Day 265: The Sun Shines Down on Me

Is managing grief a success? Yes, I can work and walk through the day. But I am keeping emotions at arm’s length. I am stuffing them away and ignoring a part of me that provides access to a well of emotions that keep me closer to my loss. Miles is receding back in the past and I am moving forward. I am not sure if this is all a success.

Day 256: Wicked World

Meditating on music and thinking about my memories and experiences with Miles has provided me with a lot of interesting insights. For example, I realized a lot about how my mind works when it comes to fear.

When I was a kid, I was scared to swim. Sometimes, I was even scared to take a bath. If you had asked me and if I had told you the truth, I would have told you it was because I was afraid of sharks. Sharks in bath tubs and swimming pools. Of course, it is ridiculous. There are no sharks in pools and bath tubs. But I had no way to express my fear of water. I was scared of drowning. I was afraid of pain and death. I was afraid of losing control and never coming back for air. As a boy, the best way I could explain it was that I was scared of sharks. It was shorthand for my fears, an easy way to describe the fear I felt. It did not make sense, but it also makes perfect sense. If you’re scared of sharks, stay the fuck out of the water.

Day 255: The Sun Shines Down on Me

As I have written this blog over the days, I know that I am writing more about my self and my own feelings and state of mind rather than about memories of Miles.  As time passes, my feelings have changed. At first, I obsessed about my memories. I was desperate to write everything down. I was worried about the half life of my memory and I assumed that certain memories would fade. I have learned, however, that memories come to me all the time. They pop into my consciousness at the strangest times. I always carry a little book so I can write them down.

I have noticed that my memory is triggered by the time of the year. Right now, it is the hot days of July. I am reminded of so many mid-summer memories. In particular, I am remembering being in Rochester with Miles in summer 2014 for several days. I just had a roll of film developed from that trip. It was nice to relive it in my memory for a bit. He and I explored the area. I have so many vivid memories of the few days we spent there. Miles was excited by being in the photojournalism class and he was really interested in learning about Rochester. We explored. We ate at some nice restaurants and browsed some cool record stores.  We drove around and found the beach. We found little neighborhoods with shops and stores and places to sit and read or write. I would like to go back sometime soon so I can re-experience the place like I did with Miles. Maybe I can pretend he’s with me.

Day 25: Story of an Artist

Miles really liked Daniel Johnston.  Two boys from West Virginia.

Johnston appealed to Miles’s sense of beauty—brilliance and genius took many forms.  It doesn’t have to appear shiny and polished. In some ways, cleaning something up takes away its authenticity and detracts from the beauty. The rough edges are as important to the music as the words and notes. It is important that Johnston recorded these songs on a cassette player in his room. It is important that he performed them live with no overdubs. Daniel Johnston did more with a chord organ and tape player than most people can do with much more advanced technology and years of education and practice. Miles liked that, the raw authenticity.


Day 10: Worried Shoes

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs used this song in the soundtrack for the film version of Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are. Miles loved that book. In our house, the Wild Thing took on a life of its own.

Winnie made a Wild Thing costume for Owen several years ago. He loved the book too and he really liked the movie. It was a great costume. She made a really nice mask of one of the creatures in the book. The mask survived past Halloween and it appeared and disappeared periodically in Miles’s room over the years. He started to use it in his photography a few years ago. Kali posed for a picture series accompanying his “The Wild Thing” poem. He also posed his classmates in the mask for a series of portraits that eventually became a color-photo series that he submitted to a local art contest. He won a ribbon for the photographs. The hand-drawn face that Miles drew everywhere is based on the Wild Thing mask.

The Wild Thing was a big part of Miles’s life as a result of happenstance, nostalgia, and anxiety. It’s a matter of happenstance because the mask was just sitting around the house and Miles picked it up as a prop. But he also loved the book—we read it many times over the years, and I think the images left a deep impression on his psyche. And there is so much about those characters in the story that capture the anxieties of growing up, being separated from your parents, and finding your place among the madness of the world.

“Worried Shoes” is like the book and it is like much of Miles’s photographs and his “The Wild Thing” poem. It captures the essence of a way of being that only art can achieve. It’s just have to listen or watch and take it all in.


Owen Wild Thing

5x7 Paper Negative006


Day 8: Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances

Miles loved Daniel Johnston.  He introduced me to Johnston’s music years ago. I am so glad he did. I found out later that Johnston grew up in my dad’s hometown, New Cumberland, West Virginia. He went to Oak Glen High School. I updated the high school’s Wikipedia page to include this important information.

Miles and I both appreciated Johnston’s homemade music. Johnston originally recorded his songs at home on a cassette player in Austin, Texas, and distributed the recordings by selling them on the street. Johnston did not have much, but he used what little he had to create beautiful songs. Johnston is also burdened by significant mental illness. The documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston is about his life and career and it documents his gifts and his problems.

I think Miles felt guilty for his relative privilege. We are not wealthy, but he was aware that he had many advantages that helped put him in a position to succeed, advantages that other people with perhaps greater talent and more ambition but fewer opportunities could have used. I think Miles did not just like the music, but also admired the musician for how much he had to overcome to succeed so beautifully.

“Flaws are what make us beautiful.”