On Dreams, and Taking my Dead Dad to Queensland

I wanted to talk about my dad, and got sideswiped by my mum last week. It happens some times, I guess. Parents can be like that…even if they have dementia, or are, as in my dad’s case, dead.

Here’s something they don’t tell you when you’re young—when you’re young enough to think that you’ll be young forever, and young enough to think that your parents are terribly, terribly old (in the decades before they actually reach that fated state)—nobody tells you that your parents will be with you, in some form or another, for your whole life. Or, as far as I can tell, longer than they’re actually necessarily here.

(To my kids…I’m sorry!)

They stay in memory. They stay with who you are, in myriad little decisions, little thoughts each day. They’re there in your self-talk, in the way you speak to others, in the way you see yourself even. It can be good or bad…sometimes both…

I still have, strictly speaking, both my parents. My mum, as I wrote last week, is in an aged care facility where they take excellent care of her. My dad—as he has always been—is a little more complicated.

My dad died five years ago. He died quite suddenly, a matter of only a few days after he’d been unwell on a Friday, and we’d made the transition in our minds to “Dad is elderly now”, and began to think about how we’d handle the next few years. “The next few years” ended on a Tuesday morning, and that was that. There was a funeral, and a cremation, and some weeks after Christmas the funeral home presented me with a white paper carry-bag containing the photo I’d given them of Dad, and the presentation they’d made of it, a candle, and a rather heavy plastic box that apparently contains his ashes.

Much happened in our family in the weeks and months after Dad’s death. Most of it good, much of it pivotal. I’m not the most organised person (or, at least, I had a lot to organise at that time), and the white paper carry-bag stayed on my bedroom floor with a few bits of other paperwork. And then the paperwork got dealt with, but Dad stayed there. And then, after a while, he migrated to the back of the cupboard, and he’s been there ever since.

It’s not much of an ending, really. And I guess this is really the key behind my (lack of) decision: I wasn’t ready for an ending.

Dad hadn’t been ready for an ending, either. Dad had dreams—big ones, that had sustained him for twenty years or more. In a way I think it was the loss of his dream that eventually killed him.

Dad was going to move to Queensland.

To be slightly more accurate, Dad was going to marry a lady called Helen and move to Queensland with her. He met Helen soon after he moved to Western Australia, some time in the 1990s. They were friends on and off, she had boyfriends on and off (none of them were my father), and, from what I can tell, a sad and quite complicated life. She didn’t want to marry my dad, annor did she want to move to Queensland, but Dad was an optimistic soul*, and kept the dream of Helen and Queensland alive for many years, and these dreams are the ones that sustained him.

I wanted Dad to move back to Tasmania, to be closer to family in his latter years, and he came to visit a couple of times, which we all enjoyed. He was restless though, unable to settle, because of Helen, because of his dream, because of Queensland.

He came to visit last one August, he’d stay for six weeks, he said, then go back home to Western Australia. He had plans. Helen. Dreams. Queensland. He had to get things sorted, get ready to go.

It was down here in Hobart where everything changed, in the yellow fluorescent-lit basement of JB Hifi. He ran into an old acquaintance from Western Australia, simply by chance, an old flame of Helen’s, apparently, who told him the worst news possible: Helen had died some years before. She wasn’t ever going to marry my dad. She wasn’t ever going to move to Queensland.

Three months after this my dad was dead too. Heart failure. I’m pretty sure it was the death of his dream that killed him.

Now, some astute readers will be saying by now, “How come, if he was so convinced he was going to marry this woman, he could not know of her death? And not her recent death, her TWO YEARS AGO death?” to which I would reply, “he was a VERY optimistic soul”**.

Dreams are, more than I’d ever realised, life-giving. Similarly, the loss of a dream can be quite literally a death to the soul.

I’ve had a few of my own dreams die these past few years. A few big ones I’ve allowed to die a natural death, and in their place new dreams are slowly rising again, perhaps healthier ones, or more true ones. And also, in these past few years, I’ve seen childhood dreams, long dead, miraculously rise into fulfilment and hope.

The lesson for me, I guess, is we need to keep a loose hold on all our dreams, both the living ones and the dead. We need to be free enough to dream, comfortable enough to allow our dreams to die, and have enough faith to understand that sometimes the dead are, miraculously, resurrected.

My dad is very dead, and—aside from in a theological sense—I’m not expecting a physical resurrection of him any time soon. But Queensland remains, and a little part of my dad’s dream lives within me, in the part of me that loved him. And so, in a couple of week’s time I’m going to pull the white paper carry bag that contains Dad’s remains out of the back of the cupboard where it’s been buried, and my husband and I will pack him in our suitcase and take him on our interstate holiday.

We’ll stay the weekend, enjoy the sunshine, find some nice beaches, find somewhere nice, somewhere that Dad would have liked—it’ll have to be near the water, he always loved the water—and we’ll fulfil Dad’s dream for him, and leave him in Queensland.

Parents stay with you, long after they’ve died, it seems. I don’t know what I think about how much the dead can see or experience of life back here on earth, but I do believe that when we meet God face to face all that is broken and wronged within us is made whole again, and that the Dad that I’ll see, eventually, in Heaven, will have a very strong grasp again on reality.

I hope he likes Queensland.

 

*some would say more “lost touch with reality” rather than simply “optimistic”, but who am I to judge?

** some would say more “lost touch with reality” rather than simply “VERY optimistic”, but who am I to judge?

 

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When You Quit You Lose

Here’s one thing I’m learning at the moment: if I quit, I lose.

I read this blog this morning, about one writer’s eight year journey to the publication of her book. Ha. Eight years? Ha. I conceived mine eight years ago this year…and am about to start a complete and radical rewrite. It’s not a fun thing to stare down.

Sure, I’ve learned a lot in those eight years. I learned by doing, by failing, by making mistakes and picking myself up again. Sure, I had two babies in that time too (to add to the one I already had), and a few major life events. I can’t say I’ve worked flat out on writing or on research (although I have been pretty consistent). I’ve read a lot of books on the craft, I’ve read a lot of books by people who write similarly to me. I feel like I know more about writing a novel than I’ve ever known, which is a good thing because, well, I’m about to start from the beginning again.

Eight years is getting to the embarrassing stages – the kind of length of time you don’t like to tell to people, because they’ll start to think the project really sucks, or you’re terrible at what you do, or it won’t be worth reading, or you’re one of those people who plods away at a hobby, scared of ever reaching the end. None of those are true (well, so say I about it not sucking etc).

A few months ago I went to a writing workshop by a man called James Scott Bell, who wrote an excellent craft book called “Plot and Structure“. He encouraged us to pull out our pens and paper and write a love letter to our novels, “Dear (insert title here), I love you because…”. After a few minutes of this he then made us switch our brains around, and asked us what our novels would like to say to us. “Dear Megan, I wish you would…”. It was a positive and surprisingly challenging exercise. It’s also become the thing I’m holding onto at the moment in my writing journey. I learned then that I loved the courage and honesty of my characters, that I cared deeply about allowing their voices to be heard, for their stories to be understood. I learned that I’m too far in to quit.

Sometimes there’s no way out but through.

If I quit, I lose, and eight years is wasted.

I have to keep going. I will. I am. I can. It’s going to be worth it.

I’m just taking a deep breath first…

How about you? Have there been projects that you thought you’d never finish, or would never end? Did you finish them, or did you realise, after all, that you no longer cared? If you’ve done it, what does it feel like to finally see the end?

When Dreams Become Reality

I had a piano lesson the other day, the first of (hopefully) many. I did it with my son, a parent-child class. It was basic stuff, nothing more than I already knew, but it helped solidify a passion for music in him, and began the fulfillment of a long-term dream of mine, to play the piano. I wrote about it on Facebook, as one does these days, and a friend pointed out that it takes a lot of courage to step into a dream.

She’s right.

Piano, for me, was easy, maybe because I’m doing it for my boy as much as I am for myself, but it made me think about those other dreams I’ve harboured over the years, especially the wild ones, the big ones, the ones that I would never ever give myself permission to doubt that they’d ever come to pass because that doubt stood waiting at the door like a death shadow, like a smoke-haze, ready to seep in any little crack and snuff that little dream candle like the fragile life it was.

I had to hope.

My dream, my deepest and most heartfelt dream for many years – more years than I care to count (and I kid you not) was to travel overseas. For a long time it looked about as realistic as my (spayed) cat giving birth to puppies, but in 2011, the year of the First Great Miracle, I did it.

Somewhere Over the Pacific Ocean

Somewhere Over the Pacific Ocean

I cried.

The things is though, the thing that struck me most this week, is the memory of walking in to the travel agents on Liverpool Street in the city for the very first time. I’d walked past that office at least twice a week for years, its jaunty red-and-white sign promising me London! $1839! New York! $2103! Fiji! $518! 3-nights return! Jaunty, easy dreams. Still out of my reach. I had no idea that the idea of walking in would fill me with panic, that I’d feel like a fraud, like I didn’t belong there, that I’d need to sit down quietly on a park bench afterwards and let my pounding heart calm down. I had no idea that waiting in line at the post office with my passport application I’d feel the need to justify myself, I can be here, I can, I can, I can…

I had no idea that stepping into the fulfillment of a dream would mean the ripping open of the fragile dream-shell I’d protected and nurtured for so long. Nobody ever said long dreams were easy things to bear though, and anybody who dares say it is probably lying, or their dreams are young and fresh and they haven’t had to withstand the sun-fading and wind-hardening and brittling of them. You know what I mean? It’s not until you hold up a dream against the reality that you understand how one is faded.

Dreams have to die to make way for the reality they represent. The reality will always be fresher, bigger, lighter, brighter, better, but the death of the dream is still a funny little grief to bear.

Or is it just me…?

 

The Price You Pay For Dreaming

Once upon a time, on the night of April 16th 2012 to be exact, I read an essay online that broke my heart. Isn’t it funny how, at the time, you don’t realise it’s your heart that’s breaking? You don’t hear the sound of snap like with a bone. This night I didn’t hear anything at all.

My husband was out at a meeting, and, because it was late, the kids were all asleep in bed. It was nine pm. I’m an early riser, and I tend to go to bed around then or just after, and read till I fall asleep. This night I didn’t though. This night I read the essay and shut the computer off quickly, but I couldn’t go to bed. I couldn’t say anything, and I was grateful that there was nobody there to not say anything to, because silence is awkward when you can’t, or don’t want to, explain it.

It took half an hour for me to realise something had broken. I washed the dishes and tidied up the lounge room and wandered back into the study to turn the computer on again and reread it and then thought better of it and brought the cat in and checked the sleeping children and eventually, because there was nothing else left to do, went into my bedroom and shut the door.

It must have been the click of the door jamb that did it, or maybe the so-familiar mess of discarded clothes and things to be dealt with. My unmade bed looked sad and empty, and suddenly I realised it was exactly like me. Words of an old song ran through my brain, and I looked away; turned my face into the coats hanging on the back of the door, and, just as suddenly as my heart had broken half an hour before, the sobs burst out of me.

I cried for half an hour, no less. Every time my tears subsided that song rang in my brain again like a punch to the gut. I hadn’t heard that song in years, and I hated it right then with a passion that I couldn’t contain, and everything it represented. It was an old Laura Branigan song, and that one line “I don’t wanna know the price I’m gonna pay for dreaming/Now that your dreams have come true” pummeled me again and again.

Dreams are hard to bear.

The essay was beautiful. It was written by the very talented Vila Gingerich, and spoke eloquently of her childhood passion to travel the world, and how she’d buried that dream only to one day be able to live it. It spoke to me in the deepest places of my own childhood passion, to see North, and how my own plans for an overseas trip six months earlier had been thwarted by circumstances beyond my control.

I still feel it in my body, that night of the heartbreak. I carry it with me, and maybe I always will, like a ridged scar where a wound has healed. I didn’t know then that, only seven months later, I’d be stepping off an aeroplane onto American soil for the very first time and getting my very first stamp in my virgin passport. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. This is the hard place. All you can do is bear the heartbreak of the present, and keep moving forward.

I didn’t know, either, when I sobbed my heart out back in Australia after I returned home with a heart full-to-bursting with love for the good old US of A, that I’d be going back again so soon; that I’d be packing up my entire family and planning a mammoth two-month hike over most of the North American continent. You never know what the future will hold. That can be a hard thing.

I’ve tried not to talk about the upcoming trip that much, mainly because I’m so painfully aware that, while this is my dream come true, so many of my friends and people I love dearly are still waiting for their dreams. It’s a hard place. There’s a price you pay for dreaming.

I’m not writing this to say “Hey folks, it’s okay! It all works out in the end, and you’ll get your dream!” I can’t say that. I’m writing it to say exactly what that song said to me: dreaming hurts. Waiting hurts. Not knowing the future hurts. Watching other people walk out into your dream hurts too.

This is why I’ll cry, yet again, when I’m on that aeroplane. This is why I’l never, ever, take my dreams for granted.

I know it hurts. But keep believing.

More than what it seems

I had a big weekend.

Well, okay, as far as weekends go it was kind of uneventful – I did loads of housework, groceries, lunch with friends, church. I washed, dried, folded and sorted three loads of washing. I prayed like crazy for a friend in hospital, and for another friend who’s just been forced to sell her house. I checked out how my new computer operates…

Yeah. That’s it. Right there.

You heard me.

So Saturday was busy, but the fact that I found it hard to concentrate in church on Sunday,  could barely hold my eyes open at lunch afterwards, and had a nap instead of cooking dinner last night is indicative of something big. Really big.

I’ve had new computers before. We all have. You transfer (okaaaay, I get my technical genius husband to transfer) all the stuff over, you choose a new background, you ooh and aah a bit, then you move on. So why was this different? Come on Megan, you’re going to tell us it’s different because this one’s a Mac, aren’t you? Ha. Cat and computer

I’m sorry. Yes. That’s exactly it. Well, yes it’s a Mac, but it’s not that I’m just worshipping at the feet of the late Mr Jobs after all these years with Mr Gates, it’s something more. It’s processing power enough to deal with these large photos I’ve been uploading. It’s Photoshop. It’s a screen as a big as a small canvas, and suddenly it’s the memories of the girl who went to art school, who spent weeks building up layers of colour on canvases in translucent paint and who hasn’t had an art studio in twenty years. It’s ideas flowing through my brain of how Photoshop can translate what I wanted to do on canvas into photos, and even better than I ever dreamed they could be.

  • It’s not just a new computer. It’s the reawakening of a long-dead dream.
  • It’s not just a house, for my friend it was the loss of a dream, an era, a closed door.
  • It’s not just a piece of jewelry, it’s a wedding ring and a promise of a lifetime
  • It’s not just an email sent, it’s reaching out a trembling hand in the hope that someone is hearing
  • It’s not just an old table, it’s the place where old friends once held communion and built memories
  • It’s not just a computer, it’s an art studio without the bad memories. It’s a fresh start where there needed to be one. It’s a chance, finally, to step out and dream again
  • It’s not just a computer. It’s hope.

What about you? Have you ever had a reaction to a “small” thing that you discover is more laden with meaning than you realized? Do you have a light hold on the things around you or, like me, is everything significant? 

Always remember the power of dreaming.

passport stamp

I don’t know how many people out there are like me. I watched the  movie “While You Were Sleeping” at the movies back in 1995 and burst into tears when Sandra Bullock confessed that what she wanted most in life was a stamp in her passport. Dreams are funny things like that.

I got mine!

And yes, it makes me very happy indeed. And it makes me happier still to know that dreams, even silly ones, even dormant ones that we’re forced to forget because of life and circumstances, forced to put on those topmost shelves, they don’t get forgotten.

Keep dreaming my friends! The wait is worth it.

3 Things My New Car Has Taught Me

Image

We’re excited today to introduce Polly, the newest member of the Sayer family. A sister for Sally, Polly made her appearance about half past three yesterday afternoon, and weighs a hefty 800 kilograms (or thereabouts) with gorgeous thick black car-seat covers, shiny silver paintwork and a dreamy back-seat-flippy-down-bit-with-OMG-cup-holders. She’s a Commodore; our first Holden. Mother and car both doing well.

Now I have friends who will be reading this and asking themselves “How did I not know about this? Was this planned? Did I even know you were trying, Megan?” to which the answer is No. We weren’t trying. It just happened. We’re still in a bit of shock, although we are absolutely over-the-moon happy with our latest purchase. It has happened very, very suddenly. Let me tell you a bit of a story…

We’ve never been a two-car family. In fact, growing up, I was a No-car family. It was okay, you learn to make-do, get good at learning bus time-tables and accept that some things just aren’t possible. When we bought the house we live in now, some seven years ago, part of the attraction was that it was close to regular bus services, and it was in a nice flat area within walking distance of schools, shops and playgrounds. Perfect, really, for a one-car family.

Perfect, really, for a family where the Dad works in the city each day and can catch the bus there and back.

Here’s what I’ve learned though:

Needs change. That’s okay.

Our city-working-Dad has become something else, a highly sought-after Recording Engineer, who regularly packs up our darling Sally car with mega-amounts of studio equipment and mic stands and crates of leads and drives to obscure locations to make albums for people. This is wonderful, although it takes a bit of effort and great communication to sort out what days the car will be available or not, and how we can work around things.

Circumstances change. That’s okay.

We’ve been “poor” for most of our married life. It still feels a bit wrong claiming poverty, because this is Tasmania, where the divide between rich and poor is very VERY narrow, and our definition of “poor” still included a decent-enough car, a decent-enough house and always enough food on the table, so maybe I should change that to things have been “tight”. We pay the bills always, but we wear socks with holes and feel stupidly grateful if there’s money for a cappuccino at the end of the fortnight.

We are not there any more, things have changed. Sometimes, though, we stay there in our minds, and sometimes there have been just so many limits we forget what it was that imposed them in the first place, and we accept those limits as Part Of Us.

Here’s the third thing I learned. This is the big one, the clincher, the say-it-out-loud-in-all-caps-until-I-remember-it:

Sometimes the thing standing in the way of receiving what you want/need the most is YOU.

Nearly two years ago I had this dream, like a night-dream, while I was asleep. I’d just decided to do the Biggest Thing Ever, the Thing I’d Always Wanted To Do, which was go to the USA on my first ever overseas holiday. My husband was supportive, it felt right, I knew we could save the money in time, there were people to stay with, it was There On A Plate…until I started thinking that I couldn’t, that it was Too Big, Too Hard, and I Couldn’t Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road, and therefore I couldn’t go.

My night-dream was this: I came home one day to find a crowd of people and a TV crew with camera filming to present me with a New Car. It was this beautiful thing, with shiny silver paintwork and fluffy black car-seat covers, and possibly even had a dreamy back-seat-flippy-down-bit-with-OMG-cup-holders. It looked a lot like our new Polly. The crowd were wild with excitement, people were cheering and jumping up and down and a man in a suit was there in front of the camera to present me with the keys to my new car. In my dream I’m speechless, flabbergasted, and when I get up there on the podium, as he hands me the keys, what did dream-me say? “I can’t. We can’t afford a second car sorry. We can’t afford the petrol, or the insurance, or the registration. And not only that, we live so close to a great bus route, it’s why we bought the house!” They stared at me, this elated crowd. The man in the suit stared at me. The conscious part of sleeping-nearly-awake me started jumping up and down “JUST ACCEPT THE THING, MEGAN! EVEN IF YOU SELL IT, JUST. ACCEPT. THE. CAR!” When I woke up I got the point: I needed to step into my dreams. Only I could do it, and nothing was stopping me but Me.

Let me encourage you today: Buy your Polly. Take your trip to the US. Call your friend. Say Yes to the crazy thing. Live your dream. In the end it won’t be the fear you’ll remember, it’ll be the regret of letting it ever stop you.