Friday, September 30, 2011

Mosaic vs. map

It's like a map, the story. If I take out the narrative thread, I will probably lose myself. You will probably get lost at sea--how else would you find your way? The story is the GPS, it gives you directions for which way to go.

And yet, we don't work by story alone. We improvise, intuit, fly by impressions. We don't have to understand something to like it.

Impressionist paintings make shitty road maps. You aren't likely to arrive at your destination. You are getting the feeling, the take of the artist. There are writers or musicians who do likewise. They string together impressions, ending up with a mosaic, not a map. Fragments that don't equal a story, but reveal the intersection of reality and one particular soul. And if it works, our soul recognizes both the artist, the impression, and itself--our soul regarding another and itself.

Our daughter's impression of cool. Jeff Tweedy as musician. Joe Flacco or Hines Ward as football player. Ryan Zimmerman as baseball player. Living on a farm, with her friend and collecting eggs from their chickens to eat, as adulthood, self-sustaining. Working at a bank, because that's where money is. That's their plan for when they turn 18.

Childhood seems to oscillate between impressions, the mosaic, and coherent narrative, the map. Come to think of it, so does adulthood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Source materials

I'm always digging for source materials. The foundation that holds someone or something up, or the clothespins that hang them/it on a line.

If a writer, musician, artist or athlete I am a fan of sheds light on inspirational source materials, I'm taking that walk. If it resonates, I'm starting the dig. So when I read that Jeff Tweedy pulled some fire from William Gass's "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country," I reached onto my bookshelf to dip back into a book I hadn't picked up in a while (Gass's "On Being Blue" occupies one of the strangest, but most coveted places on my bookshelf)

And when poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi cited Robert Pogue Harrison's "Forests," and then followed up by warning me, "it's so good it will melt your brain," well, I've gotta take that chance. That's the tangential nature of my reading, writing, music, etc. I'm frequently following a thread.

For a few years now, Wilco has been one of those source materials, artistically speaking, for me. A band I can't get enough of. And as mentioned last week, our nine-year-old daughter and I went to see them this past Sunday.

A no-duh-cartoon-brick-to-the-side-of-the-head realization is that, for me, the building blocks of my source materials are first-hand experience, more than books or music. And our girls are some of the source of the source materials. So here is a concert from a main band, with oldest daughter for her first concert. When you cross the streams of that many sources, what you have is a life moment. And it was. And Wilco delivered. And Anna and I both ate it up and levitated at the same time.

So for the moment, I'm soaking in and re-sorting the source materials. Listening to Wilco, reading Forests and Gass, and laughing and remembering with Anna.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wilco, Little Boy Blue & the Man in the Moon

I've said recently and frequently that the two bands I'd most dig seeing live are Wilco and The Black Keys. I've been in a listening frenzy. And then I go and win tickets to Wilco this Sunday through a WRNR 103.1 Twitter contest. Color me stoked in vibrant, groovy colors.

It's a Sunday evening concert and Robin bows out, so I am roledexing my friends for big Wilco fans. Meanwhile the band played on Letterman on Wednesday night and I am watching the performance Thursday morning. Anna, our nine-year-old is next to me watching and I mention to her that I am going to see these guys on Sunday.

"Can I go, dad? Please, please, please???"

SOLD! Instantly I hear Cat Stevens singing, "The cat's in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon...," and think about five to seven years when she won't want anything to do with dad at a concert, unless it's transportation. I think about how she digs the music I listen to, always asking to hear Black Keys, going to Pre-K asking for The Raconteurs and Jack Johnson.

She wants to go to a concert, with dad, and it doesn't involve sitting through Britney Spears or Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. Color me amped, in a cool daughter way, who will get to hear real music performed live, by an awesome, challenging band. I have said before, there is hope for her musical soul. And to boot, we get to go up a little early for a private performance by the band, for WRNR contest winners.

So Sunday will be a time to see a great concert; a time to spend daddy-daughter time; a time to build the kind of memory, that if you don't start early, will likely go the direction of little boy blue and the man in the moon.

Color me a heavy metal drummer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alma Mater

My alma mater is a dirt road around a field on a Hagerstown farm, the first place I ran three miles.

My alma mater is a 13-foot Boston Whaler and a gray 1984 Honda Accord I learned to drive stick on.

My alma mater is the Holy Trinity church lot in Oxford where we met after school to play football and the marsh across the street from my house growing up.

My alma mater is a painted parking curb we commandeered for rail slides and 50-50 grinds and a loading dock behind Peebles.

My alma mater is Alternate Worlds comic book store and backyard wiffle ball.

There is a sign about Edgar Allan Poe at the University of Virginia, a school where he spent one semester. Always struck me as odd.

There are people and places, schools and books that taught me how to learn, or sparked something and whose sum total I count as my education. My alma mater is a series of imprints, scars, tattoos and impressions, which decorate and define my soul.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Forgive me Father (Creator), it's been 16 weeks since my last confession (run). And with cooler temperatures, it hurts not to be out there.

For the past seven plus years, running 10 miles has felt like running around the block. And that has been a point of pride for me. I've run long trail runs, a handful of marathons, a few ultras, and more half-marathons and 10-milers than I can recall. It's been a kind of confession from my feet, legs, lungs and soul to the earth.

Now tis the season of jeans, sweatshirts, football and the Ravens, bonfires and Octoberfest beer. It's the season where morning coffee warms as well as wakens. It's the season of trips to the pumpkin patch and the girls thinking about Halloween costumes.

It's the return to Tuckahoe State Park trail runs and the cool morning runs that remind me why I run, when I am able. It's the heyday of the Rise Up Runner group runs, where sunrises are met with conversations about kids and the cosmos, elevated heart rates and the sprint at the end of the run.

Forgive me Father, it's been 16 weeks since my last confession. Likely I've taken those confessions for granted. And I miss them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Benched, almost

That lapping sound. The one that water makes as it swims under a dock and into rip-rap or a concrete wall.

I'd like to write that sound and have you be able to hear it. Transport you onto the bench next to the river to listen, when the helicopters and harbor tour boats are quiet enough to let you.

Maybe it isn't that sound I want you to hear, but to give you my flawed ears to hear it not quite right, the way I do. So you'll just miss it, but won't stop trying to get it right.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Butterfield's Lullaby

I lose it when I hear Taps. It has to be performed by a single, live bugler, unaccompanied. It is the most poignant, somber, reflective song I have ever heard. If you can hear it and not be stopped in place, you may want to make sure you have a soul installed.

It's kind of like that for all the Honor Guard ceremonies for me. It is deeply resonant stuff. A good friend's father served in the Army in the Korean War and the Honor Guard came down to the Oxford Fire Company for the funeral and folded and presented his sons with an American flag. I had very little composure left. It rips me open. I think that is the point.

Author Jim Harrison, who has been compared to Hemingway, said about the literary Big Papa that his work was a "woodstove that didn't give off much heat." I have had that feeling about a number of works of art deemed classics; sometimes I just don't connect directly to them.

Taps was written in 1862, at Berkeley Plantation on the James River, after the Seven Days Battles. Union General Daniel Butterfield scribbled the notes on the back of an envelope and Oliver Wilcox Norton was the first to play it. The Confederates heard it and adopted it as well. The adage goes that it was one of the first things the two sides agreed on.

I'd go so far to call Taps a classic. It is one classic that strikes my soul vertically, connecting me to both the ground and the sky.

I don't have anything to add to the many voices and words written about September 11. But sitting down to watch the Ravens on Saturday, when the NFL tribute went out to Pennsylvania and the bugler played Taps, I remembered. Not just 9/11, but loss, sacrifice, Skeets Abell's life and funeral, mortality, and the fact that fucked up shit happens, over which we have little or no influence. And that there are times that we/I need to stop, reflect and remember. Taps is a universal doorway for that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Out for Delivery"

I probably became enamored of the UPS truck waiting for some skateboard or another to arrive from Skates on Haight in San Francisco. I wasn't alone. We would have a crew sitting on Farmar's front porch or skating in the street, waiting for the brown truck to turn the corner from High Street to South. Christmas morning had nothing on the UPS truck, pregnant with a skateboard we would tag-team and help put together for whoever the luck recipient was.

Back then it was a best guess, when the truck would show up. That feeling really hasn't gone away. I've talked with some other "grown ups" (though I'd bet most of us still feel like kids most of the time), who are equally excited when they click on "track package" and see the phrase "Out for delivery." That's the day. Whatever it is will either be there when you get home or shortly after.

I'm not overly materialistic, but I do dig new toys (as a generic term). It was skateboards for a time, has been new running gear or shoes, and books. Ah yes, books. What got me thinking about the UPS truck this particular time was waiting for Franz Wright's new book, "Kindertotenwald," which was published earlier this week. Seeing that it was "out for delivery" yesterday stirred up the same feelings that my Powell Peralta Steve Caballero or Tony Hawk, the Dogtown Micke Alba, Zorlac John Gibson, or Alva Street Fire did in the teenage years (to be honest, I'd be just as tickled to have any of those show up now).

I've been waiting for Wright's book through the summer, when he mentioned that it would be coming out. A new book from him is cause for excitement and celebration. Reading this morning, he has made the morning more alive, my soul more expansive and the coffee more electric.

I'm not sure when or what I'll be waiting for next from the UPS truck. And whether it will be loaded with goodness from Skates on Haight or Amazon or where, but I know the brown truck and the phrase "out for delivery" will have me sitting on Farmar's porch with a couple socket wrenches, 3/8 and 1/2 if I recall correctly.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ned Kelly's Head

If I had a band I'd name it "Ned Kelly's Head." It would have to be a punk band. There is something cool and notable that the Australian Jesse James/Robin Hood's head eludes posterity, though they've pegged his body. Perhaps an M.I.A. skull adds to his immortality.

Speaking of immortality, a novel I hope to start digging into this weekend is Drew Magary's "The Postmortal." I missed a reading/signing by Drew at Politics and Prose, but my D.C. cubemate was kind enough to snag me a signed copy.

We've been Magary fans for a while, for his work with Deadspin, his blog Kissing Suzy Kolber, his irreverence, humor and joie de vivre. His cultural critique of the Charlie Brown Christmas special had a whirlwind of a cool discussion going around our office and as far as NYC. Please take the time to read it and weigh in...

Magary's writing got me to thinking about the writing I like and that humor has to be a part of it. Not just out loud laughing funny (but yes, please), but an existential laugh that lights up and connects your soul and mind to the rest of the universe in its head-scratching strangeness. That kind of humor. Tom Robbins, Tony Hoagland, Matthew Lippman funny. Funny with a magnifying glass on absurdity, including, but not limited to shopping at Wal-Mart.

The kind of funny where an infamous international outlaw's head goes missing. The kind of thing you would name an imaginary band after, if you were to have one.