Intentionally Past Tense

Content Warning: This poem references loss of parents, grief, mourning, and also non-specific references to childhood trauma.

I speak about my parents in the past tense.
It is an old habit,
Hard-won as the only measure
I could take to build the distance
I needed to feel alright,
But this years-long practice
Of linguistic intentionality
Has served me well
In more ways than this.

Every so often,
When I speak to someone who doesn’t know
About the history behind my words
And they notice my particular phrasing,
They offer me their sympathies.
“I’m sorry for your loss”
Or “oh, I didn’t realize…”
Sometimes even followed by
“How long has it been since they passed?”
At which point I simply explain
That they’re still alive and well,
They’re just not a part of my life anymore.

From there, the roads diverge.
Some towards silence,
Uncertain or awkward or sympathetic,
Some towards fumbling words
That all echo each other
Despite some intending empathy
And some intending gentle reproach.
I do not take it personally, though,
Since it is clear they all mean well.
My view took me decades to understand,
So what hope did they have in five minutes?

Now it only hurts on the rare occasion
When I see someone openly mourning
Or dedicating some great endeavor
In memory of a past-tense parent
And I find myself wishing
I could have grieved like this as well.
When I realized I had lost something,
It was not the people who had made me
That I found myself missing,
But the family I imagined I had,
What my life would have been
If everything had been different.

I speak to them now and again,
As a part of another’s journey,
And I feel grateful for the hours
I spent practicing intentionality
In every word that leaves my lips
Because all I really want to say is
“I have finished mourning you
And there’s nothing left in the well
That once held the childish love you twisted
Into servitude and self-sacrifice.”

I will grieve again when they pass,
But it will not be for them.
It will be for the final disappearance
Of everything I thought I wanted
Before I learned just how well
People will treat someone
That they properly care about. 

You Don’t Need To Hit The Ground To Know What Will Happen When You Fall

Last night, I engaged in a choatic bacchanal during what some alleged might be the final hours of Twitter’s life. Of course, the site is still up this morning and I don’t think most people truly believed the website was going to abruptly vanish at some point. It was (and still is) pretty clear that Twitter is going to diminish and fade into obscurity or diminish and transform into something else, just like every other social media site that has fallen by the wayside over the years. After all, it’s not like MySpace is entirely unavailable, it’s just irrelevant. Things on the internet tend to not vanish completely so much as fade from public reckoning or change so completely that they’re actively abandoned. Thus far, neither has entirely happened yet, but last night marked the end of an era as, if the reports prove true in coming days, most of Twitter’s employees have left the company.

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Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impact was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.

Walking Away From Pokémon Go

For the first time in what might actually be years, I logged into Pokémon Go. Once I updated the app, remembered my password, and waited several minutes for it finish loading up on a phone that wasn’t new four years ago when I got it to play Pokémon Go (my previous phone overheated and died within an hour of starting the app which made it intolerable for the special events), I was in. Before I could do more than register that the app had forgotten my preferences for zero volume and no vibration, I was inundated in notifications, pop-ups, and notifications that there were activities to explore that didn’t exist the last time I opened the app. It was a truly harrowing five minutes as I felt like my phone was going to melt through its case because the game was demanding so much from my poor “old” phone, but eventually I cleared everything and the app settled down enough for me to look through the many Pokémon I had collected in a surprisingly bittersweet stroll down memory lane.

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Progress Feels Nice, No Matter How Small

Because I write these posts a week in advance and then never look at them until the day before they post (to edit them), I’ve started to notice a lot of habits I’ve developed around my writing and the way I think about it. For instance, I almost always feel like what I’ve written is overly emotional in a way that will come across as self-indulgent. Or that some key element of it that was supposed to be subtle and clever was actually just clearly apparent and I spent too much time patting myself on the back for how terrible it actually is. Or that I’ve gone and made myself vulnerable on the internet and what I’ve written will surely be seen by someone who is going to figure out how to use it against me. Or, worse, that I wrote something about my past and someone from my past is going to read it, track me down, and confront me about it.

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Every Day Grief

There is a particular feeling, sweet and sorrowful, that rises slowly in your consciousness as you near the end of something you have loved. A misty-eyed sensation you cannot address even in the privacy of your internal monologue because doing so means admitting it is real and present, and ignoring it means you can live in blessed ignorance for another day. It is a feeling as ancient and familiar to me as my own sense of self-hood, perhaps older even, because the day I was first aware of myself, this feeling was already there.

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Musing About Being Thirty

Day 2 of my stay-cation is here and I wonder how it’s going. Writing things a week ahead of time and trying to reference the actual days that pass or will pass makes for some odd verb tense problems at times. I usually catch them all in editing, but it’s easier to avoid the problem by not writing about the day the post is going up. Today, though, as I’m going through my last full day of work for the week prior (I have a 4 ten-hour day schedule at work, with some overtime on Friday if I need/want it), I’m imagining being able to rest and relax. To sleep in. To lose myself in a game coming out on the day this posts…

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Learning to Live with Yourself

I’ve spent a lot of time with myself, lately. Despite working pretty hard to make sure I talk to people outside my household every day, messaging people constantly, and spending more time bothering my coworkers during my work-weeks than is strictly necessary, there are more hours in the day than I can fill with other people. I don’t know if you’ve ever picked up on the theme in my many blog posts, but I don’t really like spending time with myself most days. I’ve got a lot of baggage, spend a lot of time dwelling on negativity, have a tendency to get caught up in my own feelings, and am really not very nice to myself. I’m not exactly the best person to keep myself company.

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