27 February 2013

Ground to a Halt

Catastrophic weekend failure.

I had really hoped my three hundredth post would be more chipper, but there you have it. Things started going downhill shortly after I woke up Saturday morning on my cousin's couch. What woke me was a text that my friend's death is imminent. Weighed down with that news, I nevertheless started firming up plans for Sunday, rumoured to include all manner of fantastic supper and shenanigans post-gig. I was excited.

Until it started snowing.

Point made, universe. You are drunk, you are mean, and you are not giving up the keys.

Short version: flights cancelled, band stranded in California, promoter cancelled, three-quarters of the band engaged in a round-robin of incoming messages that were alternately supportive, laden with rude but amusing sound effects, and delirious from having to drive 200 miles to Oakland for a 5 am flight back to Nashville. Without me. Though we did manage to tweet the Oscars at each other, which was a wee bit of consolation (though not much).

I am now home, having barely averted a full-blown stress meltdown Sunday afternoon at Gate C29 (which would have been mortifying) when my flight was delayed three times resulting in almost not being able to find someone to fetch me from the airport. And no, the bus does not run to Doodlehem after midnight.

I expect that any moment my phone will ring telling me Ruby's gone. It won't be long. She is receiving no nourishment, just morphine and oxygen and a sedative for anxiety. Her husband manages to persevere with so much grace I am ashamed to breathe the same air, to be called the same species.

I manage to be astonishingly grateful, however, at the bright spots--and there are many. My cousin and I made endless pots of Earl Grey tea and drank them out of our grandmother's Wedgwood that she inherited while reminiscing about being Henry women. Her children, though exceedingly high energy and often bewildering as they express their teenage frustration, are bright and thoughtful when you least expect it, and often screamingly funny. I managed to meet Mer for cafe au lait and beignets Monday brunch before she drove me to the airport, am utterly smitten with her, and remembered how much I adored living in the western half of the country, in the mountains. I still seem to have one of the best friends a girl could have, even though I'm a manipulative asshole when I'm grieving and I still miss him more than I can express. Lastly, I'm in student conferences all this week, so it will go relatively unnoticed that my cheese has temporarily slid off my cracker and wandered several hundred miles south of here.

21 February 2013

Utility Infielder and Merch Juggler

I'd been waiting for Part Three, and it just came via text message. I am now working in Denver this weekend. Because I am apparently incapable of not getting drafted by these guys when I'm within a three thousand mile radius. Which is how Steve ended up calling me the Utility Infielder and his wife ended up calling me to ask if I could possibly pretty please work the gig this Sunday.

19 February 2013

On Second Thought

I've decided, after waking up to snow when it was meant to be fifty degrees out and a second conversation that involved someone crucial to my life going off the radar for an undisclosed period of time, that perhaps my Personal Prayer Wheel?

Is a unicycle.

Cue the dancing bears, please.

18 February 2013

Ticket for a Prayer Wheel (Part Two)

Oh dear. It seems the universe I inhabit is not particularly a tidy one. But at least it's entertaining.

I mention this because prayer wheels are supposed to to be soothing. Prayer wheels are those Tibetan things with a brass compartment and a wooden handle, often with a scroll containing a mantra inside the compartment. The idea, pretty basically, is you spin the prayer wheel round, and the motion itself, the revolution, is a prayer.

Apparently my personal prayer wheel? Is a merry-go-round. Or a ferris wheel. Something big, goofy, and garish, with lots of tacky flashing lights that is equal parts nauseating and exhilarating.

Which explains why I am suddenly, within the past 72 hours, in possession of an airline ticket to Denver for this weekend, to see these guys.

Disclaimer: I rarely actually see them from this angle. Usually I'm somewhere offstage, backstage, on a spot tower, or running around like a crazy person looking for an extra iPhone charger and more towels/water bottles/picks/gaff tape, which is what happens when you used to be a stagehand for a living. So I'll be impressed if I actually see their faces during the gig.

They probably won't be dressed like this, though....

Photo courtesy of Charlie Lowell.
....or this. But you never know, especially when Steve's around. 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Lowell.
Ok, I'm serious. And I am well aware that it is, to say the least, rather unorthodox to fly to Denver to visit friends who live in Nashville. Because, I mean, have you looked at a map, like, ever? Pennsylvania's not close to either of those things, but Nashville's a fair sight closer. Except when it's not. Which would be next weekend. Because last week, my actual flight to Nashville, which is for my spring marathon in April, got completely borked up. That's not to say I'm not flying to Nashville this April. It just explains what I was doing near Southwest Airlines when this ticket to Denver fell out of the sky and hit me over the head. For darn close to zero dollars and only a minimum of trying to convince Southwest Airlines that my name is actually Steve.

See what I mean? Ferris wheel. My version of spiritual growth is a fucking carnival ride.

The reason for this particular circumference of ridiculosity at this particular moment in time is that these guys have been the glue that has kept me together on more than one occasion in the past seventeen or eighteen years. I know I'm not alone in that, in a spiritual sense, but in my case it was also occasionally the literal sense. Not through their music, or their leadership, necessarily, but through their very personal compassion, their senses of humour (not to mention timing), and above all their cherished friendship. Individually and collectively, these men have opened their homes and hearts; shared their stories, their families, their coffee, and the contents of their bookshelves (this last of which I confess that I am sometimes bad about returning); gotten lost in King of Prussia Mall with me; nearly run me down with their Hammond B3; nearly left their accordions and laptops in my yard; been the recipient of knit gifts, Oktoberfest beer, pinot noir, and the occasional guitar-case emergency roadside repair (man, you can do anything with aircraft cable and a set of needle-nose pliers--just wait until you see what I bring you this weekend!); compared facial hair with me during Movember (fortunately he won); had marathon text message conversations with me while I'm trapped on the ninth floor of a hotel post-literal-marathon during a hurricane and going stir-crazy; prayed with me, for me, and over me; cried with me and for me when I'm grieving; had intense conversations about Thomas Tallis and Downton Abbey that last until four in the morning; pondered and poked holes in my dissertation topic; lovingly called me out when I'm being a right arsehole; and conspiracy-theorized about the possibility of a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional serial roadside toy bear mutilator or whether it was just a copycat....er, copybear....um, yeah, I can't really explain that last one either, but I swear it totally made sense two weeks ago when it happened.

So come Sunday morning before soundcheck there will undoubtedly be a good deal of this....

Photo courtesy of Stephen Mason.
Frankly, I have no idea who took this one, but it was
almost certainly not me. I don't even think I was there.

....and hopefully no additional arse-kicking for being a jerk. Because I've really sort of been a jerk lately. I guess you could say the Prayer Ferris Wheel is making me slightly motion sick, which is causing me to have to send rather more apologetic texts the next day/hour/whatever for Getting The Stupid On You Again than would be ideal in any given friendship. So I'm going two-thirds of the way across the country to say both thank you and I'm sorry.

Thank you for being my shelter, thank you for being rain in my desert. Thank you for teaching me how to forgive myself and love other people again. Thank you for being you. Thank you for growing that ridiculous moustache. Thank you for E-Team hugs and Earl Grey and sneaking me into sold out shows when you forgot to comp me and I forgot to ask. Thank you for not thinking I'm ridiculous when I come charging across the dew-wet cow pasture during the middle of your eight AM festival soundcheck, vault onto the stage, and squeeze the stuffing out of you. Thank you for tromping down the South Side Greenway with me in the middle of the night before bus call and loaning me your favourite new coat so I didn't freeze to death. 

I'm sorry I'm so weak. I'm sorry I'm so scared of being broken. I'm sorry for being frail. I'm sorry for so often trusting my fear more than I trust your kindness. I'm sorry for being a raging passive-aggressive wanker for most of last week (or, okay, most of last month) all over most of the forms of communication we have. I'm sorry I got so upset that one time that I almost threw up my cupcake and caused you to hate yourself for it. I'm sorry I lost touch with you for almost four years when it turns out two of us were going through awful divorces and we needed each other's shoulders the most and didn't know it. I'm glad we have them back. I'm sorry I'm being the hard part of your lesson right now, and more than anything I'm sorry I still don't fully trust that I haven't lost one of the most precious friendships I've ever had and that I have to get on an airplane and fly to fucking Denver to ask your forgiveness face to face because I don't yet believe that I'll actually have it. Because I should. I should know that. I should know it like the air I breathe and the ground under my feet. And I don't, and I'm sorry.

Because sometime on Sunday night or Monday morning, when all of the feast day celebrating is done, after the show is over and the fans have gone home, and after this happens....

Photo courtesy of Stephen Mason.
....one of us is going to get on a different flight home to a different state in a different time zone and go home to her books and her students and her little family of one, and it is either going to feel very much like it did driving through Western Kentucky last month, with my heart cracking open with possibilities like the stars over Elizabethtown, like a carnival ride in August when everything is weightless and free and lovely and real, or else it is just flat-out going to feel like this:

Photo courtesy of Jude Mason.

And I don't know that I could bear that.

16 February 2013

Illumination (Part One)

So, my life got turned on its ear the first ten days of the new year. Because, you know, of course. Actually, I knew it was coming. I just didn't know what it would look like, how I would react to it, or what I was supposed to do with it.

I'm not talking about turning forty, though I did that earlier this winter too. I'm talking about whatever it is that's been rumbling about in the subtext of my life for about the past six months. Since maybe the beginning of October. I knew whatever it was, it was going to be big. And ultimately it will be for the good. It's just that--well, remember that part in CS Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace tells Aslan he wants to be a little boy again, instead of the dragon he's turned into because he's been behaving like such a horrible excuse for a human being?

And remember how Aslan responds? Essentially, he says, "Okay, but first I'm going to have to take your skin off."

Yeah. It's been a bit like that.

So I started off the New Year with a much-anticipated trip to see some darling friends in Virginia, Nashville, Ohio, and various parts of PA (with a quick stop in West Virginia to change my tire in the middle of the night.....twice....) which was a mixed blessing. The bitter, with the sweet. One of those darling friends is fighting a losing battle with a brain tumour, and my trip to see her was to say goodbye. This post isn't about that. It's not my story to tell, and her husband will tell it in his own way as he is able. Nor is it about the way my heart fell out of my coffee cup in Green Hills Friday morning and into a glass of pinot noir later that evening, came to rest in the shelter of a Saturday afternoon kitchen in East Nasty and then poured out open across the Kentucky hills as I drove through the darkness outside Elizabethtown (yes, that one).

Nope, this is a post about a poem that happened when I got home, had to take down the Christmas tree, and realised I was wearing a dragon skin. And that I wasn't in charge of when it was coming off. Like Eustace, I could kick and scream, or I could lie down and take it.

Being me, there's been a lot of kicking and screaming. It's been grand, let me tell you. But anyway, with apparently way too much ado, here's the first of a series of poems that came out of that journey and its aftermath. There's not quite so much kicking and screaming in this one.

After the Epiphany

When we take the lights down, tangling our hope
for another winter, we are supposed to hold on to clarity,
onto the visions of yesterday. Instead there is the bleak

January sun, and the promise of hard freeze yet to come.
The trees we bustled indoors so recently—
their needles, still green, have fallen into drifts.

Some of us will not live out the season; others
cannot imagine the soft light of spring
ever coming. This year is perpetual winter for certain.

Sometimes the light breaks in all at once,
dazzling us into temporary blindness, and we
cannot see the ground for the stars in our eyes.