Our sweet kitty, Princess Sashimi, pictured here basking in the sunshine, has been diagnosed with cancer. She had been drooling a lot, and having difficulty eating, and when we took her to the vet we found out she had something on her tongue. Antibiotics didn’t take care of it, and a biopsy revealed that it was indeed cancerous. 🙁
The vet says it’s just a matter of time, and we are giving her all the love we have. She has an anti-inflammatory which seems to be helping a lot, as she has been able to eat. We’ve been giving her baby food (chicken is her fav) and also pureeing meats that we prepare for ourselves. For example, she ate an entire fish stick once it was stripped of its breading and mashed up real good. She’s been regaining her appetite and her energy, which are good signs.
It’s just a matter of time for all of us, of course, but this sweet girl is pure love and we want to keep her with us for as long she’ll allow. So we keep sending her the good reiki energy and letting her know how much we love her. She really is the center of our domestic bliss.
Our new cat care routine, plus the fact that I am now jobless (I fell off the “overemployed” wagon pretty hard), means a big shift in 2023. Since things always happen in threes, and it’s still early in the year, I can’t help but wonder what new shock is coming. Best to enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.
One of my favorite indie singer/songwriters is Sufjan Stevens (b. 1975). He is a multi-instrumentalist who often plays multiple parts in his recordings, as well as vocals. His style ranges from acoustic folk to symphonic to electronic, often blended in one piece. It’s very unique and creative, and I love most of his albums and have listened to them over and over. His songs tend to be very downtempo, often sad and depressing (as another singer put it, sad songs say so much), but also lyrically brilliant, each song a miniature story rich with historical, cultural and spiritual references.
Stevens was born in Detroit, and grew up in Michigan, raised by his father and stepmother. His mother moved to Oregon and remarried when he was very young, though he still kept in touch and eventually ended up working with his stepfather. Now I don’t know him, and can’t speak for him, but I have noticed that he has written quite a few songs about growing up with divorce and about children feeling abandoned by their parents. It’s hard not to conclude that he has some resentments about his mother leaving, and has expressed those resentments through his music.
A childhood raised in neglect is a hallmark of the Generation X experience, which is why I gave this post its title. I wanted to showcase some of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs which have this neglected childrearing theme.
The first song is “Romulus,” off of the 2003 album “Michigan,” presumably named after the Detroit suburb of Romulus, Michigan. In this song, children who are being raised by their grandfather are eager for the rare moments of interaction they have with their mother, who has moved away to Oregon. Notably, the narrator is ashamed of her. This song has a memorable line about kids being raised by being left alone to watch TV all night. A plaintive banjo melody runs through it.
Here are the full lyrics to “Romulus”:
Once when our mother called She had a voice of last year’s cough We passed around the phone Sharing a word about Oregon When my turn came, I was ashamed When my turn came, I was ashamed
Once when we moved away She came to Romulus for a day Her Chevrolet broke down We prayed it’d never be fixed or be found We touched her hair, we touched her hair We touched her hair, we touched her hair
When she had her last child Once when she had some boyfriends, some wild She moved away, quite far Our grandpa bought us a new VCR We watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it We watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it
We saw her once last fall Our grandpa died in a hospital gown She didn’t seem to care She smoked in her room and colored her hair
I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her
The next two songs are from the album “Avalanche,” which features outtakes from what is probably Stevens’ most famous work, “Illinois.” The first song has the unwieldy title “The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, the Mind That knows itself).” In it, a family’s children are exposed to their father’s affair with a woman who is apparently a convicted criminal (“the ankle brace she wore”). When one of them has a seizure and the others come to his aid, they are made painfully and shockingly aware that no one is looking out for them. Interwoven voices sing these haunting lyrics:
(Oh my God) A mind that knows itself is a mind that knows much more (No one came to our side) So we run back, scrambling for cover (To carry us away from danger)
The next song, “Pittsfield,” is less melancholy and more defiant. Alright, it’s still pretty melancholy, but also defiant. The lyrics invoke a story of children learning to take care of themselves while their parent works all the time. It’s not clear, though, if the parent has to work to make ends meet and so is actually sacrificing on behalf of the children. It’s not explicitly stated in the lyrics, but to me it sounds like the parent is probably a single mother. The child from whose perspective these lyrics are sung might not be aware of the constraints of keeping a house. Instead, they are aware of being put down (“Stand there, tell me that I’m of no use”). They are afraid of their parent, and becoming self-sufficient is how they respond, how they learn to free themself from this fear. To me, this strikes me as a particularly Gen X childhood experience, though it could conceivably happen to a child of any generation. Life is always hard for working class single moms, assuming that’s who the parent in this song is.
Here are the full lyrics to “Pittsfield”:
I’m not afraid of you now, I know So I climbed down from the bunk beds this low
I can talk back to you now, I know From a few things that I learned from this TV show
You can work late till midnight, we don’t care We can fix our own meals, we can wash our own hair
I go to school before sunrise, in the cold And I pulled the alarm, and I kicked up the salad bowls
Since the time we meant to say much more Unsaid things begin to take their toll After school we shovel through the snow Drive upstate in silence in the cold
You can remind me of it That I was lazy and tired You can work all your life as I’m not afraid of you anymore
If I loved you a long time, I don’t know If I can’t recall the last time you told me so
Here in this house in Pittsfield The ghost of our grandmother works at the sewing machine post Hiding the bills in the kitchen on the floor And my sister lost her best friend in the Persian Gulf War There was a flood in the bathroom last May And you kicked at the pipes when it rattled oh the river it made
Stand there, tell me that I’m of no use Things unspoken break us if we share There’s still time to wash the kitchen floor On your knees, at the sink once more You can remind me that I was tired You can work late and give yourself up Now that I’m older, wiser, and working less I don’t regret having left the place a mess
You can remind me that I was lazy and tired You can recall your life as I’m not afraid of you, anymore Anymore
In 2012, Stevens’ mother died from cancer. In the next few years he worked on an album to help with grieving and to process his relationship with his mother. It was released in 2015, titled “Carrie and Lowell” after his mother and stepfather. It is quite possibly the most depressing album you will ever hear. Stevens combines melancholy songs about death with childhood reminiscences which speak to many of the same themes discussed previously. Did his mother really leave him at a video store? Maybe so based on these lyrics from the second song on the album.
When I was three, three maybe four She left us at that video store Oh, be my rest, be my fantasy Oh, be my rest, be my fantasy
I’ve linked to the entire album below (on the artist’s official channel) and you can judge it for yourself. We can’t know exactly how Stevens was able to reconcile his feelings regarding his mother, but from his repertoire of sad songs about childhood neglect we must surmise that her abandonment of him left deep scars. I know many Gen Xers for whom something like this is the case.
If you’ve listened to the songs and perused the lyrics I posted here, I hope you appreciate Stevens as much as I do, and how wistfully and painfully his music portrays Generation X in childhood. We were tough, we were resilient, but the feeling of being left on our own haunts us to this day. Through his music – introspective, maudlin, often resentful – Sufjan Stevens perfectly captures this generational experience.