my granddad. I am devastated by this great loss.

I love you lots, G.

P.S. – C says hi.

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Book Review: Fraternity Gang Rape by Peggy Reeves Sanday

What makes a person pick up a book like this (outside of a required reading list, that is)? For me, it is a love of knowledge combined with strong feminist ethos. However, I will readily admit that it took me a good while to get through the whole thing. At times, Fraternity Gang Rape does feel a bit dated. Originally published in the early 1990s, much of this book revolves around happenings in the 1980s at the University of Pennsylvania. However, Sanday’s methodology, theoretical underpinnings, conclusions, and presentation are just as crisp and salient today as they were over two decades ago. One would expect no less from such a foundational feminist figure. Additionally, the second edition of the book includes an afterword that reassess the relationship between fraternities and rape.

So, the question I have now is one of how much detail to go into here? First, despite conclusions that can easily be drawn from the somewhat sensational title, Sanday clearly defines “fraternity gang rape” as rape that functions to build cohesion within a group that derives their identity through perceived or actual brotherhood. She focuses on the Greek fraternities of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s, but it is important to remember that Sanday has the eyes and training of an anthropologist. There are several difficult chapters that discuss gang rapes, sexual assault, and hazing rituals in detail, and it was these portions of the book that I had to occasionally step away from. However, Sanday does offer a slew of solutions.

 

Bottom line:

Read this book. It is important that we educate ourselves on sexual assault and what can be done. If you identity as feminist, reading this book might make you feel better about the level of scholarship out there, it could make you feel worse about the state of society, but it will definitely stoke your dedication to human rights and social justice. If you don’t identify as feminist, you ought to take a look at it anyway, as it’s a prime example of thorough methodology and the marriage of theory and activism. While this book may feel a little dated at times, one only needs to look at the state of gender inequality in our society to know that this book is still far too necessary.

Inform yourself and be part of the solution.

Remembrances & Reflections

I. Introduction

The anger, exhaustion, and grief all bled into each other so much that they became one. As single, discernable entities I still felt in control. Together, however, they morphed into something undeniable and unstoppable.

 

II. Grief

My partner and I took a trip to my new school so that I could get a chance to meet some of my cohort and because we needed to figure out where we will live. I had been attempting to keep my dignity in the wake of my grandfather’s death, but I think I did a poor job of it. Regardless, when my partner’s brother asked a completely innocent question, I dissolved. My grief is so great that it has ripped out my tongue. The weight of this loss feels so complete and profound that I become embarrassed. My hopes are that it is easier to hide the melodrama of my emotion because I have been nearly unable to talk about it except to those closest to me.

Reader, I have nothing to say about my grandfather (or my mom or dad for that matter), because there are simply no words. I don’t even try to encapsulate him in judgments or descriptors because he is more. If I tried very hard I could come up with some words to describe something like his smile or his hair, but they are only words. They aren’t even close to being him.

However, I love the words others give to him. I feel the loss so acutely when someone tells me why they love him, but the loss is filled in a little by their kind words. In this way, condolences and remembrances are not quite a panacea, but at the very least they provide a soothing balm.

 

III. Exhaustion & Anger

Here’s a privileged thought: travel is exhausting. With no Levinasian home, weighed down by grief, I found enjoyment that was so diminished and superficial as to almost not exist—all while attempting to resist totality. I thought that I had left behind everyone who insists on telling me about myself and invalidating my experience while demanding attention and affection.

As my granny used to say, “That’s what you get for thinking!”

 

IV. Conclusion

Where I go next will require more strength and compassion that I thought I would be capable of, but now I know I am capable and more. I am teaching myself to act after so many years of passivity. I was waiting for my life to come to me. What a silly, privileged thing for a person to do!

But now I see.

Lately, I’m beginning to feel superhuman. The more theory I read, the easier it is to understand it all. The more sadness I feel, the more generous I become. The more I give, the more effortless it becomes to establish boundaries. The more I let go, the sharper, more brilliant, more abundant are my returns.

I’m telling you this in case you didn’t know: You are superhuman, too.

April 04, 2014: From Memory

The sharp, barely audible breath I took in helped me swallow something, but what was it? It’s lost in me for now. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and made two calls I needed to make before I called my mom. The e-mail she sent was not a fluke, but I needed to check in with her and hear her say my granddad was dead before I could do anything more.

Once I got off the phone, I began to make 2-dozen cookies. I measured slowly with what may have been varying degrees of success. I love the way ingredients smell as they combine and bake so much more than I love anything I bake that I give all the end results away. The relief is so immediate and merciful when I hand them all out and I know I will never have to see them again.

When the batter was done, I wondered at that and began scooping tiny spherical mounds out of the mixing bowl and onto a cookie sheet. I love the feel of cookie dough. How it’s viscous and gritty and studded with chocolate chips. There is nothing in my life so calming as the act of baking.

Before the first tray of cookies was ready to come out of the oven, I had moved somewhere across the street of where I was an hour ago. I was now firmly in a post-Granddad state. And I was there with day one of the cramp-portion of the month.

Since then I’ve been thinking about a lot of things—which is cliché, but I’m going with it. I’ve been remembering him, but I haven’t worked hard enough at remembering the things I know I will want to remember. As a consequence, I think everything might be just a little hazy. And, as much as I want this to be the stirring tribute my granddad deserved, I want to keep all those things private right now. I’m trying to keep them all inside me because it has become so obvious that I have a pitiful memory, and this is a person I don’t want to forget.

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I have been telling those closest to me that Bel Canto is the most beautiful book I have read in years. Having just finished reading it, I know that I cannot even begin to describe what this book has done for me. I want to say that I have been moved, that Patchett’s storytelling is hypnotic in its intense expansiveness, that her narration feels as effortless as a second skin, but all of these terms, every phrase I think of is hackneyed and barbaric in comparison. So what to say?

On the surface, Bel Canto is the story of what happens on the inside when a party in South America full of international elites is taken hostage by a group of terrorists, but it is so much more. It is a philosophical work that explores and documents all kinds of human relations with a clear emphasis on love. It is an exhibition of third person omniscient that is so subtle it is easy to forget that writing is a fine art. It is a love letter to opera that is accessible to the uninitiated. It is a compelling plot that questions the intersection of loyalty and privilege.

 

Bottom line:

Bel Canto is one of those books that fills the reader’s life with people to care for. Patchett’s craftsmanship is on full display throughout the book, and there is so much to appreciate about her writing: character development; narration; some of the most excellent foreshadowing I have read; and the way she tackles history, art, spirituality, and philosophy. Perhaps most impressive (although it is hard for me to say) is Patchett’s argument for compassion, which I read in her willingness to carefully explain varying points of view and the ways in which she tenderly unfolds and transforms her characters.

 

Bottom bottom line:

I checked this book out from the library, but I will be buying it. With passages so beautiful they took my breath away, how could I not?

Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Every once in a while I get in the mood for some slice-of-life contemporary fiction, which feels akin to a more grown-up, literary version of Gossip Girl (which, truthfully, I have never read) in that the characters are white, middle-/upper-class, and part of the hegemony in so many other ways. Considering this criteria, The Interestings did not disappoint. The Interestings follows a group of friends who meet at a performing arts summer camp in the 1970s, and Wolitzer does a superb job at exploring the philosophies and detailing the lives of the members of this group in an entertaining and extremely thoughtful way. As is the case with this particular genre (think Jeffery Eugenides) there are a number of passages that so perfectly and artfully describe moods, thoughts, and life, that one reads them and gains a better understanding of self. However, in reading this book, every so often I would stumble upon a sentence that was so long and unwieldy as to be nearly (or sometimes completely) incomprehensible. Additionally, even though this book housed many treasures, I felt that the ending both lacked appropriate gravity and was a bit depressing. Finally, (and I recognize the hypocrisy here) the ending sentence was a kind of stream-of-consciousness run-on that felt cheap and lacking in spontaneity–not at all what I was hoping for.

 

Bottom line:

I would recommend this book, but as light summer reading to be checked out from the library.