Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love and Mix Tapes

While browsing the audiobook shelves at my public library, I found this book in the Biography section: love is a mix tape: life and loss, one song at a time by Rob Sheffield.

The back of the case said:
It was... when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renee, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway.  They had nothing in common except that they both loved music... And it was music that would help Rob through a sudden, unfathomable loss.

In [the book]... Rob uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renee...This is Rob's tribute to music, to the decade that shaped him, but most of all to one unforgettable woman.  
Well, I had to check that out!  As someone who's a huge fan of the movie High Fidelity, I just naturally assumed that Rob and Renee had broken up.  (Rob even has the same name of John Cusack character in the movie.)

Rob from High Fidelity, not Rob from Love is a Mix Tape

So it came as quite a shock to me when, as I listened to the end of the introduction, Rob reveals that Renee died suddenly at age 31. She didn't dump him, she died on him.  Wow, I didn't see THAT coming. It was like a twist beginning.

The book took on a whole new meaning after that.  It wasn't High Fidelity, but Love Story, told from the point of view of a couple of hip music geeks who spend all their time listening to music, going to concerts, talking about music, and falling in love to music.  I thought I knew a lot about pop music, but I had to admit that only about one out of every ten songs Rob lists from his mix tapes were songs I knew.  And only about 50% of the musicians/bands were ones I'd heard of.  


It's funny that I ran into this book, because I was just talking to friends recently about the culture of mix tapes.  This is a culture I know well, since I grew up making mixes for friends, myself, and girls I was into.  I don't know what the kids do these days when they want to share songs.  Do they make ipod playlists?  Over the past 10 years I've moved on to making mix CDs.  I remember when I first heard the soundtrack to Avenue Q, in the mid-2000's, I thought that the story must be somewhat dated, since they have a song called "Mix Tape." That's sooooo 1990, I thought. 

Nevertheless, it's a great song that I now like to include on CD mixes.  As Sheffield points out, the technology might have changed, and even improved, but there's something special about a mix tape.   


There was also something special about Renee.  In a hundred different ways Rob writes about how special she was, how & why he loved her.  He tells the story of how they met, fell in love, got married.

According to the intarwebz, this is the happy couple.
When she literally dropped dead from a pulmonary embolism, she wasn't even sick. They'd only been married five years.  The ensuing account of Rob's shock, grief, and depression is heartbreaking. As he writes, "After Renee died, I assumed the rest of my life would be just a consolation prize."  It feels that way in the book, too, as he describes day after day of drudgery and pain.  He writes about being a young "widow" and what a strange role that was for him.  

It made me think about my divorce, and what a vastly different experience it must be to lose your spouse to death.  Sheffield addresses this in his book after people try to console him that at least Renee didn't choose to leave him: “Love dies in many different ways, and it's natural for the grass to seem greener on the other side. But it's not a competition; there's plenty of pain to go around.”

The book ends on a happier note, though, as Rob has learned to move on.  There is a quote about the fact that always looking back was preventing him from moving forward.  Or something more profound than that.  I don't have the book anymore so I can't look it up.  I did, however, find a whole webpage of great quotes from the book here:  http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/45332-love-is-a-mix-tape-life-and-loss-one-song-at-a-time

It was there that I re-read this gem from the book, about how there are certain songs he can no longer listen to:
“Sometimes great tunes happen to bad times, and when the bad time is over, not all the tunes get to move on with you."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Funeral, Wedding, Lemurs, Tennis

It's been a hectic several weeks, readers.  I've been yanked from place to place, event to event, with the intensity of a tennis player running down shots from sideline to sideline.

Chicago skyline from the plane

It started when my mom's husband, Ken, went into the hospital with pneumonia.  While there, he had a stroke.  He already had diabetes, alzheimer's, high blood pressure, and a bucket of other ailments.  Just a month earlier he'd had a pacemaker put in.  And he was 86.  He was not doing well, and passed away surrounded by his family on August 4.

It all went down pretty fast, and since I live four hours away from them, I didn't make it to the hospital in time to be one of those surrounding his hospital bed when he expired.  But it sounds like it was a pretty crowded place to be, what with his three daughters, son-in-law, grandson, my mom, two of my siblings, and several of my mom's siblings there.

Luckily, I was able to spell my sisters, who had been keeping Mom company at the hospital for three days, during the next three days of funeral arrangements.  We had to work out all the details of a showing and funeral in Indiana, and a burial service and memorial service in Illinois.  We met with with the funeral director, the most patient and friendly man I've ever encountered, in a four-hour meeting on Sunday and another hour on Monday.  We met with the pastor who did the funeral in Indiana. We called the ministers who would do the memorial service in Illinois.  We coordinated with his daughters.  I've never written down so many phone numbers in my life, trying to get all these people in touch with each other.         

I spent four days at my mom's. One of the jobs I did during that time was to collect pictures from Ken's life to give to the funeral home for a memorial DVD (and to put on their memorial website.) This was a fascinating experience, since I was able to see a glimpse of his life before he came into my family.  He'd already lived a lifetime, 75 years, before I met him.  He was married to his first wife for 40 years, and they had three daughters together, but after she passed away, he met my mom and started over.  It's amazing to think that someone can experience new life & love in their 70's.  Imagine if the people who will be there when you die, the people who will speak at your funeral, only know the version of you when you're 75+ years old? Seeing old pictures of him as a young(er) man was fascinating.

Ken and my mom.  They were only married 10 years, but they made each other very happy.

It was an emotionally- and physically-draining couple of days, but I didn't have much time to decompress.  The day after the memorial service, I had to drive up to Chicago with my girlfriend, so we could fly to Raleigh, NC, for her cousin's wedding.  A funeral and a wedding in one week.  I think that ratchets up our relationship status, doesn't it?

The wedding ceremony was outside in a flower garden. In North Carolina.  In August.  The officiant (the bride's mother, who was very nervous and clearly hadn't done this sort of thing before) forgot to tell us all to sit down after the bride walked down the grassy aisle, so we had to stand during the entire service.  Mercifully it was a short service-- literally five minutes.  Then we went to an Irish pub in downtown Raleigh for a brunch reception.   

We stayed in Raleigh for a few days after that, visiting the scenic downtown, the historic statehouse, an old plantation, and making stops at the campuses of the three major research universities that make up the "research triangle": Duke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and NC State.  We argued about whether the students at Duke are too isolated from their urban surroundings and whether the three tall buildings of downtown Raleigh can be called a "skyline."

My position: Yes, it's a skyline.  It's no Chicago, but it's still  a view that defines the city.

One treat of the week was that we discovered the Duke Lemur Center, a research sanctuary that has the world's largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar.  Well, we absolutely had to visit the lemurs!  Although you had to make an appointment to see them, as luck would have it, they could accommodate us that very morning.  So we took a tour and saw lots of different kinds of lemurs.  Apparently there are up to 70 different species.  I had no idea.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs: the most awesome of 70 different varieties!

I was only home from my trip to Raleigh for one day before I left again, this time for a road trip to Cincinnati.  My tennis friends and I had tickets to the Western & Southern Open in Mason, OH, for the second straight year. Since I already wrote about it last year, I won't go into detail about every match and player I saw. We saw a lot of great players: Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro, the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers, and many more.  It was a good time.

We got to see several lower-profile matches from the front row of an outer court.  Arguably the best seats in the house.  We were spitting distance from some of the best players in the world (but not household names like Federer or Venus.)  At one point, the TV camera pointed right at us, but when I got home I looked on my TiVo to see if they showed us, they hadn't. The closest we came to being on TV was after one of the matches I saw in the front row a green blob next to a red blob next to a black blob.  From knowing where we were sitting and what we were wearing, I could tell that was us.  Those blobs were us on TV!

Can you see us? (Not actual image.)

When I came home from the tennis tournament, the cats showed their displeasure at my frequent absences by leaving the largest collection of fur and vomit on my carpet I've ever seen.  Welcome home!

The fur and puke corridor
It was nice to have two days in a row at home this weekend to catch up on home stuff.  I'm still way behind on my Facebooking, blogging, emailing, and general intarwebz activity.

Next time I'll try not to schedule a funeral so close to other events.  ("I'm sorry, did my dying interfere with your schedule?")  Because, you know, it's all about me.