Happy Birthday, Michael!


It’s Dad’s birthday today, and I have taken the day off work to spend some time with him, by which I mean hanging out and listening to music while I think and write and look at pictures and go ahead and feel however I’m feeling. I’ve decided that if I can in my life, I’m going to try to spend his birthday like this, and also the anniversary of his death. It feels like a good way to check in with myself if nothing else, and I have to find a way to keep living with this.

So I also spent January 7 doing much the same as today, and I think I’d like part of these days to be about reaching out to people, connecting with the people who share Michael with me as a part of the context of their lives in some way.

On January 7 and today, I have written five things in the last year that I wish I could have talked to Dad about. I’m going to share those ten things here, and if anyone else wants to share something in comments that they’ve wished they could have talked to Dad about, or wish you could have shared with him, or wish he knew about, I would love to hear them.

Ten Things Since Michael Died That I Wish I Could Have Talked To Him About

From January 7, 2009, Things In the Last Year I Really Wish Dad Knew About:

1. Barack Obama! God, I wish I could have seen Dad react to Obama’s campaign and election. I would have had to endure some annoying hating-on-Hilary, but he was such a fan Obama’s since the DNC speech in 2004, and I think he would have been so tickled by Obama’s smarts and by the margin of his election. And I think he would have referred back to something we saw Noam Chomsky say when we saw him speak at Western Washington University sometimes in the ’90’s–and this is SUPER paraphrased and perhaps Dad and I filtered his original statement through our own conversational lenses so many times that it became apocryphal to us, so do not quote Chomsky on this, probably–about believing that “the people” or “the masses” are largely and basically rational, humane, compassionate, and peaceful, and would vote and vote accordingly if given accurate information and honest political discourse.

2. I figured out in the last year that being an adult means I can’t rely on Dad to provide my model of living the most “authentic,” self-determined life possible. I have to be my own model, provide myself with the will to do that, make it an act of will on my part, remind myself to question norms and assumptions, remind myself to identify discursive constraints on my agency and resist them whenever possible. I know how to do that, and if it’s weird and alienating sometimes, well, I can remind myself that I’m not crazy, and I also have some really good friends who try to live the same way, and they will remind me, too. I think Dad would be pretty pleased for me to figure that out.

3. I can apparently still kind of play the drums! I sat down at the drum set in the music room the other day and thought I’d see if I can still hold any kind of a rhythm after touching drums only a handful of times in the last 20 years. And I really only played briefly when I was 15, anyway. But! It was crazy how easy it was to immediately hold down a basic 4/4 beat, hi hat and kick drum and snare, and to start mixing it up with variations and back-beats. I even tried some fills, which I was never any good at, and while they still sucked, it was actually easier than I remembered from when I was 15. It was so fun, and it made me think, hey, I bet I could have turned into a pretty awesome drummer if I had kept playing. And when I finished, I thought how I wished I could tell Dad or play for him. It always made him happy to see me being good at things, especially when it was something I didn’t think I’d be good at.

4. Bromance (Wikipedia link for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.) I would love to have been able to talk to Dad about the popularization of the idea of bromance, and I would have loved to talk with him about the deconstruction and/or reification of the homo/heterosexual binary with the normalization of bromance as a category of male/male relations, as with metrosexual as a category of heteromasculine identity. And then we would have done a project together with watching Judd Apatow’s oeuvre (ahahahaha!)–and all its Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, etc.-related output. And it would have been an awesome good time.

5. All the stuff we made for him, did because of him. My zine, Mom’s journal and poetry excerpts compilation, the cds Adam made and the room he put together and the music he performed. All the things people wrote. The movie Jordan and Peter made. All the things people said. The really fun party we had, and the parties and shows other people had, all over. The friendships and love and connection and family he generated among so many people. I think he would find it all interesting and embarrassing and gratifying, and I hope he knew how much we all love him.

From May 4, 2009, More Things Since Dad Died I Wish We Could Talk About:

1. Those ideas Corey and I had the other night when we were talking about music, and Patti Smith, and her relationship to Rock Music as a form of art and as a female artist, and how entirely different her project was from Kathleen Hanna’s project. God, it would have been fun if Dad was there to talk about it with us. I loved talking about music and art with him so much, and he would have had fun thinking that through with us.

2. All the craziness that is our family. I know he had his own Issues, but I have felt his loss in my larger family picture so much this year. He was such a safe haven for me there, too. What an ally in my struggle to see my own reality clearly, to have boundaries, to live unashamed of who I am and unapologetically take care of my own needs. Families fuck us all up, and that was a good kind of support to have. I could count on him to try to be his best self with me, and I could trust him enough to be my best self with him, and sometimes that just really helps.

3. All the stuff I’ve been thinking and learning about race and racism and decentering whiteness. Partly because he had good instincts about social justice in general, but he wasn’t great at thinking critically about race specifically, and we could have been learning how to do that together, like we did with gender and sexuality and so many other things, and that would have been so good. And partly because we share the same white, rural, working-class heritage and formative cultural experiences, as well as many of the same kinds of counter-culture informed resistance to the norms of that background, and I think we dealt with that all similarly in some ways. We sought opportunities to put ourselves out in the world, sometimes going to live in cities, putting ourselves in various kinds of situations out of our element, working and living with people who are different from us. But this was his home, too, ultimately. And it would have been good to talk to him about how to get from here to there in our understanding.

4. How the fuck to figure out the negotiation of financial vs. intellectual/emotional/spiritual needs. My best choices seem to be: 1) work at a job I don’t really care deeply about, but that is sufficiently un-taxing that I can use the rest of my energy to do creative things that I enjoy, and 2) find a job that I do care deeply about and enjoy enough that it’s okay if I don’t have much energy left for other things. Unfortunately, I seem to be stuck in a loop of 3) jobs that I don’t really care about that take up way too much of my energy. Dad seemed to have really sorted that one out for himself and seemed to feel pretty satisfied with (or at least have made peace with) his balance. Though we do both share a distaste for Work in general, of course, and that makes any opportunity not to have to work a cause for joy. In any case, he seemed to be reasonably comfortable with the compromise he negotiated for himself, and I think he probably would have been impatient with my dilemma, maybe, and that might be what I need right now: it’s life, Aral, figure it out.

5. The weirdness of making a day of this, the weirdness of the decision to take two days out of my year and spend them with Dad, ritualistically and formally. It feels like I’ve found a way that works for me to remember him, consciously and intentionally, and bring him with me to the new places I’m going and new selves I’m becoming. (If you can allow me to be a little woo-woo for a moment.) If I can spend two days a year not being forced into compromises with the outside world like this, listening to music like this, remembering like this, writing and thinking like this, hanging out with Dad like this, I will. And I think he would find it amusing, the need for ritual, but maybe he’d get the ways I need to create this for myself if I could tell him about it.


6 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Michael!”

  1. Shaun Says:

    Ah, Aral. I love you. I’ve pretty much done the same thing on the 1/7s and 5/4s, but I don’t take the days off exactly. I just notice that my inner life is mainly about him on those days. And often about you, too. Maybe there’s something in this about the whole balance thing – inner life and outer life, and the boundaries I use to keep each one alive and available to me when I need…when I let them overlap and when I keep each discrete…Anyway, my time (in the present) with our daddy is probably of a much much different color than yours, just like my time with him in the past was, but the common denominator is that complex and loving spirit that we will always share. Both a part of us and a mystery all its own. Hmmm…

  2. Gary Says:

    Happy Birthday to Michael!
    It’s always nice to hear your thoughts and catch up on where you are in your head. The world is sure beginning to take on a completely different hue since Michael died, it’s true. His idealism was always so strong, I think, too, he would be very proud to see the changes.

    I know it sounds trite and pretty a much a mantra from my generation, but money follows you when you’re doing what you love. God, that sounds silly, but it really does work. Well, usually not a LOT of money :-), but enough, you know? But I guess it depends on what you’re passionate about. Of all the interests and talents you have, there must be one in that treasury that you can follow and make something out of for your own material well being and comfort. From observation and experience, it’s a matter of timing–when opportunity meets resources and you’re in the right place at the right time to put the two together. But you also have to go after it…your boat can come in, but if you don’t get in the dingy and row out to it, you just might miss the boat! You have to put yourself in the flow of opportunity’s stream. Sounds simplistic now, but that sounded really good in 1974 (lost in time…maybe ’73…sometime back then…) when Michael said that to me about holding a show at a major gallery in Seattle.

    I took his advice to heart and when it dawned on me that I would make a good teacher and I found out that I still had GI bill resources available for school…I took the opportunity and went back to school to do that. One night during those ‘homemade ouija board’ sessions we used to have, I asked how long I would be teaching. I think Terry and I were doing the board and the answer was the number 1. I didn’t know what it meant…one year? Michael said, maybe, but he thought it meant one life, one whole cycle. And he was right.


  3. Danielle Says:

    Thank you for posting. I’ve been thinking so much about all the stuff I wish I could talk to Michael about, and it’s so nice to have a place to share those thoughts with people who knew and loved him too. Sometimes I feel really far away. Funny how computers, which Michael seemed to loathe, would bring me closer to him in a way.
    I loved reading your thoughts. It was cool how some were really similar to what I’ve been thinking about. Like Obama!
    On election night night I was in a bar watching the results come in. and Patti Smith happened to be there doing the same thing. I kept feeling like I wanted to go up and tell her thank you. I felt so strongly that she had played a part in changing the world into the place it is now, in the good ways that it has changed. In the ways that we all felt so excited about and proud of that night. I really wanted to talk to Michael about that and share that with him, because I knew that even if he didn’t agree, he wouldn’t think i was being weird (even though, maybe I was) and it would have become a great conversation.

    I’m going to take this a little at a time. (I’m not as clear and concise a writer as I’d like to be, so I’ll spare you too much rambling).

  4. Christopher Says:

    Happy Birthday Michael! and many more………

    Aral, I can hear the sound of your voice and your laughter blending with Michael’s and all those gathered around the table. I missed a lot of gatherings, so I feel kind of sad.
    I know he would have enjoyed hanging out here at this biker coffee house on his birthday, especially the Hookers Blend house coffee(a real kick in the ass cup). A few years back(quite a few) I treated him to fish and chips at Barters on his birthday. Just as with Gonny, I have mostly distant memories. Both from the same bubble chamber: he was, and still is now, the anti-particle. The morphic fields of past history are still there uphome. Michael has a very persistent field presence. I look forward to being back there with you all to get to know him again.
    Remember Aral, in our family, weirdness is good. I’m working on getting mine back. Love to one and all, Christopher

  5. Danielle Says:

    Hi Aral,
    We finally started watching Buffy. (Obviously something to add to the long list of things I’d love to talk to Michael about.) Wish I had done it long ago. It is as great as you promised. Looking forward to talking to you about it soon. We should be done with the whole series by August at the rate we’re going right now. Hope to be in Bellingham then.
    Just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. often.

  6. Connie Says:

    Thinking a lot about Michael this weekend as BTPNLSL reunites. Great to read all these thoughts and remember. I miss him. I was so touched by his amazing kindness, creativity and openness.

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