‘4am in the morning’

A day to myself.

It’s been so long since I’ve had one of those…

All day yesterday- truly one of the longest days of my life (that whole ‘time is relative’ thing again)- I kept thinking that ‘if I can just keep standing until tomorrow…’

I have a day off.  I’ve given it to myself- and firmly told myself that I needn’t do anything today that I don’t want to be doing.  I have the rest of the week to get things done and to gear up for the start of my new job (!) next Monday.  Today is for quiet and rest and the beginning of the recovery of my resources- which are a little tapped out right now.

We hosted a lovely celebration of Dad’s life yesterday.  So many wonderful people coming together to speak about him- either as part of the ‘formal’ celebration (it was hardly formal in any traditional sense) or during the reception afterward.  So very many wonderful people.  Friends, family.  People I hadn’t seen in, literally, decades– yet who took some time out of their day to share their memories of Dad- and of Mum- and of my sisters and I when we were but wee things.

I am quite drained.  Emotionally, certainly, but physically as well.  I’m not sure what that’s about.  I feel like I’ve been running marathons or something- and I sure as heck ain’t no runner.

But I don’t do idleness well.  After sitting on the couch this morning- catching up on local news (why do I DO that to myself?), I’m itching to get something accomplished.  There are lists to be made (oh, how I love lists)- of thank you cards to be sent, tasks that need accomplishing as a means of getting going on the realities that require attention after such a loss (the legal, the financial, the day-to-day things that need de- or re-constructing)… so much still to be done.

I’m not sure I have the requisite concentration level at the moment.

But this time of transition is about more than the great loss of Dad.  That’s the biggest thing, of course, and the one that it is hardest to wrap my brain around.


For the first time in over 5 years I am not looking for a job.  I am not checking the myriad online job boards I have bookmarked on the laptop, or researching potential employers to better explain my suitability to join the organization in a tailored cover letter, or adapting my CV yet again to better convey the reasons why I would be an asset to the company.

I’m sort of at a loss.

Those who say that looking for work is a full time job know what they’re talking about.  And, for years, I was doing so whilst working a full time job.  And volunteering at my Museum.

Did I mention I don’t do idleness well?  Especially enforced idleness- even if I’m the one acting as the enforcer.  I told myself that today is just about chilling.  Not sorting through papers, not catching up on chores, not taking things to the dry cleaners.  Just vegging on the couch.  With a book.  Or catching up with my WordPress peeps.  Or a movie.  Or some music.  Hanging with the cats and with me.  With no one else around.  There hasn’t been much of an opportunity for that in the past few weeks.

I know this is a temporary thing.  I will be kept on my toes once the new job begins- lots to learn, people to meet- and I hope to pick up the volunteering again- slowly, and possibly in different ways than before- as I settle into a new routine.  I’ll be back running and feeling like there aren’t enough hours in a day in no time- of this I have no doubt.

So today is supposed to be about time for a little reflection and to catch my breath and sort through my own head a little.  Even though I was there when it happened- peacefully, and with the three of us at his side- I still have moments when I just can’t believe that he’s gone.

There is much to be taken on board.  Much of the ground beneath my feet has been rendered somewhat treacherous for the gaps in the foundations.

Ever since the Shuffle Daemon managed to shake me out of the total lack of clarity I was feeling after Dad died (as least insofar as I claim any real return to clarity.  I remain in more of a fog than is usual- even for me) I’ve been letting Mike Oldfield help soothe the jangled nerves.

Sometimes this is a little counter-intuitive.  Much of music is pretty much the opposite of ‘soothing’.  His hugely elaborate Tubular Bells (1, 2, 3 and the Millennium Bell) and Hergest Ridge albums feature movements that can shock you either awake or into awareness with their power.  The guy- and his talent (he plays all guitars- bass and otherwise- organs, glockenspiel, mandolin, bells- tubular and otherwise- and timpani.  Basically all the instruments)- are pretty staggering at times.  He was 19 when he recorded Tubular Bells.  19.   NINE-bleeping-TEEN.

But, in addition to the wondrous orchestral masterpieces, he has a number of songs that are more in keeping with the ‘singles’ that you might hear on the radio (radio still exists, right?)- with vocalists and everything.

The Shuffle Daemon seems sort of stuck in the way in which it is rolling out these songs for my listening pleasure.  In addition to the song I wrote about the other day- and included in the post I wrote about Dad, which I managed to read at the celebration yesterday- two others keep popping up, both featuring the wonderful vocals of Maggie Reilly.

Family Man tells the tale of the unsolicited attention that a gentleman receives whilst in a bar one evening- and his insistence that he isn’t ‘that type of guy’.  Nothing, really, to do with any of the memories I have of Dad, of course (but, as I noted the other day, our parents were people before they were parents, so who knows…) beyond the title.  Dad was certainly a family man.  We were the centre of his world- of that there was never any doubt- and my Mum was the love of his life.

Hall and Oates did a cover version of this song- which changes its tone quite completely.  At the end of their version the family man in question succumbs to the lure of the ‘lady of the night’- although it was too late to manifest his illicit choice.  And the quintessentially 80s video is so endearing in its cheesiness.  The clothes.  The production values.  That moustache!

And then there’s this song.

This lovely live version of the song- while lacking the crashing Oldfield-esque guitars of the album version- highlights the sense of loss that the lyrics evoke so beautifully.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from amongst the works of this guy.  Heaven’s Open is up there- for many of the reasons I discussed the other day- and for all the new associations that it has brought to me this week.  His artistry makes it reallyreally hard to pick one song above the others.

But Moonlight Shadow.  Moonlight Shadow.  I can remember the first time I heard it- and the many many many nights I’d sit in my bedroom listening to it on repeat.

‘The last that ever she saw him, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
He passed on worried and warning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Lost in a riddle that Saturday night, far away on the other side,
he was caught in the middle of a desperate fight, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

The trees that whisper in the evening, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Sing the song of sorrow and grieving, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun, far away on the other side,
He was shot six times by a man on the run, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven far away,
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven one day.

Four a.m. in the morning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
I watched your vision forming, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Star was glowin’ in a silvery night, far away on the other side,
Will you come to talk to me this night, but she couldn’t find how to push through’

Some have suggested that it was written in response to the murder of John Lennon (despite the lack of correspondence between the timing of the events of that tragedy and those in the song), and Mike has allowed that it may have had some level of influence.  He had arrived in New York the day of the murder, and was staying a short hop away from the Dakota where Lennon’s profound voice was silenced.  Mainly though, he was thinking about a film he had loved about Harry Houdini (starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh), particularly about attempts to contact the late illusionist after he had died.

Like Mike, I am fascinated by the life and times of Harry Houdini- particularly by his attempts to expose false spiritualists who made money from the pain and loss of others.  I loved that about him.  That, and the close connection the guy had to his mother, and the loving relationship- which encompassed both the business and the personal- he and his wife Bess shared throughout their life together.

This song resonates, for me, personally, on a very specific level.  Years and years ago, my grandfather (Dad’s Dad) was staying with us while Dad was out of town on business.  One night, very late, I woke up and heard someone moving around in the kitchen.  Grandpa was down there, opening and closing the refrigerator door and wandering pretty aimlessly.  I asked him what was up, and he admitted to feeling restless and if something was wrong.  I put the kettle on and sat with him at the kitchen table.  In my memory of the event, I glanced at the cuckoo clock my parents had brought back from Switzerland, noting that it was 4 am, just before the phone rang.  The phone call informed my Grandpa that his youngest brother had just died.

A couple of years later, my Mum woke me up to say that she and Grandma (who was staying with us while Grandpa was in the hospital- Dad was out of town with work again) had to go out for a bit.  I was in charge- although my sisters were sound asleep.  I dozed off again, but startled awake not long after, feeling as if something was wrong, but also overcome by the feeling that my Grandfather was with me.

Unable to fall back to sleep, I went upstairs (I was sleeping in the basement, since Grandma had my room) and turned on the tv- catching the late night replay of CBC’s Video Hits.  A little while later they came home- surprised to find me awake in the middle of the night- and told me that Grandpa was gone.  It was 4am.

After Dad was moved back to hospital from the rehab clinic where he had seemed to be making solid progress, I found myself waking up in the middle of every single night.  Each and every time at 4am.  After the first couple of nights I didn’t even bother checking the clock.  I’d settle in on the couch, cell phone beside me, awaiting the phone call I felt would inevitably come.

When the call did come, it wasn’t at 4am.  For the first time in weeks I had slept through my own personal witching hour, until the nurse called me at 5:30.  As I called my sisters and arranged to pick them up to head to the hospital to be with Dad, a big part of me was honestly thinking that this couldn’t possibly be it.  It wasn’t 4am.  We had passed the ‘danger time’.

I don’t know why Mike Oldfield chose 4am as the pivotal time in his most wonderful of songs (I also don’t know why he included the redundancy ‘4am in the morning’– but I’ve tried to let that go in the name of artistic licence and lyrical metre) but it has always served to very personally connect me to the song.

4am is random- even when I look at my own experiences of that particular time of day/night.  It does serve to reinforce my awareness that we are all connected- to those we love and to those in the larger world who have had the same types of experiences- of family, of love, of loss- and that we all seek to share those experiences in the best ways we can.

Mike Oldfield is a musical genius.  He expresses and shares that genius through his songs.  My family and friends contribute their own forms of genius on a daily basis- sending their strengths and insights out into the wider world, and teaching me as I am touched by their examples.

So, even though it is my ‘day off’, I can let myself get away with ‘working’ since I am still taking my own prescription to chill and try to absorb all that has happened lately.  Writing, for me, can be work, certainly.  But it is also therapy- and the way I sort through my own feelings and experiences as I attempt to make manifest the gift of my life- and share the things that I have learned at the feet of teachers greater than myself.

PS- Even though I have run on more than long enough (even for me, this post is extremely long-winded), I need to thank all of you- here in my WordPress world- for the beautiful messages of condolence that you have offered in the past few days.  Anyone who claims that the online world is lacking in humanity or any sense of real connection certainly isn’t hanging with peeps like you all.  The messages are lovingly received with gratitude.

And a special shout out to Rachel at Rachel Carrera, Novelist for her kindness in nominating me for a couple of lovely blogging awards.  As usual, please, if you are so inclined, take some time to browse her site, and those of the other wonderful writers that I am lucky enough to interact with regularly here at colemining.  People are awesome.

Exorcising Some Daemons (with help from the Shuffle Daemon)

I’m not especially good at writing while in the midst of crisis.  I tend, by nature, to shut down completely, totally unable to communicate effectively- or even terribly coherently- when I’m preoccupied with things that are weighing me down.

This has been a problem in the past- having to meet deadlines while trying to cope with stress (like completing the re-write of chapters of my dissertation when, three months before the thesis defence, I lost someone very close to me)- but I am trying to push myself to keep up the work output even at those times when stringing words together seems pretty impossible.

I am learning from my fellow bloggers.  I have seen multiple examples of writing-as-therapy that I find both inspirational and enviably well-presented.  Check out the ‘blogs I think are groovy’ section (look to the right and then down- under the Meta info).

Some great stories to be found here on the WordPress.

The recent sources of angst in my life have got me to thinking about the purging and letting go of things, even when those things are held dear, even ‘sacred’, in some cases.

Exorcism is generally associated with the removal of something malevolent or demonic. Yes, even here in the 21st century, we retain enough of a fascination with externalized forms of evil that exorcists are still in high demand in certain places in the world.

I have written a number of posts  (this one most recently) about the idiocy associated with the belief in externally manifested evil, but the fact that industrialized, seemingly rational and modern nations still see a ‘need’ for specialized practitioners to rid the possessed of demonic influence remains incredibly hard for me to wrap my brain- over-extended though it may be at the moment- around.

A family I knew long ago actually experienced tragic loss at the hands of a purported exorcist, as a family member- with a history of mental illness- died in the course of a church-mandated healing ceremony intended to rid the ‘victim’ of a demonic presence.  This all took place in the environs and under the aegis of an internationally respected college in the centre of Canada’s largest city, and not so long ago that we can pass it off as ‘back in the bad old days’.

It’s still happening today.  I recently mentioned a television show that featured exorcism-gone-wrong as the crime requiring solution by the program’s protagonist.  The current Il Papa has allegedly performed exorcisms.  There is a movie in theatres right now that is ‘based on a true story’ about the possession of a family and the house in which they live.  Only the intercession of the powerful mediums- who provided the story that became the film- offered the family any hope of salvation.

There aren’t any ‘magic words’ that can miraculously exorcise demons- of the mind, of circumstance, of illness or despair (or a combination of any of these).  Change and healing require support (therapeutic, psychological, medical, pharmaceutical, a friendly shoulder- the varieties are myriad), time and a sharing of words rather than a recitation of formulaic chants and cantrips meant to drive out the evil that has taken up residence in the unsuspecting victim.

These shared words can help us understand that we need not be victims (regardless of experiences that may be victimizing in nature*) and that others have experienced the same troubles- and those much worse- than we are now going through, and have come through the dark times and returned to contribute beauty and goodness in spite of the darkness that entered their lives for a time.

(*During one of the worst periods in my life, a person that I love and respect emphatically reminded me that although I had, indeed, been victimized, I was NOT a victim.  The distinction is important- partly about attitude and partly about an awareness that I had resources and support I could alwasy rely on.  That said, I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and I therefore would never presume to judge degree or perception of victim-hood.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I love William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.  In so many ways it is a beautiful film (green pea soup notwithstanding).  It is more about the redemption of Father Dimi than it is about a victory over some ancient Mesopotamian demon (Pazuzu is the demon of the southwest wind) who found a toe-hold into Washington D.C. in the 1970s through a child who played with a Ouija board.

The movie is visually stunning, and presents a sense of menace and terror far greater than the shock and gore offerings we tend to see these days.  And Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is the perfect haunted song to accompany the ominous sense of fear and foreboding that pervades the film.

The mythology behind The Exorcist and its sequel, Legion, along with the prequels that were made (I won’t even discuss The Exorcist II– even with the cool shots of James Earl Jones and the images of the Ethiopian rock-cut churches.  Where the heck did that story come from anyway?) deal with the archetypes of evil and the fears we are forced to face.

Bet Gabriel-Rufael Church- Lalibela, Ethiopia

(House of the (arch)Angels Gabriel and Raphael)

Being scared- by a book or a movie- can be fun- and sometimes exhilarating.  Stories that scare us serve an important purpose in human societies (think about those stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, for example).  That doesn’t mean that there really are demons out there, or that we need a whole union of priest/shaman/charlatan-types who remain on call to rid us of those demons we innocently attract to ourselves.

Fears of Madonna and ‘Vampire-Culture’ aside, the brotherhood of those who market themselves as capable of removing demonic threats by chanting, tossing magic water and dead languages around HAVE to be viewed as an obscene anachronism in 2013.  Don’t they?

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t perform a little bit of self-exorcism every now and again.

It is healthy- and cleansing- to periodically clear out the corners of our hearts and minds and remove all that is plaguing and possessing each of us.  We can do so through some good ol’ self-examination (perhaps following a bit of a wallow in some temporarily-gratifying self-pity), perspective, the wisdom of our fellows and a little help from our friends.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, there’s always Mike Oldfield.