Are you still a fan if you close your eyes?

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven

Hey now, Ludwig Van (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You wouldn’t like him so much if he were some everyday Joe shoe salesman with a tidy haircut,” my friend says as she tilts back a sip of sangria.

“Shoe salesman? Do they even exist anymore?” I counter, crunching on a baby carrot.

“It’s the rock star thing: guitar, cool clothes, crazy hair. It puts them up there, above the rest,” she explains. “Put him in a UPS uniform and he’s nowhere.”

I don’t tell her that I’ve witnessed some hotness in UPS-issue brown.

“Sure. I get it. If he were a shoe salesman or a delivery guy, I wouldn’t be swooning over his fitting skills, his hand truck prowess.  The point is he is who he is because of his talent —  looks or not,” I say, defending my undying devotion to Jack White, and the idea that we like musicians for their sound more than their looks. Most of the time.

Why must I do this?

If you say you like Justin Beiber, it’s assumed looks come before talent. If you say you like Marilyn Manson, I know it’s about the music. Or, maybe it’s both.

Even around this meeting table with food and wine, the women are split on the looks/talent vote for Mr. White among others. So, which is it?  If you say you like Beethoven, no one says it’s because of his tight breeches or his crazy hair. It’s because he was a master composer piano virtuoso kind of guy. Most of us know Mr. B by his music, not his looks. Although this portrait piques my curiosity:

Intense. Edgy. Looks like he might throw you out of the theater for sneezing. I do like Beethoven. His ninth and fifth symphonies are booming, robust and, dare I say, a bit sexy? Would I like Ludwig Van more if I were able to watch him perform with that crazy hair and flowing ascot?

I think so. But, it’s not necessary.

So maybe my friend has a point. Would you know Beethoven’s music back in the day if you were not privileged enough to attend a live show? It’s not as if the local cobbler’s daughter was fantasizing about Ludwig Van next to the crank-up Victrola.

My friend says she knew Mr. White way back when and has nothing good to report about his demeanor or his appearance. She says she wouldn’t  pay a penny to see him live.

“That may be true, but I don’t care,” I fire back. “I don’t want to date him or chat over coffee with him. I just want him to keep doing that thing that he does so I can listen and go to concerts. It’s about the musicianship.”

“Riiiight, the musicianship,” the other women purr, winking at me and laughing.

It’s hopeless.

They don’t get it and I cannot figure out how to convince anyone otherwise. I remember when I discovered Led Zeppelin. I liked the sound way before I ever watched concert footage of Robert Plant’s sexy hair and tight pants. As far as I was concerned it was a bonus. Same with Robert Smith of The Cure. This was the pre-Internet era. If you didn’t religiously watch MTV or subscribe to music magazines, how would you know what any artist looked like? Album covers and liner notes don’t tell the story.

When I queue up The Cure on my iPod at the gym,  I connect Smith’s searing whine with the face above, even though it’s more likely attached to this:

Yikes! How sad I am to see Mr. Smith is aging along with the rest of us, no longer able to rock the midnight hair and heavy makeup. Which, side note here and a lesson to both genders: heavy eye makeup paired with dark lipstick is no one’s friend after 40. Am I right?

——

If you ‘ve made it this far, forgive this random, pointless post. It’s five years of this blogging nonsense and where has it gotten me? No fame, fortune, or accolades yet. Just a well-worn cushion on the Internet. Carry on.

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Moving on

I made a clean break from a long-term relationship. Not a romance. Not a binding contract. Not a coffee buddy. This was a business relationship that blossomed into a friendship. The lines blurred, making it difficult to get away.

We met in the late ’90s, when I was newly divorced, newly relocated, and in need of a pick-me-up. He was starting his career and looking for clients.

We clicked immediately, sharing the same humor, taste in music, and life philosophies. I trusted him fully with all my needs in his area of expertise. An appointment stretched for hours past the booked time as we drank coffee or beer and talked. It was the perfect relationship. He invited me to his parties and events. We knew each others’ darkest secrets. I really thought the only thing that would split us up would be my move out west.

Then, things changed, as they always do.

He jumped from one storefront location to another, citing personality conflicts. I followed. He was losing friends as well as partners, slipping slowly into a morass of his own making. I stood by him, supported him, encouraged him to stay positive. Then, he became estranged from his family for reasons that seemed trivial to me. I listened but started to feel put upon. I couldn’t get a word in most times.

It was then I realized that it had been a long time since I’d seen the breezy, funny guy I met in the late ’90s. He was moody and distant. He was slow in returning calls, late for appointments, stopped listening to my requests. His workplace was dark and empty. He excused himself repeatedly during business appointments. He was intensely angry. His hands shook when he worked. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. I slowly admitted what I’d suspected for a while: He was on something when I was paying him to perform a service. I considered that I would have to find someone new. The last time I saw him, I told him how much I cared about him, how worried I was, that he needed help to get his life back, that he deserved better.

What I didn’t say is that I would not be back, that I deserved better, too. I didn’t have the heart. As with most things, if the person isn’t well and isn’t ready to get well, then he isn’t going to listen.

The last few times I paid him for his work, I felt ripped off and angry. I questioned my loyalty and my failure to disengage from relationships turned toxic. It was time to break things off.

But how? Our suburb is like a small town. We live within blocks of each other. It could be awkward.

Not knowing any other way, I let time pass and did nothing. As I thought about my next move, the winds of fate delivered into my open hands a coupon to a similar business with glowing recommendations.

Nervous as a cheating lover, I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers. I made an appointment.

On the appointed day, I stepped into a bright place with happy people at the ready. People who remained at their work station, who did not make excuses or have suspect behavior, who engaged in polite small talk. I walked out a satisfied and peaceful customer.  My worst fears were not realized.

I think I understand better now the need for professional boundaries.

My feelings are a mix of relief, of sadness over the loss of a friend and professional relationship, and the realization that nothing lasts forever.

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Paying my dues to the club

If there is a heaven, this is what it would look like for my father.

The day my father died suddenly was the day fate handed me a lifetime membership in The Dead Dads Club. Everything shifted in my world, which had already turned on its axis 18 months earlier with the birth of my first child.

I like to think I grew up that year, that I became a better person as a result of these events.  I like to think once I change for the better, it is a permanent change. Just as all of life is fleeting, so is any state of being. One day I woke up to realize I am riding the same trajectory as my father.

Today, my post is on Mama Mary’s newly launched site, The Dead Dads Club. It is through this longtime endeavor of Mary’s that we met online four years ago. The site is a companion piece to her book, a compilation of essays from other members of the club. It’s  a club we all wish didn’t exist, to which diminishing membership would be a plus. But life is not like that. People come into our lives and they leave. Ours is not to know the when, where, and why, only to know that it is inevitable and we must stumble along the dark path from grief to healing.

Click on over and read for yourself. Thank you.

Wild things

I remember the day I first discovered the magic of Maurice Sendak.  Intrigued by the dozing monster on the cover of this slim volume tucked away in my elementary school library, I pulled its taped spine from the shelf and cracked opened the well-worn pages.

Trouble begins on the first page. A little boy in a costume, acting naughty, goes to his room without dinner. Then, strange things happen. Trunks and foliage sprout from the floorboards and bedpost, stretch skyward, knocking away walls and windows.  The ceiling retracts, exposing stars and clouds suspended above “the world all around.”

What luck: A private boat with his name on it sails him far away across a choppy sea to a land of monsters, which he tames with his staring trick. 

What an amazing — and scary — thing to have happen to your bedroom, especially when you are a kid in trouble. Nothing like that ever happened to me. The story reminded me of a time when I was young and I thought I’d have a solo adventure in the woods. When I was too far to run to safety or call for help, I heard the sloshing and branch-snapping of a large animal in the swamp. I stood still, heart bouncing in my chest, breathing heavily but quietly, until the sounds receded. Bear? Deer? Swamp monster? I’m sure I couldn’t tame it with my staring trick, but I did wish for a magic vehicle to sweep me away.

Much like that swamp encounter, my heart races as I thumb through the pages of “Where the Wild Things Are” ignoring the words at first in favor of drinking in the mesmerizing illustrations, which are neither too cheerful nor overly terrifying. As I sit cross-legged on the little carpet, I flip back to the beginning over and over, to carefully study the metamorphosis from tame to wild to tame again. I decide which monster is scariest: it’s a tie between the one with the rooster beak and the one with the bull horns.

There is danger but there also is power in this tale. I believe in monsters of all shapes. Some live in the shadows behind the attic door in my upstairs bedroom, others lurk under the bed. Some live in the bright light of day, visible to all, but only scary to me. I have no power.

It didn’t take long for someone else in the library that day to notice I was hoarding “Where the Wild Things Are.” He stomped over and demand I turn it over for his perusal. Reluctantly, I handed it to him and watched as a crowd of boys gathered around to follow Max’s journey. From that day on, it became a game of who’d get to the book first.

I’m sure I thought about Max’s adventure that night as I lay under covers, gazing at the sturdy walls, wondering if they had the potential to transform into something wild, or if my roof might retract to show the heavens.

I thought about it years later when I had my first child and the book was gifted to us. My little Girl from the West loved it so much she called it “Wild Rumpus.” I’d read it and we’d jump up and down in her room, roaring our terrible roars and gnashing our terrible teeth, making our own wild rumpus. I still have the framed print I made for her third birthday. It now hangs in our downstairs bath, an homage to the power of  imagination.  My husband, also a fan, brought to our marriage two copies of the book, along with soft cover collection of Sendak’s art.

So it was with surprise today that I learned Sendak died. I wasn’t sure I knew he was alive.  NPR aired an interview with Terry Gross from the ’80s.  He was a brusque, to-the-point kind of guy. I listened with pleasure and interest.  l liked how his mind worked, how he marched to a different beat.

A little reminder to us all: our children are wild and they have incredible imaginations. Let us tame the former to reasonable standards and the latter to no extent at all.

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