Oh, The Kids They Dance & Shake Their Bones…

IMG_0526You know that feeling of finding something you lost? Something that once was very important to you? Maybe you hadn’t really even noticed you lost it, but it just faded away in the effluvia of life, and life goes on. But then one day—you turn a corner, open a dusty box, or hear a song on the wind—and all the keys inside you slide back home, and you are deeply, profoundly grateful.

Yesterday, I had the absolute joy of taking my kids and Jon to see the Grateful Dead for the first time. Or, the closest thing to the Grateful Dead that today exists—Dead & Co, which is comprised of all but one of the living members.

When Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995, I had already cut back on my shows—I made the Mardi Gras shows in February that year, but I skipped Shoreline in June because of work. In the years previous, that never happened—if there was a way I could drive to a show on the west coast, I would. I never did the east coast tour, but being in the Bay Area made it really easy to catch twelve to fifteen shows in Northern California alone each year. If I factored in CalExpo and was willing to drive to Eugene, add another easy nine.

Why would anyone do this sort of thing? For me, the answer is both complicated and simple. I found a home there, amid the hippies and weirdos. I found a soft place to land when I left home too early and my wings were still soft. This motley band of dancing, laughing, sometimes-tripping kids and the troubadours they followed took me in; in their acceptance they helped me learn that I was okay, and everything was going to be okay—I could thrive, even if sometimes life didn’t look how I hoped it would.

It had been twenty-two years since I last put my bells on my ankles and danced in the dust. I admit that going into a Dead & Co. show that my expectations were not high. Bobby, Billy and Mickey were there, but Jerry’s place on stage was being held down by John Mayer (what?! really??) and Phil’s spot by a young bassist I had never heard of.

But I set that aside when we got tickets, prepared to scowl hard at Mayer if he made the music I loved so deeply about him. I hoped to share a tiny bit of what formed me with my kids, and I hoped we all might catch a glimpse of what it once was.

There were thin remnants of a parking lot scene, and it was easy to see vestiges of the camp following the summer tour, it was a tamed down, smaller scene. Basically, we’re all older, and have careers and nicer cars. The lines to get in were hot and slow, while everyone had their bags searched. (I’ve always wondered what the people who work venues think when the Dead Circus rolls into town…)

So there I found myself, two decades older, standing on the lawn (always get general admission tickets to a Dead show—chairs get in the way of dancing) with a large swath of unanticipated life behind me, waiting to see what came next.

From the first notes, I was blown away.

(I am uniquely unqualified to offer critical insight into what was happening musically on the stage, but I deeply love the music. What I do know is that it was as good as some of the best shows I ever hit back in the early 90’s. When the opening notes of Althea (one of my favorite songs) rang out, I was elated. But Althea was a Jerry song… and yet, by the middle of it, I had tears running down my face. Mayer didn’t just do it justice, he gave it love.)

Jon danced, Abby danced, Jeffrey swayed next to me… EVEN BEAN DANCED, wiggling in his tie-dye around us. We kicked off our shoes, and twirled and laughed and clapped and sang. I cried. When the sun set and the balloons and glowsticks came out, Bean and Abby took turns holding balloons so they could understand why there is a the deaf-area up front, and feel the music. They marveled at the massive, friendly, gyrating sea of arms, legs and swaying dancers lit up in the night under swirling rainbow lights.

Abby wore my concert skirt—a skirt that probably danced at 60+ shows and that needed careful mending by my hands—for her first show. I’m not crying. There, children; this is and forever will be the home of my heart. I am so grateful it can still be found. May it ever be so.

Set 1:
Shakedown Street
Uncle John’s Band
Minglewood Blues
Althea
Peggy-O
Bertha
Man Smart, Woman Smarter

Set 2:
Playing in the Band
New Speedway Boogie
He’s Gone
Fire on the Mountain
Drums/Space
A Love Supreme (John Coltrane cover)
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan cover)
Throwing Stones
U.S. Blues

Encore
U.S. Blues (reprise)
Liberty

June 22, 2017

 

Metaphorical Matches

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Photo by Matt Malloy. Used with permission.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” ~ Anne Lamott

Even when you think you’re done writing a book, you’re not done writing the damn book. It was also Anne Lamott who said “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first draft. You need to start somewhere.” She wasn’t kidding—though she might have said shitty draft.

I’m spoiled by the instant press I have had at my fingertips for literally more than a decade. I think it, I write it, I publish it. For this book, it took 35 days to write my shitty first draft, and then four months of near constant revision, pain, adding, pain, editing, pain, refining, pain, revising again…

Yesterday I finally hit a wall and realized I just have to trust myself. I admit, I didn’t realize that until I called my editor in a teary panic from the grocery store parking lot, and he talked me off the ledge. But he was right—I have always trusted my own writing, my own voice, and my own experience. The fact that it’s a book instead of a blog post can’t be any different. I mean, it is, but you know.

So I wrote what was real. I hedged up against the impulse to clean it up. I fought with myself to write what was true, even when it hurt. I met myself as I dug into each uncomfortable realization that surfaced. I fought the impulse to shy away from places where I found my own faults and I leaned into the light to find beauty I had always unknowingly stepped over . I found more than I was looking for and far more than I expected.

I appreciate the work of the myriad of people—and their are many—who make books a reality. They have helped me be a better writer. I also understand now why every writer thanks their Editor in the beginning of every book. Every. Book.

Your Editor is your lifeline during the crazy-making time of mining the depths of your life for your material. Your Editor is who talks you down because you can’t stop fixating on this one paragraph. Your Editor is who calls you from home when you hit the inevitable point in every book where you think your writing is garbage and you should just do the world a favor burn the entire manuscript. Your Editor is who fishes the sheaf of papers from the fire if you’re dumb enough to actually light the match.

I’m grateful my matches are all metaphorical.

And I’m grateful for my Editor.

(The book will be here soon.)

…bounce…bounce…bounce…

Spring

When we left for Ohio five days ago, the trees still rattled like wet bones, their marrow quickened and promised, but not yet burst forth.

I return home to find the color green has been born.

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Happy Birthday David

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The other day I was in a store, and I walked by a display and caught the scent of amber and sandalwood, and you were right there next to me. Scent does that, you know—just like the perfume of jasmine floating on the wind takes me back to the seaside, sitting on the trestle with you while we watched the sunset, talking about God and the paths of severity and mercy. I don’t know who I would be without you.

Jon, with his vast and generous heart, recently suggested when I refer to you that I do so as my “late husband” instead of as my ex-husband. I was perplexed at first—we were divorced when you died, and I do not claim the space of widow. I know I looked confused, and he continued, explaining he felt referring to you as “ex” somehow diminished the deep and complexly beautiful relationship you and I had created with our lives. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. While our marriage dissolved, the bonds between us simply continued to transform, as they did our entire lives, and am beginning to suspect, they continue to beyond the veil of your death.

You always told me to write, so I started to do so seriously this year. In the first few weeks of 2017, I wrote a rough draft of my first actual book. It’s a tiny slice of our story, the sadder parts and how they transformed us. I cannot write your perspective, so I fear it’s mostly from mine, but the responsibility of painting you as a whole, complex person—despite how things looked from the outside—weighed heavily on me.

I want to attempt to tell more of your story, if nothing else so the kids will have a fuller picture of their father. Abby has so little functional memory of you, Bean only a little more. Jeffrey remembers the most—but those memories are fractured, dotted with sorrow and terrible images of overdose and loss. They are incomplete. The kids didn’t know the David I knew, and I want them to know why I loved you, and how remarkable a man you were before the demons chased you down and the physical world broke off pieces of you. I know this is pretty much an impossible task, but if we’re all stories in the end, who else can even begin to tell yours if I don’t? I hope I have your blessing, I hope you’re with me in some small way; I cannot bear the thought of your stories never being told.

We’ve decided to celebrate your birthday every year with a dinner you loved- Papa’s Pappas from Hobbee’s and Red White & Blue power smoothies. Then we’re going to walk to 7-Eleven and get a Blue Thing, while we tell stories about you. Last year, it was a lovely night, and we laughed a lot about funny stories, and there were a few tears, too. I hope keeping you a normal part of our lives will help the kids as they continue to process your death.

We miss you. Every day. Happy Birthday, dear one.

Tracy

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Fini

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On December 31, I sat down to begin a narrow-focus memoir covering 2009-2012. My editor told me I had a 6-9 month window, and I felt like I was ready to begin. So many of those memories had been radioactive for so long that I couldn’t go near them—but finally, time and place had formed so that I was safe enough to try.

It was like removing the keystone from a Roman arch. There was no gentle mining of memories; once I removed the key, the entire building came down, and I couldn’t stop it, I could only make myself the doorway through which it all flowed. In just under 35 days, I wrote nearly 67,000 words. This morning, I submitted the epilogue to my editor.

The feeling of being washed-out and exhausted permeates me. At the same time, I feel sanctified, as though there were forces unseen moving through my hands I was little more than the conduit, and the emptiness contains a sense of being whole again.

I do not know what comes next, but I need an Excedrin, and I need to check on my family, because I have been time traveling for a month and I miss them. Mama’s back.

Mid January

Two weeks and more than 30,000 words—100-plus pages—have poured from my mind into my computer. I still don’t know what it will all amount too, but it’s coming out. Doing deep dives into memory, talking to friends who were there to verify times, places and happening, and then spilling all the emotion onto the page. It’s catharsis.

I hold hope for the seeds planted these winter days.

2017

It’s 6 am the second day of the year and I am up alone, in my office. The sky is grey and dim out the window, the barest hint of the day on the horizon, silhouetting the bones of the dormant deciduous trees in the yard. If it were a Bob Ross painting, it would be a cool little winter scene using pthalo blue, liquid white, and van dyke brown. But there would a little golden light on in the tiny cabin.

My heater is at my feet, warming my space while the rest of the house still sleeps. I can feel the deep, rhythmic rumbling from Tiberius, snoring on the floor in the boys’ room.

My mind is overflowing. I’ve been writing. Seriously writing, more than I have in years, and while I am just beginning, it’s as though the tiny chink I chipped from the dam unleashed a flood. I go to sleep with words swirling around in my head, and I wake up with paragraphs and memories and sentences that require me to rise, and get them out.

There’s no telling  what’s good seed and what’s chaff, I suppose that’s to be sorted out later, but I’m more than a little surprised at the deluge of words cascading over me. I wasn’t prepared.