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Family

Wade

I know I’ve got daddy issues, knew it since I first heard the phrase and thought, Yep, probably me. It didn’t manifest in the usual way, but it did manifest. I was one of a handful sobbing through the father-daughter duet in the Adam’s Family on Broadway. I was the only person in the theater crying through the end of The Place Beyond the Pines as the son, doomed to repeat his father’s mistakes, roared into the sunset on the back of a dirt bike. My daddy issues involve motorcycles. I used to ride dirt bikes. Other non-theater related things manifested as well, but it’s not fair to call them issues. I have had overwhelmingly positive traits, habits, and opinions formed too, and I lay most of these at the feet of my stepdad, the man who raised me, and who I consider to be my father.

My mom usually woke me up by shouting, “TIME TO WAKE UUUUUP!” so I knew it was serious when she sat on the edge of my bed one morning and asked if I’d like to change my last name to Dougherty, and be officially adopted.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I know I thought spelling was generally absurd. I’d just discovered Wade was spelled with an e at the end for no reason, which led to me calling him “Wadey” for years. His last name was particularly problematic. There were at least four unnecessary letters in there — why not spell it Doorty and be done with it? Ellison was a name I could handle — sure, there was that extra l, but it didn’t trip up your mouth, and I’d been spelling it for ages already.

I also didn’t understand that names had context, meaning, power. Every name was completely arbitrary at that time, from chair to Washington. They were just sounds we’d attached meaning to and then came up with absurd ways of spelling. I called my biological father “Dad,” but I might as well have been calling him “Scandinavia.” It was exceedingly weird other people did not call him dad too. Someone recently pointed out that, to this day, I still refer to my mom like “Mom” is her name, because it is her name and why does everyone have to have so many damn names anyway! Just pick one! (I’m looking at you, Slavs.) (And the entire Lacy family for that matter, with your secret names all over the place.)

I asked Mom what that would mean and she said something like, “You and Wade would have the same last name.” But she wouldn’t, would she? Wouldn’t that make her the odd man out? Her last name wasn’t Ellison or Dougherty, it was Lacy. I didn’t mind each of us having different last names. Actually, I thought it was cool. We were each unique individuals, as opposed to other families, who were a homogenous mass, variations on the same theme. If we had to change our names to something, the obvious choice was Lacy, since it was the only option spelled properly.

I didn’t yet understand how name meant legacy, that your name carried with it decades if not centuries of pride and effort and culture and love, that choosing a name was like choosing my own history. I’ve chosen since then — when people ask about my grandfather I tell them about Noel Dougherty, a man I had extreme love and respect for, a cowboy and sheriff and kind, honorable man. All I know about my dad’s dad is that he was violent and died young. But when Mom asked me to make this choice, I thought about it for about thirty seconds, then gave the child Shannon’s version of:

NahB.-im-good-thanks-Funny-Nah-Meme

I’ve thought about that decision ever since, more the older I get and the more I understand about the world. Were there times Wade had to defend himself to strangers who didn’t believe he had a real claim on me? Did he ever get smug, knowing looks from people when they realized he wasn’t my ‘real’ dad? Did he ever have to bare suspicion from a well-meaning stranger who thought that my mom was ‘safer,’ that he likely hadn’t been around very long, that he didn’t care as much? Did the Dougherty family use step-daughter more often than daughter when describing me? Was there a hidden defensiveness when introducing me as his daughter, because step-daughter was just too impersonal, implied too much distance?

Worst of all, did he wonder, even fleetingly, that I had made a choice and it hadn’t been him? That a part of me felt I was just stuck with him, and there was some magic place in my heart he’d never access, a part specially reserved for my biological father?

This KILLS ME. I have no memories before Wade was in my life. He could’ve personally given birth to me, it’s not like I remember one way or the other. Wade and I were really close growing up. I always had his full attention. He never told me anything was a bad idea (and I had a lot of ideas) — he just said, “Let’s see if we can make nunchucks ourselves — here, this is how you use a staple gun.” If I ever got that look from someone wondering why I’d called my dad by his first name, or why we had different last names, I was the one who got aggressive. I’ve probably said, “He raised me! Since I was five!” a hundred times.

At some point I tried to make clear he was the one I chose, he was the one I loved, he was the one I wanted. Mom and I went to Hobby Lobby and I got him a plaque with a boy and a black lab fishing and the words: Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.

This was super difficult for me. It caught the sentiment I was going for but the titles were all wrong and I was not a boy and I thought fishing was boring. What if he thought it meant the opposite of what I meant? I still called Dad dad, but that was just his name! Better if it’d been two dirt bikers painted on a plaque, one tall, one short, with the words: Anyone can be a dad. It takes someone special to be a Wadey. 

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I am an intently impatient person. I am painfully aware of my finite life, and how much time I have to do what I want to do. This made me miserable as soon as I wasn’t hustling as hard as I possibly could, namely after I graduated and was trapped in a fulltime job that made me feel like dying in slow motion. I’m learning to enjoy life again, in a deeper, more meaningful way, and a big part of that is figuring out why I am this way.

I used to think it was run-of-the-mill fear of death, but that never sat right. You’re not going to know you’re dead, right, so what does it matter? I’m really motivated to have the life I want, but chasing the carrot doesn’t make you panic if things fall behind schedule, doesn’t make standing in line with nothing useful to do make you sweat, make you nauseous, make you feel worse than death — trapped. Wasted time gives me claustrophobia. That isn’t from desperately wanting anything. That is from fear — fear with a ticking clock.

I think I’ve figured it out. If fear of my own death is a summer breeze, fear of someone I love dying is a hurricane on Jupiter. When Naz and I were dating long-distance I refused to ever be the one to hang up, because if he died, I’d never get over clicking that red button. I sometimes tell people before as they’re leaving, “Don’t die!” It is not a joke. My nightmares are of trying to protect my friends and family (usually through the apocalypse, and often with zombies) and failing. I used to hold Bubbles the cat and whisper to her, “Please don’t die, please live forever,” over and over again until I fell asleep. (She’s now nineteen and still going strong.)

Told you. Hurricane on Jupiter.

Wade smokes. A lot. Before he started smoking, he chewed tobacco — he once told me he started chewing when he was twelve years old. He’s turns 55 today. I know smoking kills. I also know quitting cigarettes is as difficult as quitting heroin, and that it’s not just about willpower. It takes willpower and a whole rearranging of your day and your life with huge support of everyone around you and treating it as much like a sickness as any heroin addiction. Tobacco catches you, with its little whispers, “It’s not that bad, you’re not addicted, you just feel like having a quick smoke right now, you can always stop if you really wanted to.” I don’t blame Wade for anything, and especially not for staying enslaved to the drug that caught him as a child.

But I do think it’s going to kill him. His death is my sense of urgency. I want to make him proud. I want to buy him and Mom a fancy ranch soon enough they have time to enjoy it. I want him to meet my children, and not just meet them, but help raise them, because if there’s one thing Wade’s really, really good at, it’s raising kids. How much longer do I have? What do you think? Twenty-five years, my lifetime once over again? Fifteen? Five?

It’s taken me a long, long time to work up the courage to write this. I guess that’s why they’re called issues.

I love you, Wade, and miss you terribly. Happy birthday.

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Family, Music

Owl Faces – Minda Lacy’s New Album

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My cousin Minda is an exquisite human being, the type who is effortlessly memorable, accidentally beautiful, unabashedly poetic, and never annoying about any of it. She’s the wild child hipsters so furiously attempt to emulate, completely unaware of her own stylistic power. She’s like Cuba, a land without the pressures and expectations of advertisement, oblivious to its rare and self-confident purity.

(Not to say Minda ia a tropical island under communist dictatorship – though, she is often very tan, and loves the ocean. Not sure about her stance on cigars.)

Here she is barefoot, walking a kitten - as you do.

Here she is barefoot, walking a kitten – as you do.

As kids, Minda and I would spend summers together building elaborate fantasies in which if we didn’t carefully prepare a protection potion and distribute it by smearing mud-paste on every tree trunk in the orchard, zombies would rise up from their sunken city and eat everyone’s brains. We used to play Quake (yes, the video game) by putting on multiple pairs of sunglasses and hopping over the roof of my dad’s workshed and yelling. We had an elaborate, 2-minute secret handshake. We once discovered callouses, decided they were basically a superpower, and spent a good four hours furiously digging holes until we were both exhausted and disillusioned about the effort required to get forward in life.

The non-Minda human in those pictures is not me, fyi. :)

FYI – the non-Minda human in those pictures is not me. 🙂

Minda is a tree-climber and lizard-catcher extraordinaire who wears shoes as little as possible. She has long natural blonde hair, enormous green eyes, and long alien fingers perfect for playing the guitar or being a hand model. She’s worn her mom’s clothes, or her younger sister’s clothes, (or my clothes), or just clothes that were sort of around, her whole life, pants often held up by rope or string or vines. She has a large, close-knit group of friends who love her, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about her, friend, family, or otherwise. She’s a light, impossible to contain or anticipate.

She’s been playing the guitar and writing poems for years, but always seemed shy to sing at our yearly New Year’s Eve parties. Then I left to Germany for five minutes, came back, and she’s the lead singer of her own band, all original songs by Minda Lacy called Bitches in the Beehive, and she’s got FANS. The kind who modern dance bare foot in front of the stage and shout out her own lyrics back at her like crazed, impromptu backup singers.

She’s just come out with her first album, a beautiful collection of seven songs full of her fun, poetic, unique view of the world – and her stunning singing voice, sort of husky and playful and clear. It is well-worth a listen, a share, a featured blog post, anything you can do to spread the word about this bombdiggity record.

It’s called Owl Faces. Find the full album on Outfield Records and YouTube, or check out some songs from the Bitches in the Beehive days on Soundcloud.

Her kitten-wooing powers is something of a theme, it seems.

Her kitten-wooing powers is something of a theme, it seems.

Good luck Minda! May this be the first article of many.

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Family, Russia, Thoughts

Happy Birthday Viktor, 75 Year-Old Russian Warrior-Poet

I’ve been in Russia for the last week meeting my boyfriend’s family, and his grandfather is super cool. He just turned 75, but he is as spry and sassy as anyone half his age. He works all day as an engineer at factory of some kind, where he has worked for the last 50 years at least, straight on through the collapse of the USSR. He graduated from the most prestigious engineering program in Russia and was appointed to his position by the Soviet government. He’s kept his job this long by both being the best and purposely not telling anyone else how to do it.

His whole face crinkles around his eyes when he smiles and he has the most dramatic, eloquent, dignified gestures. He drank vodka like a champ from shot glasses that held at least five normal-sized shots in the most theatrical way possible, and revealed he makes his own vodka but couldn’t give us a “vodka making machine” because he “only has one left.”

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Russian shot glass.

He saw me writing in my journal and immediately began quizzing me on my credentials – what was my grade in English in school? How many Russian poets can I quote? When he found out I couldn’t quote any, he gave me a solid lecture on how great Pushkin was and how I need to study him to be a good writer, and then sang me a song.

Then I found out he writes poetry himself, and has even had his poetry published multiple times. He’s written beautiful poems about his whole family, about each of his daughters and his wife. He told me a bunch of Russian fairy tales and terribly dirty jokes. He took any sharp thing anyone said to him or to each other and turned it into a little song. He asked for the specifics of Naz’s job with, “What is your rank?”

He is a proud Russian, and a great example of the warmth, humor, and depth of the Russian people. He opened his home to me and made me feel included and welcome, even though we had to translate everything either of us said through my boyfriend and I represent a long-time adversary of Russia. He’s a great man and deserves a hearty happy birthday, or С днем рождения! in Russian, from wherever you are.

(I read this to my boyfriend’s mom and aunt before publishing, and they said that everyone likes America now, and also that they noticed I didn’t say anything about them opening their homes and making me feel welcome. I said that of course I feel that way about them too, and I was just being specific to Viktor because it was about him and it was his birthday, and they said that they forgive me, “but they will never forget it.” So let me take this moment to state, once and for all, that the whole family made me feel exceedingly welcome, the food was new and delicious, I felt pampered and included the whole time, and I can’t wait to visit again.)

Here is one of Viktor’s poems written about his granddaughter. Unfortunately much of the eloquence and lyricism is lost in translation, but it is sweet and beautiful nonetheless:

Our Nastyulya (cute form of the name Anastasia) is already 20
How fast the time goes ahead
Mother should start worrying
Daughter is going to university 

And it would be fine if she’d just go to one
Then you could understand
I can say certainly – accounting is the force
What else would you desire? 

But that’s not enough for her – in addition
She wants to become a lawyer
Let me clear my ears
Not sure I will still be able to understand though

To go into two universities
Accounting and law, learn everything
Is like a clever joke in a local commercial [tuta]
Is the trying to become a professor? 

Though still difficult with math
Changing different measurements may be hard
Will you say it is a bit scary?
Then come to our summerhouse! 

There you can compare debit and credit
Fix the handle for the shovel
And hear birds singing
And find right ways 

And here coo-coo bird will help you
Count the mounds where the plants are
In which you as an exercise
Planted dill – going to wait for it 

Big successes in universities [I wish you]
Big harvests in summerhouse [I wish you]
Which you will help us gather
As long as you remember the way there 

Just hope you have enough health
And just enough sleep at night
There will not be too little time during the day
For everything – studying and coming to us!

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Family, Film, Inspiration, Thoughts

The Lacy Klan – The Pecos Wilderness

For those of you who haven’t read my past post (http://wp.me/p4WLbG-1u), the Lacy Klan is the term I use to describe the sprawling, varied, and extraordinarily enthusiastic mass of madness that is my extended family. My grandparents on my mom’s side had eight children – six boys and two girls. They’ve since grown and many have had children of their own, and some of their children have children now as well. The Klan grows, but despite the large cast of characters, we have made an effort to stay close and connected.

There are two main phases to Lacy Klan festivities – summer and winter. If you remember our winter traditions of blowing up zombie and/or Sasquatch effigies and sliding down the pristine dunes of White Sands National Park, and you think you understand, to some degree, our general fun-level, you might be wrong. Because for Summer we are more likely to go outside and we aren’t constrained by the more ridged and well-established rituals of Christmas and Thanksgiving. During the Summer, we just do whatever we want.

Thus, the Lacy Klan backpacking trips were born.

Nearly every Summer a great troupe of the Klan saddles themselves with heavy backpacks and charges off into the wilderness of northern New Mexico. Most years our goal is the Gila Hot Springs, a magic place of cliffs and serpentine rivers and clear pools of naturally hot water set into the bedrock. 

One of the first serious stories I ever wrote was about the first of these trips that involved the kids, who at that time only consisted of myself and my two cousins. It was called Keeping Up With Uncle Steve, and it detailed the entire adventure there and back again, including that one time we almost got caught in a flash flood, and the time my Uncle Richard told his son Zach to not move with such ferocity that Zach bolted into the woods and nearly got a fish hook stuck in him, and that one time a huge boulder cracked and fell off of the cliff we were camped below and we all ran screaming into the woods, in the middle of the night.

Needless to say it was a great time, a true Lacy Klan legend and a particularly strong memory of my childhood, and there is a long-forgotten (but hopefully not lost!) video made of that trip as well. It’s 40 minutes long, and my first real attempt at editing.

Since those days the ‘kid’ bracket of the Lacy Klan has grown considerably, and our Summer Backpacking Trip has become something of a rite of passage. There’s a lot of talk about whether the kids are ‘tough enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to handle the strenuous hike. This is done mostly in front of them, so when it comes time to prove themselves the kids all understand the grave nature of the tradition they are entering into. I’m proud to say that the kids have shown an enormous amount of maturity and determination, and most are old hands at hiking already.

In the Summer of 2012 the Klan embarked on a new journey. We couldn’t go through the Gila as we’d always done because it was literally on fire. Instead we decided to go to the Pecos Wilderness, which is much higher and colder, and hike to a secret mountain lake. No one had ever been there before but we were confident we could handle it.

It was considerably more difficult than we anticipated. It wasn’t very far, but it was way more vertical than we’d expected it to be. The youngest member of the Klan for this trip was little Hannah, who I am proud to say walked the whole way on her own, carried her own backpack for most of the hike, and was not the first to have a total emotional meltdown.

The saga of that particular trip is told with pretty music and pretty pictures in the video at the bottom of the page.

I’ve only missed one trip, and I hope to never miss one again. I was in Germany at the time and thus missed the first trip for a good handful of the kids.

It was strange for me to imagine them, a small group of almost-teens, walking the same path with the same people I had when I was their age – while I walked alone through the cobbled streets of some German town, thousands of miles away.

Today is Thanksgiving. I write this on my lunch break at my desk at work, surrounded by people who have heard of Thanksgiving but don’t really know it’s today and don’t really understand what it means. To me, it means the beginning of the best part of the year is finally here, because the Lacy Klan is coming together again. To me, it means green chile enchiladas and pecan pie. It means a whole day spent wandering from the front yard, to the back yard, to the hammock, to the trampoline. It means laughter from all sides and the well-known, friendly faces of family at every turn.

This Thanksgiving I will stay at this desk until the sun goes down, until the wind and bitter cold entrench themselves. Then I will walk to the train, ride the train for awhile, then walk over cobble-stoned streets to the front door of my apartment building. Then I will have some delicious soup the boyfriend has made for me, and I will Skype a segment of the far-away Lacy Klan. I cannot find the words to describe what this, and all of that, means to me. That I can be so far and still be so close. I have been blessed, and I am so, so grateful.

To the Lacy Klan: I can’t wait to be with you again, and I am especially excited for the next chapter of our Backpacking Trip adventures. I will do all I can to make that possible.

Also: COME VISIT ME. During the Summer the days are fifteen hours long, and you can drink the best beer in the world, in the streets, any time you want, legally. (I’m looking at you Mike.) (Well, and Steve.) (And Richard, and Doug.) (Hell, the whole lot of you. The beer here is as good as they say. Easily worth the price of a plane ticket.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmIk7kl-mM]

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Family, Film

The Lacy Klan

I grew up in a place of harsh, deadly beauty. It is the allure of the distant and forbidden – one glimpsed, but not studied; visited, but not lived in – except for a unique and often gleefully destructive breed of human, the desert-dweller. This includes my sprawling family, which was born in the desert and returns to it as often as possible, their visits brightening my life twice a year for as long as I can remember.

There is undoubtedly Viking blood in the Lacy Klan – the men are huge, with blonde shaggy manes and beards and a great fondness for fire and beer. The women raise hoards of monster-children, sacrifice chickens to the gods, and drink mead.

Well, not really. But we could. And we do raise chickens. And I don’t know how to make mead, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out one or two of my uncles do.

My matriarchal grandmother had six sons and two daughters. Most of them had children, and some of their children have had children. New Mexico is our personal Mecca, and once or twice a year we all gather together and have the most epic, adventurous party-time imaginable. We don’t fight with each other – we’re one of those families whose gatherings are always memorable and always too short.

What makes the LK so great above all is a collective open-mindedness to collaborate, create, and work hard in the pursuit of fun and supporting each other.

(I originally had a graphic made of the phases of the LK and their subsequent child-producing waves, but it got way too complex too fast. I’ll suffice it to say that there are a ton of them, not including family friends and fellow adventurers, and that we can’t fit a quarter of them in the house, which is why all our gatherings either happen outside, or in a Mexican restaurant.)

The cast of characters is vast and immensely interesting – and we all make an effort to stay connected and carry out our random traditions. One of the largest of these is the New Year’s Eve party, which has been happening in my parent’s backyard since Y2K. It was never meant to grow into what it did, but in an intense pot-luck way, it took life of its own. 

Everyone contributes something. One year my dad and an uncle got together and built a 20 foot tall trebuchet out of old tractor parts and painted it lime green. The kids and a selection of uncles film family space operas and westerns during the summer, and then premiere them at New Year’s, at which is a huge bonfire and a stage, on which my cousins and I have performed one way or another for as long as I can remember.

It’s all very complex fun.

Last year we decided to have a Sasquatch-themed party because, um, Sasquatch-themed party. One of my uncles, who both takes Sasquatch very seriously and also has serious wire-forming skills (he was very adamant about calling it a Neanderthal, as apposed to a Cro Magnon, and used a picture of an actual Neanderthal skull as a guide), created a 20 foot-tall Burning-Man style Sasquatch out of wire mesh, with details like toes and fingers and a spear, then filled it with fireworks and then covered it with pieces of bark and paper so it looked like it had hair and was wearing a loincloth.

It was, quite simply, redonk’.

If that wasn’t enough, in the days leading up to the party at one of our (also traditional) green chile slathered beer drinking Mexican restaurant evenings, someone said,

“How about… instead of just setting the Sasquatch on fire, we have a fire-ball-asteroid that flies over our heads and slams into it?”

So, yeah. That happened. 

The actual asteroid was on a zip line with fireworks placed like rockets at the back so, when lit, it would shoot down the zip line and slam into the Sasquatch. But the way it was hanging it was able to swivel, and instead of going forward it just spun furiously at 500000 mph, and my dad had to go into the sparks and poke it forward with a giant pole and try not to get set on fire.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S61kiP1-V80]

One of the many things we do is to go to White Sand’s, the 144,000 square-acre graveyard of a pre-historic sea, now endless shifting dunes of gypsum. We’re also a group of more-or-less talented photographers, ranging from a professional film maker and a master-level space photographer to a very excited dad who takes literally thousands of pictures with his Canon Rebel. Putting all these pictures together into something beautiful is my contribution to the growing body of LK heirlooms.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCfXpR3dx9g]

I’ve been thinking a lot about home, family, and the nature of wanderlust. Settling into a foreign country means daily adventures, diving into the complexities of a new kind of people, true autonomy and the fear and thrill of being 6000 miles away from the nearest support net – and it means being far, far away from family.

This is the second time my entire life I won’t be in New Mexico for New Year’s. I don’t know when I’ll be there for that again, not to mention Christmas and the Gila Hike. It’s sort of a deep, resigned sort of sadness. I chose this, and it’s the nature of growing up that you leave to create a new home of your own, but living through it is more difficult than I imagined. And it’s only September! I’m sure it’ll be way worse on Christmas Eve.

I guess my goal here isn’t to feel sorry for myself, but to celebrate the awesomeness that is my family on the other side of the world, and to say this:

Family is the only constant, and thus, of utmost importance. Treat it that way.

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