Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Origins & Fiddlehead Ferns

I walked the land I grew up on today. My aunt Alice, my dad’s oldest sister and the matriarch of the family now, lead the way with her ceaseless wonder, showing me the new heron rookery, crossing the precarious beaver dam without hesitation, glowing about how the water didn’t get into her boots.

My father built this crooked little house by a creek with his brothers and some rugged hippie friends who understood tape measures and figured out the sawmill. It’s owned now by a tall, gentle, bird-loving guy named Bruce who hung that star there, who watches the woodpeckers make tiny holes in the siding that I know he’ll fix one day, who feeds the possum that lives under the barn where my dad used to rehearse with his band; Bruce tells me possums don’t get rabies because their body temperature is so low, and they eat the ticks, so they’re nice to have around. He and his girlfriend, wearing a big smile and a flannel over a GIRLS WILL SAVE THE WORLD t-shirt, invited me to walk around inside, (which I’ll do one day, when we’re not six feet apart in the middle of a pandemic.)

I remember the story my mom told me 
about being eight months pregnant on her back under this house
stapling insulation, that big belly full of me butting up
against the underside of what would become the floors 
where I learned to walk. Bruce gets it, I think: 

A house that you build yourself is this square that lives inside you, 
the angles of which you divvy up in your dreams forever—
a nagging problem (the digging deeper of ditches 
in the pouring rain so water won’t cover the tiles),
a fantastical and ever-shrinking geometry of rooms, 
and if there was a forest around that square 
with paths your own feet wore
and a winding stream you fished with your own pole 
and watched your young children splash around in, 
learning the treacherous shape of rocks
invisible under a fast-moving current, 
then there is a part of you in the chickadees’ song every spring, 
pungent as a fresh head of skunkweed crushed underfoot, 
sweet as the fat blueberries on the bushes you planted yourself 
that will decorate someone else's summer salad. 

This land was where a life began, all idealism and sweat, 
keg beer and a kiddie pool, an upright piano tucked 
behind the stairs where your little girl learned 
to use her big voice and play chords with a one-trick-pony left hand, 
initials carved inside closets, height marks hashed into a door frame, 

a yard pocked with Barbie pond holes 
and impulsive decisions to dig to China 
or at least to the molten center of the earth 
to see if we’d melt or burn. 
Burls in ironwood where the elves bunked down, 
three-inch nails holding two-by-fours hostage 
to lightning-split stumps from forts started on a whim 
and never finished. 

Life bursts forth, 
fiddlehead to fern, 
sun-kissed to brown-tipped, 
leafless and exhausted, 
a porous feather sinking back into the earth, 
buried in months of deep snow...
Only to shoot up again!—
in hairy, fisty little swirls of Irish red 
when the robins have returned, the cycle picking up pace, 
the thumping bass of a grouse nearby, 
orgies of salamanders in shallow pools, 
pollen-thick beams of light through craggy apple branches, 
and the purple flowers of myrtle 
littered like confetti all over the floor. 
New tenants, same lease. 

Is this the invitation god meant to send 
when she licked the stamp? 
Of course it is. I am here again, 
walking the rim with Alice—
right where she was a few years back 
when she ran into my childhood friend, 
who overdosed two weeks later. 
“He was high then, I’m pretty sure,” she said. 
“He talked a mile a minute 
and told me all these stories, 
one about meeting you and Kylee at dawn, 
and she cut her arm on the barbed wire?” 
Seven stitches, and we were grounded for a week, 
and all the other secrets of the land, 
living here still in the space between trees, 
between rocks in the creek, 
in the sticky Balm of Gilead buds, 
the mosses and mushrooms, 
the music of birds and water. 
My dad said that once, 
wrote it into a song…
One note bleeds into the next, 
a continuum through genes, 
both denim and root. 

Before I left today, under the brilliant sun, 
Alice hopped on the shoulders of her shovel and dug up some bulbs for me: 
lilies we labeled Rust, Creamsicle, Burgundy, and Yellow Ruffle. 
I don’t know where to put them out here, in my weedy green canvas 
where no one before me has tamed a thing, 
but I love thinking about some woman, 
years and years after I’m dead, 
beating an egg in her kitchen 
as she looks over explosions of midsummer lilies 
from bulbs some version of me pushed into the soil—
if she smiles, I was here. Still am. 

Bruce’s future imaginary son, not knowing, 
sets a trap for the possums under the barn, 
but they just steal the cat food and escape
into the big black night every time, 
hanging upside-down, 
living only now, 
between earth and sky, 
tails curled like new ferns, 
a history of mischief and hard times
stuck in their crooked, smiling mouths. 


Saturday, February 29, 2020

"It's a Cold and It's a Broken Hallelujah" -Leonard Cohen // Cooper at the Honky Tonk

In her chunky high heels, fishnets, a black sequined romper, charmingly crooked teeth, and strawberry curls piled high in a proper bun, Cooper sang Dolly Parton songs and other country classics at the honky tonk with a band called The Rhinestoners—true Nashville Cats playing bullseye precise licks for tips in their big collar, pearly snap shirts. You don’t find that caliber of musicianship in just any small town across America. They land here in Nashville, backing someone like Cooper Lynn Hays, a practiced and magnetic entertainer of an indeterminate age who lavishly praised Rachel Hester, “Queen of the Honky Tonks,” before she took her turn on stage and walked the band through stops and changes in thirty seconds flat before diving into another standard.
On her break Cooper danced with a friend, and then sat on the sidelines with her long legs crossed, smiling and tapping along as she ate plain potato chips. She flitted down the bar with a jug collecting folded bills for the band between songs. We were delighted, keeping our tabs open, having already played our four-song showcase for a room full of fellow hungry dreamers, industry suits, and the indifference and subtle eyerolls of a bartender, bouncer, and sound tech, who, night after night, watch an endless stream of talent and ambition roll out onto the small stage only to be shuffled off after twenty exact minutes, each musician wrapping cables in a mad dash dumped afterwards into the back lot packed full of open trunks with amps and dreams spilling out. We had found $2 tacos and mezcal margaritas on Fat Tuesday to celebrate the last performance of the tour and landed at Robert’s Western World for Cooper and The Rhinestoners.
Right before close, she took the stage again and said abruptly, “I’d like this to be the very last song I ever sing on this stage.” She paused. There should have been some follow-up. A clarification. Something airy and sweet—a joke. But there wasn’t. She just said it again. “...This will be my last song on this stage... It’s a song by Leonard Cohen.” The rhythm section had left, so it was just the guitar player with his cowboy hat and big red beard, and the keyboard player on a Farfisa and Wurlizter behind her, and they began a familiar chord progression.
“I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played, and it pleased the lord
but you don’t really care for music, do ya?”
The song began to take shape, at first like an old friend over coffee with the update you expect, but then a shift: something catastrophic bubbling up. She wasn’t ready to talk about it, especially here, in this place, but it was coming anyway, an unavoidable chemical reaction, and then like an avalanche, people beginning to take notice, exchange glances, move toward the door.
“But, baby, I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room, and I’ve walked this floor…”
Cooper gestured to the walls, to the floor, and her voice caught in her throat, and then broke altogether over the line, “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.” She wiped a tear from her cheek delicately but not discretely. She messed up the lyrics, repeated an earlier verse, unraveling this time, and wiped away more tears, one at a time, nailing our backs straight into our chairs. She whispered, “Solo,” to the guitar player and swayed with her eyes closed as he hammered on the strings with aggressive tremolo through the entire progression, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”
And then hallelujahs over and over, riding through her torn voice like a horse on fire, shouting and pleading, breaking and bending, and then twisting back down to one perfectly imperfect, soft, and very low last note, hallelujah. She hastily exited the stairs down the front of the stage and ran out into the night crying, hanging a right past the front window, and then she was gone. Vanished. We followed her out, but she was nowhere; she had evaporated into the neon lights of the strip. A drag queen in a big wig with a smile painted on walked out behind us looking both ways for her and took off searching as we stood staring at each other bewildered, wondering, Was it all part of the show? Or what had we just seen? Had we witnessed a last straw? The bruises of separate injuries finally coalesced into one undeniable, dark and complete sentence? The I-can’t-take-it-anymore; the enough-is-enough; the throwing-in-the-towel desperation after giving over your soft skin night after night for years until it is thick and hard and different, and still no one who holds the keys can see that great expense and what you’ve earned and that you should instead be gathered up in the arms of the gods and placed on a pillow among the stars... Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” So what happens when you’ve left yourself cracked open for so long whirling around waiting for the light to find your fissure and dark is all there is? How long can we hold on before the muscles burn out and we have to let go? Was this all a part of the show?
Cooper, I hope that night you took all the bobby pins out of your hair and treated your scalp to the kindness of your fingertips. I hope you smoothed coconut oil into the aching knobs of your feet and that you found a place to prop them up and let the blood drain down. I hope you slept. I hope it was long and deep blue and dreamless. And in the morning, I hope you found your fight again. In this world of thieves and con men, we make our own light. It self-generates within the drippy caverns of our own drive and desire, and we use those power tools to build the stages themselves, to form the very glass of the bulbs that we flick on with our refusal to fall back into the night. Go ahead and disappear, but only so you’ll heal up and return, again and again, until nothing and everything is happening at once, and you are the wheel upon which motion depends.
Was it real? I’m not sure. Did it matter? Of course.
Nashville, you’re just as enchanting as I ever understood you to be, and I can’t wait to return each time I leave. There is no time for dust to gather in the corners of Music City, and the Honky Tonks on Broadway will always be alive with dreams on the cusp of coming true, like a drawn breath, held forever in that instant right before a perfect note rings out and settles the score once and for all. But it never will, and Cooper will be out the next night fighting for it still. I’m back in New York watching snow whip around the barn, silently blessing the wild and dauntless for keeping this fire burning; I bow my head in your honor, and I try again. And again.
*As we stood outside Robert’s Western World searching for Cooper’s ghost, we heard what sounded like gunshots very close by, seven of them I think, in two separate blasts. We all jumped, having just been transported by a devastating performance and now frightened. My friend Julia and I clutched each other as we all hustled back toward the van. The shots stirred homeless people napping in doorways and under the awnings of closed businesses, barking like dogs after a hard knock at the door. Nashville, like so many cities, seems safe is its garish American parade of commercialism. Kid’s Rock’s bar; Jason Aldean’s; Dierks Bently’s. Tourists buying $300 cowboy boots. The Pedal Tavern cycling by in a flurry of drunk cackles. Brisket and baskets of fries. But there is an underbelly and ugly truth to every place you go. We choose what not to see, but sometimes we’re forced to look, and I’d much rather see. We couldn’t find anything about the shots in the news, and, thanks to the internet, I tracked Cooper down and saw she was playing a show the very next night, not at Robert’s (so maybe it was her last performance on that stage) but at another honky tonk, and another one the next night, and I’m sure—I hope—on and on just like that, plucky and unwavering, showering compliments over her fellow entertainers, the consummate yet undiscovered professional. Through anti-lessons, we teach each other to be tough; we are never safe from each other, and there are parts of us that will always stay fragile. The gunshots are not a part of this story, but they were there, and I need the fear they incited to stay. 
~ Each tour comes to form its own character, develops its own inside jokes, and has its highlights and its pitfalls, which become its quirkier memories. I harvested oysters at low tide and ate them that same night. I fell in love with new songs and bands and hugged old friends and slept in so many different beds. 2am Waffle House stops and yoga in corners and pages and pages of handwritten nonsense, all the load-ins and load-outs, new faces, rest stops, killing time, hurry-up-and-wait… I could have kept going and going.  
I heard an old lady in New York City say once, “Every time I go outside, something wonderful happens.” I hope I’ll always feel this way about exposing myself to danger and motion. It is wonderful. For now, I’m happy to be home, writing by my wood stove, still, quiet, and recharged by the bigness of the world.   

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Stop Asking Me When I'm Having a Baby

I need to talk to you about something, and it’s been a long time coming. Please hear me out. This is personal.


Stop asking me why I haven’t.

Stop telling me I should.

Stop telling me you had a dream about me having a baby and what her name was and how I would or will be such a good mother.

Do you have any idea how much I love kids? Maybe you don’t. I’ll tell you. I believe in kids. I am a kid. I fight for kids. I imagine with kids. I teach kids. I champion kids. Kids crack me up. They make me feel alive. I think kids make up a large part of the reason I fight so hard for humans in this violent world and why I believe we grown people might actually be spared from some sort of mass cleansing from this beautiful planet when it decides we are the disease.

To friends my age, younger, and older; to my sisters-in-law who say they can’t fathom having babies into their forties because they’d be so goddamned tired; to the ones who’ve been blessed with children and the ones desperately trying; to the ones pregnant now; the ones on hormones; the single and gay ones buying sperm; the ones entering an uncommonly early menopause with their dreams shattered; the ones driving middle school kids around to camps and sports and lessons; the ones with high school kids who make them question their sanity and capability; the fertile ones who choose a career; the ones pressured and raked across the coals by mothers and preachers; the ones who blacked out and got to the drugstore too late or too broke; to the ones who had an abortion at twenty and pray and wring their hands at thirty-three wishing they could take it back; the fifteen-year-olds who know without a doubt that motherhood/fatherhood is their life’s purpose; the fifty-two-year-olds whose doctors use the word “geriatric,” who hear ad nauseam about risk and who’ve already been told no way…

I support you. Do you support me? I don’t have any idea what’s next, if you must know...which you shouldn’t...but I guess, in this age of information, if you’re not defending yourself, it’s open season… But why do you care so much about what I can or will do anyway? Why do you need to know what I want my body to do? Is it because you think I’d be a good mother? I think so too. Is it because you’re jealous of my freedom? I’m not free. Do you want me to join you in your exhaustion? I’m tired too, and it’s not a competition. Don’t you think I’ve already imagined her eyebrows? Their names and nicknames? Can you not imagine how terrified I might be to raise her in a world on fire and melting down? Plastic water bottles weren’t around when I was born, and now there is an actual island of garbage 600,000 square miles large floating in the ocean. What world would I give them? What losses would they suffer, which bones will she break, and where will he do his laundry? Will there be any clean clothes for them to wear or clean water left for them to drink? Did my parents, young and building a home with their hands, my mom in her mullet and my dad with a fu manchu, think of this, or did they just tip on in?

Isn’t this still my business if I never thought or saw or said any of this? Why do you need to know?

And uh god, I love kids. I love the things they say when they’re delirious with exhaustion, love how honest, how pure, love when they need help putting their snow pants and sunscreen on, love when they cuss in context, love to watch them lie and confess, love the stick figures of families and when they start to dress themselves in leopard print and stripes, love sticky faces and shoes on the wrong feet and hair in sloppy braids they won’t let you fix. I love how malleable they are when you say, “Go help your friend! She’s sad!” and they race to hug her, and then when they look to you for approval, you get to say, “You’re such a good friend,” and watch them beam with pride. I feel so honored to have some part of teaching them to take care of each other before they enter the bigger world where it’s cutthroat and mean; and honored to be an adult kids trust… especially those kids who’ve already learned that adults shouldn’t be trusted. To also be the adult who asks them how and why questions and travels down wild paths in their imagination with them and gut-laughs at nonsensical jokes with them and compliments their still-formless art. Kids are where it’s at, so don’t get it twisted.

I need you to stop asking me. I need you to stop asking everyone. You have no idea what someone’s body cannot make or what their career drive inhibits them from doing. Do not ask me, like Bonnie Raitt got asked, if she regrets not having children, should it come to that...Know my heart will have already broken a hundred times in sacrifice of something I also felt was some form of birth—I have music and a band and aspirations and a trajectory. Know (not that it’s your business) that I never imagined my life without children of my own, but that if it doesn’t happen for me, I will ache sometimes and need the company of yours, as I will have been working diligently at another pursuit...which is a sacrifice of myself, a public one, and one which I committed to when I chose to believe the people around me needed and deserved it. I will have written and sung myself a baby.

Ask me instead how I’m doing. I’m well! Maybe I’ll give life in the traditional way, and maybe I won’t. Right now I’m trying to write songs that make people feel. We could use some songs right now, don’t you think? Isn’t that life? I don’t want to live without music. Everybody’s supposed to do something. Just please, please stop asking me if I’m going to make people. Stop asking anyone ever if they’re going to make people. There are people right in front of you—talk to them while you’ve got them, and let the next generation bubble forth as it’s meant to. We are amoebas. We’re dragonflies on a pond and penguins by the millions and kangaroos bounding through deserts with pouches full of life. Surely you don’t need to know what is or will be inside my womb. Listen to my voice for now instead. One day I may be silent. One day I may want to sing only to my babies. One day I will be dead. But today, while I’m so very much alive, all I want is the punch and the reverb—and I want it to ring around the whole fucking world.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Decade, a Tour, Bees, a Eulogy, the Show

Ten years in, I’m not sure I could define what it means to dedicate your entire being to the craft of music and to find kinship in a small group of people who share an insane dream and commit beside you to a career riddled with potholes and booby traps and barbed wire...which is equal parts moonlight, velvet, and glitter. Taking this path was the oddest and boldest decision I’ve ever made, and whether tenacity or stubbornness has turned the wheels, each time I’ve been unseen, passed over, objectified, or criticized, the simple act of singing itself has remained the irrefutable force that draws me gently back in, without any effort at all. My relationship with music could have gone a number of other ways, but the home I built in The Blind Spots is sweeter, wilder, and more unpredictable, ridiculous, and ever-evolving than any other one I imagined. It’s a brand of motion that suits me. I’ve worked harder at this than I have at anything else in my life, with no guarantee of success. My family and closest friends have watched me suffer through failures and bouts of debilitating self-doubt—I’ve grown thicker skin by default. I’ve debated often about whether these are things I should share or keep to myself; entertainment is a precious illusion that hardworking people invest in because it lifts them up, and if you know too much about gaff tape and the sludge built up behind curtains, the dream is broken, and I don’t want that for anyone… But I’ve opted, time and time again, for honesty, and I guess this time is no different.
This tour was magical. We’ve started to see things happen out there. We are forever streamlining and learning, and parts have gotten easier. I’m waiting for someone to see it all, and say, “Hey, I could make money off these guys...and the show’s pretty alright too.” [*which is me saying we still need management and booking support, so if you know anyone…] We were blessed by human kindness over and over again, and in spite of the unexpected full brake job at the very top of the tour, the mechanic we found is now a friend [hit me up if you need a guy in Wilmington, NC], and I find myself evaluating the whole run as this fortuitous, peculiar, and altogether alive thing. They wear me out, every time. I come home bruised and dirty and desperately in need of things I still can’t afford: a spa day, maybe, with steam and soaking and massage...some fluffy robe I’ve only ever imagined. But, like Patty Smith said, we are “extravagant bums,” and I prefer a feast-or-famine existence to consistent comfort, because at least after days in roach motels on sticky floors, we sometimes end up cruising the gulf jamming bluegrass on a boat with dear friends, and right in front of us, a dolphin shoots its entire body up out of the water in an exultant C-shape, landing with a joyous splash, and we cheer and shriek, wondering at the stunning timing of everything.

We came home to a house full of bees. Yellow Jackets. I am allergic. Bees in the walls, bees on the window panes, a bee in the folds of our blankets, between the seat and bowl of the toilet, on the screen of the laptop, in my bedside water cup. We probably killed hundreds with our two swatters, and when one stung me on the arm in my sleep at seven a.m., sending me to Urgent Care, we finally called the exterminator. During a week of preparation for this album release and ten-year bandiversary party, the temperatures at night were in the low-to-mid-thirties, and we rehearsed five or six hours a night in our unheated barn. I tucked an icepack inside my winter coat to try to ease the swelling of the bee sting, and the guys called me Popeye. Playing music with dear old friends (former band members from the past ten years) plus some Benadryl and wine helped out (I know), and somehow all the things on the to-do list got checked off: the programs, the cue sheet and itinerary, and the merch price list all written, printed, laminated, and placed; the merchandise and my new white gogo boots arrived in the mail in time; the anniversary sheet cake, plates, napkins forks, keg, pizza all paid for and picked up. We pulled it off, and we greeted the sun the next day still celebrating.

But this is what is hardest to talk about. On Monday night of last week, arriving home that afternoon from an eighteen-hour drive through the night from Brunswick, Georgia to Ithaca, New York, Suave’s maternal grandmother, Anna Sheffer, passed away at Binghamton General Hospital. It was fast—she hadn’t been ill long, and at 98 years old, she still remembered an entire family’s birthdays (spouses, grandkids, great grandkids), anniversaries, dog’s and cat’s names. She understood the jokes and had great stories about California. She noticed I wore scarves and bought me few, and one Christmas she asked me if I’d show her how I liked to wear them; I wrapped it around her delicate neck with the loop hanging loose over her throat, either side draping down her tiny frame, and she was delighted. She taught the neighbor’s daughter to sew, and when she asked if the girl wanted to take her machine back to her house across the street, she said no, she’d rather come over to Anna’s house to sew, even once she didn’t need the help anymore. That makes a lot of sense to me.

We took her to lunch at Cracker Barrel as often as we could, and she’d browse the shop in the front: white lace blouses, yard ornaments with kitschy quotes, old-fashioned jellies and hard candy. People opened doors for Anna everywhere we went with her, which I like to believe is evidence that even at a time that feels like the height of our nation’s ideological divide, there exists a nearly universal goodness that surfaces in people when they’re faced with a creature as tender and benevolent as she was—as if, toward the end, we can’t help but look out for each other. Suave and I cried in the car a little every time we dropped her off.

When I met Anna, it was like I got granted another shot at soaking up the wisdom of a great matriarch, after all of mine had passed. And as lonely as it sounds to reach the age of 98, having lost most of the people she had known as a younger woman, including her husband, her friends, and all of her younger siblings, she remained joyful—her blue eyes lit up all the time. She was one of the kindest, most impressive, and selfless women I have ever known. What a gift.

The church service and burial were scheduled for the morning of our show at the theater. When we first booked the show, I had a vision of her sitting in the top row beside Suave’s mom and dad… We set the alarm and drove to Binghamton to greet his wonderful family at the doors of St. Francis of Assisi. The Catholic service was proper, as she would have wanted it, and the burial at the cemetery was fast due to freezing rain, unsuitable shoes, and umbrellas upturned with the ribs poking out from the wind. It isn’t unfair or traumatic, it’s just sad. I’ll miss her so much.

And then the show. Talk about a day of extreme lows to extreme highs. (I’m reminded of June 8, 2010: Suave and I closed on our house, and later that night a vet came to the yard to put down my dying dog, Obleo, and we buried him under a weeping cherry tree. Maybe life gives me both when I can barely handle one.)
I don’t know what more to say about the night and that room full of people, other than that I worked my way with love and sweat through every mile that brought me to that stage, with all those dear friends from different eras of the band, and I’m so grateful to each person who has drawn the music from me and demanded—both passively and dynamically—that I keep going. It was...FUN. It was a lot more than that, but how much can I gush? It’s annoying how honored I feel, how full I feel; crazy how risky it’s all been and how much it’s all been worth it.

To Suave and to Khris, with whom I started this thing a decade ago, thank you for finding me, for continuing to show up, for not allowing me to stay down or discouraged too long, for entertaining and helping me bring to fruition my most ambitious ideas, for bringing yours to the table and rounding it all out, for showing me a different—maybe more dysfunctional but equally valuable!—version of family, for rolling with changes and recovering with me again and again, for turning inward when the outside looks like a sham. It’s all real. We did it.

Thank you to Zach and Aaron and to all of the past members and fill-ins with whom I have made music for sharing your talent and time and laughter. Huge thanks also to the crew and promoters who have helped make these shows not only possible but excellent over the years: John Ryan and Dan Smalls and each of your amazing respective teams. Let us all keep growing together.

I’m going to be quiet for a minute. I miss my family and my best girlfriends and my woodstove and the big rock out by the pond. Fall is the season for windows and color falling down. I’ll be humming through my smile. Drop me a line anytime. I hope you love the new record. I do. Happy Halloween, and DON’T FORGET TO VOTE.
I love you, Blind Spots. “How did I get here? Thank god I got here.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The wind, the howl, the bite

I went in without a camera so that I’d have to use my mind to remember and my words to later relay the sound of my feet on the long wooden walk hovering over still, green water -- nubs of cypress popping through, gathered like babies around the broad bases of moss-covered trunks that begin in some underwater nowhere, without single origin, just spreading wide and slow-mo’ through lowland pools and rupturing over time into the sky--a vast rhizome we cannot see beneath, with heads forty feet high poking into the clouds. The gracious return of springtime sun in South Carolina draws a sweetness out of the wet black-brown loam of the trail, our sneakers leaving stamps of civilization beside oval and palm-shaped leaves, alligator prints, and the early, sparse blossoms that strut in the breeze, a month before bugs and ferns crowd in and make a jungle of this place. 

I have been running--for weeks? months? years now?--barely pausing to rinse the sweat and soil from my clothes and re-pack a bag. I’ve been hungrily collecting adventures, friends, factoids about cities; tallying exits and checking off states; enjoying the last sips late, late at night and peeing on wet grass outside the van in the early morning; I’ve been humbled and rejected and made proud and disappointed and drained and lifted up. And sometimes when I think I’ve been away for an eternity, I come home to find nothing has changed: the curtains are still tied back in the middle; the bank teller with the soft name and soft voice still doesn’t make eye contact; my dead dog’s cherry tree still stands weeping in the middle of the backyard; the vinyl player has collected some dust; the workers in hardhats are breaking for lunch again in the big hole they dug in the center of downtown, probably for another hotel or apartment complex; my neighbor rolls his empty recycling bin back down his driveway; none of the potholes have been patched; and the hipsters smoke cigs outside the coffee shop. I’ve aged and seen and slept too little and practiced yoga on beaches and in ashy corners of spare rooms. There is always sand in my suitcase, and I’m not sure from where. I return home to a stack of bills and two cars in need of repair and no money for any of it, but I’m building a thing (I swear.) And this callusing of skin, this shrugging off of misfortune, this sharpened adaptability, this acceptance of struggle paired with a ruthless, knuckle-down, ever-stretching tenacity are side effects of the drug, and I guess I wear them like a badge. Who do I need to shout at that this is not luck? That you can’t buy it, that I wouldn’t have had the dough anyway, and that nothing can take the place of years of motion while the heart stays scraped clean? That I am not safe but I’m happy? No one, really. When the need to prove falls away making room for the need to create, I’ll know I’ve been pushed into the sweet spot--backed into a corner, I don’t bear my teeth anymore; I’ve wedged my body in and spread my arms wide against the walls, waiting for the wind, the howl, the bite. And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m delighted to be here. 

What I wouldn’t give to have the silence sometimes to make sense of it all; to tell more about it, in chronological order--some faithfully-kept journal, organized and replete, the product of a daily regimen, even if it was just for me...maybe I should, still. But these days I prefer the business to the capture, so I’m tapped in and whirling around. I’ve missed dinners and baby showers and weddings and work and phone conversations with old friends wherein you’ve exhausted all the stories until you’re both left sighing. I’ve been running. Please forgive me what I’ve missed. 

This year I’ve vowed to create more than I have in a long time. I need to release the fruit of my frustration with the world back into it; maybe it’ll help me but it’d be a lot better if it helped us. I think a lot of us do this: sometimes when I’m in a busy public place, I pluck out individual people and I try to imagine their whole life--the times they got in trouble as a child, their favorite foods, their guilty pleasures and much darker secrets, past lovers and the one that got away, their most red-faced embarrassing moment, the time they almost died by pulling out in front of a car they didn’t see, their graduation, a middle school notebook covered with doodles and band names, the time they got fired and how they still replay all the things they should have said, the birth of their first child… Whoever you are, whether I know you or we haven’t yet met or never get a chance to, I want to tell you that I’m proud to be part of your family. I see you trying. And even if I think you’re batshit crazy or you’re just an asshole or that your mama must have dropped you on your head to make you believe what you do, trust the best part of me that says I know we’re in it together, and that I sincerely hope you’re making the most of your brief time here. I’ve taken a short moment to ignore the screens that keep us away from each other, and I’ve been looking around to find you. There you are. (I’m right here too.) See me? I see you.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It's International Yoga Day! Also the Solstice, wherein we celebrate the longest stretch of daylight all year, so--suprisesurprise--I took a beautiful yoga class at my home studio, I pulled weeds in my sweet friends' vineyard, sipped homebrew on their porch overlooking a day's work, and then invited some fam over for an impromptu swim / sausage-and-garlic-scape-(a.k.a. grilled garter snake)-bbq / lightsaber-duel (cousins!kids!) ~ I just wanna give a heartfelt shoutout to all of my [yoga] teachers, especially mi prima, Larita, whose passion brought me to the mat from the start and inspired in me the pull to keep showing up.


To me, yoga is everything the same way music is everything--it is accessed in pulling vineyard weeds while cursing at the most stubborn roots and returning the chickadees' mating volley; in answering sixty-seven questions a minute from a seven-year-old who wants her pond-soaked butt on your lap and in whose wild eyes and sunny freckles you see your entire past; in walking to the grill with a stack of plates in the crook of one arm and her hand in your other hand; in the way you don't just say 'fuckit' and call someone you know you cannot but breathe and change the radio station instead; in squeezing a wedge of lemon into your morning cup and in using the last of your freezer vodka to mix drinks for a houseful of road-weary lunatics at 2am; in vacuuming the ceiling cracks with an extension before strangers arrive; in assuring your best friend who just bought a house that you will be there after the closing to scrub the cupboards before her dead father's favorite pint glass finds its home there; in watching, with beaming admiration, your husband in his grout-caked work pants put on dorky ear protection and hop on the John Deer and mow for hours with his bad posture; in each dip, swallow, and melting exhale; in every slow swooping note and in the sticky staccato ones too; in your hand to your heart when there are a million questions and in your hand to your heart when you are the void with not a thing to ask; in the meander and the punchline and the thesis and the epilogue; in the journey between disregard and supreme care...

Vira. Viraviravira. Warrior. Baby. Old, old lady. Thanks to this practice for letting me in.

Thanks to the sun for shining so long.

Thanks to you for reading and for reciprocating. 

"The light within me honors the light within you ~ Namaste."

Monday, May 1, 2017

M’AIDEZ! M’AIDEZ!: We are stuck, but we’re still moving.

The dandelions are closing up shop as the sun dips behind a mountain in Reed Point, Montana, population 96, the “sheep drive capital of the world.” Lethal, the bartendress at The Waterhole Saloon, fed us deep fried “rocky mountain oysters” (bull testicles) on the house while we waited by the wood stove for the mechanic to call us back about the busted bearings on our trailer. I ordered a burger and two Buds, Suave played Neil Young and The Doors on the jukebox, and Khris lost some money in a slot machine with neon lights and nailed a quarter into a knotty beam alongside hundreds of others—a tradition in this rustic dive, for luck or for wishes or maybe just to kill the boredom—a thing to do with one’s hands and spare change in a place from which some people never leave and to which no one ever comes to stay. We are crawling along I-90 East at five miles per hour, stopping every half mile or so to let the bearings cool again with fifteen miles to go until we hit the town with a mechanic, who is done working for the day and may be able to help us tomorrow, so we’ll likely sleep in the van again until sunrise. Zach is wrapping some sage he found on the side of the road, and Suave is snoring softly again. I may have enough water left in my bottle to brush my teeth, but what I really want is the longest, hottest shower followed by the deepest, darkest sleep. If it sounds like a complaint though, it isn’t—I have made such bold, oddball choices that could have led nowhere but here, and even in my cross-eyed exhaustion with every muscle sore and a touch of homesickness for my mama and her broccoli-tofu-kasha and the big rock by my pond and breathless chatty hikes with my darling Maria, I am fine…we’re all fine. We’re not even silent. We’re actually still laughing.

Our president has declared May 1st as Loyalty Day, a day on which we are asked to blindly and generally assert our national pride, with the tenants of freedom, justice, equality, and independence (“limited government”) in mind—the very tenants that his presidency has repeatedly threatened. He also “humbly thank(ed) our brave service members and veterans”…right after we watched in horror as he congratulated (not thanked) a soldier who lost his leg in battle; trump casually, almost patronizingly, patted the Purple Heart onto the chest of this hero whose life was forever altered after serving his country…He actually congratulated this man for the great honor of receiving a Purple Heart, which allowed him to meet the president, rather than thanking him for his service. May Day, among other things, has been known in the United States as International Workers’ Day, wherein people protest for workers’ rights and other issues of social justice. To celebrate the rights we haven’t yet been granted on this particular day is such a farce and such a transparent attempt at placating a struggling populace: say loud enough and enough times that things are great—“tremendous”—and even those people who can’t feed their children or pay their rent will feel grateful, at least for a moment, to be part of something powerful. They’ll have something to celebrate under a “leader” who promises (in the simplest terms, with no substantive content or plan) to pull them out of the muck; and they’re told that that mucky buildup is the fault of someone else and that we’re on the right path up now. But conmen don’t clear the way for anyone but themselves, and the paradox of asking people to declare loyalty on a day traditionally dedicated to protesting for their own fair treatment is perplexing. It’s downright dizzying.  

Pema Chödrön, from the Afterword to her 20th Anniversary edition of Things Fall Apart
“There’s a famous dharma saying that goes: ‘If you want to see what has brought you to this point, look at your past thoughts and actions. If you want to see your future, look at your present thoughts and actions.’ What’s happening in today’s world is the result of the collective thoughts and actions of everyone on the planet. We can’t just erase everything what has led up to this and make things better all at once. But we can each take responsibility for our own state of mind as we for forward into the future. Instead of continuing to close down and defend our own territory, we can learn to relax with the true nature of reality, which is uncertain and unpredictable. This is the only way to transform the world from a place of escalating aggression to a place of awakening. Learning how to relate sanely with our chaotic world is no longer a luxury. It’s our responsibility. Good thing it’s something we’re all capable of doing.”       

Upon the second vehicle breakdown in the same day, I texted a friend asking if it was okay to cry yet. I asked it in earnest in that brief moment, but truthfully, I know how much control I actually have over these thoughts and over the prospect of falling apart or not. Our human capacity is kinda miraculous when we find ourselves living full of dedication and sacrifice to something we believe in. To live true is energizing and is the escape route out of so much injurious inertia; we apply our force to move forward when we BELIEVE. trump and his flying monkeys would prefer us paralyzed in fear and miseducation, but we are better than that. We see clearly, and we can choose to be unrelenting. Tonight from I-90 straddling the rumble strip at 5mph, I’m casting an intention (a prayer if I prayed) for the people I know, for those I haven’t met yet, and for those I never will: I wish you such passion that it renders all the labor—all the bullshit, the soreness, the pitfalls and potholes and breakdowns and bruises—a desperate act of love. I hope you love what you do so much that you’re never bored, and I hope you fight for it every day. M’AIDEZ! M’AIDEZ!—We are certainly stuck here, but we’re still moving, and I hope you whip up all that stuck-ness and longing and frustration into a fiery affair with the ride itself… I mean, how else does one meet a bartender named Lethal in Reed Point, Montana and sample fried bull testicles?