Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two concerts

I was a born-again freshman sitting in the St. James dining hall when the hippie-chick librarian raised her hand. "I'm getting tickets to see Stevie Ray Vaughn in concert if anyone is interested in going." I knew who Stevie Ray was, but hadn't really listened to him. He didn't fit my lexicon of hardcore/punk-reggae-and-heavy metal that I had dialed in at the time.

It would be a few years later that I couldn't hear his songs enough. That "Pride and Joy" would be a shared song for Robin and I (by virtue of just digging it and dancing when Bad Influence or Tino Martinez would play it at Pope's Tavern in Oxford).

The librarian, who was also new at St. James that fall, went to see Stevie Ray. It's one of two concerts I wish I had a do-over, that something had spoken to me and said, fu%^ it, you aren't doing anything, do yourself a favor and go to that show. Now I'm not talking about a concert like saying you should have gone to see Bob Marley or Jimi Hendrix--your dream concert--rather a concert you had opportunity and offer to go see, but opted not to. Just because. And then you don't get another chance to.

Stevie Ray was dead before I really started rocking to him. It goes to the carpe the diem theory. Sometimes you've got to jump at the opportunity. Because you never know.

The second concert came probably seven years later. Sitting in a fraternity house at N.C. State. Kretzer and Murphy and a few friends were heading over to Chapel Hill to the Dean-Dome to see Blind Melon and Lenny Kravitz. Everybody knew Blind Melon's "No Rain" and Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," but the show didn't seem that epic. There would be other chances.

And then there weren't. And it was only after the fact that I started burning up Blind Melon's first album and looking for more music from them. That I realized how cool it would have been to check them out that night. A night I did really nothing in particular.

I try to remind myself that I had opportunity and offer to see Stevie Ray and Blind Melon. And I didn't. I try to look at opportunities now and make sure I carpe the diem when opportunity and offer come together. Or I try to bring the two together.

What are your (two) concerts? Those things offered up that you wish you had jumped at. I'm not one to go back and rearrange shit--I think that your decisions and opportunities, etc. ultimately lead you to where you are and who you are? But man those would have been fun shows.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dispatch from Ocean City

Thunder and lightning. Dark-colored wifebeater t-shirts. William Carlos Williams. Abita Amber. Sipping rum. Donavon Frankenreiter. Bob Burnquist. Bucky Lasek. Green machines. Captain America. Washington Nationals. Ink jones. Plastic cupping the beach. Morning bike rides to the inlet.

Ocean City in the morning smells like deep-fried food and breakfast meat. I can smell powdered sugar clinging to funnel cake. My morning bike rides to the skatepark and the inlet are an olfactory pilgrimage through tightly-packed miniature golf courses, Sunsations and Candy Kitchens.

My family has been making our summer trip to Ocean City since my sister and I (now in our 30s) were the same ages as our kids (oldest is 9, youngest is 3). It is a rite of summer. And this summer, we've had bonus fun as Seth Pettersen and Donavon Frankenreiter played at Seacrets here and the Dew Tour, skateboard, BMX and surfing has just gotten underway at the beach. It makes me think of our frequent runs to Atlantic Skates and the Ocean Bowl and seeing Mike Vallely jump off the top of a construction trailer, landing on his board to start his run for an amateur street skating contest probably 24 years ago.

I read and write less at the beach than at home. Maybe that's part of the vacation mindset, a physical and mental break. I look around at everyone else reading and sometimes want to, but my mind is vibrating and/or crashing and receding on the sand with the waves. It won't sit still. And then when the kids get up ready to walk on the beach, or go swimming and jump in the waves, or play Jungle Golf or hit Jolly Rogers.

And that's mostly what the trip is about. Building shared memories with our girls, our larger family, their cousins/our nephews. They talk about the trip year-round--at first remembering the things they just did, then mixing those in with what we are going to do next year, or counting down to the coming trip. I like that the ocean is a part of their collective memory. I like that their feet are partly made up of burning beach sand and that their is wet sand beneath their fingernails from digging for sand crabs. And I celebrate the fact that we haven't brought home a hermit crab...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can't not

It's the sparsity that speaks. A man sits alone in his shirtsleeves, a desk and typewriter in front of him in a simple wooden shack or shanty on the water. It's the kind of view that will cause the mind to wander, coupled with a lack of distraction. There is no fluff. There are only thoughts leading to words. Not just any words: the right words.

He sits there and tries to work it out. Tries to say what he has to say because he has to. He can't not.  It's primal and inherent in him. He might be the tide, the breeze or the sun. He is just carrying out his purpose.

I've always dug that photo. I first saw it as the cover to E.B. White's "One Man's Meat." It's the archetypal writer, in any age, all you need to do is change his tools to suit the era.

Maybe it's the influence of reading Palahniuk, but I sometimes picture this scene with there also being a gun on the desk. For specificity, we'll call it a 9mm--a shotgun would throw off the balance of the desk.

The writer then has two options for how to express himself. There are times, if the words aren't coming, if genuine communication seems compromised, that shooting a hole in the wall of the shanty probably says as much as any words could. Yeah, it's probably best if writers don't keep handguns on their desks.

But for me, this morning, it's the primacy of words, the right words. When distractions abound and I'm not sure what, if anything, I have to say. When words are strewn like litter, used and tread on and I'm picking them up and turning them over, I dig calling up this picture. The writer, stripped down. The words. The attempt. The purpose.

The can't not.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Unencumbered (like a cucumber)

Growing up, we spent more time in the marsh across the street than we did in our houses. Maybe our thoughts took on the shape of cattails or were muddy like brackish water. Maybe they wound through brush like the trails that were bushhogged for us to explore.

Our girls just went for 30 days without watching television, allowed just one movie a day. They were/are not vidiots (video idiots) to begin with--they prefer their bikes, the park, the pool, the beach--but it has been cool to see their minds work differently when they think about what to do next.

And maybe that's the thing: allowing your thoughts to take the shape they would take if they were unencumbered. Unencumbered like a cucumber, free from the pickle jar.

My grandfather was a recovered alcoholic, who didn't drink for the last 50+ years of his life. He worked to help others with their recovery and frequently spoke to groups and on the radio. I remember a statement he made about alcoholism and if you could ever be "better," no longer an alcoholic.

"A cucumber is a cucumber, but once you turn it into a pickle, you can't turn it back into a cucumber."

Granted this thread is held together by the fact that unencumbered and cucumber happen to rhyme, one leading me to think of the other and my grandfather's quote, but what else are you going to string your thoughts together with?

The point is influence, is the encumbered nature of our waking thoughts. Unencumbered (the cucumber state) is almost impossible and maybe not even desirable, but maybe we can be mindful of the influences that shape our thoughts.

Only very slowly does my thought swim across the river,
Weighed down as it is by the suit men forced it to wear.

That is a line I read this morning by Fernando Pessoa, which seemed to connect a bunch of disparate threads.

Fucking suits, the encumbered nature of our waking thoughts, which will be more concerned with straightening their ties and shining their shoes if we don't let them ramble, to see where they'll drift.

Back in the marsh across the street, the river got shallow, came together and was easier to cross through clumps of tall grasses. We took boards we found and made foot bridges so we could get across to the shore on the other side.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Something in the eyes

There is something in the eyes. Those folks who have had to contend with their demons. The folks who have had to strip themselves bare and examine, change or reach an understanding about parts of themselves.

It's a look I've seen in the eyes of endurance athletes, particularly ultra runners and triathletes. When you've been running or underway for three, four, five or 20 hours and aren't finished, or maybe even close to finished, you can start to break down physically, mentally, psychologically. I know I can start to lose it.

The question becomes: how will you/I put it back together?

Will I allow myself to crumble and quit? Or will I figure out what I need to keep going, to rally, to finish?

For me, it isn't always pretty. But what comes with that decision and gumption to continue means everything.

It's a gift--the ability and opportunity to test myself in different ways. I don't think I've ever taken it for granted, but even less so now having passed five weeks without running (fu%*ing ankle).

This past Saturday, six of us met at the Miles River Yacht Club for an open water swim out to a mark in the Miles River. It was a 3/4 mile swim. I was the lone non-swimmer among a group of solid/strong aqua people. Coupled with the fact that my ankle won't flex to kick while swimming freestyle, I was the slow boat.

It's been a long time since I have swum any distance. But it felt like swimming in the river always has to me: see something a ways off and see if I can swim to it, and back. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

After my forward floating, a couple of us biked the 13 miles back to Easton, while the rest rode to Tilghman and back. My bike is a single-speed, which I have been digging for the flat land known as the Eastern Shore.

Where this post came from is both dealing with injury, redefining my activities, both for the moment and the long haul. And from the look in the eyes of the swimmers. Those who had put their time and training in; who looked effortless in their strokes, unlike my "survival" brand of swimming.

It's something in the eyes. It's a look you know when you see it. A contentment that comes from continuous effort, on the other side of struggle and through self-searching.