There are many, many things that fall under what Kelly and I like to consider “research” these days, as we try to immerse ourselves as fully as possible into our respective writing projects without completely losing sight of reality. And sometimes, that “research” serves as much as an escape from our daily stresses as it does to inform our actual writing. For example, because Kelly’s current project deals with themes of demons and the devil, this past weekend she and I, along with her highly accommodating husband, Peter, went to see the new M. Night Shyamalan movie, Devil.
The movie was very well-done and very scary, indeed, and like all good movies inspired some great post-film dissecting of sub-plot storylines, narration styles, and the like. As writers, Kelly and I tend to pull apart with our needling fingers all the elements of storytelling in the movies we watch together, so that we may better understand and craft our own stories. While fun for us, this habit is probably not quite as enjoyable for non-writer folk who accompany us to movies. Hence the highly accommodating nature of our dear Peter. In the end though, we were all pleased to discover that the movie ended up proving to be legitimate research material, so that Kelly and I each came away with ideas and assignments to work on, as well as with a renewed sense of vigor about our work.
One of the best things about having a writing partner is that we each truly invest ourselves in the others’ work; Kelly and I often tell people that there is a lot of her in my books, and a lot of me in hers. This cross-pollination is inevitable despite how incredibly different our writing styles and content are. Because I have Kelly’s current project on my brain along with my own, I was doing some “research” for Kelly’s book a few nights ago. While sewing some new curtains for my bedroom, I was watching one of my favorite faux-research shows, Celebrity Ghost Stories. Now, this show is generally just a lot of silliness with some good storytelling, but I enjoy it nonetheless. On this particular episode, actor Willie Garson, who played Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City, told a story that really got my attention.
Willie Garson told a story about how, after his father died, he started noticing strange occurrences around the home his father lived in and how, eventually, he even saw his father’s image standing before him, giving him a very important message. While most of the stories on Celebrity Ghost Stories tend to scare me so much I feel a need to turn on every light and check inside every closet before going to bed, this particular story was—to me, anyway–more sad and beautiful than anything else, and had me in tears about two minutes in. I sat there in the floor in front of my sewing machine, layers of blue fabric bunched in my lap, crying hysterically. Maybe my reaction to this story should have been fear, but instead I felt jealous. Though I would say I do feel my father’s presence around me from time to time, I’ve never had any kind of real-life visit—one that I can see– from my father since his death.
I have dreams about my dad on occasion, and while some of these dreams are very obviously just the random synapse-firings of my brain and workings-out of things floating through my subconscious, some of these dreams are too vivid, and too spot-on to be anything other than visits from my father. I don’t try to explain it, and I wouldn’t know how, but I usually wake from these “visit” dreams knowing that my father reached out to me and that we found each other somewhere in the subconscious ether. But as wonderful as these dreams are, it leaves me feeling a bit empty and unsatisfied. At this point, after nearly nine years of life without my father, what I want most is to see him again, to hear his voice–even if only for one brief second, even if he will only leave again.
Perhaps what made me feel most jealous of Willie was that this sighting, this “full body apparition,” (as it would be called in paranormal research circles), came to Willie at a time when he was feeling really lost in his life, in need of the kind of reassurance and advice that only a father can give. Certainly this past year I’ve had more than my fair share of times when I felt lost and in need of my father’s reassurance. And indeed throughout the last nine years there have been many times where I called out to my father through a fit of tears or a moment of real fear, wishing more than anything for some kind of sign from him. And it never happened. He never appeared.
My mom used to tell me that whenever I felt like I needed my dad’s advice or opinion on something, that I should just remember who he was and that I would know, somewhere inside, what he would tell me and what he would think of whatever situation I had found myself in. I am lucky to have had my father in my life long enough to know what kind of man he was, and to know with absolute confidence how he felt about me and the person I am.
So I suppose I shouldn’t feel so jealous of those people who receive real-life visits from their dead loved ones, because it usually implies that there was some unfinished business—things unsaid or unresolved in that relationship. In my relationship with my father, we were blessed with the time and courage to have said all that we needed to; my father and I each knew how much we loved the other. And when I do find myself in those moments when I wish my father were here to help me find my way out or something painful, chances are that I do know—somehow–what he would say to me. His impact on my life was solid enough to get me through most things. And what he didn’t instill in me, I’ve managed to instill in myself.
Thinking about this, I’m reminded of something my beloved Uncle Wooby said during his eulogy at my father’s memorial service. He turned to my brothers and me and said, “When people ask the three of you what kind of man your father was, all you will need to say is that he was the kind of man who raised a person like me.” I may not always feel like it, but I know that my father gave me the kind of strength and capacity to love that can never be undone by a time of sadness, pain, or stress—no matter how troubling or trying.
And I don’t need to see his face to tell me this, as much happiness and peace as it would give me, because he gave me enough to last me the rest of my life. I’ve no need to feel jealous; all I should be feeling is grateful, and loved.