This is effectively an obituary I wrote for Bud Webster and his wife, Mary Horton. It’s also a meditation on taekwondo, my writing, and what’s happened to my life in the last year. I’ve waited (rather impatiently) for this piece to be rejected by Narrative Magazine so I could just put it up on my blog. Because frankly, I think it’s one of the toughest, truest, and best things I’ve ever written. It still makes me cry.
So here you go…
My writing mentor, Bud Webster, never read a word of my completed books. I never asked, and therefore never got an answer on why he wouldn’t read my stuff. Given his atavistic near-terror about writing fiction, I suspect that he was scared of bleedover. I’ve had it happen to me before: I’ve read so much of a particular author that I’ve found his or her voice overriding my own as I wrote. And Bud, even though his stuff was epic and amazingly fun, thought of himself as a lesser talent, easily damaged by stronger writers (Am I a stronger writer? God, I wish. All I could see of Bud’s work was its humanity and humor and goodness. I use that term advisedly. All I can see of mine are the flaws).
But Bud Webster worshiped at the feet of the old greats of science fiction. He wrote and published entire anthologies of the history of science fiction and its writers, editors, and publishers. I suspect he viewed his work on those anthologies as the price of his own (even grudging) admission to those hallowed ranks.
So why on Earth do I view him as my mentor, when he refused to read my stuff? He read other people’s, especially the poetry, and covered their pages in his tiny, scrolling, black script. I dutifully uploaded a chapter every month, along with all the other members of our group; we read each other’s stuff, commented, argued, laughed, and gratefully received the gift of companionship in the lonely business of writing. Bud oversaw our meetings like a casual-dress Santa, dispensing jokes and awful puns right alongside on-the-fly wisdom about how to edit, how to handle em-dashes and en-dashes and Oxford commas, and how to face what he called “paying the butt tax”—the terrifyingly hard work of sitting in the chair and confronting an empty page. It was his job to keep the discussion going (usually with humor); to break any impasse about grammar or spelling or usage; and to point us toward every relevant book, movie, or piece of music or broadcast media that could illuminate or deepen our experience. Suffice to say, he gave freely of time that he probably (for the joy of the world) should have spent writing more of his own fiction. Instead, he was a mensch, and gave his time to us.
So why do I view him as my mentor? Because of Mary Horton.
Bud was married (in every sense that matters) to Mary for the better part of thirty years. Between them, they consumed a staggering amount of the written word. Bud physically collected it (no surprise that he was a used book dealer. He’d have had the collection anyway—he figured he might make a buck off it, and cultivate other voracious readers to chat with in the process). Mary found a multitude of ways to consume it for free and in ways that didn’t lead to dust and clutter in the house—like the library, an e-reader, audiobooks, NPR, PBS, etc. They seemed to view reading the entire accumulated fiction and nonfiction of the world as a challenge to be seriously attempted—a sort of “you take that half and I’ll take this half and we’ll compare notes” sort of thing.
But in a way, Mary was also Bud’s gatekeeper. Bud had a tendency to gad about in every human art—writing, music, art, dance—and he amassed mind-boggling amounts of the physical outputs of those arts. Mary was just as voracious as he, just more discerning. If she read, heard, or saw something worthy, Bud would pay her description all his attention. He might or might not decide that he could safely partake once it had received her okay, but if Mary said something stank, Bud would never even add it to his collection for eventual consumption. Mary’s mind was relentless, critical to a razor’s sharpness, and dyed dark with the traumas that had visited her life. If she called something “good”—if she actually trusted something long enough to open her heart to it—Bud didn’t need to read it to find out if it was any good. He already knew it was. Into the collection it went. Whether he ever got to it was irrelevant.
It wasn’t often that Mary came to writers’ group nights with Bud. In fact, she didn’t come at all for the first several years. Then Bud showed her some of my stuff.
She read it, and demanded more. That alone scared the hell out of me.
Then she started coming every month, asking where I was with the story. From meaningful glances and a handful of innuendos from Mary and Bud, I concocted a pressure cooker in my own head. My output slowed to a crawl, taking years to write the first two books of a trilogy. She got pissed at me when I choked on the attention (a silent Mary was not a happy Mary). As the months dragged on, they learned to ask politely about where I was with my books, and just as politely to drop the topic. I skulked my way through those meetings, feeling like I was not only letting them down in writing so slowly, but that I was destroying what could have been a “real” career for myself in the process.
When Bud first got sick, I visited him in the hospital several times. He wrote on a laptop perched atop the rolling bed table. When he got out, looking thinner but somehow golden, almost shining in his purification by suffering, I told myself that the worst had passed; I had time to finish my own work. Bud (and I) had been granted a reprieve. My pace picked up. I finished the first draft of the second book, and began to edit the bastard into something sellable.
Then Bud got sick again, and this time the diagnosis was what we’d all feared. I visited him several times in hospice care during those months. I limped my way through terrible small talk conversations with both Bud and Mary, in which my writing and Bud’s dying sat side by side in the room like twin elephants. One day, Mary got really blunt. “I wish you could’ve finished the series in time for Bud to see it published.”
So do I.
While I struggled with the mental knife she’d put in me, she moved on with the conversation. “How’s your taekwondo going?”
I stumbled through a short description of where I was with my practice, then realized she probably didn’t know what the word “forms” meant. Most people think “forms” means a stack of paper from the IRS. In taekwondo, “forms” means a memorized series of movements that look like a dance but actually approximate the actions and proper responses of a slow-motion fight. I began to explain, only to be cut short again.
“Which ones are you doing? Chon-Ji or the TaeGeuk forms?”
Turns out, Mary used to do taekwondo, too. She took it up when she was still a relatively young woman, soon after Bud first became too ill to dance anymore. Just talking about taekwondo re-cast the expression on her face into something wild, fearsome, joyous. I could tell that, if dancing with her lover had been her greatest pleasure, breaking boards and dancing with the opponents that darkened her mind came a close, close second.
Chatting taekwondo became a safe space for all three of us, Mary remembering things from her practice, me working out the kinks in mine, Bud smiling as he listened to “two of the toughest women [he’d] ever met” comparing notes about how best to kick ass. No visit was complete without Mary asking how close I was getting to the black belt. Injury had prevented her from finishing hers.
Bud died on Valentine’s Day 2016. My books still weren’t finished. But I kept thinking maybe…just maybe…even if I haven’t finished my books, I might just finish the black belt. It might heal the breach with Mary a bit.
I was in the final countdown toward my black belt exam. I’d studied up for the written part of the exam. My body was holding steady, hurting but whole, through upwards of three hours of taekwondo a day to get ready for the physical portion of the test. I was a bit scared, but only in the way I sometimes get before a big test: nervous about doing anything less than perfectly, but knowing I’d pass all the same.
I woke up on a Wednesday morning, August 3, 2016, T minus ten days to my exam, got out of bed, and noticed that the bottoms of both my feet felt numb. Great, I thought. How stupid. With all this punishment I’ve been dishing out to my body, I’ve somehow compressed a nerve. I’ll make an appointment with my chiropractor. He’ll fix me up. Just like my neck and arms last year. I’ll be fine.
By Sunday August 7th, I was lying on the couch and bawling on the phone with my parents. My numb feet were up on the arm of the couch, my head at the other end, the phone propped against my face and getting an impromptu salt bath. The tear tracks kept trying to butt-dial one of the instructors at my dojang.
I was crying mostly about Mary. She had died the night before. The suddenness of her passing felt like being hemmed in by knives.
I had colossally screwed up. In practicing all my forms and teaching all my classes—between seven and fifteen hours a week of teaching, even my friends joked that I lived at the dojang as my family whined about it—I had let (what were suddenly) Mary’s last months slip away. I hadn’t even visited her in rehab yet. She never made it to hospice. Now, so quickly it took my breath away, she was gone.
Mary wasn’t the only part of my life that had faded fast. In four days I’d gone from feeling like I’d stepped in a shallow puddle of novocaine to feeling like I’d jumped into the shallow end of a pool. The numbness had swallowed my feet, my legs, and was in the process of taking my groin. I’d cut my shin on a sharp edge and hadn’t even felt it—didn’t know it until I looked down and saw blood on my leg.
Knowing I had a black belt test to prepare for in less than a week felt suddenly unreal, even blurry…like my focus was shifting away from it whether I wanted it to or not.
The entire time I sobbed on the phone, I could feel a conversation running through the back of my mind, like hidden currents in deep water. The voices involved were getting particularly loud.
My writing. Taekwondo. My family. My marriage. My child. The sacrifices I’d been making in my home life to afford my taekwondo. Mary’s death. Bud’s death. My writing. Taekwondo. My family. My marriage. My child. The sacrifices…
It’s one of the strange things about being a writer. My subconscious isn’t someplace I’ve never been. I work there every time I sit at a keyboard and write. Everybody has those voices competing for attention in their minds, and often those voices wear identifiable faces. “My mother’s voice” is one I hear about from everyone. It’s usually a very critical voice. But most folks are shocked if their “little voices” ever speak in identifiable words.
My voices are legion. My subconscious is a cavern filled with the outsized personalities I’ve known, and they don’t just speak in familiar tones—they speak in symbols, a shorthand made of entire emotional arcs of my history, a swirling tension of positive and negative furies that battle each other for enough weight in my head to steer my life’s course. Actual words are commonplace, and I’ve learned to disregard them at my peril.
The more I talked on the phone, the louder the voices got, the faster they swirled around each other as they argued. I could pick out all the major players in that conversation, and put names to them, and listen to them doppler by: My writing. Taekwondo. My family. My marriage. My child. The sacrifices I’d been making in my home life to afford my taekwondo. Mary’s death. Bud’s death. My writing. Taekwondo. My family. My marriage. My child. The sacrifices…
I’d been wrestling with that same conversation in my writing for months, trying to shed light on how I really felt about all those things and how best to handle them. Because that’s how I figure things out best: in type. I follow the story like a thread in the dark. I’d been following that thread very deliberately in my black belt paper—the final essay that every martial artist at my dojang writes to explain why they’re mentally ready for the black belt—hoping that the pressure of the test and the darkness around me and the discipline I’ve learned over the last few years would conspire to reveal an answer to me. The conversations might rage around me, but if I’m careful, the thread will lead me through to the light.
However, I’ve been a writer for far more years than I’ve been a martial artist. And I’ve learned that if I pull too hard on that thread, it snaps, and I lose my way not just in my writing, but in my life. The conversations are intense enough to overwhelm me. I’m keenly aware of the stress that those conversations can add into my body; the last time I lost my way badly, I ended up in anaphylaxis. Twice. So when a new voice tries to add itself to the subconscious conversation, I do my best to gatekeep it out if it’s bad. It’s too easy to snap a good thread if there’s a screaming mimi jogging your elbow.
But, as I lay there on the couch, the phone wet on my cheek and my parents’ nervous voices stabbing at me through the speaker, there was a new voice in my head. It was unbidden, and growing in strength just as fast as the numbness had been climbing my body. The new voice was terrified, and more than a little out of control. All it could say was, You’re in trouble. You’re in real fucking trouble. If you needed confirmation that this belt test might not happen, just look at Mary. The books might not get finished, either—look at Bud. LOOK AT GODDAMN BUD AND MARY, WHY DON’T YOU? THAT’S RIGHT, YOU CAN’T, BECAUSE THEY’RE GONE.
And that was suddenly it. One of the biggest answers hiding in the dark. Not the only one, to be certain. But it was the scariest one by far. Because it was no longer a rational knowledge, a glib morbidity. It was, as they say, “for realsies.”
Wait even the blink of an eye, and they’ll all be gone. Mom, with her “brain lesions consistent with MS,” waiting for the whammy that might or might not ever come. Dad, with his astonishingly bad habits and his semi-annual colonoscopies and polyp removals that he thinks are no big deal. You will be gone someday too, you goddamn fool. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, and look at you—half your body has already gone numb! You know what “there’s a signal irregularity in your thoracic MRI” means. That’s doctor-speak for, “We don’t know what the fuck it is, but whatever it is ain’t good.” Look there, at your daughter playing. Isn’t she beautiful? Watch her. Feel what it would mean for her to lose you. Feel what it would be like to suddenly come unmoored from your own skull, to float heavenwards and away from her no matter how much you fight it. Know that when that time comes, there will be not a single goddamn thing you can do to get your life, or her, back.
And that voice sat back for a moment, staring at me in silent, angry condescension. Then it came forward again, leaning toward me in the dark, the snap of its voice making me jump: What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
I’ve written multiple iterations of this piece. I’d come at it from the taekwondo angle, from Bud and Mary, even from the last major medical setback I encountered, which was my miscarriage almost ten years ago. Yet I hadn’t found a good way in, a line of attack that didn’t either lose its nerve or encounter overwhelming resistance.
I knew that feeling, too.
Like the conversations in my head, I knew that feeling very well. It meant that there was more to the story—that I was trying to write it before I had the complete picture in my head. It was like trying to unearth an entire T.Rex skeleton by assuming that, if I found a toebone, I’d find the whole body if I dug deeply in one (and only one) precise direction.
So I already knew that method was doomed to failure. Like stories, feet flex. If I assumed that I could find a T.Rex in one direction just because of his foot, I was going to end up digging halfway to China before I came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t have started digging deeply in a direction until I’d found the outline of the whole thing. So I gave up on that essay for the short term, accepted the fact that my black belt test was going to be postponed until the numbness in my legs was diagnosed, and went back to my life.
For a week.
Because just a week after that latest not-ending, a doctor found a tumor in my eye. And not just any tumor. Choroidal melanoma, a rare ocular cancer that can metastasize into the lungs and liver.
Suddenly, this T.Rex was going in all kinds of directions I didn’t like.
So now it’s not just my taekwondo in the balance. It’s my eyesight; the radiation treatment is destroying what had been the better of my two eyes as much as it’s helping. It’s my central nervous system, as the numbness grows in strength, fades, then grows again; it ain’t cancer, but the docs still have no idea what the lesions on my spine are. It’s my marriage, as my parents spend weeks on end in my house to provide the sort of daily care that my husband and daughter and I require. It’s my writing, as my messed-up vision makes writing difficult and editing damnable, and corrective lenses are weeks yet in my future—if even then. It’s my relationship with my daughter, as she asks me whether I’m going to die, and falls quickly asleep only if I’m physically sharing her bed.
It’s most of all my loving nature, as the accumulated months of worry and strain become weeks of active cancer treatment Hell. Even before the cancer was found, I’d already had seven MRIs in less than two months. In the next two months after diagnosis I’ve had a PET/CT scan, two surgeries, and a course of directed radiation treatment. I’m finally able to drive again, though in a limited fashion, and that helps my sense of independence and self-worth tremendously. But now I’m waiting…and waiting…and trying not to worry as I wait for test results to tell me whether this is likely my only go-round with cancer…or if this is only the first salvo in what is likely to become an ugly (and brutally short) fight with an opponent I can’t even see.
Because I’m being imaged so frequently, I’ve ended up in the waiting areas of various radiology departments at odd hours of day and night. The nurses and radiologists at many of the hospitals have gotten to know me pretty well by now. They may not know my name or face, but I can tell they’ve been chatting about me.
They know me as the lady who does taekwondo forms while she’s waiting.
I figure, since I have the waiting area all to myself at those odd hours, why not practice? The repetition, the certainty of what comes next…it’s soothing. The techs can’t tell, but I even do forms while I’m in the MRI. It’ a great way to remain calm (I am, unfortunately, claustrophobic). It’s a great way to keep track of how long I’ve been in there (each form takes roughly one to two minutes depending on the form and how carefully I image—not imagine—the movements in my head). It’s also an outstanding way to really memorize my forms. If I can image every foot and hand movement of Chon-Ji without moving a muscle—and do it while some machine is banging a hammer into empty garbage cans right above my face—I can bloody do Chon-Ji anywhere.
I’ve mentioned this to a couple other martial artists, and they’ve shaken their heads in disbelief. One of them, a site moderator for a wiki board of martial artists, wrote something to the effect of, “Kathryn, you’re a hell of a woman”—and posted it in front of the entire wiki, many of whom are badass MMA fighters. Not only did those fighters not disagree, a few actively seconded the idea.
I was flabbergasted. How could anyone in my position not do what I’m doing? How could I not take refuge in the forms? It’s a dance I know inside and out, with (literally) every fiber of my being. I can take no props or distractions of any kind into an MRI or a PET/CT. I can’t take an iPad, or an MP3 player. I can’t take prayer beads. Hell, I can’t even take my ability to move. But my mind—that I can take. And in that godawful tiny tube with the tumbling hammers and the bump-wheeze sound of terrible dance music, my mind can either be my greatest friend or my worst enemy. I can either lie there and worry myself sick, or I can lie there and remember a time when I danced to a beautiful martial art. I can choose to focus on my life, or I can choose to focus on death. I’m being told by every medical professional around me that whichever one I focus on will become my future.
So while I’m in a hospital, or in an MRI, I focus on taekwondo.
And the red-hot second I get home, I open up my laptop and I write.
I’ve become keenly aware that not only am I thinking out my future, but I’ve been writing out my future, too, and perhaps always have been. Every time I’ve sat down to write fiction, some part of it has come true in my life. Literally true.
“Regardez,” Mary might say.
I once began a book about a struggling marriage between a spiritually wrecked woman and her emotionally wrecked husband. The plot of the book destroyed that marriage and then, just as I intended to put the marriage back together stronger than ever, it stalled. Completely. For almost two decades.
I’ve never had a book die like that. It’s as if I had begun it with what I had at the time—the emotional contents of my head and heart—and I simply ran out of material. I had no idea what it would take to put that marriage back together again. I knew what failed marriages looked like; my various boyfriends outlasted many peoples’ entire marriages.
But a success? An actual back-from-the-brink story? I had no idea how to get there. My characters went from separated to unwillingly sharing space…and the book died.
Since then I have gotten married in real life. And I have been up to the brink of a failed marriage multiple times. Yet I still have no urge to go back to that book, because I know I have no insights yet on how to save those people. I have yet to save myself. I’m still a spiritually wrecked woman, and the man I chose to marry closely resembles the man I wrote almost two decades ago. My husband is as emotionally wrecked as they come while still functioning. He’s just as capable of titanic anger and glacial disregard as that character, yet just as tender and beautiful a broken-hearted boy. My husband even looks like the character, plus about fifty pounds, yet my husband was not involved in the writing of that book in any way.
And that’s just my first book.
My most recent book involved another character that was a dead ringer for me (You’d think I’d have learned my lesson the first time—never write about yourself, idiot! And yet here I am). That character ended up sustaining eye injuries that resulted in lifelong vision damage, including a strange detail that kept insisting on itself every time I sat down to write: the character’s color vision began to fade. I had no earthly idea where I’d gotten such a detail. I knew of no one who had ever faced such a thing. Yet there it was on the page, creeping in even when I decided I didn’t like the detail and tried to get rid of it.
But, creepy details or no, the book had legs—so much so that Mary Horton gave both it and its sequel her personal stamp of approval. I worked at that trilogy for ten years unpaid. I finally neared a stopping point with the drafts and revisions. I began to generate sales content, commission cover art, and investigate print and e-book options. I wanted to hit the internet running. The last major hurdle was a pen name. I came up with one…
…and everything stalled. Hard. Complete stop. It was as if, in coming up with the pen name, I had opened a deep vein of trouble. Life kept coming at me fast for over a year. Multiple classes of taekwondo got thrown at my feet, everybody in my family got repeatedly sick, I got injured, my daughter picked up lice, Mary got cancer, Bud began to die, two sets of our closest friends got divorced, our closest friends moved away… It was a nightmare. I felt like I was hanging on by my proverbial fingernails. Yet every time I began to do real work on moving the books forward, that name stuck in my craw. I couldn’t begin my career until I had a real working name, something I could sign on flyleaves and reply to with authority when it was called out loud. But “The Name Problem” lingered, and rankled, and suddenly I was about to test for my black belt and my feet went numb and cancer became part of the picture…
I have never researched genetic cancers. Cancer was something that happened to the old folks in my family, not the young ones. I’d never had reason to research such a thing. And genetic testing? No need. The cancers in my family weren’t related at all. Scary, yes, and fatal—oh you betcha fatal—but not related.
Then suddenly, at the age of 43, I had cancer. And word came down that my cancer was possibly genetic, with identifiable markers…something that I might have already passed on to my young daughter. And the exact, uncommon pen name I’d stalled on over a year previously turned out to be the name of a genetic testing company specializing in cancer markers.
After plaque brachytherapy, my color vision in that eye has faded some. Gold is no longer gold, but silverish; people aren’t pink or brown, they’re corpse-like or ashen.
Got the chills yet? If you don’t, you have no imagination.
So apparently I’m writing my own and other people’s futures, blindly, not knowing which parts are going to come true. Yeah, that’s creepy as Hell. It sounds like the plotline of one of those old school scifi (ahem, excuse me, “scientifictional” or “stfnal”) stories that Bud Webster used to read and, in his braver moments, write.
Just before Bud’s final diagnosis came down, he felt the urge to rework one of his old stories that had never been accepted for publication. It was a speculative fiction piece involving a 1920s jazz trumpeter named Juney and his trumpet, The Lady. Now, The Lady was a lot more than a mere trumpet, and Juney was a lot more than a trumpet player; but Juney felt very much out of The Lady’s league, and considered himself humbled and somewhat hapless before her unseen power—merely a vessel chosen to help The Lady accomplish her work in the waking world.
I suspect Bud felt himself very much to be like Juney. It was the closest I ever saw him come to being comfortable in the role of a young, vulnerable narrator. His award-winning stuff—the Bubba Pritchert stories—were very folksy and full of drawling humor. They were successful because of the self-assurance and non-attachment of a far older and wiser narrator. Bud felt at his most comfortable there, and his command of the writing showed it. Juney was dicey territory because, even at the emotional remove of a much-older frame narration, at the core of the story he was still young, and talented, and had no idea just how much trouble his talent was going to get him into…just like Bud had once been. The story was about the greatest cornet player Juney ever met—and the world ever forgot. It’s about the price of that forgetting, and the price of old Jake’s talent, and the cost to Juney of having walked (even temporarily) alongside a talent that big and hidden amongst the unseen powers of the world.
But dicey or no, Juney had legs, and Bud knew it. He was encouraged by the response that his dusty old draft got from our writers’ group. And I was glad to personally help him untangle a bit of the plot that, Bud suspected, had kept it from getting accepted for publication the first several times he tried. He began to get excited about his own fiction in a way I had never seen before. If he could get this story successfully reworked and accepted, Bud envisioned an entire story cycle based on Juney and The Lady’s adventures. Each story would center around a particular piece of famous jazz music, and he’d get to listen to each piece on loop as he wrote. Even Mary looked excited at the prospect.
Bud’s story was picked up on the first pass by Gordon van Gelder at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That’s “F&SF” to folks like Bud…and Stephen King, Robert Heinlein, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, Kurt Vonnegut, Walter M. Miller, Jr., and the many other giants of the field who have been published there over the years. Bud’s story was even selected to anchor the cover art for that issue.
Bud signed my copy, “For Kathryn, who knows why—and how!”
That I know of, Bud never finished another story. He was dead less than a year later of cancer.
The story was called “Farewell Blues.”
It begins to dawn on me that, perhaps, synchronicities like that might have been one of the reasons that Bud wrote very little that wasn’t nonfiction. Perhaps they frightened him. This echo effect between my writing and my reality has happened so many times over the course of my writing career that I’m becoming a little scared to write anything but nonfiction myself. The only things I’ve written during this cancer treatment have been an outpouring of blog posts, hopefully to help other people as blindsided as I was by a sudden diagnosis of choroidal melanoma.
I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the trilogy I’ve been working on is post-apocalyptic.
No, uh-uh. Not at all.
I whined to Bud multiple times about what I might be “putting into the world” with my series. The possibilities for death, destruction, and religious mayhem, my God in Heaven—seeing even a fraction of it come true (either in my personal world or in the world at large) would be enough to make me never write another word, the personal consequences of such an act be damned.
But even without Bud here, I know what he’d do and say if I whined about it one more time, because he certainly did it often enough while he was alive. He’d cock that silver head of his, give me a big fat hairy bright blue eyeball, and say, “Kathryn, that’s whistling past a graveyard and you know it.” He’d wait for me to blush in shame. Then he’d lower a fist gently onto the table in front of him, tapping out emphasis for his following words. “It’s important to get it out there, Kathryn. It’s about unity. It’s about love. Get it out there.”
And I’d know that those were Mary’s words, because Bud hadn’t bloody well read it.
Mary, the dark and razor-like. Mary, the traumatized. Mary, the diamond-hard and unforgiving.
Mary, talking about things like unity and love, and how important they were.
Because she was dark and razor-like. Because she was traumatized. Because she was diamond-hard and unforgiving. Because she had been made those things by a bad world, and she saw something in my writing that gave the world permission to remain none of those things, even in the midst of an apocalypse. She saw unity and love and wanted to encourage those things before Bud and she said their own farewells.
I look at my daughter and I see unity and love, and I wonder if I, too, will end up unable to see what she will someday accomplish—if I’ll write my “Farewell Blues” before she makes her own way in the wider world. But it doesn’t matter, because I look at the world and I see wonderful things every day. I’m not permitting myself to see anything less.
Yes, in the pessimist’s view, I’ll someday die whether my daughter has accomplished anything or not. But it doesn’t much matter. When my daughter smiles, I know I’ve already accomplished much that is unifying and loving, whether she does anything “important” someday or not. Even in the midst of what feels like my own personal apocalypse, there’s still so much that’s beautiful, and important, and mensch-y just in going about my little life, in giving away my gifts to the people around me like Bud did.
The echoes mean I must be doing something right. It means I’m closer to the soul of the world, where the voices much bigger than mine live. Instead of listening to the arguments inside my head, I have to keep listening for the music—for the repetitions in the melody, in the taekwondo forms, in the stories that mean I’m making music, and love, and life happen. I have to listen for the voice of Jake, that forgotten cornet player—and I have to play my one and only instrument, a keyboard, as if it were The Lady. Even if I’m only Juney, the big music is still out there, and I have to do my best to play it.
Regardless of my personal outcome, regardless of whether or not the world knows (or remembers) it, the world is better off for having known Bud Webster. And, like the world after Jake in “Farewell Blues,” it is lesser for having lost him. I hope I can follow the music of the spheres long enough to make his vision of my career come true. If I someday publish I’ll do so not because I necessarily see the worth of my work, but because he did…and so did she, Mary Horton, Bud Webster’s shekinah.
I hope to do us all some justice before I sing my farewell blues, too.