The Hazards of Love

For at least a dozen years, I loved a boy who always put me second. I pretty much defined myself by my role as lover-of-this-particular-boy. It led to a great deal of heartache on my part. As far as I can tell, he loves me. He always has, and perhaps always will. That love, though, meant different things to each of us at different points in our lives. I would have uprooted my life to be with him once, but when he was ready for me to come to him, I wasn’t ready to go.

“I always feel like we’re meant to be together in the end,” he said recently.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. Not anymore.”

 

A few months ago I woke up from a sound sleep and sat straight up in bed. I looked at my dog.

“I love you,” I told the dog. “What have I done?

This tiny soul, occasionally sullen at a rude awakening or leash correction but otherwise generous of heart to a fault, has trapped me. I love him, and it makes me impossibly vulnerable. In all likelihood, I will watch him die. How did I let myself become this attached?

 

Last weekend I visited an old friend. It’s safe to say we love each other. It’s not always easy. We’ve been friends a long time, and our friendship has evolved as we have. His mother stopped by while I was visiting and accused me of a relatively minor offense. I was certain I was not guilty of said offense, but my friend would not come to my rescue. Mom comes first. It was unfair of me to expect otherwise, and yet in my heart I did. My feelings were hurt.

 

There is man for whom I have a deep fondness. A deep, patient, abiding kind of affection. He is brilliant and serious and wry. I think if we were put to the test, we might survive the ocean of sacrifices and personal changes necessary to make a life with one another, but we both bring a lot of baggage to the table. Least of all, we live in opposite parts of the world. The outcome is uncertain, as the eight ball would profess.

 

My mother was once my closest friend. She probably still knows the most about me. By some miracle, our relationship survived my tumultuous adolescence and flight to California from her nest. I love her impossibly. I love her much more than she loves herself. (The reverse, in defense of motherhood, is probably true.) She can still ask questions, though, that flatten me. “What are your plans? she asks. “What are your plans?” Plans are self-delusion, I want to say. The future is unknowable, I want to say, but I don’t want to fight with her. “I don’t know yet, Mom.”

 

I spent some time in lands controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this year. Specifically, I was in the Sonoran desert. I had spent some time in the high desert before I arrived to camp for a few days in the arid environs of US Route 8 in Arizona, so I was partially adjusted to the dryness and sun. There is no place in the world so beautiful to me as that land. Blue, maroon, and grey mountains frame the horizon at the edges of the broad world. Saguaro cacti and creosote bushes grow here and there between stretches of dirt and sand, and the land is crossed with dried stream beds that cut new paths every rainy season. I did yoga for hours at a time. I took the dog on daytime excursions that left us scuttling back to shade. My lips cracked, my skin peeled, and my car died. I love the desert. It cannot love me back.

 

Yesterday, I was privileged to be at the memorial service for Jing Lyman. She was the grandmother of one of my oldest and dearest friends. She and her husband took me along when they treated their granddaughter to a tour of Europe just before starting high school. I knew her as the accomplished and disciplined grandmother. She was much more than that: a fighter for equality of almost every kind. She gave her seemingly limitless energy to a laundry list of organizations and causes over the course of her lifetime.

Listening to her colleagues, children, and grandchildren speak at the memorial, I was left with a sense of the way her love echoed in her people. Her mentees spoke of the warm shine of her conviction and faith, which gave them the self-confidence to accomplish great things. Her children are all incredible, deeply thoughtful people in their own right. In one short lifetime, she built a network of greatness through her love of fairness and equal opportunity.

Yet she is gone. We cannot love her back. Is that is the great hazard of love: to know that in the end, all we have is to shine it outward, to pour it forth on whatever catches our hearts and minds, and let the outpouring be enough? No, I think not. I think the hazard of love is to walk through this desert life and not let our love catch us up on whatever happens to cross our path. We must choose, as carefully as we are able, where to shine our love.

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Tucson

I stopped at a Starbucks and got the dog out for a walk. We wandered down a dirt alley behind the store, which turned into a proper street after about a block.

One-story adobe houses with pebbled yards lined the road. Saguaro cacti big as a hug and taller than the buildings sprung up at irregular intervals, interspersed between scrubby trees. Quixo sniffed amiably at the edges of things, and I walked behind him, lost in thought, bathed in sunlight.

At the street’s corner, I swung in a slow semicircle to look back over my shoulder because something had caught my eye. The tree was barely taller than I was, with shiny, bright green leaves. Why had I turned? There was something about the tree, it was…

Limes. It was utterly covered in limes, and it was not alone. The entire street, both sides, was lined with lime trees.

This was something akin to wandering into a house and discovering it was made of candy. These were no prized backyard specimens. They were street ornamentation. The same way Mainers might plant maple or oak, some Tucsonian had planted limes. Dozens of black, rotting rinds at the base of each tree intimated an overabundance. The lime trees’ ease of production betrayed my rarefied concept of their fruit.

I picked a lime leaf and smelled it, sucking in through my nostrils until the leaf stuck there of its own accord. I put it in my mouth, crushing thin veins of emerald along the tip with my front teeth.

Flowers. Citrus. Chlorophyll. Each bite brought stronger memories and images, Indian pavilions, the indolence of collegiate Sundays, first tastes of new cuisines, a backyard I knew with my eyes shut.

I dropped off the dog and walked into Starbucks, a lime leaf between my lips.

This is, so often, how I experience the world: at sea in amazement and ecstasy in a world of the utterly ordinary. Out of touch, perhaps, but simultaneously so engaged I could cry.

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Get Important

l am in a long fight with myself. It’s like a kind of fight I’ve seen married people have, where the disagreement can fade into the background for long periods of time, but a minor event can bring it roaring to the forefront. I struggle to feel that I am important.

Best comeback I ever concocted: my partner at the time said, “Hey, I matter.” I replied, “You’re made of matter.” Chortle! Knee slap! Unfortunately I think it was a pretty accurate reflection of my views about myself.

It is imperative that you get important to yourself as soon as possible. I am not consistently important to myself, but the good things come out when I am. I quit placating and taking undue responsibility for other people’s thoughts and emotions. The time I spend with myself gains value.

Although I believe in the nobility of service, as well as the personal rewards it bequeaths, (You are now leaving the linguistic Middle Ages. We hope you have enjoyed your stay.) I think that true selflessness must ultimately arise from a place of self-respect.

In the end, if you’re not even worth your own time, who are you doing it for? Have an opinion. Honor yourself. Get important.

P.S. l took a long hiatus from this blog in order to process some personal stuff. I’m back now. See you next week.

Savannah

Savannah was a tourist trap. As I continue to find, the cities of which I was fondest on my last trip across the country are often just the places with the warmest weather. (l hope it isn’t true of New Orleans – I really loved New Orleans.) In this instance, I allowed myself to eat too much food that was bad for me, got powerfully sick, and failed to find a parking spot close to a real bathroom. It was also miserably cold, intensified by my intestinal discomfort.

No music was made in Savannah, even. A wash, a loss, a low point.

l did learn one thing: my phone battery discharges faster the colder it gets. This is getting to be a problem. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to fix it in Florida, my next stop.

Dreams of a Different Life: Charlotte, Part 2

Sad as I was to leave Amy, the show must go on. On my way out of Charlotte, I accepted the gracious offer of some newly-discovered family to have a good meal and make some music.

I had met Kerry and Laura at my sister-in-law’s baby shower. By the end of the night we were singing “Seven Bridges Road” in 3-part harmony for the remaining revelers. Safe to say, we hit it off.

This visit was no different.

I wonder sometimes how best to make visitors feel welcome. My life has been privileged so far, in that I have been lucky enough to see how many different kinds of people keep house. I’ve seen couples rattle around enormous, richly appointed mansions. I’ve seen scholars ensconced in apartments crammed to bursting with books and texts. I’ve met witches in their sacred spaces and punks in their hovels. I’ve been to a magnificent house built to look like an anthill. Filthy bachelor pads, recluse mouse nests, Zen Buddhist bedrooms.

Looking back on all these varied spaces, it becomes painfully obvious to me that I’ve missed a basic premise: live as you want. The right kind of welcome finds its intended guest. You can’t please everyone. (“You can’t please everyone” has proved a hard lesson to drill into this brain of mine.)

There is nothing I can tell you of my visit to their house that doesn’t pale in comparison to how it felt inside, to be their guest. Laura and her daughter rolled out my very favorite musicals. The piano rang, we sang. Nothing ostentatious. Honest. Wonderful.

That night, I found a new piece of the life I want. I never knew before that making music alone felt selfish and empty in contrast to this unpretentious collaboration.

“I can do this,” I thought. “I have the instruments, the musical know-how. I just need to pick the place.”

I did not expect to find visions of my future in Charlotte. Yet there they were, inimitable and large as life. I want a place to call home, a place to make selfishly my own, a place for music among friends and sometimes solitude.

Where will I land? The question remains. New Orleans and the Southwest are on deck.

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St. Christopher has a plan.

Dreams of a Different Life: Charlotte, Part 1

l stopped in Charlotte to visit an old friend and jam with some new ones, glad to leave the panhandlers of Asheville. I did not expect to find new visions of the life I want to lead.

I met Amy in college. My friendship with her is one of those rare ones, where our lives rush by in years at a time but we talk like we last spoke yesterday. My week with her passed rapidly, as I slipped in sideways to the everyday of her life.

On the surface, Amy is a dog walker and owner, and a rabid fan of Norman Reedus. In fact, you can find all the Reedus eye candy your sweet tooth can handle at her tumblr blog, here.

She lives alone in a fastidiously kept apartment. She has loyal friends, but other than the company of her dog and her family, she keeps mostly to herself.

Now, I am not Amy. I cannot speak for her inner life. But, from the outside looking in, I want what she has. She has cultivated a quiet, uncluttered life. She has an outstanding collection of music by singer-songwriters. She likes her work, and it affords her freedom and flexibility at the same time. She has a set of interesting hobbies into which she pours her creativity and intelligence. She is a deeply thoughtful, intelligent, and moral individual.

All that, I wish for myself. If this adventure has taught me anything thus far, it’s that I overcomplicate everything. I surround myself with superfluous things. I would have a new hobby every week if I could!

Yet the more belongings I shed, the more hobbies I resign from (no, I will never be a calligrapher), the less stress I feel. My head clears, and not so much so I can spend more time on myself, but so I have more mental resources to lavish on the people and world around me.

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Amy, walking her dog.

Specialization

I spent a lot of time and money making this way of life a reality. I relinquished my apartment, sold my car, and gave most of my belongings to Goodwill. I left friends and family behind.

Ostensibly, the trip was designed to give me the time and motivation to develop myself as a musician and a performer. Alone on the road, with no distractions and no income save what my music could bring in, I imagined a musical life, interrupted only by new friends and walks with my dog.

So far, I have become an expert in stealthy overnight parking. I can walk in anywhere and use the bathroom without buying anything. I can go a week and a half without a shower and not look or smell homeless. I know the difference between regular and premium in my gas mileage. The stress on my system has wreaked havoc on my intestines, so I now have a wealth of knowledge about every OTC drug for vomiting, gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.

Is this the learning curve? Am I simply acclimating to a radical lifestyle change? My sickness so far has surely interfered with my music. I’ve lost days at a time, huddled under covers watching a world walk by my window. Pedestrians and traffic both blissfully ignorant of two tiny eyes watching from behind translucent curtains.

This is not the life I envisioned. I knew it wouldn’t be glamorous, but I was hoping for a bit more romance than this. At least a Polaroid has some aesthetic to it; this is more like a still shot from a grainy security camera. Do I need to reconsider? Is my plan a failure?

Certainly, I’m not learning all that I planned to learn. In a way, I have gained specialized knowledge I could never have anticipated. Yes, I’m feeling a bit adrift. I hold out hope that all this will gel into something cohesive in the future. For now, look for me washing out my underwear in a rest stop and nursing cups of coffee for hours at a time in Starbucks. Life on the road!

Taken In

My grandfather got taken in by a confidence man, late in his life. The saga was impossible to watch without your jaw dropping.

Dad, we’re buying you a flight to the wedding,” my father said to Grampa.

No, no: not necessary,” his father replied. “Charlie’s flying me down there. He’s got his own plane.

Charlie was flying him somewhere, alright.When Charlie failed to come through, time and time again, you had to wonder why Grampa kept believing. At some point, you grow skeptical. At some point, you must lose hope.

Asheville, NC.

Asheville has a mansion and Asheville has a college. Asheville has rivers and mountains and sand. Asheville has music and Asheville has hippies. Asheville has buskers with good spots to stand. Except for Jeremiah, I really enjoyed Asheville. I met good folks at an open mic night at Tall Gary’s Cantina (Hi, Mike! Hi, Stray Dog!), and played to wild acclaim. For Halloween, I went out as the constellation Cassiopeia. A man at the bar bought my costume (really, just a string of twinkly lights) at the end of the night. A wildly sweet lady bought me noodle soup for dinner (Hi, Linden!). A British couple told me the story of their 7 weeks in America and theme wedding in Vegas. I met kids who walked from New York.Old punks stopped me on the street to tell me how to sing sweeter folk songs. Quixo (my dog) got more attention than he knew what to do with. Overall, it was a fantastic time, except for Jeremiah.

Jeremiah walked up to me second thing in the morning. I was standing outside my van, smoking a cigarette. His curly hair was mostly salt-and-pepper gray. He had a wholesome, L.L. Bean-looking green cotton sweater. His khakis were stained with blood.

“I see that you’re from New Hampshire. I’m with the Bread and Puppets Theater – they’re from Vermont! We played a show last night at the college, and I fell off my stilts. That’s how I got this black eye. Can I tell you three jokes?”

Any sane person would say no.

“Sure!”

He told me three jokes. I guessed the punchline to one of them. He offered to reward me with a joint (no, thank you). He said his friends needed bus fare back to the college. Did I have three dollars? I had one (my last, at the time), but he was welcome to it. He told me he could read auras. He read mine. He told me he wasn’t hitting on me, he had a girlfriend. He smoked the end of my cigarette. He told me he was a member of the Grateful Dead Family. He called me Sister Bear. He said he knew a place to take a free shower (no Planet Fitness in Asheville). He could show me where it was, but he couldn’t give me directions. Could I give him a ride?

If I were watching it unfold on T.V., I would be shouting at the screen. I would be cursing the writers for making the woman a victim again. I’d be thinking, “Oh God. I can’t watch.Continue reading

The Daily Phone Drama

Phone, I need to get to Charlotte.
I am dying.
I just charged you this morning! It took two hours, but you got to 100%, and you’ve been in airplane mode most of the day!
I am dying.
Ok, how long have you got?
26% charged.
Well, just plot the route to Charlotte and I can take a picture of the directions.
Route plotted. Battery now at 15%.
… Dafuq?
Battery at 4%.
No! No! Scrap Charlotte. Get me to the nearest Starbucks so I can charge you in the morning.
Did you mean any of the Starbucks in the last five states you’ve visited?
No, find me, find the Starbucks near me!
Did you mean Star Buckers 24-hr Porn Emporium in Duluth?
I hate you.
Powering down.
Wait, what town am I in? Tell me where I am!

I never know where I wake up.

Burying The Past

I am standing halfway between two opposing forces, on a field of blood and loss. On the surface, all is calm, although the horizon is dotted with monuments to the past battle. The war is both distant and immediate, overgrown but impossible to forget. Four score and seven years ago: I have come to Gettysburg to bury the past.

My parents were married for 16 years before their divorce. I think they were only together for about five of those years, two of which included me.

Like all adults, their reasons were complicated, and I’m sure they were both doing their best.

Meeting my father’s girlfriends, making room for them in my young heart, and losing them over and over – all without any explanation of the real nature of their relationship with my father – took a toll on me. Worse, though, was the echo of my mother’s devotion on my heart.

Mom told me recently that two days after they married, they arrived in their new house to find a letter from his high school sweetheart, professing love, a sense of missed destiny, and regret. “I think that I never really felt close to him, after that,” she mused. She earned a gold medal of devotion, though. My mother: ever optimistic, ever hopeful, ever faithful and patient. She waited for him to come home and be her husband.

I have done the same. A life spent waiting for men to come to their senses and realize that I’m what they want. I didn’t know anything else. I recreated my parents’ marriage, aware that I was doing so but unable to break the pattern.

My mother gave me her wedding ring when she remarried. My father’s ring is buried somewhere in the concrete of a nuclear power plant, not far from his home. An accident. An early loss. A portent.

My mother and father came here with me when I was a baby. It was one of their last family trips. There is a picture somewhere of my father with sunglasses and feathered seventies hair, my mother looking like Joan Baez. There I was, too, a tiny human strapped to her, tied to her fate.

From the Union line, the Virginia monument to her fallen sons seems miles away. Thistle and milkweed crackle and hiss in the wind as I trudge across this impossible distance, a house divided, a nation at war.

The North’s side is peppered with small obelisks and monuments along the Angle and the Copse of Trees, honoring each battalion. In contrast, at the tree line where Lee stood and directed his men to slaughter, the Virginia monument is a lone monolith. An appropriate metaphor.

I walk back to the halfway mark. Despite being clenched in my fist for the whole two hours I’ve been here, the ring is still cool to the touch. Impassive, striped in bands of multi-hued golds. The sun is close to setting, but has taken on none of the colors of sunset. The light is gray. The wind whips by.

I ask forgiveness for the sins we commit in pursuit of living our lives. I ask for understanding from both sides of this old war. I ask for freedom from old patterns, and I ask for a new way in the future.

Is this the right way? Will anything change? Have I lost my mind? I think of that sunny 1980s day, of the three of us on our separate trajectories but aligned for that moment in time. I think of the blood of the soldiers, how this placid earth holds the memory of so much pain and I know, Yes. This is how it must be done. Such a small thing, with such a heavy burden. A small tomb will suffice, a place from which to watch the world grow old, to weather seasons. An inverted monument to my past. Ghosts will keep company in kind. A new soul leaves this place, quick to the world like the sharp wind through the weeds, like grey sun on granite.

My mother’s wedding ring is buried at Gettysburg.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”