Monday, March 9, 2009

This post meanders - bear with me.

What bothers me about the term "it is what it is" is that it doesn't describe anything. It's like that Faith No More song "Epic."

It's it!
What is it?
It's it!
What is it?

No it's not. You can't define a term using the same term. What is happiness? It is to be happy. Does this really define anything for you? No.

But my dislike of the term "it is what it is" doesn't just have to do with the fact that it gives you no useful information. It's because whenever I hear someone say it, they're just saying it for lack of anything else to say at a time when I'm looking for a real answer.

"It's so bullshit that I can't find a job. Why is it so hard for people to find a job nowadays?"
"I don't know. It is what it is, you know?"
"...I have no idea what you are talking about."

Why not just say "I don't know?" It is what it is does not sound all that deep and wise. I know that it is supposed to mean "there is not a great, complex answer. It will simply be itself, just as you and I and he and me and we are all together. Coo coo cachoo." Its atempt at simplicity only confuses me more, although it does make me think of John Lennon, which is kind of cool.

Or, and I HATE this, the term is used when someone is really pissed at you and they're being sarcastic. Like the term "Whatever." Have you ever known someone to say "whatever" and really mean it? No. Most of the people I know say "whatever" when what they really mean is, "Yes, what you have suggested and/or just expressed bothers me deeply and I have great concern for how things are going to turn out, however, I'm going to give you a sarcastic response that will make you feel like a selfish asshole who does not consider my feelings to be important."

And now I will completely change the subject. The other day I asked my grandpa if he wanted me to say anything in particular at his funeral. He had heart surgery last week and none of us, including him, were sure that he was going to make it. He's been so weak lately and that big artery in his neck was almost completely blocked. In the days leading up to the surgery he mentioned dying a few times, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask if there was anything he wanted me to say in particular.

I was sure he'd want me to talk about being a pilot in World War 2, which is a half truth (he was a pilot but the war ended before he got to kill anybody, something that's always bothered him), he flew B-52's during rescue missions in the Azores (true), he wrote a book (true) and he invented the six pack (though I don't have confirmation on this one I'm going to guess that's a lie). The things I'm sure that he won't want me to mention are that he beat the shit out of my dad as a kid, he once told dad and his brothers that women were like cows - only good for dropping babies, his mother was a stoic woman who didn't smile and never told him she loved him, his father beat the shit out of him even more than he beat the shit out of my dad, his five children don't like him, he had scarlet fever (or yellow fever, I forget) and was quarentined when he was ten, during which time he was so lonely that he made up stories and characters and lived in his imagination for a little over a month, and the last thing he wouldn't want me to say is that he's a compulsive liar.

He's also not a very good writer. I would have felt awful saying that before, but I don't now. Maybe it's because I've been so raw and angry lately. What I feel bad about saying is that I would rather not read the poem that he handed me when I asked him what he wanted me to say at his funeral. It's called "Sing No Sad Songs For Me." Not only does it rhyme (shudder), but it tells everyone, everyone at his FUNERAL, to stop crying. He says,

"Oh, no, no sad songs for me;
I have always abhorred the weeper."

This is a person who is so terrified of emotions that he even needs to repress people at his funeral. "I have always abhorred the weeper." Abhorred? Dear Lord, what a drama queen.

Anyway, he lived but we've got a deal now that I'm going to read the poem. So what will I actually say at his funeral? Should I just get up there and say "He's dead. It is what it is," and sit back down? Nah. I'll probably say that despite what he told my dad about women, Grandpa always told me that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and he always called me "Number One Kid." My grandma recently told me that he started doing that when my parents were separated and he noticed how down I was all the time. He would call over to me, "Hey, fella! Who's Number One Kid?" and I'd smirk all shy and self-conscious and say, "Me," and he'd give me a hug. He still does that. I will probably talk about how he always quotes poetry, and how incredibly smart he is. I will probably say that he recently told me that he doesn't know how to tell someone he loves them because he was never taught, and whenever he does it now it feels forced and awkward. But he does it anyway. I will probably say that other pilots have told me how beautifully that old guy can fly a plane, and that he saved lives flying rescue missons in the Azores. I will say that he wrote a book, something that he always wanted to do. And I will definitely say that it is because of him that I have a reverence for things that have a quiet grace about them, little things like the slow drift of tobacco smoke and that curve in the hand between the thumb and forefinger. Whatever else he might be, he is a man who points these things out.

In honor of that beauty and grace, here's a poem I read yesterday. I love the word "Madagascar" in the middle of it. Grandpa taught me to say a word and let it melt on my tongue like hard candy.

by David Shumate

I am seduced by trains. When one moans in the night like some
dragon gone lame, I rise and put on my grandfather's suit. I pack a
small bag, step out onto the porch, and wait in the darkness. I rest
my broad-brimmed hat on my knee. To a passerby I'm a curious sight
—a solitary man sitting in the night. There's something
unsettling about a traveler who doesn't know where he's headed.
You can't predict his next move. In a week you may receive a
postcard from Haiti. Madagascar. You might turn on your
answering machine and hear his voice amid the tumult of a Bangkok avenue.
All afternoon you feel the weight of the things you've never done.
Don't think about it too much. Everything starts to sound like a train.


Tom said...

Maybe you can just edit the poem. I mean, don't we all need someone to rewrite for us? I mean, except, like, me. My stuff is gold right from the first draft!

melissa bastian. said...

Ahh, Tom. My word verification is "dooftin". Do you think that has any significance?

I think you have some beautiful things to say about your grandfather. I wish I'd gotten to know mine nearly as well. He only died three years ago, but he always lived so far away. And by the time I lived near him he was so old, so tired, so quiet.

I say, you should first talk about all of what you just told us. Not the bad parts obviously, but the stuff you know you want to say. Maybe even the thing about the six pack. And then read the poem at the end. Explain that it was his wish, explain how it happened that you agreed to read it - and tell your audience to take it with a grain of salt. Those who really knew him will understand.

Or you could take the easy way out and print it on cards for people to take as they leave the service. :)

Tom said...

Oh, Melissa brought up some great thoughts.

I remember I loved when my dad's parents would visit, and he and my dad would end up sitting at the kitchen table smoking cigars and talking. I just sat there and listened to them talk. I don't remember a single word that they said, and I understood very little of it. I just liked being there for the exchange, hearing them talk with each other. I learned later that my dad didn't communicate so well with his dad when they were younger, so that makes it seem even neater.

I remember my mom's dad was very quiet. Both of my mom's parents were German, so quiet and strict (at least on for my grandma on that one) were sort of the rule. I remember when he passed away I felt cheated, because I had just gotten old enough to the point where he could talk to me more as an adult than a kid, and he had started to share some things with me by then that I was old enough to relate to. I wished he'd stayed around another few years so we could have some more of those conversations. I felt like he left just as I was finally starting to get to know him personally.

Melissa, not long ago my word verification was "prick." Literally. Rather rude, don't you think? Today it's "tramian." Not rude, but a bit obtuse.

Genevieve said...

Dooftin? PRICK???? What the hell, man? Sorry about blogspot's crass.

Mel - You're right, I think I should say a lot of the things I mentioned. I want to read his poem as is because that's how he wants it, but I think I will also read it last.

Tommers- YOU! You said "it is what it is" on Kevin's blog! For this you must...hmm, what can I threaten you with? You will go without coffee for a day! Ha ha! Oh, punishment is so very cruel and unusual.

I identified with what you said about hanging out at the kitchen table listening to your dad and your gandpa talk. I love to listen to my dad talk with his brothers. It doesn't matter what they're talking about. They're so eloquent and articulate. And they smoke pipes, which adds a mystical, flavorful element to the experience.

Christy said...

How about instead of "I abhor the weeper" (or whatever it is) you can say "Don't fear the reaper." (Sad attempt at joke!)

Your grampa sounds like he was quite the ass back in the day, but he also seems to be trying in his own way to be a better person now. He's saying I love you even though it's hard. He saved lives. Maybe it would be good to recall all the things he worked so hard for instead of recall the bad things he did when he nay not have known better. He's trying now, isn't he?

Also, when speaking at someone's funeral, part of your goal is to help people remember the good times, the good things, and help them grieve and move on. (All of a sudden I forgot how to spell grieve. I hope I got it right.) Focus on the good. And since he's still alive and kicking, maybe try to focus on the good right now. It's not going to hurt him or punish him at all if you open your heart to people at his funeral and remember the bad stuff, but it will possibly end up hurting you. (And maybe even your dad and his siblings.) Is it worth it?

Genevieve said...

Oh dude, no, I'm not going to talk about all that painful stuff. I realize that I was vague when I said "I should say a lot of the stuff I mentioned." I probably would say that he had it rough growing up because he accomplished so much as an adult. But no, I won't say how he was as a parent. That'll make everyone feel all weird. And yeah, hurt their feelings.