In 10 days from the writing of this, I will move to another place, closing the door on decades of my life and starting something new. Today, I packed up my attic, separating trash from treasure and skipped rocks through the story of my life.
I found loads of pictures, thousands of pages of writing going back as early as 1981, material for hundreds of books I won’t live long enough to publish. I found music and memory in old journals. I found an old flask among my daughter’s high school things that still had liquor in it. That made me laugh. I kept the flask. She looked so innocent back then. You’d never think it, huh?
There were all my daughter’s beanie babies. At her birthdays from about the 4th birthday to maybe the 8th birthday, we used to hide all the beanie babies as a bit of a treasure hunt and the children would trade them in for prizes. I couldn’t manage to let go of those either.
I found the last bill I paid my daughter’s private school. The last of her college stuff she dumped off before taking off for New York. There were yearbooks, grades, college acceptance letters, honor roll certificates, team pictures, and all that kind of thing. Video games, old music CDs, a score of broken phones and sunglasses, shattered bits of memory and life, somehow all the pain absolved as the bad went into the trash and the diamonds made from all of it found places in well-marked boxes.
That was all the stuff I expected to find. Maybe not some of the writing. That was lovely as I had wondered where I had put so much of that. Then I began to find things from my life, before my daughter came along. And so the story of my life played tunes in my head. In a recent blog post, Janet Reid, Queen of the Known Universe and agent extraordinaire, wrote about the The Distinction Between Rhythm and Cadence, something Mr. Harry Chapin demonstrated as only a master of words can.
Yeah, he thought he was writing about his life and his wife. What’s genius is that we all have this thing that is the story of a life, not the same story. It was a wife for the song writer, a child for me, a husband or father for someone else. But holy shit, these words came crashing back to me today. I could remember 23 and 15 and then 35 and on until I this very day. So, from the grave, I give you Harry Chapin as he recalls the story of my life.
I can see myself it’s a golden sunrise
Young child open up your eyes
It’s supposed to be your day.
Now off you go horizon bound
And you won’t stop until you’ve found
Your own kind of way.
And the wind will whip your tousled hair,
The sun, the rain, the sweet despair,
Great tales of love and strife.
And somewhere on your path to glory
You will write your story of a life.
And all the towns that you walk through
And all the people that you talk to
Sing you their songs.
And there are times you change your stride,
There are times you can’t decide
Still you go on.
And then the young girls dance their gypsy tunes
And share the secrets of the moon
So soon you find a wife.
And though she sees your dreams go poorly
Still she joins your story of a life.
So you settle down and the children come
And you find a place that you come from.
Your wandering is done.
And all your dreams of open spaces
You find in your children’s faces
One by one.
And all the trips you know you missed
And all the lips you never kissed
Cut through you like a knife.
And now you see stretched out before thee
Just another story of a life.
So what do you do now?
When she looks at you now?
You know those same old jokes all the jesters tell
You tell them to her now.
And all the same old songs all the minstrels sang
You sing ’em to her now.
But it don’t matter anyhow
‘Cause she knows by now.
So every chance you take don’t mean a thing.
What variations can you bring
To this shopworn melody.
And every year goes by like a tollin’ bell.
It’s battered merchandise you sell.
Not well, she can see.
And though she’s heard it all a thousand times
Couched in your attempted rhymes
She’ll march to your drum and fife.
But the question echoes up before me
Where’s the magic story of a life?
Now sometimes words can serve me well
Sometimes words can go to hell
For all that they do.
And for every dream that took me high
There’s been a dream that’s passed me by.
I know it’s so true
And I can see it clear out to the end
And I’ll whisper to her now again
Because she shared my life.
For more than all the ghosts of glory
She makes up the story,
She’s the only story
Of my life.