Friday, March 3, 2023

The Journey, the Fall, and the Voice

Journey and Toto: 2023 Freedom Tour
Bryce Jordan Center
State College, PA
March 3, 2023

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Journey (and Toto, too!) in the 2023 Freedom Tour, which was also Journey's 50th Anniversary Tour. Never have I ever, so it was nice to be asked by my cousin if I wanted to attend with my mother, sisters, aunt and her; a girl’s night out, it was planned to be. It ended up being a high chance of a snowstorm that day, so my cousin was bummed about the timing, but what could we do other than wait and see what it would do. Part of the journey is not always being able to predict the weather or circumstances. It ended up not being an entire blizzard deal, but a winter event, nonetheless.

My mother drove my sister and I over at a crawl, and we made it on time but ended up waiting in the longest line I’ve experienced at the Bryce Jordan Center. Apparently, some gates were closed, so the lines wrapped all around the building and we waited in a windy onslaught that vacillated between sleet and rain that night. We got most of the sleet and missed the rain, that my cousin and aunt unfortunately had to wait through having gotten there before us. The sleet actually stung my face, and I was glad that I wore my hooded London Fog coat, but I had no gloves in my pockets and only found a pair of children’s socks where they should be. (Most mother’s purses and pockets have children’s socks in them, FYI.) I wasn’t prepared for it to be such an arduous journey to see Journey and Toto, but at least we weren’t caught in a twister or anything.

Toto had already started, and we were still waiting in line when my aunt texted us from our “peanut heaven” seats that awaited us. The line slowly inched as the sleet fell, my head bowed to shield me against the cold wind, giving me a view of shuffling feet and coat hems. “Why does anyone live here?” one woman lamented under her umbrella. “Because they’re born here!” my mother answered. We became a single unit, our bodies uniting in resistance against the weather, a shivering snaking form making slow articulations into the building. We discussed Steve Perry and why he stopped touring as we waited, wondering if the hip injury was the only reason. At one point a man in a garbage bag parka informed us that we didn’t need to wait in line, that there was another line, but he was wrong. The other line ultimately snaked similarly around and into the same gate, so we all hung tight. Another part of the journey is understanding that not everyone giving directions knows what they are talking about. How unhelpful. “This is why I don’t give [the college] money,” a man interjected. Valid point. Why reward subpar treatment? They seemed rather unprepared for the journeyers. It happens…so was I. Can one ever be fully prepared for the journey, though? Going in the doors, we found the ticket scanning to be finicky as well, adding to the delay. This particular Journey journey seemed almost slowed by The Universe itself and we missed part of Toto, but made it to our seats before they played “that song” as they called it. (In response to getting the tickets, I had previously said that I would pay $60 alone to see Africa performed live, so we luckily didn’t miss THAT song.) 

Directly upon stepping onto the nosebleed level your body sends out a warning: Danger! Unsafe incline! Alert! Something to do with your inner ear or balance center, perhaps? I immediately recalled being in this section for Elton John at the BJC years before as a teen, alone with my two younger sisters. I was so nervous with them; fearful they’d fall forward or something. Surely it happens, I thought back then. “I’m surprised people don’t fall here more often!” I said, as we took our seats. Little did I know at the time, but that was a little foreshadowing.

Toto was delightful, a blast from the past. I was swept back to the Night Tracks videos of my childhood. We texted my sister, who had to miss out unfortunately due to illness, sending her video snippets and our love. “Meet you all the way!” Our seats were such that we weren’t so much behind or ahead, but right in line with the stage, and above, on the right, or stage left, would that be? And we were so high up that it gave the illusion that we were directly above the band, and it almost felt like we shouldn’t be there, like we were somehow spies, looking down on the situation with a god’s eye view, instead of paid ticket holders enjoying a show. “I haven’t been this high at a concert in years!” my mother proclaimed, in one of the best quotes of the evening. I laughed to myself, and thought of how many times that same sentence had been uttered at concerts in an entirely different context.

And then, shortly after we were all told to stand up during "Rosanna", our attention was drawn to the left of us as a poor woman banged into our row of seats, having fallen from two rows behind us! She hit the back of the chair of a man sitting to our left. He said later that she was initially out for about 20 seconds or so after hitting her head. When she got up her face was bleeding. She assured people she was fine, but they ended up getting the paramedics and taking her to the hospital. What a drag of a journey for that woman, and I hope that she is okay. The dangers of mountain climbing are rock face and death. Thankfully, this woman only got the rock face. The Fall can leave you bloody and can certainly spoil your good time. Always watch your footing and never forget where you are. This section at the BJC has somewhat of an overzealous incline. It's like being in a realm where you can't trust your perceptions, the way it throws your balance off. “No standing!” we all yelled at each other afterward. 

There was a woman in front of my sister that kept standing up and dancing throughout the entire concert. In fact, that was her view for much of the show, and we were worried for this woman the entire time. While we loved her incredibly bouncy hair and enthusiasm, my sister's view with her in it is now burnt into our memory of Toto's Africa. She shared her video view with us after the show and now that's a funny memory. The woman seemed completely unaware of The Fall that had just occurred and was, thus, completely free of fear in her dancing, and it was a beautiful thing, however obscuring. We, on the other hand, decided to sit tight the entire show, lest The Fall come for us as well. I guess sometimes The Fall is part of The Journey. Nervously anticipating our ultimate decent, we put it to the back of our minds for the time being, for the legacy of The Voice was in the house.

The funny thing with Journey is how Steve Perry was not even with the band for its inception and was not their original vocalist, Gregg Rolie was. The band even added Robert Fleischman for a short time before Perry joined. Their lineup has changed a bit through the years, in general. Perry was also neither their last nor their longest vocalist, yet somehow he is absolutely the voice you think of when you think of Journey. They actually replaced that voice twice, Steve Augeri, who immediately replaced Perry when they went their separate ways, and then Arnel Pineda, who ultimately replaced the first Perry replacement. I reckon the players change quite a bit throughout the journey. 

Being dubbed The Voice by Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Perry is an iconic sound of the 80s. What is it with tiny people having behemoth voices? He’s a legend, and apparently, he quit and ended his personal journey with Journey after a hip injury that required surgery, though I’m sure it’s more nuanced than that, as most partings usually are. The whole replacement by Arnel Pineda is an interesting aspect, too, which bands often do and it isn't uncommon, per se, but not all bands choose new frontmen that sound so similar to other frontmen. This switch, in any case, is just as often received with mixed feelings by fans. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but truth be told, if Steve Perry were the one touring with Journey, you would pick apart The Old Voice as much as The New Voice, because that’s what people tend to do. Everyone’s a critic. Who knows if Steve Perry could even sound like Steve Perry, but all you have to compare Pineda to are the recorded versions of Perry doing these songs years ago. It’s interesting to hear Arnel speak of it, because he says he is "keeping the legacy of The Voice alive", as though it were his divine purpose or duty. He carries the torch that was passed to him and he seems to understand the gravity well. He utilizes the spirit of The Voice in his own shows, now. 

As a performer, Arnel Pineda is very entertaining and enthusiastic. Every time he would jump from a platform or leap around stage, my sister and I would look at each other and frown, agreeing “THAT’S why Steve Perry can’t do it anymore!” Arnel Pineda seemed to have all the energy a youthful Perry may have had, with moves that Perry probably never pulled off himself. In a way, it’s an odd thing to witness, almost like Arnel Pineda opens his mouth and Steve Perry’s voice leaps out; Perry is The Voice and Pineda is The Voice Box? Or is The Voice itself a possession by the spirit of the thing, as the entity merely takes over to live out its own legacy? Who knows, but it’s admittedly, a little weird. But it’s not like Pineda is trying to sound like Perry, it doesn’t feel painful at all. It just happens to be that Pineda sounds like Perry and can imitate the sound even if the annunciations are off and he sometimes gets the words wrong. Those are just reminders that he is NOT The Voice, he is keeping the legacy of The Voice alive with his performance. Voices can sound a lot alike, but no two voices are truly exactly identical. Arnel Pineda, however, is a close facsimile to The Voice, close enough to gain the approval of arenas full of fans, and does he ever work the crowd. He is definitely a part of the band and a talented performer, not just a stand-in for Perry, even though it feels somewhat like the concert could open with that softly delivered soap opera line: "Tonight the part of Steve Perry will be being played by Arnel Pineda!"

It was wonderful to witness all the Journey hits you forget that they had, and every one was enjoyable to hear. Everything you’d want to hear was pretty much played.
Journey, Freedom, 2022
Neal Schon was a bit more jammy on the guitar than I'd remembered, but if you have listened to their newest album Freedom, all is well and it's not unlike his playing on other albums over the years, I have found. Freedom has an interesting feel to it. After all the time and changes, it still ends up sounding like classic Journey. Which makes sense, because Steve Perry never was the Journey. He just became the voice of Journey for a short time, and thus became The Voice. The Voice is only part of The Journey, you could say. So in the end, after all the changes the band has been through with its individual players, as a whole the band has remained true to itself somehow. They're still authentically within the spirit of the thing. I would say that is what defines a successful journey! It was a treat to experience them at this time in their careers. I also always enjoy seeing bands when they have recent releases. 

I ended up only recording snippets of the ballads, and all my videos are short; I was sending them in text messages to our sister who couldn't make it, so I was trying to keep the size down. Open Arms produced our own playful wave of arms, which was a memorable silly moment with family. There’s something to be said about the atmosphere of an arena, when people light up their phones during ballads, as well. These moments were neat to witness from so high up, having a very observational view of the place. It’s a new day and age, because the last time Steve Perry toured with Journey, it was a sea of lighters instead of phones. In my own lifetime alone we have witnessed concerts go from lighters to phones; it's a bit mind blowing. Some traditions never die, they just change throughout the journey.

Journey, Frontiers, 1983

Each song on this night was like an 80s memory, the rhythm and melody triggering scenes long passed, bubbling feelings to consciousness. My experience, a little more in the shallow end with the 80s being my first decade of life, was a more visceral and subconscious visitation. I didn't personally get into Journey until I was a teenager and bought their first Greatest Hits album. My mother, on the other hand, began to cry when they played “Send Her My Love” and for a brief moment in time it was 1983 again for her. I was a toddler, the age of my youngest child now, and she was a young mother of two, salving herself with Night Tracks music videos on TBS and spinning vinyl records. I vividly remember her Frontiers album,
Journey, Greatest Hits, 1988 
because it was one that I found visually interesting as a child, somewhat intimidating even with its glowing blue face artwork. It’s strange how certain songs unearth time capsules of emotion within you, sometimes pulling out feelings that you didn’t even remember having when you
originally had them…that’s the power of music. It speaks to the subconscious. It’s a journey of continual self-discovery. In that way, you could sing my favorite Journey lyric direct to your memories: “I get the joy of rediscovering you!” Over and over and over again, music will always uncover the truth of your heart---faithfully.

Overall, Journey begs the question: “Can all things be replaced?" Is nothing sacred? Could a doppelganger really be a stand-in for the real thing? Yes. It happens all the time. It's happened twice with Journey alone. They replaced Perry with Steve Augeri who successfully sounded like Perry only to replace him later with Pineda who also sounds like Perry. The human voice is an amazing thing, but we are mockingbirds. Some people are talented enough to make their voices sound like anything. Some people just happen to have singing voices that sound like other voices, like Arnel. Elvis impersonators would be out of a job if they couldn't emulate The King successfully. Though, sounding like a voice and tapping into the spirit of the thing are two different things, I'd argue. Michael Cullipher, who I saw perform in Memphis at the cafe across from Graceland had Elvis' cousin saying how much he sounds like him! To the basic ear or those who simply want to be entertained, it happens all the time. Impersonators have always been around and the secret to a good impersonation is getting the voice down. 

Voices can sound convincingly alike and be hard to discern as it is, but now, the biggest impersonator of all is the AI voice technology coming out. Fake Drake is disturbing enough, but AI has even been used to make "Kurt Cobain" sing Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Is nothing sacred? There have been AI Beatles songs created?! You can't even really say created. They are generated, not created. Generated, mind you, using human creations, so I personally believe that AI is entirely based on the theft of humanity's intellectual property! It's sacrilege and I partially cannot even process my feelings while listening to these things. I am fearful of how AI will shape the world in general, but as far as music, will there come a time when authentic human voices in music will be rare? Grimes has already offered to split any royalties 50% with whoever uses her voice in AI songs. Is a voice your intellectual property? We essentially went through a similar change decades ago as the sounds of pianos and instruments began to be synthesized by machines, and it was widely accepted, so if this is no different, why does it seem so different? IS the human voice just another instrument or is it something more than that? It's hard to say where this all will go, but definite changes are coming in the industry as things get increasingly strange in the [music] world because of AI, but that's a whole other topic and post and once again, I digress.   

Voices are like fingerprints, though, unique to individuals. When you hear the voice of a dead loved one on a video or audio recording, it is somewhat of a holy experience, for they live again, ever so briefly, as their unique vocal signature vibrates out into your ears and the world once more. No one can replace that and the AI that recreates dead voices IS sacrilege, in my opinion. Sometimes hearing a voice recorded in time can take us back to different lifetimes inside of us. That can easily happen all the time with recorded music, but Arnel Pineda is doing the same thing for the Journey legacy as Michael Cullipher is doing for Graceland. It’s a wonderful way to visit the past and enjoy something that has been lost to time. It's not the real thing, per se, but it allows you to experience the spirit of the thing and at least it's human. There is also something to be said about keeping a legacy alive. It should only be undertaken by those that understand the gravity, like it’s their divine purpose and duty. Arnel Pineda apparently gets it. Sequined jumpsuits and all, Michael Cullipher absolutely gets it; I felt the spirit of the King while in Memphis and the spirit of Journey was certainly in the air tonight, oh wait, that's a whole different 80s song, isn't it? Ha. 

The finale was grand; I had heard about the confetti from a friend who experienced the tour at the end of last year. Our seats gave us a somewhat different experience of it, though. We experienced the confetti more vicariously, removed and from a distance. Confetti is meant to be experienced, but we more so watched the confetti experience, which was also an experience, albeit a somewhat removed one. From our heavenly seats it was interesting to be above the confetti instead of under it. Is that a metaphor? It feels like it. Something akin to the discipline of being the silent observer of one's thoughts, instead of being identified with the storm of voices, maybe? That's the real freedom tour. But in the same breath, if you never get under it, among the crowd and swim in the deluge of voices, you can't take a piece home like my friend did, either. Every seat in the house has its pros and cons. All in all, this was a very enjoyable concert experience and musing. The journey is always better if you can avoid the fall, but sometimes that's the price you pay to hear an old, familiar voice. What matters is what's left After the Fall, you could say. Okay, enough song references and metaphors. Final point, I enjoyed my somewhere-above-the-confetti, god's eye view of the 2023 Freedom Tour; Journey was well worth weathering the storm for---Toto too.   

Above the confetti.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Never-Ending Dialectic

The times are changing with a pendulum swing, and much like within one’s own psyche, the farther that we seemingly head in one direction, the farther we backswing to the other side in an attempt to compensate, eventually working out some sort of order or synthesis. It feels like we have been flowing into an energetic eddy where multiple streams meet and here we stir & spin in the murkiness amongst the dissonant currents, awaiting dissolution. Sometimes this is a more organic movement, like the branching and bending in a river, whereas, at other times, it seems more synthetically generated, like plumbing ran at right angles, manipulated. The momentum of past eras and ages continues to manifest in this epoch, influencing these “movements” that are rippling out into the field now. Patterns emerge. Vibrations create their waves, a wake echoes through time and thus history is destined to repeat itself, the adage states. Unless, as the good doctor says. UNLESS. ...and the beat goes on. Yeah, the beat goes on.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Cooper Two and the Ghost Town Blues

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
- John Muir

Peale, Pennsylvania

Corn::rows. Corn::rows. Corn::rows. Corn::rows. Picturesque view. Trees; rocks. Trees; rocks. Trees; rocks. Fields. Woods. Rolling hills. Picturesque view. 

There are a lot of great dirt roads to creep along on in my hometown vicinity. By that I don’t mean being a creeper in the creepy sense but rather a creeper in the Jeepy sense. Priscilla is my Jeep’s name, she’s a Patriot and she named herself. She’s been good to me so far, I try my best to be good to her. She’s white like a queen’s horse and basic like a bitch. She’s a 5-speed, she’s durable and she loves taking it slow. Dirt roads are the best, change my mind. There are quite a few to choose from around here. I usually do a Turkey Street scoot every day after getting the mail, a loop around Drain Lick perhaps. A short journey out to Sylvan Grove at times, there are some great trees out there. That’s all on Drifting side. There are several local haunts of interest for the slow traveler. When the boys fall asleep after I drop Celie off at school I just drive around back roads and let them sleep awhile lest I wake them up taking them inside. Sometimes I cut across Pearce Hollow. It’s cathartic and metaphoric, taking it slow. I get to gather my thoughts between the onslaught of noises and responsibilities that has become my life. I get “alone” time. Plus, I get one on one time. Me and Bob Dylan. Me and Tom Petty. Me and [Insert Artist Here]. Me and Podcasters. Me and the closest I can come to a near silence, filled only with the creaks of Priscilla’s bones and a slow, looped roll of rubber over dirt. Our din mimicking the antiquated sounds of a wobbly suspension on a carriage over dusty road, my white mare pulling me through the trees. There’s something wonderful about Jeep rides; not being covered in kids, listening to their cries or screams, a brief sliver of time without demands when they are restrained and harnessed and I am at the reins. I’m basically Aunt Bethany from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: “I love riding in cars!” I like it when I’m driving, anyway. Or when someone I trust is behind the wheel, then it’s a good time. I’ve been on a few hell rides in my life, though. Luckily, I’ve been on some terrific treks as well.  

All of October I drove around taking in the foliage. Daily, I would witness these trees changing before my eyes. It seems to happen so slowly until one day you realize you are looking at the skeletal limbs and trunk of an empty tree you had just watched go through a brilliant display of transition. Full of leaves and color, a moving portrait and then bam—a few wind storms and some rain, a little drop in temperature, and they are gone. Lost forever, fallen to rot at the tree’s base, becoming nutrients for the next season’s show. It’s a cool thing to witness and I am glad to live where we get a good view of the seasonal changes but it can make you sad. It's kind of tragically heartbreaking. Imagine if you didn't know whether or not spring would come. Do you think the trees know their leaves will return? It's hard to keep in mind that the sun will swing back when it starts to move away and leaves us in darkness. The transition of fall into winter can be a hard symbol for that. The cold sets in and you can feel it in your bones.

I used to let my friend Leslie drive me around while I wrote. She’d take the wheel of my Dodge Caliber and we’d go on an adventure through the trees, into the woods, or sometimes elsewhere. She epically drove me all the way to Memphis, Tennessee for my 35th birthday. She also drove me down into Kato, once, and until then I had never been. Kato is a ghost town in her neck of the woods, accessed through Snow Shoe. It also happens to be where my paternal Pap hails from. It’s literally “a town that no longer exists”; it’s just roads through trees and some big rocks and a bridge, I believe. On August 29, 2013 Leslie and I drove to multiple locations as my daughter napped in the back seat, similar to what I do alone now with the boys napping in the back of the Jeep. I, with my trusted red-at-the-time Life Liver's Log spiral notebook in hand (to represent the Muladhara chakra, no less) wrote a song of sorts that day, still a fetus, each verse, a stop on our travels. As simple of a thing as that was, those were some of the best times I’ve had. All I ever really needed was a witness. Leslie came around a lot right at a time when I needed it the most. The years we spent together as friends will always be some of my fondest and even though they were some of my hardest, they were also some of my most "veil-lifting" times. I was writing a lot of odes and sonnets at the time. Manically writing; wound up as my base state, I could unwind and decompress on our car rides. The trees would help ground me. We were just two air signs looking for some earth. We could bullshit somewhat as well while I wrote because I am apt to and adept at dividing focus and Leslie was someone that I felt comfortable with and trusted because she was as equally forthcoming with me as I was with her. For some reason we spoke to each other, mirrored each other...understood each other? Leslie accepted me as me, whoever that was. She also put up with a shit ton of pressured speeches from me. I am grateful for her ability to witness me and for her tolerance of my soliloquies  and lectures which would take place in between the writing. She knew that I often spoke the truth so she took it even when it hurt. She was truly Rock Star about not just simply kicking my ass, though, because she could have, but she loved me and I loved her. Abrasion often rides shotgun with Truth. It polishes by rubbing and it’s often the wrong way. I was just trying to help her out, but the truth is I wasn’t always right. Sometimes I was just mad. She also once told me that I was self-centered. She wasn’t wrong; I was in the midst of an extended episode at the time. I tend to get grandiose. I also am highly distractible and can frustrate people if they need or want my undivided attention. I’ve used her comment for self-reflection ever since, because it hurt, as quipped truths often do. I have since apologized for my abrasive bluntness, or being a bitch, or what have you, and I am grateful that I did have that opportunity. She, in turn, has handed me a few hard, grinding truths as well. Leslie was a real gem, a Dusty Diamond, to be exact. She was a muse. She was a friend. We shared a true kinship. People like that are extremely rare and precious, like jewels in the junkyard of life. This I know to be true, especially when you have trust issues. Diamonds in the rough are a little dusty but shiny and priceless when given a polish. I considered her to be in my innermost circle of trust, which, at the time, only really included my husband. I told her things that I have told no other human or animal. I think it was a divine symbiosis, a mutual decompression. She, likewise, shared a lot of her secrets with me. Our companionship was just what each of us needed at the time. It was also one of the best gifts that she ever gave me and I am grateful for that. She made a real difference in my life. 

Heading back from the dust to the dirt, it’s a privilege to have so many dirt roads to take it slow and decompress on. Grassflat and Drifting are almost like sister villages, nestled on the mountaintop. I spent a bit of time there as a kid. My brother and I would ride with my father through Cooper Two to get there; it’s a dirt road that connects them named after the old Cooper Two coal mine. I’ve traveled this road many times in my youth but not as often as of late. These past months I’ve expanded the stretch of my local drives. I found Cooper Two surreally different because I always, for some reason, expect my childhood  ride home. That Cooper Two is long gone. So is that Grassflat and that Drifting for that matter. Last month during my foliage rides I moseyed out to Peale, which is connected to Grassflat but it also, in a haunting way, no longer exists. Oddly enough, Peale is the ghost town from my neck of the woods, like the mountaintop Kato. I hadn’t been down to Peale since April of this year, when I was still pregnant with Otis. People go to Peale for many reasons, mostly recreational now. The Red Mo race launches from there, of course. Four wheelers have access to Gorton through the tunnel and out to the Viaduct bridge through Peale. I used to ride out on 4 wheelers with my brother when we were kids looking for old bottles on the hillsides, pulling them out from underneath the layers of dead leaves and sediment like we were digging back in time. We found some pretty neat ones. People have camped, drove, rode, walked, and boated in Peale. Some people just come for the spirits, or in an attempt to lift or find theirs. Peale is almost a local Mecca, a local haunt for self-seeking and escape: holy ground. 

Peale, Pennsylvania was an old mining town founded in the late 1800s when the Beech Creek Railroad line was the main way into places. It once held near 2,500 people that relied on the coal mines or railroad for their bread and butter. It was owned by the coal company. After the town diminished with the active train line and mines, people slowly dispersed, some moving up into Grassflat. Several houses as well as a church are in Grassflat now that were from Peale. There were only two camps left in Peale when I was young and now there is only one, as well as a garage structure. One camp was burnt down years ago and it still makes me sickeningly sad. Only one real structure remains and the foundations of some things but you can walk out to look for the lone grave of Martha Renfrew, the only marked grave left in the Oakwood Cemetery. She was aged 14 years, 11 months by the inscription on her tombstone. This was all so fascinating as a kid. At some point, somebody put up a sign to mark the Oakwood Cemetery. I can remember this and it doesn’t seem that long ago but now the words on the sign have since been destroyed and nothing remains  aside from the side posts and a few small boards that a dark piece of fabric is tied to. The changes that this land has gone through during my lifetime alone are phenomenal. To think back farther to when it was a bustling hillside community of over 2,000 is about enough to blow your mind. 

Although not from the bustling Peale days, one structure has remained for at least my entire lifetime, and that’s the bridge, however it is really starting to show its age. Anyone local who’s anyone local has some memory of this bridge and probably that big crack in the side that seems so much bigger than I remember it being  every time I see it. But it’s a reminder that bridges will eventually crumble. Rebar protrudes from the cracking concrete, a strong skeleton that will only keep the bridge together so long. Time wears on everything; everything eventually turns to dust. I’d spent the past two months watching the leaves fall and transition, thinking of how many changes I have endured during my short lifetime alone and how many more await me. 
And so there I sat on the Peale bridge at the reins of Priscilla pondering the past with one too many ghosts riding shotgun. We try to reach back with our minds, like I dug with my brother into the dirt, excavating for any unbroken remnant to hold in our hands. Our shined up, dirt-plucked vessel can be a wonderful memento and it will even hold water but it’s place is in the past and therefore it’s a relic. 

Peale looks entirely different today than it did as a kid. The drive across Cooper Two is the same way. Entire hillsides are cleared. Peale Camp has burnt down. So many trees are gone. The landscape is drastically different and it hollows it out, making it seem less of a shelter but more of a marvel, because it opens up the hillsides to the expanse of trees and better shows the distance from here to there. You can get a glimpse of the forest through the trees now. It all seems so far away. Going to a ghost town is akin to visiting a graveyard.  Lost in time, a fog from long ago settles over your  mind. These hills used to be filled with homes, people, My gram’s sister lived in one of the last houses out here. Some were moved board by board to be reassembled in Grassflat. The church was moved. Peale was a once bustling country town set up with all the trappings of a city and is now a quiet place of refuge and recreation. The Red Moshannon has brought its race crowds, though, time has been unwinding here for decades, the mines still bleed into her beds and mark the creek with their rusted blood. Enjoy her splendor but don’t drink the water. 

The lines from the Day Song seem even more pertinent today, as well as my embryonic Dusty Diamond lines, in a ghostly way: "All alone with those inner demons...where's it hurtin' tonight girl?" In an attempt to understand the present we try to reach back into the past with our minds but the past will never come back to you. We remain haunted like these towns are by the specter of the past. But maybe it can be a friendly ghost? 

Verse 1:
I went to an old house sitting out in a field.
My body was shaking, my spirit was thrilled. 
Empty without the life that we bring.
Silent without the songs that we sing. 

Oh, but it’s still standing. 
And I think it always will. 

Verse 2:
I went to a town that no longer exists.
I give into whatever my spirit insists. 
Once upon a time, maybe we were trees.
Twin oaks, side by side, all in a dream.

Oh, but we’re still standing.
And I feel we always will. 

Verse 3: 
I went to a church that holds no services.
My spirit is pious, despite its perverseness. 
Echoes throughout with the sound of silence.
No evil, no anger, no hate, and no violence. 

Oh, and it’s still standing. 
And I believe it always will. 

Verse 4:
I went to the hilltop and gazed at the mountains. 
The clouds were rollin’ and my spirit was shoutin’. 
Open expanse of trees and sky; 
Will your memory never die? 

Oh, no, it’s still standing,
And I know it always will. 

On my way home I came to the crossroads,
I took a wrong turn into one of my episodes.
I got stuck in the mud, shed a little blood.
I’ve been having these visions for years,
Wiping tears through the forest of fears,
And I’m headin’ home the hard way. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

“Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.”
 ~ John Heywood, 1546 AD

I fall down a lot of rabbit holes through my days. I have a highly distractable mind and I follow a lot of thoughts away from the party and into the woods. It can be a problem but I do explore ideas and concepts and learn a lot of new things because of it, so, all in a day. 

Recently, in exploring quotes and sayings about hay because of some photos I had taken, drawn to and interested in local hay bales because visually I think they are like giant fields of Shredded Wheat, I discovered this gem about making hay: Make hay while the sun shines. The saying apparently originally appears in John Haywood’s “A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” dated 1546, although it is thought to have originated much earlier from Tudor farmers of Europe. The saying warns farmers to make their hay while the sun is shining. It is about taking advantage of an opportunity while the opportunity still presents itself. 

In Tudor England farmers didn’t have the technology that they have today to determine the weather. The best they had was “red sky at night” to help them decide. So, they had to get it whilst the getting was good, you could say. If they waited another day to make their hay they could risk it raining and ruining their harvest and the growing season would have all been for naught. This was a pretty big deal. That’s where this Proverb came in. While it was sunny and the conditions were good it was best to make the hay lest they lose the opportunity. They said this so often to remind themselves and others that it became a verbal chunk of wisdom you handed out and repeated, passing on the knowledge for posterity and, let’s face it back then, survival. Think of how important hay was back on Tudor farms when animals were relied on even moreso than they are now.  Getting your hay made was akin to getting your business done.

This saying struck me when I found it. I thought it was neat. As far as I could recollect I had never heard it before. I wondered why, after years and years of these hay bales. There are cornfields and fields of grasses galore where I’m from and I’m still here. I’ve been driving these roads since I was a kid, literally. I rode plenty a dirt road atop a cooler or in the back of a pickup. Suffice it to say I’ve seen a bale of hay or two. I remember my dad parking us on the side of the road to go out into a field and climbing up on one when I was young. Being placed on one, perhaps? Hay bales were huge as a kid, they’re fairly big to an adult but as a kid they are giant things. It felt like you were on the top of the world as a kid, sitting on a hay bale. Or at least like you were riding a horse or some other mythical creature made of grasses. It was fun and my dad knew how to have fun because he also followed ideas and thoughts away from the party and literally into the woods. He could be rather impulsive and curious; we never knew what we’d be doing. Sometimes we rode hay bales. 

Fields and fields of hay made by local farmers, we drive by it all the time. Shredded wheat, it resembles, I’ve often thought; if I were to make a diorama of a farm I think I would use Shredded Wheat as hay bales. Frosted Mini Wheats for winter scenes. Sometimes they wrap them in white plastic. This makes them look like fields of puffy marshmallows. Marshmallows would be great in a diorama too. I digress. 

I pondered this advice in my own life, for there are times that I have left my hay to rot in the field and wasted a perfectly fine harvest. Motherhood is teaching me to weed out what isn’t necessary and boil down what I need into a condensed stock of wants and wishes. I reckon that's a fancy way to say prioritize. Adding a third kid has lit yet another fire under my ass. If you want to be a breeder and a creative you need to learn to make your hay when the sun shines, get it while you can and move like you stole it. Conditions are never right for long. If you don’t move on something when the opportunity is there chances are you’re going to miss it. This sounds like a call to impulsiveness but it’s not. Much of life is about timing and yet it’s hard to tell when the time is right for anything. I am never going to have uninterrupted large chunks of time to write or create or do anything that restores me but I desperately need to do those things or I do not function properly, my soul begins to feel imprisoned. I need to take full advantage of opportunity, however elusive it may be, if I don’t want to lose myself in motherhood. This is a call to seize the opportunities that present themselves while the getting is good, whether that’s a job change, or a creative endeavor or simply getting anything done with 3 children in tow. It’s about getting your business done, finishing what you set out to do lest you not be able to finish it at all and sometimes just riding those hay bales.

A field of frosted mini-wheats this morning.

Monday, November 11, 2019

My Favorite Veteran: The Man I Call Pap

Happy Veterans Day to all of the veterans who have served our country. My favorite veteran, if one had to choose such a thing, would be my late paternal grandfather, Joseph Veneziano. He was born in a small village that is now a ghost town, as in it no longer exists. He didn't have a middle name. He was simply "Joe” to many folks and Pap to the lucky ones. 

When my grandfather died I remember my father saying that he had forgotten to thank him for his service in the military, he had believed he never did. They talked a lot, about many things and a lot about his time in the service. He may have even thanked him and just didn't realize it, but regardless, Dad was disappointed he never thanked him proper for that. I'm sure it was understood, but you often like to express things directly when given the chance but sadly often you miss that chance. I stopped at my grandparents’ grave this morning to pay my respects and I'm sending out a thank you to Pap on this Veterans Day as well as to my aunt, uncles, cousins and friends who have all served. Thank you. 

We lost Pap in October of 2012 and it's still weird not having him around. It took me awhile to get used to not seeing him going down the road from time to time as he was prone to do, still doing errands and what not near up to the end of his days. Still getting used to not visiting the house too. He lived 93 years. Had black lung. Had already had 3 heart attacks in his life before the one that took him, I believe. He was an amazing man, he really didn't stop. I think that was actually his secret. He was working on projects up until the end. Mending wheel barrels, fixing lawn mowers, whatever he found to tinker on in his garage. 

His garage is a wonderful thing. It’s all patchworked together with scrap pieces of wood that he had in some places, but it's not ridiculous at all, it's quite the spacious and enduring structure. He lived through the depression so he didn't throw stuff away. He saved all kinds of things and would use them in anything he was making or fixing. He wasn't what you would necessarily call a hoarder, though. He used the things and kept things fairly in order. Somewhat. There was just so much stuff. When you’ve gone without, though, you can find value in almost anything.

Pap was somewhat of a quiet man. He loved to talk about current politics, though, or tell old stories of his younger days if you asked. He watched The Young and the Restless for as long as I can remember. If you got him talking he’d tell you all kinds of stories from the places he’d been during his life. He had a quiet disposition about him though, going about his day. I spent a bit of time with him when I was a kid while he was working on the house him and my gram moved into for the last part of their lives. He used to keep a 3 gallon soda bottle filled with water on the steps and I remember drinking from it, how you could still taste the lingering flavor of generic soda. It seemed like he worked on that house all of my childhood. He did an admirable job of remodeling that place, I can remember it slightly from when they started, and there are pictures of it sitting back behind my parents' house long before that. It was an old house that a distant family member of my grandmother's had lived in at one point long ago. They raised all of their children only a mile away in another house but moved into the new house a bit after their last daughter left the nest. That's where they spent their golden years together. Lucky me, it was right in my back yard. I often curse myself for not visiting them more when I had the chance, but what did I know, I was a foolish kid. I still visited and saw them a bit, but you always wish you had done more after people are gone even when you did enough.

Pap was an important influence in my life, one of my biggest male role models, which are also important for little girls. Pap was retired by the time I came around so he mostly was just working on the house all of the time. Even after he was done working he wasn't done working. He never worked for as long as I could remember but he always seemed to be working on something, if you know what I mean. 

Back when he was sick in February of 2012 he stayed in the hospital briefly and I was at home with Celie, couldn't make it out and my parents had gone to see him or something, I believe. I had wanted to go but had Celie and it would have been hard, so instead I decided to put my attention and focus onto my grandfather and I sat down and penned a tune. It's playable, it's a neonate if you know my filing system; I'm still swaddling it, but suffice it to say it's a song. There are a few embellishments for the form but it’s about 99% biographical. Even though he never heard it or knew it existed it makes me happy that I wrote it while he was still alive; it was originally written in more present tense. When Pap died later that year, during the viewing and funeral this song was playing on a loop in my head. I could hear myself singing it, and that's all I could hear as I witnessed my father solemnly watching as his own father was lowered into the ground. Laid to rest after 93 years of a busy and fruitful life. Thank you for your service, Pap. 

Born in a town that no longer exists,
A man came forth somewhere in the midst,
Heart so strong, it must’ve been steel. 
A poor man so rich it doesn’t seem real.

Listen up here: you wanna know where it’s at?
I’ll tell you a story ‘bout the man I call “Pap”.

Pap caught fish, sold ‘em to the man. 
Just a boy when daddy said to do what you can. 
“Son, poor ain’t nothing but a frame of mind.” 
Gonna make himself a fortune all in due time.

Black lungs and a triple tempered heart,
Pap served his life by playing his part.
Strength showin’ through in every slow step,
Gifting us with each one of his breaths. 

Pap traveled the world, explored foreign lands,
Gaining skills, learning the art of his hands.
Work in the West and war in the East,
Building things up to get bombed by the Beast.

Pap met a girl, her daddy sold ‘em feed.
Letters during the war were just what he’d need. 
From friendship grew love, and they settled down. 
He farmed, raised a family, and mined this ol’ town.

Pap worked the mines most his livin’ years,
Forging a life with his blood, sweat, and tears.
The dust got his lungs but couldn’t get his heart. 
Aged with love, a faithful man plays his part.

Pap worked the farm, sowing all the rows,
Every season, every harvest, you know how it goes.
Tended to his garden, clearing the weeds.
Some earth and the will are all a man needs. 

Pap prayed to God, sat in the first pew,
Every Sunday, all the while his family grew.
Crafted 9 lives, and he raised ‘em up right.
He taught ‘em how to stand and fight the right fight.

Pap raised a family, he provided so well,
How he really did it ain’t so hard to tell.
Faith, hope, and love; a good bit of the word. 
A loving wife and a family, a fortune from the Lord. 

We’re all in your face, in your eyes, in your lips,
We’re in your heart and your hands, your fingertips.
Gratefully letting your legacy grow. 
Strength is found reaping what we sow. 

(February 26, 2012)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Laughing Through the Flames Together

Parenting is a lot of things. It’s an honor, it’s a blessing, it’s a privilege and it’s also a job. Parenthood can either be the most joyous time of your life or a living hell from which there is no escape. Honestly, even though we are encouraged and expected to “cherish every moment” the hard truth is that parenting is often both. Parenthood is the hardest job anyone will ever have...except for maybe that guy that gets his heart ripped out by Mola Ram and is lowered down into the firey pit on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. They aren’t without their similarities, anyway: High pressure. Sacrifice. Rip your heart out. In a cage descending into fire. Very hot. It burns!  

Okay, it’s not all that bad but it helps at times to keep things as light as possible and to not take it too seriously...even though you need to because you are single-handedly making choices that are in part forming your beloved children’s personalities that they will then be at the mercy of forever...and even though they will go forth with these personalities into the world either to make it or break it. Kiiind of totally a huge deal. But don’t worry. No pressure. “Kali maa shakti de!!” 

What could be harder than parenting? Single-parenting, obviously, would take about a thousand cakes on that one. But actually sometimes, albeit to a much lesser degree, it can also be co-parenting. Parenting is hard in general to wrap your will around but meeting another person on the same page who has their own preconceived notions of what parenting is or should be and staying on the same page when it comes to your beliefs on raising children and consistently standing by said beliefs in the face of distraction and frustration…two different heads of the same snarling beast and they both chew your face off. My husband and I can agree that this is often really shitty. Call a spade a spade. We both can also agree, however, that it is the best thing to ever happen to us so where do we meet in the middle of this? That’s the million dollar question. That’s also where the continual relationship work resides. It’s no laughing matter...except for when it is. 

This past weekend my husband and I were jokingly talking about our day, and he had an errand to run. I had the baby on the boob and the other two were being their loud and annoying selves because yes, kids are often loud and annoying no matter how many times you post their pictures on social media decreeing them your angels and your everything. I said, “You guys should go with your father,” giving him an eye and a Cheshire Cat beam. We knew I was mostly joking. His face visibly sunk in an exaggeration of protest because everyone knows it takes twice as long to do any errand with kids in tow, and he said, in a wailing womanly voice: “You haate me!” We laughed. Humor is often your saving grace. It’s also wonderful when our daughter chalks up everything that goes over her head to “adult comedy” as she calls it. We’re not entirely proud but this is where we find ourselves. Parents make jokes because you either laugh or you’ll cry. 

Later that day, after earlier having discussed how his truck has gotten him over 100,000 miles, he said how he had to go out to work on it for awhile. I teasingly accuse him: 

“You know, you’re truck hasn’t needed anything big but you SURE do work on it a lot? What are you sabotaging shit just to get out there and get away from us? ‘OOoh NOOOOoOOO my BRAKE line broke, I better get out there and FIX that today for sure!!’ Is that how it is? ...’Cause that’s what I’d be doing.”

Again, we laughed. Humor through parenthood is like saying that the knife wound in your side kinda looks like a face. It’s simultaneously both denial and complete and total acceptance. We started doing impressions of him taking out his brake lines and other truck parts because they really did go out recently and it does seem he is perpetually working on his truck during his brief time at home. It’s seemingly never ending; duties and projects drag on into a balmy eternity. Everything moves like chilled molasses because there is never enough time in a weekend. It’s funny because the poor guy is actually out there as I write this working on it again. This weekend it’s universal joints. Lucky bastard. It’s funny because it’s not funny. At least we have humor. 

I think if you can laugh together you have a lot to work with. If you can’t make each other laugh, then it’s going to be a hard road for you because it can get a tad rocky and you’re going to feel every bump and stone. If you’re laughing you kinda just roll over the top of some of them and it doesn’t seem like such a bumpy ride even if your shocks are shot. Who you have as a co-pilot traveling with you as your partner in crime on the road of parenthood matters a lot. It helps if you get along with your celly. Your partner ultimately helps to determine how bumpy the ride will be and even when you have a good one the struggle is still real. Parenthood is where relationships go to train for the UFC; it will either make your marriage stronger or take it down blow by blow. 

That poor bastard in the basket on Indiana Jones didn't survive the destructive flames in the pit. He evaporated. Kali needed her sacrifice. It all seems so gruesome. We can just say he represents your egoic parts that need to surrender to the sacrifice. In Hinduism, Kali is the goddess of death and destruction. In her earlier depictions she is often a crone with red eyes, holding weapons and severed heads, with black skin and protruding tongue, a real bad bitch. Westerners generally view her as evil because of her form and requirements of destruction and human sacrifice. But in her complexity, she is a dualistic goddess, in her later Kali Ma form she is also a symbol of Mother Nature, nurturing and benevolent. Kali is like the transformative power of tough love, your darkness transmuted. When we are breaking apart from circumstance and heading into darkness that is Kali, but when we are fitting the pieces back together and finding our light, that is also Mother Kali. From my understanding, that is. Maybe you can see where I’m heading with this metaphor. 

Dealing with the stresses of parenthood together exposes you to each other’s deepest wounds. If there is anything ugly in your core kids will pull that dark shit right out of you and cover it in glitter and boogers before shoving it directly and repeatedly into your frame of view. “Look! LOOK! Do you see this?!” Kids are Mola Ram invoking the power of Kali to tear into your chest and hold your still-beating heart in front of your face before sacrificing your ego in a pit of flames. In short: kids’ll fuck you up. You need a strong resolve to survive the destruction of the goddess Kali. It requires a tight connection, a sturdy bond to hold your relationship together in the fire as the flesh of your old selves is seared away in sacrifice. Parenthood is some serious shit. It burns a good bit but as with much of life, it helps to laugh.