writing exercise #50: I dreamed of a house

I dreamed of a house. The porch wrapped around, east to south to west. The front of house faced east, the kitchen just inside. I need the morning light for making breakfast, my favorite meal. I stood inside, whisking egg yolks into flour as the waffle iron heated. Beyond the kitchen was the dining room, sliding doors separating it from the outside, easy enough to throw open on sunny days of which there were many. We placed platters on the table inside, plates and hefty silverware on the end, let the guests pile food buffet-style, then ate in the fresh air, admiring the blue of the sky, the pink of the roses trellising up the porch corner, the gold of the homemade honey wine that caused cheeks to flush, giggles to emerge and couples to linger as the sun settled beyond the orange trees.

A living room off the dining area contained the requisite couch, love seat, entertainment center. We rarely used it.

Upstairs, our bedroom faced west. We left the windows open so the breeze would carry in the scent of citrus. I sprawled out on the bed, feet tucked against the wrought iron’s pleasing coolness, and wrote in my journal while you showered. I paused, pen clicking against teeth as I watched the white eyelet shower curtain billowing against the clawfoot tub.

“I’m so happy,” I wrote. Then tore the page out because I didn’t want to use the word “so.”

“I’m happy,” I wrote again. I couldn’t think what else to say, so I closed the book and shoved it away. I closed my eyes.

***

I dreamed of a house. The front door opened onto a busy street. Once we’d heard a screech, a thud, the kind of sound your gut knew was bad before your brain could make sense of it. I leapt to the phone, dialed 9-1-1. You ran outside. You made a sound somewhere between a gasp and a moan and it shot through the door I was racing through. I crashed into you as you spun around and pushed me back inside. “Don’t,” you said. “Don’t.”

***

I dreamed of a house. The roof lurched into a point. To stand on the porch was to feel as if a fairy tale witch was leaning over you, daring you to knock. Inside, the only windows faced north, except the one over the kitchen sink that looked west. I scrubbed the dinner dishes and tried to find the sunset, but the hill blocked it from my sight. You built a fire in the living room, pulled out the futon. “Let’s sleep in here tonight,” you said. The bedroom was always cold, so I said yes.

***

I dreamed of a house. The ceiling was made of glass and we giggled as we twined naked on the bed. The whole house was our bedroom, a sink and refrigerator in one corner and bathroom barely enough to turn around in, in the another. A deck jutted from the back of the house, extended just enough for a single lounge chair and an outdoor shower. We ate mangos, threw the skins on the sand. You collapsed into the lounge chair. “I can’t stand up,” you laughed. I smiled as the hot water spilled across my shoulders.

***

I dreamed of a house. Smoke filled the bedroom. I jolted from bed, ran downstairs to find you. You laughed. “It’s okay, it’s just the party,” you said. I looked around. The living room had no furniture, but the people filling it didn’t seem to mind. I was unsure where they’d found ice for their drinks as our electricity had been cut off last week and all ours had melted. People turned to me – a woman whose dark bangs slashed across her face, a man who stood so tall I couldn’t see his eyes, hands pulling at my nightgown. I fled into the kitchen. Knives lay on the counter. The blades were cold to the touch.

***

I dreamed of a house. I recognized the house because I grew up within its walls. Our house mirrored the others in the neighborhood, made different only by the photos on the fridge, the food in the cupboards, the ways in which the secrets our family kept differed from our neighbors’. My bedroom faced west, out to the front yard. The kitchen faced west, too, the big elm tree blocking afternoon sunlight. My mom’s sewing room filled the southwest corner. She brought home a dress from the store, split it into pieces at the seams, copied the pattern, sewed it back together, returned it for a full refund. There was a pool in the backyard, glittering and blue, calling. I swam laps until my arms grew useless and yet somehow they managed to prop me up as I swung my legs over the windowsill, were able to pull open the door of the car in which you waited, behind the wheel, to spirit me into the night.

things that scare me

Things that scare me:

1. Being unable to protect my children from bad people, risky behavior, terrible decisions and freak accidents.

When you bring a baby into the world, that mama bear love overwhelms you. You hug the tiny person close and swear you’ll never let anything hurt the unbearably precious creature. And you mean it, but it’s an unkeepable promise because – unless you live in a remote, armed, stocked fortress, which I totally support – eventually bullies will push your kid around on the playground and men will grope your daughters and bad drivers will crash into them and politicians will make shitty policies and if those are the worst things that happen, you are still lucky.

The news is filled daily with stories you can’t even think about, the kind that involve children going missing, being gunned down – and these events are rare enough, you try to find some comfort or maybe stop reading the news, but then the children themselves toddle into the street, into parties, into cars, into dysfunctional relationships and you realize it might be easier to protect them from the world than from themselves. You’d hoped they would learn from your own experiences – someone should, right? – but no. They will go down the wrong path, sometimes willfully, sometimes innocently, and all you can do is pray to the God you don’t believe in that they come back intact.

2. Drowning.

3. Living too long. It sounds exhausting.

4. That when I hurriedly tug on my surf bootie I’ll immediately feel bugs writhing all over against my feet and it will take at least a minute to get it off because you have to tug hard and then a hundred sow bugs will tumble out because I guess leaving my booties on the deck for a week wasn’t a good idea and I’ll never be able to put them on again without thinking wiggling bugs trapped against my foot flesh.

5. That sexual harassment, assault, rape will never stop because not enough men care enough to stop it.

6. Related: That stupidity will emerge victorious. (See Idiocracy, anonymous commenting, no one giving a fuck.)

7. Heights.

8. People jumping out at me from behind doors. Or shower curtains.

9. That I won’t realize my own foolishness in time.

10. Drivers who don’t bother moving over or slowing down when passing me riding my bike on the highway or over the bridges. I envision myself tumbling broken into bramble or over the concrete barrier into the bay. This is not how I want to go out.

 

Things that don’t scare me:

1. Spiders.

2. Taking a stand.

3. People acting like jerks because they don’t like your opinion or because they devalue your experiences. Take your friendship and go, jerk.

4. Diplomacy and compromise. Which is different than kowtowing and caving. We’ve all got to get along in this world, more or less, and although letting one’s defenses down enough to find that common ground can be frightening – Oh my god, I’ve got things in common with that person?! – it’s less scary than living an us vs. them life.

5. Public speaking. (Usually.)

6. Tsunamis.

7. Traveling alone.

8. The threat of eternal damnation.

9. Gay marriage.

10. Committing to the drop. Wait! I am often scared when paddling into a wave outside my comfort zone, big and steep and fast and gut clenches up and I have to yell at myself in my head to paddle, goddamn it, and go! But I’m trying.

and… something totally positive and rad and happymaking!

Wow, last few posts have been the opposite of celebratory! Let me add some positivity to the mix with this story:

While having the remarkable privilege of attending Outside Lands this year, I found myself at fiftyseven-thirtythree’s clothing booth. I’ve been a fan of this Oakland-based company for years. I bought myself a long-sleeved hooded pullover. I also fell in love with this shirt:

Yes.

I didn’t envision wearing it myself, but I bought it anyway, knowing that at some point, somewhere, the right person would come along and I’d make his or her day. (Probably his since it’s a guy shirt.)

Last night was that day. Our friends in The Blackberry Bushes string band crashed at our house. We chatted sports and movies and books. Julian, the bass player, wore his omnipresent A’s hat. I realized, this was it! So I dashed upstairs, pulled the shirt from its special place, traipsed back down – I should mention Julian is reticent, more likely to quietly contemplate matters in the background while the rest of us are blurting out our thoughts on the pros and cons of watching the latest Netflix series.

So when I held up the shirt and said, “Hey! I’ve been wanting to give this to someone!,” I didn’t expect a rousing display of affection. When he responded with, “I’ve been wanting that shirt!” and “Rickey Henderson’s my favorite player!,” along with Henderson’s Oakland history, this small display of enthusiasm was worth millions. It was a perfect exchange.

IMG_3627

in which I offer up an excruciatingly emotional post of questionably redeeming value!

photo (2)

The problem with keeping a journal, a friend and I were discussing, is we tend to write when we need to decompress, to vent, to sort through unhappiness via the therapy of words. “People,” I’d said, “would have thought I was the most depressed, angry person in the world” if I’d hung on to those sad collections of my darkest adolescent thoughts.

Social media has changed that – in private, we may still pour out grief, bemoan our lives, but online we want to be liked, are literally rewarded by how many likes we garner, and so our posts lean toward love, vacation, sunsets, gratitude.

And that’s okay. Celebrating the good, acknowledging what gives us joy reinforces our awareness of how much joy permeates our lives. (Sure, sometimes certain friends come off as bragging or in denial. We’ll give them a pass for now.)

Sometimes I look back at this blog, which has variously served as a place to record playlists from my radio days, chronicle my parenting experiences, attempt meaningful observations on social issues, note what books I’ve read, track my surf sessions and insomnia, and occasionally to serve as a place where I work through hurt – sometimes a combination of the above.

All this is just preface. Or, in unkinder terms, bullshit.

I’m reminded of my creative writing classes, how I would turn something in, some exercise, and and my teacher would cross out the first few lines, paragraphs, pages, then write a note with an arrow pointing out, “This is where the story actually starts.” So much of writing is a feeling out of direction, is timid in the face of the audience. Sometimes I can dive in. Sometimes, like right now, I grovel, disclaim, excuse, explain. I need you to like me first. Because if I started with, “I hated everything tonight,” would you still come along?

Because I hated everything tonight.

All day, disparate obligations pulled me in different directions. It was the mental equivalent of being stuck in traffic, hand on the stick, foot on the clutch, shifting up, shifting down, unable to ever get past second gear. After work I finally followed the path that usually proves cathartic: I tossed my board, wetsuit and wax into my truck and aimed for the beach.

But it didn’t help. Instead, everything bubbled up. “You’re in the ocean,” I told myself. “Be here. Stop thinking. You have such a good life. Look at you.” But my brain wouldn’t quit. I hated my knees because they hurt and are making me look like a beginner all over again when I stand up. I hated my wetsuit because the holes in it are going to prove problematic once this summery weather turns. I hated myself for not getting enough education to have a better paying job, for not saving enough money when I did. I hated how lonely I feel sometimes. I hated that no one will just magically make my life easy. I hated that life has peaked and it’s just going to be struggle and scramble forever. I hated all the stupid racist, misogynist people. I hated wars. I hated all the various men who have put their hands on me against my will. I hated that I never reported any of them to the authorities because it means the offenses aren’t official and therefore are only my opinion. I hated all my so-called friends who are unbothered by the assaults on my person. I hate this delayed-but-profound anxiety I feel over it all. I hated being abandoned, in various ways, by various people once important to me. I hated that I could not protect my children from the world’s callousness. I hated that I always have to plan everything, care for everyone, even as I knew “always” was an exaggeration. I hated being unsure of my place in life. I hated being 44 and not having life better figured out. I hated how embarrassingly self-indulgent I was in hating. I hated being out in the ocean, which I love, full of all this hate.

Eventually the darkness encroached enough that I had to make the last wave I caught my last wave. I wanted a better one, to tap into that energy that makes everything else recede, that one magic ride that lifts me out of the mortal world and gives me a taste of the sublime. Instead I found myself dropping off a fading right and paddling against the current, the shore questionably distant. What if I just gave up, I thought for a moment, let the sea pull me out? I could just rest my head on my board, my cheek against the wax, inhaling that sweet crayon scent. Except I couldn’t. I’m not a quitter, not really, tempting as it sounds sometimes. So I kept paddling. Reached shore. Trudged to my truck, aware, despite my mood, of the pink glow dimming along the horizon. Very pretty. I flung my board into the back, started to tug off my wetsuit, except the zipper caught at the end, trapping me in neoprene. That’s when I burst into tears.

See how pathetic I sound? Good grief, my life is just fine – I cringe to recall how two hours ago I was sobbing, tears falling on the sand as I twisted the hubcab locks free.

I arrived home, all deep breaths and shuddering sighs, hid in the hot water of the shower until the crying stopped. Toweled off. Comfy pajamas. Oh, how I love pajamas. And then I had sharp cheddar cheese and decent bourbon and buttery tortillas with hot sauce as an excuse for dinner, and Slice of Humboldt apple cider pie for dessert. And took photos of the cat for my middle daughter because she likes her daily Skimble picture. And wrote a venting email to my dear girlfriends who would understand the emotional throes I’m thrashing about in. And answered an email from another friend who has utterly had my back in an aforementioned situation, reminding me that I’m not crazy, that some people do think I have value and, hell, a lot of people do, and I am lucky in that, even if a few have removed themselves from my life over the years. So, as happens, the hate ebbed, the gratitude flowed in.

Sharing this seems almost ridiculous – perhaps it would better serve, greatly reshaped, as fodder for some other type of writing not so blatantly confessional? But I know people and I know people hurt from time to time and sometimes misery is eradicated by company, so please, if you are in the thick of despondency, hold on. Breathe. Cry. Eat some cheese. Or pie. Write. Reach out. Find your own reasons to be grateful and wrap them around yourself until your heart is warm again.

insomnia #25 aka yet another experience with worry

Haven’t had it this bad in a while. I did everything right yesterday: exercised, refrained from drinking, had a pleasant evening with Bobby complete with fabulous frittata dinner tossed together with our farm share veggies, feta cheese and an inspired peach salsa, went to bed early, but not early. Despite the everything right, however, here I am, downstairs after 20 minutes of my “Deep Sleep” app failed to send me away from my worries and into dreamland, honey-lavender tea steeping, brain still whirring.

Things I am worried about, from the vantage point of my lower middle-class life:

My children, for various reasons, none of which I can write about without breaching their privacy, so suffice to say, I wish I had more to give them, I wish I’d been a more patient and graceful mother, I wish my son would have answered my evening texts asking if he was coming home tonight.

Other things I am worried about:

Money (because I am making less, but the bills have grown).
Friendships (because I am not attending to them).
My teeth (because I have nightmares they fall out and also the reality that I’m losing my COBRA-dependent dental insurance).

My future (because what will I do? will it include ever finishing that novel? I want so much and how will we eat?).
My understanding of myself (am I the good, competent, kind person I think I am? what is simply being human and what is a sign of being an emotional lunatic?).
Making a difference (for something, someone, anyone, somewhere?).
And so it goes.

I wish someone would appear with all the answers and yet I can’t bring myself to get religion.

I will now drink my lukewarm tea and hope the purging works.

Not for use as a Facebook status update

Because Facebook, I like to keep that all happy happy joy joy. Partly because focusing on life’s best moments contributes to greater contentedness with the big picture, but also because I am far too aware of how fine my life is – any complaining comes matched with equal parts embarrassment for doing so. Plus I’m optimistic, having been around long enough to know that most of my problems are of my own making and therefore solvable, and that the passing of time has a way of making the serious stuff manageable and the minor stuff not worth troubling about.

But not today.

Or rather, I am grateful to be faced with no emergencies, to know my children, scattered as they are to the world at the moment, are whole. My husband toils in the garden while I answer emails from my bright, blue bedroom. We have running cars and surfboards and an immersion blender that my boss gave me for no reason other than I wished out loud one day that I had one. My blood pressure is excellent.

There. Blessings counted. And yet, under it all, this anxiety.

Normally, I can override the worry.

But not today.

I want to say I hit the proverbial wall, but it’s more like I failed to clear a hurdle, meant to leap, but instead merely tumbled over – oof – and find myself unable to get up and back in the race. Or even more so, as if some malevolent force tripped me, then sat on top of me, too heavy to fight off. It’s all I can do to breathe.

I forgot how feeling down can paralyze a person – which is another blessing, that these moments would descend on me as rarely as they do. I might be getting sick. Several people have reported coughs and colds in my presence. I might need a day off from being on. The obligations have snowballed into each other and steamrolled over any planned downtime. I might be feeling the cumulative effects of worrying about the children, the bills, the way my schedule and Bobby’s haven’t been jiving, the fact that a once-close relative cut us out of her life for no discernible reason a few years ago and that eats away at me most days – I am alone in the world, I think.

Objectively, I know, I am not.

That place that exists in the softest part of our heart is not dispassionate, however, and today loneliness pervades despite all logic.

When I write, I try to write with purpose. To entertain, to advise, to chronicle a story I believe worth telling. To put words together artfully so that someone else might find pleasure in the reading.

This is not my most artful post, I am well aware, so what is the point? To whine, oh, poor me? God, no. I wince and know I will hesitate to click “Publish” in fear it will come off as an exercise in self-indulgence.

Is it to evoke reassurance about my worth in the world? I don’t think so – I know I am liked and do good work and that my children need me and my husband loves me and my friends think of me as fun.

So I guess, what I am saying here, the thing that I hope will elevate these chunks of sentences to something worth posting, is that sometimes people inadvertently find themselves struck with a malaise they can neither shake nor define.

For the lucky ones, like me, it will pass. A quality nap might be enough to do the trick. (I am so very tired.) Or a walk on the beach (blessing!). Saltwater. Writing. In any case, I have responsibilities I must get to and eventually the distraction of doing will eradicate the despair – a therapist might say I use obligations as a survival technique.

I say, whatever works.

But for others, the crushing comes more frequently. Resources at hand might be more slim. Whatever life appears to be on the outside, a person’s inner world can be a troubled place. It is good to be kind. It is good to know one is not alone. That appears to be where I am going with this. Sometimes a person needs to hear that things are going to be okay. Today I need to tell myself, things are going to be okay. And if you need to hear it, please, trust me: Things are going to be okay. 

writing exercise #50: one-syllable words, “From the back of the truck…”

From the back of the truck, the view was all sky. Jill lie there for a bit, sun near the edge of sea. She had to sit up to watch it drop. She set her eyes to the left of the bright orb. Heard you had to, to see the green flash. Myth, some said. She knew it was real. Half the sun was gone. Her eyes kept to the side. And then, there it was. A ghost, the green flash, so fast it was like, did her brain trick her? Did she see it for real? She thought so. 

Some nights she did not feel sure. Like on the night of the full moon. Jill swore she saw Mike lean in on Trish, kiss her, tongue deep, hand on her chin. Mike said no, trick of the light. That he had just told her a thing. A thing that made her laugh. And Mike had bent to her in jest. Jill said, sure, but did not feel that way.

The last time she saw Trish, at the school fair, she felt her eyes turn to the ground. She meant to look up, but her gut won. She did not say hi. Trish did not say hi. The smell of pork lit up the lot.

Jill had her truck that night. She drank pop, since she had to drive. The sweet taste stuck to her mouth. At the end, she drove home, just her. What else could she do? Ask Mike to come with her? Ask some dad whose wife had left? Bad news. They want a lot, she thought. They act as if they’re cool, just there for the sex, but they want love, like us all. They’re just worse when it comes to the words.

“The one thing I know for sure,” Mike had said, “is you are good. Good and true and my world is best with you in it.” Jill cried when he said that. It was the sort of thing a girl could not look at straight on. She had kept her heart to the side and hoped it was true.

 

Outside Lands, Day Three: Impressions #outsidelands

Only for my closest friends would I traverse San Francisco from the Outer Sunset to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, a journey of no small consequence. Well, for them and the Buena Vista’s famous Irish coffee. Off I went.

The drive, which can take 45 minutes on a average day, passed in under 30. My parking angel stayed with me. Getting a table at the Buena Vista on the other hand, not so easy. Aquiring one on a crowded Sunday morning requires circling around seated diners as they pay the bill, asserting your intention to take over, then sliding into a seat the second it’s vacated. My friends and I followed the script, only to be upstaged by some folks who announced, “We’re sharing your table,” as they claimed the other half. Well played.

Sharing a table isn’t a problem as long as everyone sticks to the etiquette of ignoring the other party. Like when you’re in an elevator or on a subway. We all exist in our personal space and as long as you don’t intrude into mine or require me to acknowledge you in some way, perfect. Their group stayed inclusive. Our group stayed inclusive. Which wasn’t much different from my Outside Lands experience, except I was a group unto myself.

Media tent moment: I’d taken a seat in the prime corner, momentarily bereft of hotshots, and was happily contemplating my schedule when a crew sat down a table over.

“So, who are you guys with?” some bearded standing guy in a tight T-shirt asked them.

Juxtapoz,” one of the seated guys answered from behind his Ray-Bans.

“Whoa,” bearded guy said. “You guys are the shit. Seriously. I haven’t even unfollowed you.”

Whoa, indeed.

"You're so cool. No, you're so cool. No, really, you're so cool."

“You’re so cool. No, you’re so cool. No, really, you’re so cool.”

Meanwhile, swank-hatted ladies in bubble shades crowded in and sighed at their phones. I collected myself, stepped over their big purses, past the Juxtapoz photogs who were still being stroked by bearded guy (a Juxtapoz-er, ha!) and went for some fresh air, a heightened awareness of my baggy jeans and Tevas accompanying me. I probably grabbed another free beer on the way out and I definitely tipped, unlike many of my media brethren. I worked in the service industry, damn it. I paid dues. I loved the privilege of having a comfy, safe retreat from the crowds – thank you, oh lord, for this press pass, amen – but the music was the reason. 

Brothers Comatose: Kicked ass. Covered Ryan Adams’ “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad Is To Be High),” one of the all-time great songs, and aced it. Tears welled. I loved Brothers Comatose and everyone who loved Brothers Comatose, and, yes, this was without any alcohol influence, wholly sincere. Music moves a girl, especially when done with the sort of gracefulness that lingers.

Jenny Lewis fans.

Jenny Lewis fans.

Jenny Lewis: Stretched out on the grass, in the sunshine, with several hundred other fans soaking in the sweetness of Jenny Lewis. Her songs are like having your favorite candy passed out for free. I would’ve stayed the whole time, but – 

Spoon: These guys are just stupid good. Every song is good. Their demeanor is that of laid-back guys you want to hang out with at the river or maybe while they jam in their garage, but they’ll take a break when you bring out the cheese plate. They won’t complain you bought horrible gluten-free crackers by mistake. They’re wonderful. Smart, funny, friendly. They should run for class president. I’d be annoyed if they didn’t distract me with one perfectly crafted, slightly off-kilter song after another. 

Spoon, man.

Spoon, man.

And then I had to split, get to the car, get on the road. Long drive home. I ducked past the fans, out the gate, strode the mile-point-five to my car, pausing in admiration as the sun shimmered off the Pacific like it was posting for an N-Judah postcard.

Classic.

Classic.

Goodbye, San Francisco. You did me right. 

Outside Lands 2014, Day Two: Happily Wrecked

I woke up on a couch in the Inner Richmond. Josie, my friends’ sweet old yellow dog, lay on the floor nearby, in a patch of sunlight indicating the day had started. I’d stayed up late talking to my friend Pablo about his job at Lucasfilm. He’s been there 20 years and knows so much about the Star Wars characters and stories that J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson now call him when they need advice about the forthcoming new movies.

I know Pablo because his wife Kristen and I were members of the same forum on Café Utne a million years ago, along with friends who now own the (in)famous Atomic Bookstore in Baltimore, another friend who’s a literal rocket scientist who puts together machines that fly to Mars, yet another who edits a lifestyle magazine in New Zealand, one who’s a New York musician and producer… the list goes on.

The internet was a magical connector back then. The fact that you could meet people with similar interests online and then meet them in real life was crazy. Kind of like the first time someone called you on a car phone. Whoa. You’re calling me from your car? That was back in the ’80s, the era of my adolescence, the years when I stopped listening to my parents’ albums and discovered Agent Orange, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, X, The B-52s, Oingo Boingo, Siouxie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello, all that post-punk new wave and, because my best friend was a dancer, hot jams from Newcleus, Prince and Michael Jackson. Music was everything.

Which is why when my mom wouldn’t allow me to go to the US Festival, my world imploded. She was worried people would be smoking marijuana. I was 13 and naive – I didn’t even know what pot was, not really. I just wanted desperately to see the Divinyls and INXS. Things changed dramatically over the next few years: I learned all about pot and my friend’s coke dealer neighbor eventually took me to see INXS at Irvine Meadows.

My lifestyle choices have evolved for the better, but my adoration of music, how it can change my mood in an instant, holds steady. With that in mind, I packed up, said my goodbyes to Pablo and Josie, and set off for my second day of Outside Lands.

But, first, a quick relocation to the Outer Sunset, where my other set of SF friends, Adam and Lauren, awaited.

I couldn’t believe what I saw when I pulled up alongside their house. A parking spot. A full-sized parking spot, just sitting there in all its glory as if a hundred thousand people weren’t attending a music fest a mile-and-a-half away. I parked. Got out. Did a little happy parking luck jig.

Soon after, I was fast-walking to Golden Gate Park in my sandals.

Now, sandals are a bad idea at a fest. People might step on your feet. Your toes will be filthy and possibly cold. I know this. But the Mary Janes I’d worn the day before, the ones I remembered as comfortable, proved to be comfortable only in the sense that, if I were sitting at my desk all day, fine. Walking miles to-and-fro, not so much. Multiple blisters illustrated this fact. So I’d switched to my sandals.

Ow.

Ow.

The number of people walking along the streets doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Slow-walkers took up the whole sidewalk in front of me. I Vined them in silent rage. Everyone converged, too many people, thousands of people, all bottlenecked into the entrance lines – lines being an inaccurate description of the chaos looming. Now, the pink-green-purple piece of fabric looped around my right wrist entitled me to bypass the wait – if I could get around the crowd. I slipped behind some VIPS making their way along. “You people are all taking cuts!” someone yelled. “Cutting sucks!” another person hollered. “You fucking suck!” another cried. “Way to make it personal,” someone scolded. I felt like Tilda Swinton’s character from Snowpiercer.

But I also wanted to catch The Kooks, who’d surely started, so I kept moving until I’d squeezed past the mob, shown security my nearly empty bag – unfilled water bottle, chapstick, ID, debit card, cash, lip gloss, portable phone charger – received the green light from the scanner and bam, finally through.

The Kooks! Happiness! Joy! Why they were playing so early in the day, I had no idea – they’re popular and established enough to have a pre-headlining slot, but whatever. I swayed and clapped, welcomed the energy being channeled from stage to audience, smiled and cheered. Oh, lovely Brit pop band, your songs can catch me any time.

The Kooks!

The Kooks!

Next up, Local Natives. I watched from the press tent, wanting to save my standing energy for later. Also, free beer. And free sake! Kibo, making its debut right here at the fest. The name means “hope” in Japanese, a reference to rebuilding after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and resultant tsunami. Crisp and clean like an apple, the sake cleansed the beer taste away, reminding me how much I prefer most anything to beer. After savoring another sample, I returned to observing the band and realized the lead singer was crowdsurfing across the screaming throng. Always a win.

Also a win, the fish tacos – well, advertised as “tacos,” but really, it was just one single taco. One single delicious taco, with some sort of spicy aioli-type sauce and several sweet potato fries topping the battered pieces of fish. Gourmet food permeates Outside Lands – we’re in San Francisco, after all.

Fish taco from Global Gourmet

Fish taco from Global Gourmet

I licked my fingers clean and braved the trek to the fiftyseven-thirtythree booth.

Fiftyseven-thirtythree operates in Oakland, where founder Loretta Nyugen and her boyfriend create art and hand screenprint graphics onto T-shirts, etc. We discovered them in 2009, I’d bought a shirt the day before, now was back to buy a particular tee for whomever in my life is an A’s fan.

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Loretta Nyugen at the fiftyseven-thirtythree booth

Yes.

Yes.

Back to the press tent for the free wine and ice cream sampling. A panel of business owners, plus Bay Area musician Tycho, sat on stools and talked about their companies, art, beliefs, etc. I don’t really know, because like most of the other media mooches, I was just waiting for the free wine and ice cream. Both were outstanding.

Very Important Businesspeople

Very Important Businesspeople

After the Arctic Monkeys experience, I’d considered watching Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers from the media tent. The upside of having room to stand and an uninterrupted view might make up for the downside of being far away. But I remembered when we saw Kings of Leon in 2010 from the same vantage point, how I ended up watching them on the big screens, which made me feel like, why was I even there?

I opted for the lawn, VIP side. I wanted to be close, to see Tom Petty’s expressions as he sang, his fingers as he played guitar. That meant crowding up during Death Cab for Cutie. So I did. They played to a crowd who appreciated that Death Cab has big songs that need a big space. They shine in concert settings, the complexity of their instrumentation on full display. People sang along. I inched forward, then over to the barricade dividing the VIPs (and me) from the more common folk. The grassy moat between us allowed for an uninterrupted view.

Death Cab fans

Death Cab fans

And then – with “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage. The crowd cheered, screamed, whooped, clapped. Rock stars. All that love. And we were happy to worship. They went into “Last Dance With Mary Jane” next, one of my very, very, very favorites. I’d moved back to my hometown during the time it was a hit, a place I’d only returned to because I’d made some mistakes and had, I believed at the time, run out of options. “Tired of myself, tired of this town”? Oh, my, my. Oh, hell, yes.

They tore through several other familiar songs, a couple new ones, a Grateful Dead cover and a Traveling Wilburys tune. Some banter in between. The only times I stopped grinning were when I sang along. And then they left and we had to do that thing where we beg for an encore and they make us wait even though we all know it’s going to happen and then they came back and played “You Wreck Me” and – introducing it as “a song we first played in Palo Alto in 1976″ – “American Girl.”

The iPhone is not the ideal camera in this situation, but – Tom Petty!

The iPhone is not the ideal camera in this situation, but – Tom Petty!

Thus the dream that had become reality came to an end. Ten minutes later, the exiting process turned into a nightmare of too many people in far too small a space, barely able to shuffle forward, bodies pressed together so tightly it felt like we were assaulting each other and I had to tell myself sternly to hang in there, be patient, and at last, expelled onto Lincoln, I could breathe again. And I thought about the day and the grin returned to my face as I bounced along the street back to my temporary home.

#nofilter

#nofilter

Outside Lands 2014, Day 1: Sexy, Sweet, Solo

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It’s a beautiful day.

Avocados, yogurt, Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper I’d found, at all places, at Grocery Outlet. Half a tomato. A box of organic dried plums, also from the GO.  I’d had this grand plan to pack enough food to last all weekend, even roasted some eggplant slices, but one thing and then another and I was already leaving too late to catch Phosphorescent

I first attended the Golden Gate Park fest in 2009 with my two younger children, 13 and 15 at the time, and came away full of vicarious thrill. Watching Silversun Pickups and Atmosphere through their eyes reminded me how music shapes your life at that age. At the end of one day, Nick wanted to see Pearl Jam up close, but Kaylee had wearied of the crowds. I ended up sending him into the throng of thousands alone while K and I watched from the press tent.

Would he get squished? I worried. What if his blood sugar dropped and he passed out? Would anyone notice? Would help come in time? Legitimate concerns, but what happened is, he used his skinniness and youth to squeeze to the front, where he ended up being crowd-surfed and caught Mike McCready’s guitar pick at the end of the show. Pretty sure he still has it in some small box of treasures.

The next year, the kids preferred to hang out with friends, so Bobby and I meandered between bands, debating the benefits of being smushed up close to the stage where you can actually see the people you’re there to see (me) vs. being comfortably in back, where the sound is better and the view more comprehensive (him).

The kids continued going every year after that, courtesy of press passes through the Journal (blogging through the ages), but Bobby and I skipped out, opting to watch Giants’ games at Underdog over cocktails and Nick’s Crispy instead. Also, the DeYoung.

But this year, my heart skipped at the line-up. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?! I’ve loved Tom Petty since I was an adolescent singing along to “Refugee” in my poster-slathered bedroom. At the time, Petty was considered new wave and played alongside Blondie and Joy Division on KROQ and 91X, the stations that shaped my youth.

Also, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers headlined the first Outside Lands in 2008, which I had a ticket to, but ended up unable to attend. I sent my little brother instead. He had a grand time, wrote about it for the Arcata Eye and that was that. But now, history could be rectified. Only trouble was, Nick had already scored one of the two press passes through the Journal, so while I could go with the other, I’d be going alone.

So here I was, random foods in the mini-Igloo, reasonable clothes in my travel bag, some sunscreen for my face, a toothbrush, not much else. I meant to bring my wetsuit in case I could squeeze in a surf. I also intended to bring a hoodie – San Francisco weather requires layers – the lack of which would prove more of a problem.

The ongoing wildfires sidetracked me, first because the sight of helicopters circling from pond to over the hills captivated, then because the base camps sprawled alongside the highway impressed. I stopped to take photos and video.

Once that thrill subsided, the realization that I still had hours to go had me regretting my stops, especially when traffic in Willits slowed to a crawl due to roadwork. I let my breath out when I rounded the curve and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view. Minutes later I was double-parked in front of my friends’ home in the Inner Richmond, dropping off my stuff in advance so I could begin the parking nightmare – except parking opened up right across the street.

I paused to consider the thrill that one experiences when landing upon perfect parking in San Francisco. As if everything in the universe unexpectedly and suddenly has aligned in your favor. Buoyed, I hoofed it to the park.

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I was an “other” wristband, not a VIP, but special.

After navigating the maze of entry, I picked up my press pass – a magical wristband allowing me to bypass the unwashed masses and also access VIP areas – proceeded into the festival. As I trod west, rhythm pulsed through the air: Chromeo. I walked faster.

And there they were. Legged keyboard in all its glory. Beats bumping, people screaming – because the band demanded, “Let me hear you scream!” – and ecstasy winning the hour.

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Chromeo from the press tent. Shoulder-rider on the big screen.

Minor annoyance: David Macklovitch praised all the ladies riding high on men’s shoulders. As an averagely-heighted person who prefers to see the band over staring at the back of someone’s head for an hour, any increased impediment to line of vision is an affront. If I were to design a concert space, I’d reserve a front zone for those under, oh, maybe five-foot-four? And anyone over six-foot-two would have to be in the back. We could have a special side area for mixed groups.  (Yes, I know some tall people are considerate. You should talk to your brethren who are ruining it for all of you.)

Checked out the press tent, decided the “free” part of the free beer was reason enough to set aside my general preference for almost any other type of booze-related beverage, and then set about exploring – after using one of the VIP restrooms, which are glorified porta-potties, multi-units in trailers with running water. Sort of like if you had a bunch of airplane restrooms packed together on wheels. Definitely a step up from the nastiness of a regular porta-potty, but ladies, if you still pee on the seat, you’re making it gross for all of us. Why is it so impossible to figure out that, if we all sit down, the seat stays pee-free?

Being able to see the band, being able to relieve yourself comfortably. It’s amazing what people will pay to attend a festival with neither of these issues guaranteed. (Suckers.)

I wanna.

I wanna.

My magic wristband and I strolled through the grounds. Esquire’s “Sip and Shave” booth made me wish I were a man, or at least able to temporarily grow a beard so that I could sit down and be pampered for a minute, but alas. I noticed Oakland clothing line fiftyseven-thirtythree once again in attendance and bought a long-sleeved, hooded T-shirt with a gorilla and giraffe on the front because I was a.) worried about getting cold (see “things I forgot” paragraph earlier), b.) pleased to see that fiftyseven-thirtythree was thriving. They do cool hand-screened art designs on non-sweatshop clothing right across the bay in Oakland. I’d bought Kaylee a T-shirt when we’d attended in 2009, so nostalgia propelled my purpose as well.

Land of dreams. Of chocolate.

Land of dreams. Of chocolate.

I wandered into Choco Lands. Oh, the choices. The smell of pot emanates through the fest at all times and here I was in stoner nirvana. A Guittard “liquid” chocolate bar? A chocolate French macaron? Chocolate ice cream? I opted for an Epic chocolate crackle cookie and it was. Oh, it was.

Tegan and Sara fans.

Tegan and Sara fans.

“I just want back in your head” echoed across the park. Tegan and Sara! A few minutes later, I was brushing the last of the powdered sugar from my lips and standing in front of the Twin Peaks stage among the most adorable fans I’ve ever been standing among. Twenty-somethings everywhere, boys and girls, singing, kissing, swooning every time Tegan or Sara joked between songs. Best of all, this crowd was a polite one, which enabled me to squeeze through to a decent vantage point for the next act, Arctic Monkeys.

Whose fans were not as polite. The moment Tegan and Sara wrapped up, a swarm of people united in their passion for sexy Brit-rock pressed forward. Hard. I held on to my bag and my position and soon we were as packed in as packed in could be. We would be like this for the forty minutes between sets.

In 2009, Nick, Kaylee and I had managed to get all the way up front for TV on the Radio, Atmosphere and the Dead Weather, all in a row. (Nick left to see Modest Mouse at some point.) I revere that experience as one of my all-time favorites. Being in such close proximity to greatness with my children, sharing it together – we parents live for that. For a few hours, all the family squabbling and failed attempts at perfect mothering fall away. I sighed and looked around. This wait was lonely.

Waiting for the Arctic Monkeys.

Waiting for the Arctic Monkeys.

Next to me, a twenty-something pulled sunscreen out of her backpack and handed it to her boyfriend. I admired their sense of safety, but was a bit confused as we were only a half hour from sunset. Then he unscrewed the lid and squeezed wine into her waiting cup. Oh. Nicely played.

The Arctic Monkeys!

The Arctic Monkeys!

At last, the stage lights dimmed, the opening chords of “Do I Wanna Know?” launched and Alex Turner emerged forth in all his greased-hair, leather-jacketed, tight-jeaned glory. Tipper Gore was right. Rock’n’roll sure does equal sex. (To each their own, of course. The case could be made that some of us fall for a bad boy persona that’s been cliché since Elvis first gyrated and that Turner’s get-up is as much Bowser as it is Brando, but whatever. It worked in this context just fine.)

My infatuation lasted half the set before giving in to fatigue. I needed to get out, get to my home for the night, a place where I could take off my shoes, brush my teeth and stretch out on a couch. Horizontal, that would be a good way to be.

Traversing through the mob required channeling Newton’s first law of motion: stay in it. I murmured, “Sorry,” a few times, but mostly I just shouldered through, eyes downward searching for places to land my feet and then my body would follow. Plastic cups crunched beneath every step – the litter generated amazes me. Who just throws stuff on the ground? Righteous indignation propelled me harder – and I should point out that the Outside Lands organizers provide well-marked containers every few yards to enable proper trash, recyclables and compostables disposal. They reward people for turning in such items to a special tent full of treats. They try. Perhaps if every attendee had their own personal trash valet?

Free at last, I ducked through the festival exit, winced at the blisters blooming across my toes, then grinned as “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” rolled through the trees.

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