I wrote poetry in college, and then stopped for years. A few years ago something made me go back to it. 3 months later, I started writing about my father, with dementia and Alzheimer’s. He had already declined a huge amount and was—we didn’t know this then—in his last six months.
A few months after that, some artists from our school were doing an exchange with other artists from South Africa. I wanted to go, and applied; I thought it was a no brainer—I do social issue theater with teens, it seemed completely relevant.
But they didn’t select me. They chose my wife—herself a poet—and a few others. I put her on the limo to JFK to fly to South Africa—and I flew to my parents’ house in Austin, Texas. I spent a week there. It was the longest I had been “home” since I graduated from college—and the last time I saw my father alive.
In that time, thoughts & writing about Alzheimer’s came pouring out of me, sometimes 6 or more a day—and, that’s when the incident happened of my father humming while I played—and, without that, there is no book.
Something wanted My Father, Humming to be written. I seemed to be its instrument.
I windsurf. Learning to windsurf is very humbling. For every one thing you learn, there are three more you have to learn. You spend a lot of time in the water.
It took me a long time, but what I learned, very gradually, is that it’s not about you. It’s about the wind, which is more powerful than you, much more. Stop fighting it, thinking you are in control—you definitely are not—and try to get aligned with it—with you as the fulcrum through which it goes—and you move. Keep fighting it, and you fall in the water.
The wind is the spirit, the chi. Out there, by yourself, on the water, with only you, the board, the water, the sky, and the wind—if you let go of everything else, and enter into that, you go, the board moves, at whatever speed, and you understand: it’s the wind that’s doing this; you’re standing in the right place, holding the sail the right way, to align with it. And connecting to something with so much power than you is very exciting.
That’s what happened with the writing of My Father, Humming. I was out on board, the wind came up, and I aligned with it. It is not about me. These poems are about the living becoming the deceased, dealing with loss, and about remembering. More than anything, My Father, Humming is about the process of grieving for the larger spirit of a father, a child—of being a human being.