Joy Menu #36: Patterns

Your author reads diaries, listens to recordings, and notices patterns: sought, circumstantial, and unrealized.

Dear Creators,

I don’t know much about joy, ultimately. Hence this newsletter. 

From my father I get my love for plaintive songs, dark movies, slow internalized art.

The first time a friend described emo music to me—derisively, jokingly—I thought, “yes, this is the music for me” and drove all the way to Orange, to Green Records, the second the 6th period bell rang, to buy The Get Up Kids’ Four Minute Mile. (Again and again, I needed every album immediately, long before Spotify and Amazon made such an urge convenient.) 

There’s anger, too, in that sadness. The thread is thin between them.

I think of my father’s explosive moods, his brooding, a lit fuse burning slowly up, that faint electric crackle.

A warrior battles with deep purpose, a soldier is used as fodder. We often soldier our way through life and the only fodder we have is ourselves.

And so we turn inward with our anger. That faint electric crackle; the subtle stench of burning. A few explosions here and there, when we imagine the damage will be contained.

I wonder: is the masculine capacity for anger the flip side of the female capacity for nurture (and I mean yin/yang as much as man/woman)? When we feel it, is it the same connection, primordial, tethering us to a before? And is it because it doesn’t belong to us, that we marvel at the unearned power? The feeling of the beyond: that this is what it is to be alive? (Even if it hurts?)

I don’t think I ever spoke to my father about his anger. The fear I had of him. Tiptoeing around him in the house. Hiding in the back room with my mother because he was in “one of his moods.”

I’ve come to be aware: that it was stressful to be 35, father of three, wife, immigrant, “City Planner” at a firm downtown. Making ends meet. Those thin dress shirts. The uncomfortable shoes. (I inherited all the ties he hated to wear, and I haven’t worn a single one.)

I know our house was small. Our dog was small—and yet loud. Our mouths were big, and full of words, of games, of tears, of food. 

I wonder: was his brooding just a way to clear a space around himself in which he could be alone?

I don’t think I spent a single moment alone—truly alone—until I was 26 and living in Argentina.

And then I was so completely alone that I clung to what I could: a woman who showed me attention, eros, affection; the dream of writing, which felt so important, so lofty, so hard to reach. 

I would walk around scanning the streets, the blank faces of passersby, the busses leaking fumes, imagining: and if I were an immigrant here? If this were it and I couldn’t go home? Every storefront both safe harbor or hostile barrier; every waiter a welcome committee and a sentry standing guard. 

Basically play-acting you, dad. 

I find this diary entry from a diary I didn’t even know I kept: 

On a business trip, I walk around Chicago, near the Art Institute, where you studied, and I think of you, dad, walking in Chicago 45 years ago when you’d just arrived. 

Remember that poem I wrote in college? “What was it like coming to Chicago?” You described black men sitting around without jobs, houses with broken beams, and kids playing in the streets. “It was the same as Joburg.” 

When the Uber loops me through the South Side to save 12 minutes on the way to Midway, I see what hasn’t changed (and what has) and it’s not exactly time travel—since I am twelve years older than your were then, and you are not here—but I’m grandpa playing stickball in the dirt ghettos of Hillbrow and how disorienting then, to move to the walled suburbs of Joburg, and then the house in Kfar Shmaryahu, built on undeveloped land, and how much of Irvine was undeveloped when we got there in 1985, before the Spectrum, before Westpark. 

I see the cows grazing on the hills by Turtle Rock. “What happens to the cows when they’re not there, dad?” 

I’m beginning to understand. I’m beginning to.

They’re bombing in Israel again, the news goes on and on about it. It’s the same story; you would have shaken your head.

I listen to a recording we made; the week I bought the fancy microphone and set it up in the family room, sat you in the Jack’s tan chair (which I’m sitting on now) and had you tell me the “whole story” of your time in the military—and afterwards, in military jail. The events that proceeded your emigration, your time in Chicago, your meeting mom.

Me acting the journalist:

Me: When you were serving, what was your feeling about Israel, Zionism. You said a little bit that you saw how horribly soldiers treated the Arabs, things like that. What was your kind of evolution of thinking about the experience?

You: It’s kind of hard to say, but at a certain point after I finished my three years, I was done and I knew I was not going to have anything to do with this shit anymore because it was fucked up. I had realized that they take advantage of young people; they’re ignorant, they're stupid, they brainwash them and they basically use them as cannon fodder. And I remember thinking, why is it that only older people, old men or old women or whatever, talk about how stupid war is and why do you have to go through all that and then look back and you can see? Why can’t you see it before? Why can't you get a sense of how futile the whole thing is, and ridiculous, before you do all the damage that you’re gonna do, or before they kill you off? I remember always wondering about that; you know, how come it’s always the old guys that sit there and talk about how stupid war is. And then the young guys just wanna do it, you know? That never seemed to make sense to me.

Once I decided, once I was done, I had a lot of time, I was thinking, I was reading... Not everybody was fooled by the whole thing you know. A lot of people wanted to make peace after the war. We devastated them, we knocked the shit out of them; let’s now do something constructive and productive and forward thinking. But the military mindset and that kind of...stupidity, which still exists today, that radical, conservative—you know, it’s us or them and we’ll show them kinda thing, lording it over the Arab, the dumb Arab you know. That’s just how it was; that won out.

There is joy in this excavation. There is joy in remembering. Hence this newsletter.

Onward toward creative joy,