Strange ramblings and inquisitive whimsy

Category: Creative Journalism

Bliss Derived from Deprivation

Performing in a touring band – making a living by the simple act of playing music – is doubtless among the loftiest dreams of any true-at-heart musician.  The Road beckons a call that, though steeped in illusion and glorified hardship, seldom allows the passage of mere hours before returning to tug at the adventurous sleeves of any musical artists.  The separation from friends and family and the resulting isolation; the brotherhood between band-mates born of repeatedly enduring seemingly insurmountable hardship and solitude; the long hours and myriad miles traveled for reasons of exposure – these things represent the intoxicating challenges to which countless musicians have subjected themselves – whether willingly or otherwise.

In the late summer of this year I found myself manning the helm of a 15-passenger van pulling a gear-filled trailer in the wee hours of the morning.  We – the band and I – had elected to drive through the night in order to return from Mississippi to our home of Nashville as soon as possible.  Cheerfully roused from my bunk by Jason, our unusually sleep-deprived bass player in order to adopt my shift as driver, I stumbled into the 24-hour gas station to pour myself 32 ounces of sludge-black coffee.

Catching a glimpse of the crookedly-hung digital clock on the wall as the attendant rung me up, I shuttered as I read the time:  4:02 am.  Two hours and twenty-one minutes until sunrise.  Though we’d been graced with relatively subdued weather on this leg (not uncommon on our tour dates were hurricane-force winds, impossibly thick rain and imminent tornadoes) I questioned my exhausted mental capacity and its ability to cope with the tribulations involved in safely operating our sorry excuse for a tour bus.

Shoving my insecurities aside I pulled myself up into the driver’s seat and hollered the customary, “Everybody in?”  Upon muffled and groggy “mhmm”‘s I turned the key and pulled out of the parking lot.  After months on the road with this particular band I’d grown accustomed to our compulsorily-shared driving shifts – more importantly I’d discovered the listening material most conducive to driving in the pitch-black night through hundreds of miles of cornfields: This American Life.

Ira Glass’ nasally, monotonic voice notwithstanding, the humor and lunacy unfailingly present in the program’s makeup drastically decreased the gravitational pull on my eyelids and kept my mind sharp and alert.  Any other musical choice seemed, without fail, to eventually precipitate the demise of my efforts to stay awake.

Offering a welcomed change in scenery, our route from Mississippi to Nashville was lined with dense forests, winding roads and beautiful flora that evoked from the band a generally light-hearted mood.  Of course, being that it was 4 am, everyone was asleep so that enthusiasm – or rather lack of dread – wasn’t so enjoyed as my own gratitude at having something other than cornstalks and luminous green highway signs with which to entertain my eyes.

As our Great White Van lumbered through the hills of the south, a dense fog found us somewhere near the Mississippi-Tennessee border.  Growing thicker with each passing minute,  we came upon several cars that had pulled off the shoulder for lack of visibility.  I was well-aware of our unyielding policy stipulating we not pull off to the shoulder unless absolutely necessary, so I slowed to a pace so unbearably slow it seemed at times that we’d actually started moving backwards.  I reluctantly accepted the symptoms of my disorientation.

Any person who’s spent even a modicum of time in the outdoors – especially on or in some sort of vehicle – knows the inescapable and utterly helpless feeling of vertigo.  As your mind loses any semblance of reference, forward becomes backward becomes upside down, and your ability to function comes to a grinding halt.  More so out of necessity than out of preference, I pulled to the shoulder and brought our pale beast to a soft but definite arrest.

|    |   ~I~   |    |

Following a seemingly inordinate expanse of time during which each member of the band awoke briefly, only to fall back asleep, we finally began to regain visibility.  Lifting my foot off the brake, I began willing the gas pedal to depress just enough to begin our crawl towards clearer, less humidified air.

With our adventure through the abyss behind us we pushed forward into the burgeoning light of the Mississippi morning.  We climbed and climbed, rising through the stagnant remnants of darkness desperately clawing at the last moments of the night.  Then, cresting the ridge, I caught sight of something unexpected.  The sun had, in one foul swoop illuminated the air, the trees and the fields of golden grain sprawling for miles on either side of the highway.

One of my favorite things about backpacking lends itself to similar experience.  Hiking in to the campsite after dark, you’re granted visual access only to the minute radius of your headlamp beam.  But then the sun rises, bringing with it a new, often overwhelming wave of ecstasy.  This bliss, the result of your realization that there’s been something just outside your reach – something beautiful and breathtaking – is one of the more grandiose emotions a man is capable of experiencing.

Made all the more fantastical by the fog that had minutes earlier altogether prevented our progress, the scene I now witnessed shook me to a core rarely touched by the shallow gravity of daily experiences.  Things otherwise mundane seemed to adopt a mystical air while colors became at once rich, drab and vibrant.  Save the occasional bird or gust of impossibly faint breeze, the atmosphere  appeared devoid of motion.  But there I was, gliding through the whole marvelous event as all four of my companions slept like infants in their bunks.

Bliss derived from deprivation – a glorious happening, the product of a newly-gained perspective – has adding to its intensity the element of surprise and the weight of contrast.  But more so, it boldly stands to illustrate the benefits of resisting stagnation.  If one could successfully ward off the darkness of night forever, there would be no sunrise.  There would be no moment of realization when it becomes apparent that the evening’s tenebrosity was nothing more than a curtain behind which the universe was preparing an earth-shaking exhibition intended only for those patient enough to bare witness.

Welcome change, and the metamorphosis will be your reward.


Dare to Be Ridiculous

When I first met Marcy, I was at a point in my life where I was fairly open to trying new things.  Having recently escaped the clutches of adolescent reluctance to do anything that might contribute to being deemed ‘uncool’ by my friends, I found myself in more than a few situations which would later yield entertaining, if not slightly self-deprecating dinner-table stories.  It was out of this willingness to try most anything – along with the childish desire to impress my new ladyfriend – that I stumbled into a more-intimate-than-I-expected Paneurhythmy dance circle.

For those out of ‘the know’ – which I’m assuming is most people – paneurhythmy (pronounced pan-eur-ith-mee) is “a science of the harmonious, conscious movements, based upon the laws of the Living Nature.” (thanks for that one, Wikipedia)  Basically, one or more people dressed in white dresses (yep, guys too) dance around in a circle to bulgarian violin music by employing a series of movements that have been practiced in that specific order for some respect-garnering number of years.  Needless to say it must have been quite the sight to see; watching me, in all my foolishness and bumbling good intention attempt to 1, remember the steps, 2, correctly perform said steps and 3, successfully remain upright while walking around in circles for hours on end – something which clearly proved to be quite a dizzying accomplishment.

The way I came to not only experience but participate in this rather preposterous display of song and dance was less by way of Marcy and more by way of her fun-loving and free-spirited mother, Sandra.  We’ve all been in that situation where you realize that a really great way to win a lady’s admiration is to also win the admiration of her mother – assuming they still like each other.  So in my attempt to appeal to Sandra’s new-age sensibilities, I happily – and maybe a bit too hastily –  consented when asked if I would be interested in joining her for some crack-of-dawn dance shenanigans.  She may have put it more eloquently…  then again, maybe not – she was a bit loony.

When I arrived home that night, eager to somehow come by several hours of sleep before heading back at first light for what I would later come to recognize as one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever done, I had the fantastic idea to look up some information on the dance.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that.  As I scrolled through webpages of pictures, videos and information about the dance and the people who do it, I came to realize that I had agreed to something far beyond silly, bordering on absurd.

The visual stimuli flashing before my eyes on my 13″ laptop screen seemed to physically widen my eyeballs and increase the pull of gravity thereby drawing my jaw closer and closer to the ground.  As I watched and read about the people dressed in all white, dancing in some ridiculous formation on the top of a mountain, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d willingly agreed to join some perpetually-twirling cult of Jesus-loving smilers.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.  Stunned and strangely a bit nerve-wracked I crawled in to bed and semi-successfully attempted to to pacify my anxiety and fall into restful slumber.

At 5:45 am my alarm clock went off in it’s typical rage-inducing tone and I shuffled out of bed into the shower.  By 6:02 I was out the door, dressed in all white (unfortunately no dress for me) and headed over to what I was certain would be the end of my non-cult-affiliated life.  At this point in Marcy and my relationship – if you could even call it that – I still had only known her mother for a month or two, and though she didn’t seem particularly culty, I was beginning to question her sanity – not to mention mine for agreeing to this.

As I stepped out of the car, Marcy came bouncing down the driveway to greet me, smiling from ear to ear.  She was a morning person – or could be when she wanted to – and seemed perpetually happy, almost unbelievably so.  Together we strolled to the house where her mother was waiting, just as goofy and excited as ever.  Still relative acquaintances, Sandra and I made small talk for a moment or two before she uttered the ever-common, “Alright, are you guys ready to do this?”  And though I answered with a confident and grinning, “Sure!  As ready as I’ll ever be!” my brain was shaking in nervous anticipation.

As we perambulated to the back of the house, I half expected to see a dozen people in white and red robes ready to dunk me in a bucket and dub me “One of Them.”  Though that would have made a great story, I was relieved to find that no such sights were to be had that morning; only a non-threatening, foot-worn, circular dirt path.  As Sandra broke out a glorious 90’s Sears boom box, I grabbed a sip of water in preparation for my impending dance-off with spirituality.

For the next hour and a half or so, we twisted, turned and twirled our way through the hundreds of steps required to properly honor and come into communion with the spirits and natural powers-that-be and, much to my surprise, I actually had a lot of fun!  Augmented, I’m sure, by the fact that Marcy joined in for moral support, I found I honestly enjoyed myself!

Throughout the rest of my time spent with Marcy I engaged in a handful of other silly experiences – laughter yoga included – all of which proved more entertaining and enjoyable than I first expected.  And that first objective – to win the admiration of her mother – didn’t fare too poorly either: Sandra loved me by the end of all this.  But in addition to falling into good favor with her maternal figure, I also learned something else – or rather secured a notion I had previously disregarded with hesitant, ego-induced ignorance:  Life is so much more exciting when you do things in which you know you’ll look like a fool.  Letting go of what’s socially common, normal, you-name-it, can be such an exhilarating rush!  To fail to do something absurd on at least a daily basis may be the reason for your misery and discontentedness with life.

Things between Marcy and I ended poorly about a year later in an unfortunate turn of events involving careless manipulation and disregard for anything remotely relating to human emotions, and to my genuine disappointment, the things said between us have since left a bitter taste in my mouth.  But the lessons her mother taught me by way of example – laugh, smile, experiment and explore – have stuck with me ever since.  If you don’t believe me, find your local paneurhythmy dealer and get your dance on.  You won’t regret it.

What Came Next or, After The Letter

I don’t even really know why I’m writing.  I suppose the tone is dark, suppressed, almost as though there’s someone else in my head that I’m speaking softly to in order to work out my own feelings…  I feel like I’ve been in my own strange movie these last few days; like I’ve been in the kind of movie I love because it’s so starkly different from my own life.  In so many ways I feel different from myself.  This is new to me – detachment is new to me.

I knew the most likely outcome of her receiving my letter.  I realized as I was writing the letter that I had to be ready for whatever answer she gave, but I wasn’t prepared for this

Her words were like a knife coated in sedative – numbing the wound as it cut.  There were no feelings of pain, but when she was done – when she was gone – I could see the wound.  I could see it, but I still didn’t feel it.  Everything she said made so much sense, and the way she moved her intention smoothly across my heart left me with no option but to agree with her.  As she was telling me that she couldn’t let herself love me, I sat listening to her, getting drunk on her words – just another thing to ease the psychological effects of watching helplessly as she cut me open.

I’ve heard that waking up in the middle of surgery can change your life – you find yourself laying there, helpless.  There’s no control in that.  You don’t realize what was done to you until it’s already done, and then there’s nothing you can do.

The only question left is, “How long will it feel painless before the sedative wears off and the reality sets in?”.  Or maybe I can just stay drunk on her poetry until I find another drug…  Or there’s a whole new story that involves the drugs becoming useless and irrelevant – a story that stands firmly on the concept that my own strength and power of resiliency will heal the wound as the intoxication recedes.  I think I like that story.  I think I like that dream.  In reality, that’s my real, natural path.  I’ve never been one of addiction to the power of people, but somehow that addiction, that particular incarnation of my life seems a bit more romantic.

Which brings us to another strange concept:  Love is extra-worldly, however romance is firmly rooted in this perception of the world.  The object of my search is to find an appreciation for love – an obsession with love and a simple and respectful disregard for romance.