Under the Influence

Here in East Tennessee it has been raining more than usual for July. My parched yard and I are most grateful. Last week it was raining cats and dogs, as we say around here, and we had the biggest rainbow arch–completely across the sky–that I have ever seen. It looked to me as if we were experiencing a miraculous gift in a time and place in need of homegrown magic.

Coming from hardworking people who never really got ahead, I have always known I would need to make my own way in life. However, despite weathering divorces (plural), rearing children (mostly alone), and working in an ulcer-inducing job for 19 years, my life has nevertheless been full of laughter, books, music, travel, and the most welcome sound in the world: a throw-back-his-head laugh from my 9-month-old grandson.

But having kicked around this planet for more than a few decades, I admit that I agree with the Australian comedienne Hannah Gadsby I watched the other night on Netflix who said she identifies as tired. Right there with ya, sister. It is a disconcerting time to make sense of our country and world. I want to give up, throw my hands up, go the manager’s desk and say I am taking a much-needed breather. Yet there are people who are counting on me, and I cannot give in to the despair of what we have been living through for the past year and a half of the Trumpian dynasty.

Everyday the national news ranges from mildly upsetting to earth-shatteringly sad and troubling: babies and small children taken from their immigrant parents; dictators are applauded, our Cold War allies are called our enemies; black is white, good is bad, and shades of gray are nowhere in sight.

I have given much thought about what we can do to keep up our spirits, move forward, and bring joy to the lives of people we care about. What continues to inspire me to find a way to be me–in addition, of course, to my delightful grandson, Lincoln? Music, books, movies, and, most especially, people who have shared their experiences and told their stories through music, books, movies, and documentaries.

One of the people who inspires me the most is Fred McFeely Rogers, also called Mr. Rogers once featured weekly on PBS children’s television. A few weeks ago I saw two documentary films about him: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and “Mr. Rogers and Me”. Both movies feature the work and thoughts of Fred Rogers who had a long-running weekday PBS television series, called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from the late 1968-2001. Mr. Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister and his mission was to help children know they are loved just the way they are and therefore capable of loving. I watched Mr. Rogers’ show with my sons in the 1980s and ’90s, and I think I loved watching it more than my children did.

In the film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, the interviewer asked people from Fred Rogers’ life to do something Mr. Rogers often asked people to do: take a minute to remember the person who loved them unconditionally and made them feel capable of loving and being loved. “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being,” he said. I immediately thought of my father, and how, under the influence of his love, I was loved into being me.

Adventure

Adventure: an exciting or remarkable experience; to proceed despite risk.
[From the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition]

When I was born, Daddy was 22 years old and unemployed. To pay our small family’s bills, Mama returned to her job working at Great Atlantic Shoe Co., on Western Avenue in Knoxville, while Daddy cared for me. Of course, he had no experience caring for an infant since he had been an only child and virtually an orphan. I can only imagine his befuddlement as he tried to figure out how to keep me happy, fed, diapered (with cloth diapers!), clean, and alive until Mama came home from work.

Anna Baby & Roy

Daddy giving me a bath when I was a baby, January 1958.

Fifty-eight years later, my father passed away on December 2, 2016. Daddy had slipped and broken his hip, successfully survived surgery to replace it, but had suffered a heart attack while sitting on an exercise bike during one of his physical therapy sessions at a rehabilitation center.

Before his accident, I helped Mama care for him at the senior living facility where he lived. After his evening meal Daddy would tell me, “You better get home before dark.” Even with his dementia, he never stopped being my Daddy, never stopped loving me, and never stopped looking out for me.

Daddy’s mother died with pellagra psychosis just 4 months after he was born. Her extended family told us that she was never able to even hold her infant son. Daddy was reared by his paternal grandmother who died when he was 5 years old. His father remarried twice, and his second stepmother threw him out of his home when he was a teenager. For a time he lived at the Downtown Knoxville YMCA.

Despite his abusive and neglectful childhood, Daddy taught me the things that really matter in life: simple, little things mean a great deal, people are more important than things, rich people without good values are not to be envied, and we should embrace life with open arms. Daddy taught me to live life as an adventure–not because he always was able to do that, but because he somehow found a way to live his life as much as possible with a child-like exuberance that was infectious and impossible to deny.

JustinScan-160107-0021

Daddy with his beloved grandson Justin in 1996.

He never completed high school or earned much money. He lost every job he ever had–except the last one which allowed him to work in a family business who allowed him to be his quirky, perfectionistic, take-your-time-and-do-it self. Daddy’s father could not read or write and never owned a car, but my parents traveled around the world with their beloved Lady Volunteers basketball team. Mama and Daddy successfully reared two girls who could make their own way in the world, and Daddy was an adoring surrogate father to my son Justin after I divorced Justin’s father when he was only 2 years old. Daddy ceaselessly encouraged me to be me. When he loved someone, it was a full-time job with no slacking.

On his television show Mr. Rogers told children, “I like you just the way you are.” He said it is essential for a child to have someone in their lives who treats them as if they are loved without reservations, with no need for renovations and a new paint job.

Daddy did that for me.

Balance

Balance: flexibility, stability, the ability to stand in the center of competing forces and not fall down. [My own definition]

Under the influence of my nephew Zach I have learned to be more understanding of others and yet to pursue my own course–at the same time. Zach is the foremost Zen practitioner I have ever known. Being a pleaser and lover of harmony, I will go out of my way to accommodate everyone around me to the detriment of my own well being. It is not a healthy trait, but one that exhausts me.

Zach Trolley December 2014 copy

My much-adored nephew Zach who has taught me sooooo much. He is one of my best friends. Photo: Kurt Weiss Photography

Sitting at a coffeehouse, patiently reading a book. Waiting, just being at home with himself. That’s Zach. Currently he is working on a master’s degree at the University of Kentucky, teaching graduate-level classes as a graduate student, doing his research, and still finding time for reflection as he bicycles around Lexington and cares for his partner in life–warm, loving, beautiful Paige–and their two dogs. He knows how to set limits with others in a beautiful, honest way, and yet is one of the most caring and attentive friends I have ever had.

As Mr. Rogers said, “The best thing you can offer anybody is your honest self.” Thank you, Zach, for teaching me how to do that.

Curiosity

Curiosity: a sign of intelligence, a compelling desire to know for yourself and to experience for yourself. [My own definition]

Living life with wide-eyed wonder is what I practice in the presence of my 9-month-old grandson Lincoln. He intently studies the birds flying by our front porch, and watches the cars and trucks and listens carefully to the sounds they make. While holding to the side of his playpen, he bobs up and down to the ’80s music I play for him. He is transfixed by the wreath on the front door, is delighted by my green spatula with the wooden handle, and is fascinated by the metal HVAC vent cover on the floor.

Little Man's foot during Stanley's adventure - 7-26-2018

Where this sweet foot will go we don’t know, but I hope to be there beside him.

When he was born last year, Lincoln had big hands and feet for such a small body, so I began to call him Little Man. He is indeed an old soul who studies carefully the people around him. He wants to understand everything he sees, hears, and tastes and is thirsty for knowledge and experience.

Little Man and I are content to simply look together in the same direction and observe the trees swaying in the breeze. We cannot see the force that makes the trees move, but we can hear the noise as it moves the leaves and branches. Lincoln teaches me to see with new eyes, to look with wonder and delight at everyday things, and to find solace in the silence together.

As Fred Rogers said:

When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about the part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch.

Dreams

Dreams: imaginative manifestations of deep desire; to dream: the ability to imagine what could be instead of what is. [My definition]
Dreams: visionary creations of the imagination. [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition]

Sometimes when you want to imagine a way forward, it is best to consider where you have been. A few years ago gifted singer/songwriter John Mellencamp did just that as he decided to record an album in the same manner (in mono, not stereo tracks), on the same equipment, and at some of the same locations as classic musicians of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. In those decades before overdubbing and multiple tracks, musicians and singers would gather around a single microphone with only one or two takes to capture the sound.

John Mellencamp signature

John Mellencamp’s handwritten encouragement from his song “Save Some Time to Dream”. Download from forum.mellencamp.com

According to Wikipedia, Mellencamp wrote 30 songs and chose 13 of them for the album he called No Better Than This. He debuted my favorite song from the album Save Some Time to Dream in 2009 at an event for President Barack Obama saying, “It’s about individual freedom and thought—and controlling our own lives”.

When I was growing up in a family buffeted by a succession of employers who found Daddy’s work abilities wanting, I yearned more than anything to grow up and have control over my life. I dreamed of living a better life than the one my family lived.

Anna & Lisa

My sister Lisa (right) and me (left) at a Mother’s Day picnic, May 14, 1961. My dress is a too little and so are my bangs!

Save Some Time to Dream – by John Mellencamp

Save some time to dream
Save some time for yourself
Don’t let your time slip away
Or be stolen by somebody else
Save some time for those you love
For they’ll remember what you gave
Save some time for the songs you sing
And the music that you’ve made
Could it be that this is all there is?
Could it be there’s nothing more at all?
Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream could save us all

Save some time for sorrow
Cause it will surely come your way
Prepare yourself for failure
It will give you strength some day
Try to keep your mind open
And accept your mistakes
Save some time for living
And always question your faith

Could it be that this is all there is?
Could it be there’s nothing more at all?
Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream might save us all

Cast your eyes up to heaven
Oh what does that mean to you
Try not to be too judgmental
So others will not judge you
Save some time to think
Oh before you speak your mind
Many will not understand
And to them you must to be kind

Could it be that this is all there is?
Could it be there’s nothing more at all?
Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream might save us all

Oh yeah
Your dream might save us all

Copyright – John Mellencamp

I have been under the influence of John Mellencamp’s music since he burst on the music scene in 1980 with the song Ain’t Even Done With the Night which I watched him perform on TV. Channel his musicianship if you are looking for the finest Americana music written and sung by a consummate musician who has never forgotten where he came from. His music and words continue to encourage me to imagine a future where the past informs and illuminates.

Education

Education: to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically, especially by instruction. [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
Education: to formally or informally learn from the experiences of others as well as from one’s own. [My own definition]

Seeking to be an educated person was certainly not a popular notion when I was in high school, but I decided early on that I wanted very much to be one of those individuals who reads and hears the experiences of others, studies the alternatives, and decides for myself what is truth for me. Knowledge was my goal, and education would be my transport to a better life. I wanted to find a better way.
One way to be educated is to be able to discern what is important and what is not. As the author Jeanette Winterston write, “Why are the real things, the important things, so easily mislaid underneath the things that hardly matter at all?” It seems to me that to be truly educated is to know the difference between what is essential, what is nice to have, and what is trivial and not worth the effort at all.
Found
Found: to discover that one is well at home with oneself. [My definition]
Found - 028

The under side of a flavored water bottle as photographed by my husband, Kurt Weiss.

When I started writing this blog five years ago, I decided to call my efforts Found Objects Creative. Why? Because I am fascinated with the process of taking something rather ordinary and repurposing it–reimaginating it, creatively–into something altogether new. I submit to you that we can do that with our lives.
Taken together then, the foundation building blocks of moving forward with joy despite the odds include: adventure, balance, curiosity, dreams, education, and the alchemy of mixing them together to find your own way. You may swim against the current, sometimes alone, but keeping your head above water by recalling the stories of others who have come this way before and shared their thoughts, signposts, and experiences.
There is a process called annealing where a metal or other material (such as glass or steel) is heated or set on fire. It is then allowed to cool causing it to be stronger, tougher, and less brittle. Perhaps this is the time of our annealing, and we must travel this road to become more fully what we can be as a community. I pray it is so.
However, I’m no Pollyanna, and I must admit the forces of evil, disunion, ignorance, and superstition are often stronger than I can my forces of imagination can fight. But I am not alone, the example of others urges me onward. I am eternally grateful for the people who inspire me and go with me on my adventure.
May we be found, together.
~ Anna 7/31/2018

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Books, Childhood, Courage, Education, Family, Friends, Happiness, Ideas, Knoxville, Music, Op/Ed Thoughts, Tribute, Uncategorized, Wonder, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Under the Influence

  1. Another insightful blog post about coping and using the ABCDEF concepts to help us get through and thrive in challenging times. I love it!!!

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