Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A hard act to follow

Recently, my father, Salvatore Romita, and I appeared on RN's The Drawing Room with Waleed Aly in a session on Stereo Stories, a wonderful website that is the brainchild of Melbourne writers Vin Maskell and David Linden. The idea behind the website invites us to recall a song, a time, a place. In my case, the song was Lilli Marlene and my recollections were of the song, as played by Dad on the piano accordion, and its history in our family. In particular, it was about Dad recording the song in 2007.

When we listened in to the session, which had been pre-recorded, Dad sat nervously on the sofa, fretting about whether he’d played well enough and answered Waleed’s questions without sounding as if he didn’t know what he was talking about. After Vin’s recounting the history of the website, Waleed asked Dad about his personal history with the piano accordion, an instrument he first was given as a gift by his father who saw the potential for music in his son. I then read my story and Dad played the song. Of course, with the magic of mixing, the music was beautifully interwoven with the narrative and the sound was perfect. Dad began to sob. Puzzled, I handed him tissue after tissue. We listened to the rest of the segment with Dad gulping and the continuous whoosh of tissues exiting the box. The segment ended with Dad, “taking us out” as they say in radio with the song, You Belong to my Heart. When it ended, Dad wiped away his tears and said, “I wish my father could see me now.” At nearly 89 years of age, and on national radio, he felt that his father’s faith in him had finally been confirmed.

This short story of just a few hundred words has given me so much more than the opportunity to share a slice of family history and a song full of memories. It has become a layered experience—a story about the story about the song. It has given me a chance to understand better my Dad and his dreams and aspirations. Together, we've performed this piece at two recent festivals—Williamstown Literary Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. Dad was a hit at each. At his age, his energy and enthusiasm for his music is inspirational and frankly, he’d never get off the stage if you let him stay there. I have learned much from him about living creatively for which I will always be grateful. 

The night after our segment, The Drawing Room featured the work of globally renowned singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. I'm glad they picked such a big name. After all, Dad's a hard act to follow. 

Stereo Stories in The Drawing Room featuring Salvatore Romita, can be heard here


Sunday, 6 April 2014

I'm happy. Who knew?

The other day, as I took out the rubbish, lifted the lid of the wheelie bin to be met with the unpleasant stench of waste that was fermenting in the heat of Melbourne’s late summer, it occurred to me that it was an unlikely circumstance in which to have the revelation that I was happy. I say revelation because it came to me like that: I’m happy. Garbage isn’t usually conducive to feeling good about things. In fact it’s often the opposite, reminding me of everything that's not working, and rotten in my world and the world at large. But, no. On this evening, I had completed my post-dinner chores and was thinking about all the things that were right in my life.

I'm blessed with a loving partner, great kids, a gorgeous grandchild, still have my lovely elderly dad close by and my brain and body are still working. Sort of. On the other side of the ledger there are a number of things that aren’t so good in my world, but I figure focusing on them just makes them appear bigger. Don’t get me wrong, I'm no ostrich with my head in the sand. As someone once told me “You like to meet reality head on!”. I'm a great believer in taking responsibility for yourself, getting into therapy if needed, making changes where necessary even though it’s painful. I'm not always good at it, but I've learned not to be afraid of it. I can’t change the things in my life that are outside my power, but I should work on discerning what is and isn’t within my ambit and dealing with it. 

So what made me smell the roses instead of the garbage? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps in in part it’s what ‘Twelve Step’ programs refer to as the ‘cultivating the attitude of gratitude’. I've reached an age where I still want to keep learning and improving, but I also have a better sense of what I've already achieved, even if those achievements are modest. No matter what problems I have, I wouldn’t swap my life with anyone. I'm contented, I'm grateful, and therefore I'm happy. I'm starting to appreciate that big revelations often come in the most mundane and unexpected circumstances: doing the washing, at a funeral and yes, even within whiff of the wheelie bin.