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.

IMG_2126

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

IMG_2033

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.

IMG_1995

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.

IMG_2015

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.

insomniasurfkidsoceannight

The door must have opened first, but it was the closing that woke me, followed by the motion lights coming on. I stumbled out of bed to check the driveway. No one. The side gate squeaked open, shut. A car’s headlights shone through the hedge. My son and his friends had decided to get a middle-of-the-night snack, apparently. I returned to bed, listening for them to return. To fill the time, I started worrying. About teenage drivers. About the potential for drunk or texting drivers. About the kids in general. About the event I have tonight. About recent rough patches in a couple friendships. About making it through a long day of work, a busy night and leaving the next morning on so little sleep.

I should’ve gone downstairs and found my headphones, plugged in and listened to one of my relaxation apps. But I didn’t want to get up. Finally I got up and decided to write.

Sometimes I miss writing about surfing, repetitive as it was. Last time I went out was Sunday. The sky hovered mostly gray, sunshine promised, but not yet forthcoming. Waves broke on my face in the channel. My bootie has a hole and my wetsuit’s leaking, but the water temp’s been steady mid-50s, not too bad. My knees ache every day lately, but I caught a couple waves and did all right. Nick caught some and, as always, watching him fly along from the back triggered happiness. Most everyone in the water was a friend. The waves were head-high, slightly over, and mushy. I had to wait until they were almost breaking to get into them – good practice, mentally, taking off later than I’m typically comfortable.

A set came, larger than the others, maybe a foot overhead, maybe more. Usually I either get caught inside or somehow miss the set waves, instead observing everyone else tear them up while I linger pathetically alone on the outside. This time, I caught one. Dropped down the face, bottom-turned, back up to the lip, slid down – just an average ride on an average wave that filled me with exceptional happiness because that is what surfing does.

Rode to the beach, where Nick was waiting. We had places to be, so I ended on that successful note and off we went as the sun finally emerged and the day turned brilliant.

I wish those moments came to me in the midst of tossing, turning, adjusting pillows, sheets. Instead, the anxieties I keep at bay during the sunlit hours assault me. I remember when I would get up and check Nick’s blood sugar in the dark. For years, I’d set the alarm, sneak into his room, poke his finger, watch the drop of blood spread into the strip. Wait for the number. Either I’d be able to go back to sleep, satisfied that he was, for the moment, okay – or start the correction process, which might take hours. He’s been handling that himself, at his insistence, for a couple years. I don’t miss the interrupted sleep, but I do miss being fully informed, having oversight. I wish we discussed his diabetes beyond him reassuring me that he’s fine. I believe he’s paying attention. I know he’s not paying attention the way I want him to.

But since when do the kids do what I want them to? They’ve been teenagers, near-adults, adults for a while. So much letting go. It’s freeing in many ways, this relinquishment of control. What doesn’t go away is the worry. I remain shackled to that.

So here I am, coming up on 7:30 a.m., wondering if I attempt more sleep or caffeinate my way through the day.

I have a big deal Ocean Night tonight (see Lost Coast Outpost at some point today for a comprehensive post), then off to Outside Lands tomorrow. Life is sweet, yes? Even without the sleep.

 

 

writing exercise #49: What I talked about when I was 13

I was 13 and I didn’t know much. I knew all the songs from that series of dragon-rider books I was into. That didn’t do me much good in junior high. Some places, those years are middle school. I don’t know if it makes much difference, but middle school sounds more appropriate to me – I was in a middling place. On one side, the height of excitement arrived in the form of a Christmas sled perfect for racing down the hill our house sat two-thirds of the way atop. On the other, the realization that genetic inheritance had granted me the ability to be popular. In middle school, boys would creep up behind me, snap the strap of the bra I’d embarrassingly acquired. In high school, they’d kiss me first.

But back to 8th grade. I had this science teacher, Mr. West. Which was hilarious, because he was also a cowboy. With a ranch and everything. Twice a year, at the end of each semester, he’d have barbeques for his students and their families, plus a group of faculty members that encompassed, but did not exceed, those we all thought were “cool.” Mostly younger female teachers, the sort the boys all had crushes on and the girls all wanted to be.

Mr. West would have inevitably caught a rattlesnake early on, skinned it, tossed it on the grill. The smell would make us sick, but the boys and girls like me would insist we wanted a taste. Later, he’d bring out his guitar by the campfire, start sing-alongs, then wander into an old Johnny Cash tune, which he’d wrap up on a fade-out, as if he’d forgotten the words or maybe remembered what he’d wanted to be.

Only 8th graders were invited, which made it a sort of rite of passage. In 7th grade, my friends and I, and everyone else, would note those days a certain subset of 8th graders weren’t at school. They were at Mr. West’s BBQ, excused from classes for the day. “What do you think happens there?” we’d ask each other. Janine’s brother, a junior at the high school, told us that girls got naked and jumped in the river. Holly’s cousin, a senior, said that after all the kids were supposed to be asleep, Mr. West put out lines of cocaine on his guitar for all the female teachers to enjoy.

That seemed ridiculous to me even at 12. At 13, at the ranch, I could imagine neither nudity nor drugs. The fact that I would use “neither” and “nor” tells you what kind of child I was, but, well, that is the sort of child I was.

What I did not expect was the scandal to come from within my own ranks. My best friend, Lanie, whose parents were these kind of weird leftover hippie types – her mom taught step classes at the gym and her dad had some corporate job he hated – were closet pot smokers. I had no idea. I just thought they were really into air freshener.

“What’s going on?” I said, walking into the room behind the kitchen at the ranch. I don’t know the right name for it, the place where you’d come in to take off your boots and jackets all muddy from, what do they call it, breaking the horses? I guess.

“Nothing,” Janie said. She looked at me, but didn’t look at my face, not in my eyes, you know? I read somewhere once, well, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or maybe Restaurant at the End of the Universe if you must know, that the trick to outwitting your opponents is to focus on the space between their eyebrows. It will seem as though you are looking them in the eyes, except not, but they won’t be able to quite explain it. I told Janie that after I’d read the books. We were 10 then, but she was doing it to me now.

“What’s that?” I said, noting Mark Garner passing something to Brent Clunich. Both of them were football players and bra-snappers, the sort of guys Janie and I hated.
Mark laughed and his laughing turned into coughing as smoked sputtered out from his face, which was bent towards his somewhat advanced six-pack of a belly. Brent, on the other hand, stayed cool, reached out what looked like a sloppy cigarette.

“It’s a joint,” he said. “Want a hit?”

Everyone looked at me. I could feel every bit of skin on my face. “Uh,” I said.

Janie put her head in her hands. “She doesn’t want any, Brent.”

He laughed and passed the joint to the girl next to him. Lori Schiminski. Long blonde hair held back with a clip, red lipstick that left an imprint on the paper that she passed to Janelle, the black girl that went to our school.

I looked at Janie. She looked at me. Shrugged.

I left the room. Outside, Mr. West had brought out the marshmallows and chocolate bars. Miss DeWitt stood by with graham crackers. I took a seat on a bench made from logs Mr. West had, undoubtedly, chopped down and carved with his own hands. Douglas Wilcox, class geek, the guy that everyone remembered from when he was in second grade an picked his boogers and ate them, leaned over to me.

“What are they doing in there?” he asked.

I leaned back, making sure that anyone watching would understand I was revolted by him.

“Nothing,” I hissed. “Nothing at all.”

Miss DeWitt flounced up to us. “Graham crackers,” she trilled.

Mr. West passed us sticks and marshmallows. “You want to catch it on fire, then put it out right away,” he said. “You slide off the burnt skin and the inside is perfect.”

“Here,” he said, handing us squares of chocolate.

I tried, but I was looking at the house instead of the fire.

“Oh, dear!” Miss DeWitt cried.

Mr. West came over and smacked my arm. Apparently my sleeve had caught fire. I dropped my stick and the marshmallow fell into the flames.

“Shit!” I said.

Douglas gasped and pointed.

Mr. West and Miss DeWitt glanced at each other. “That’s not appropriate language,” Miss DeWitt said.

“But under the circumstances,” Mr. West followed.

I hung my head.

Douglas reached over and patted my hand. “Here,” he said, offering me a perfectly sandwiched s’more.

I jumped up. “I’m fine!” I yelled. I marched off to the house, ignoring Miss DeWitt’s commands to come back.

Through the kitchen, into the back room, everyone giggling.

Janie looked up, met my eyes for real this time.

“Wanna hit?” she asked, holding the smoldering, sweet-smelling piece of paper.

I took it, held it between my fingers like she’d done. “Help me,” I pleaded, silently, the way best friends can say things without words.

“Like this,” she said, reaching to hold my hand, press it to my lips. “Inhale. Okay, stop. Hold it.” We looked at each other. “Exhale.”

I did.

When the joint came around, I did again, no help necessary.

The next day, I told Janie what kissing Brent was like. Tasted like smoke, I said. But soft. Better than that rattlesnake.

We laughed.

That was when I was 13.

writing exercise #48: She realized that the person in front of her in line was the defeated candidate.

She realized that the person in front of her in line was the defeated candidate. In his jammies. He looked unshaven by at least a few days. His jammies, camo green, had elephants on the pants and the button up shirt matched the color, turquoise, of the pachyderm print. This made her feel especially bad that she’d been out of town during the election and hadn’t bothered to send in her absentee ballot. Shit. He’d only lost by a few hundred votes. And he was so cute.
Their eyes met.
“Hi,” she said.
“Oh, hi,” he mumbled.
Asking how it was going seemed insensitive, so she opted for, “Sure is sunny out today!”
He agreed. Added something about the drought.
“Right,” she said. “The drought. It’s terrible.” She tried to remember how she was supposed to feel. What she was supposed to do. Probably not take such long showers.
He accepted his gluten-fee double chocolate muffin and shuffled to a table. She ordered her soy latte, 16 ounces, and joined him.
“So,” she said.
Their eyes met again. Like something out of a romance novel, she thought.
What the hell, she thought. She sat down next to him.
“I thought you were a great candidate,” she said.
“Oh, thanks,” he responded. He looked down at his attire as if noticing it for the first time.
“It’s my face,” he said. “It’s not a good face.”
“Soy latte? Grande?” the barista called. She stood, picked it up, returned.
She examined his forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, cheekbones. “I think your face is fine,” she said. “Pleasing, actually.”
He chuckled, glanced at the ground. Then, without moving his head, tilted his eyes at her. “Want to come over?”
What was she to do? Poor guy, had been crushed by the opposition, except not crushed, exactly, but overwhelmed. And so they shared a moment of skin on skin, kisses, the reaching of hands across bodies.
Immediately after, she felt that familiar need to race to the door. Why was it such a challenge to find someone who felt the way she felt, emotionally, politically, physically? Was she asking too much?
I hate this, she thought. It’s all so corny, cliché. Who cared? The voters, she thought. They were the ones who got robbed. Their apathy, their busy lives, wait, she thought, I am one of those with the busy life. Just a couple hundred votes and he could’ve been a winner, earning an upper middle class wage and leading constituents into the future. Instead, here he was, with her, awkwardly preparing for a moment that wouldn’t matter immediately after and there ya go.
Afterwards, he turned to her. “Do you think I have a chance?” he asked.
She paused. “Maybe 2016,” she cooed. “That might be your year.”

(Failure to) Disconnect

It was too grand a plan, this idea of mine. I was embarking on my annual trek to visit my brother in New York and thought, How grand would it be to not only take a vacation from work, but heighten the sense of escape by staying offline? I would be unreachable (except in case of emergency). I would chronicle my daily experiences in Word instead of WordPress, upload one or two quality blog posts at the end, old-fashioned-like. I would be free.

Even before I arrived, I imagined how proud I’d be for committing to be more present when visiting. I would let moments exist in their own space, savor them, and then move on. Not everything needs to be documented – “Hey, look at me!” – all the time, I remembered. Nor do I need to always see what everyone else is up to. I would reciprocate the excellent company of my brother and my sister-in-law by giving them my full attention.

The morning I left, I deleted the Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Hangout and Instagram apps from my phone. I spared Paper and Tumblr since I use those mostly just for reading. (I kept WhatsApp because Kaylee’s in Europe and that’s how we’re communicating, so, of course.)

I would use my laptop only to work on my novel, freelance assignments or otherwise write offline.

I confess, I also had a bit of ego in the game. I wanted people to miss me.

Here’s how it went:

“On vacation!” I posted to Facebook in the form of an out-of-office auto response. Before I could log off, a friend noticed that I’d typed “back Thursday, June 10,” which put my return several years in the future instead of one week away on Thursday, July 10. People riffed. It was pretty funny.

My attempt to disconnect from work failed. Despite pronouncing myself “unavailable,” I ended up checking my email because I needed some key piece of information, a flight time or receipt confirmation or such. And then I would notice meetings being scheduled. Flyers being made. Questions about events arising. A mistake I needed to fix.

To be clear, no one forced me to respond to all these emails – emails were going happen regardless of what I was doing away from the computer and disregarding my vacation assertions by answering them was wholly my fault. But once I’d entered into dialogue, I had to see the conversation through. I ended up on email daily.

I needed to get online to plan my days. What would the weather be like? (Hot and muggy was a given, and really, I could’ve just gone with that, but no – let’s look at the exact temperature and percentages.) What would the surf be like? (This proved to be critical, as I was able to catch an early bit of Hurricane Arthur out in Long Beach.) Did we want to try to get tickets to a show? (Yes, but Hedwig and the Angry Inch was sold out.) How much money did I have left in the bank? (Yikes. Also, oops.)

Where I succeeded, the first couple days, was in not using my phone as the sole source of comfort and distraction. I people-watched. I eavesdropped. I took photos as something to remember the trip by instead of using them to holler, “I am here! Right now!” at my online friends. I was not that person only half paying attention to the world around her and that felt great. As one should do in New York. Or life.

The world contracted to be whatever Tag, his wife Jen, and I were doing, saying, making happen. This included visiting the Transit Museum, driving out to Long Beach for the aforementioned surf experience, fireworks over the East River, bicycling out to Rockaway for a day at the beach, East Coast-style.

It was during the Fourth of July party that I first slipped. Inspired by all the America-themed face paint adorning the people around me, I made a little Vine. They loved it.

And because I was trying to coordinate with a few friends via Facebook messaging (using Paper, which is Facebook, but almost totally not), I couldn’t help but notice messages from other people on various topics. Upcoming shows. Questions about references. Etc. You know how Facebook tells the sender when you’ve read their message? I hate that because once that’s noted, I feel like I have to respond. So I responded. (Note: Not everyone suffers the same sense of obligation.) In the course of these interactions, I’d see something someone posted that I liked. So I would “Like” it.

Then my daughter texted me, “Why aren’t you liking my Instagrams?” Good question. I missed keeping up with her journey and the comfort seeing her photos brought. So I reinstalled Instagram. And then I uploaded a photo. And then another.

My music column was due. I went back online. Finished with a minimum of fuss and far too many puns. Took a breath. Rented a bike. Rode alongside my brother through Brooklyn, Queens, out to Rockaway.

Despite all this, my internet use, especially that of social media, was notably less than usual. Yes, I’d posted to Vine and Instagram, but neither of those accounts provoke conversation, just the occasional quiet cheer. Staying off Facebook was huge – no newsfeed to get sucked into, no back-and-forth about the photo or topic du jour. I appreciate the ways in which Facebook allows me to keep in touch with people far away, to promote events, but not using it reminded me how much time using it takes up.

Then the holiday weekend ended and everyone but me went back to work. Staying off social media when alone proved much harder, especially when waiting for things as one does in New York. Facebook and Twitter are my go-to time killers. Instead I opened Notes and typed out things I wanted to remember when I wrote about my trip.

Until the moment when I found myself cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge. I caved. I was excited about what I was doing and wanted to share it with someone, so I did: I selfied and posted.

I also decided I wanted to write about biking in New York City versus biking in Humboldt, which rekindled my internet interactions. I could’ve waited to write the post, but I knew that the inspiration would probably flag if I didn’t take advantage of it.

As could have been predicted by now, I did not look away in time and found myself immersed in comments instead of turning wholly to the other writing assignments I’d given myself. This was my last day in the city and I’d planned to spend it combining two rare opportunities, one being in New York and the other having uncommitted hours to string words together.

Sitting in a Manhattan park, using the free wifi, listening to the two guys beside me workshop their poetry/rap/beats illustrated a good fortune I should’ve better utilized.

Little by little, my disconnection never quite happened. But I did shift from habit to thoughtfulness. If I’d been staring into my phone, I would not have caught the sunset between buildings as the train whisked by. If I’d been checking in to Facebook during brunch at The Sea Witch or dinner at The Pickle Factory, the conversational flow would’ve been more sporadic. Instead the constant flow led to the kind of dialogue more likely to happen face-to-face than over chat. Eye contact is awesome.

That’s what I hope to hold onto – the streamlining. I did not reinstall Facebook or Messenger on my phone and I’m thrilled at the lack of notifications. Again, I realize some people can leave things unread, but I suffer from a sense of responsibility to those trying to contact me. As it is, I decide when I want to access Facebook (via Paper), which allows me the power over it. And because Paper encourages reading outside of one’s newsfeed, I find myself intrigued by headlines announcing creative endeavors, social justice rulings, etc.

I plan to hold on to that power.

The benefits of shutting up

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” ­ – Mark Twain

Sometimes, when you make a mistake, what you need to do is to shut up and not make it worse.

Hard lesson to learn.

It’s counterintuitive, after all, because we often believe if we keep talking, keep explaining, that we’ll make ourselves understood.

People say to share your feelings, don’t keep them bottled up.

But people would rather chance losing everything than appearing a fool. In a civilized country, looking stupid is one of the worst things that a person can do. And yet, we find ourselves splayed out, slathered in emotion, exposing ourselves and regretting it even before the consequences unfold.

So my advice, like all other good advice, is to put a sock in it. Walk around the block instead of broadcasting your heartfelt feelings on the matter. Do some pushups. Write in your journal instead. Reinforce that wall around your heart until someone worthwhile breaches it with love, kindness, understanding. Never assume they are worthwhile. Let time pass. Remember you are not who are you in your lowest moments. Remember you deserve more.

You will make it.

Stop. Back away. Sit down,

Forgive yourself.

Breathe some more.

I thought I needed religion, but the only church I considered following lacked confession. And then I remembered, all I need is writing.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,937 other followers