Monday, August 31, 1998

Restless Soul

There once was a mole named Peeper
Who kept digging his hole deeper and deeper
'Til he just wanted to let out a howl
But all he knew how to do was crawl
And the path he faced grew steeper and steeper

There were a couple lessons learned the past few weeks. It's much more difficult to move forward when you are not sure what is around the corner. You may be in a rut, a routine that isn't all that enjoyable but sometimes that is much more easy to deal with than not knowing what comes next. As I was saying my mandatory good-byes to people I've gotten to know the past two years it kind of meant a lot to me how many people said they appreciated the work I did and agreed upon what my next line of work should be. I didn't have the heart to tell them that the day I jump off the bridge it won't exactly be a coincidence that my trustworthy pen will be behind my ear.

A voice from out east called me and told me she has confidence that all the answers I am looking for are inside. I think I actually agree although it occurs to me that I'm not exactly sure where the world starts and where my writing stops and where memory ends and feeling begins. She said looking within I'll be able to see who I truly am, and that person probably isn't the bureaucrat I've somehow gotten comfortable being.

Now our good friend ole' Peep
After several nights of restless sleep
Decided he no longer wanted to be a mole
And he wanted to climb out of his hole
But his identity was the only thing he could keep

I always thought I was the type who didn't wrap his self esteem around his job. I don't think what ultimately defines me is my job title, how much I'm making or where I am working. I always tried to separate who I think I am from the job I chose to do. At the same time personal values such as loyalty, dependability and doing the best job I could did define who I thought I was. It surprises me how hard not having a full time job has hit me. What I was doing did help me see who I am. It's hard to prove you are dependable without some work tasks in front of you. This year has been quite the unpredictable year- from Frank to a kitty too far gone to save, from a change in occupations to an unfinished attic. I feel as if I just walked around in a big circle and either have to start all over again or preferably, somewhere else.

And that's just it. Although life is about dealing with loss it's also about learning from the losses and knowing how to look at the opportunities and possibilities that exist. Though it is a bit frightening quitting one job without another lined up, it is also a bit liberating to think I can look at other opportunities now, that I can end up doing something I enjoy doing.

Maku wa itsu aki-masu ka? Wanna know the absolute best part about my self imposed time off and exile so far? It's given me a chance to listen to some CDs that I've been meaning to listen to but haven't had the chance. Both those I haven't paid enough attention to and those that have been my favorites but I haven't played recently in order to catch up with some of the newer additions to my collection. "Oh where did I go wrong my love? What petty crime was I found guilty of? What better time to find a brand new day?" It's when you begin to realize that while it's nice to have time for self contemplation and naval observation, there is something greater out there. Inspiration.

Though it is a rather discomforting to do it probably is a good thing to force yourself to occasionally break the mirror and look at things in a different light. Although the place and the state of mind is all too familiar (like a raw nerve, painful to the touch, has been exposed) the difference this time is I don't know if I ever could say this truthfully before or not: I wouldn't trade the people in my life for those in the past. I had dinner with my best friend and her family on Monday. My newest best friend made an unexpected stop at my work on my last day making it wistfully special. I had my usual dinner with Mom and Dad on Tuesday. Two of my sisters called to see how I was doing. This is the way part of me wants it to be. Honesty is next to the thigh bone.

Still I wonder why I recently have thought so much about Mother's Day day one year ago when I went to the Woodbury Target shopping with my long lost friend just to buy things we put off buying. She drove and I had a department store hot dog for lunch. I felt so comfortable, one of the rare times when you know you are where you are supposed to be but you know the feeling won't last. Those moments always seem just out of reach.

Was it too late for Peeper to change?
To pick up his things and rearrange?
He looked deep within himself as a mole
Tried to reconnect to what had once been his soul
Only to find feelings both familiar and strange

Monday, August 24, 1998

The Sad Story of Susie Q

This past week was a bit more eventful and stressful than usual. In the end the image that will remain is having my Quién Mas Sabé wave good-bye to me with her toes. Quite impressive I must say. Because that is the lasting image, and one that caused me to smile, I think I must report my mental state is a bit stronger than it has been in the past. I'm just a little sore from it all.

The week began on a positive note with my softball team's successful appearance in the state's tournament held annually at the fields by Lake Phalen. I've been playing on this team for the past seven years. The first few seasons we seldom won any of our games. Last year we finished second in the tournament. This year we had the best record in the league. Thus it was a tad disappointing when we fell apart in the final inning of our first game of the tournament. Ahead by seven runs we played our poorest inning of the season and lost. It was a double elimination tournament meaning we had put ourselves in a rather large hole. We couldn't lose another game or else we would be eliminated. It was a rather dismal beginning to a tournament that we felt we legitimately could win.

We won our second game on Saturday afternoon and thus had to play the next morning at 10:00 a.m. Early Sunday morning thunderstorms rolled through the area and whether or not the tournament would continue was in question. The skies looked rather dreary during our first game and a few drops of rain fell upon us. We won a close game and blew away our opposition in the second game. In the third game we were playing a team that has always given us trouble, a team that has the best hitter in the league on its roster. By that time it was around noon, hot and humid and we were all rather tired. But we played surprisingly well and continued on.

By winning our fourth game that day we now were in a semi-decent position to win the tournament. We were playing the last undefeated team, meaning we would have to beat them twice to be champions. We were playing well as a team so I knew our chances were good. We were in the opposite role as we were in last year's tournament where we were the last undefeated team and lost twice to a team that clearly was better than us.

The key moment in our fifth game came in the fifth inning when we were behind by four runs and the opposing team was threatening to blow the game open. There was one out with runners on second and third. Their team's best hitter lofted a fly ball out to me in right field. The wind was blowing away from me and I took an initial wrong angle on the fly ball. I realized it was over my head so I darted back as fast as I could. At the last instant I reached my glove back as far as I could and barely snared the ball. The catch caught the umpire by surprise and she allowed both runners to score without tagging up but it also gave us momentum. We had reached a point in the game where every out recorded was important..

By the championship game we were clearly feeling it was ours' to lose. The other team seemed even more worn out than us even though we had played two more games that day than they had. Personally my legs, the key to my game, were long gone. I was hitting popups all afternoon. Tired, sweaty, and dehydrated, it had become a matter of endurance for us all. But we managed to play an outstanding championship game defensively, and scored enough to win. It was a day none of us will ever forget.

In the middle of the week I was at my desk when a young woman appeared at our counter. She looked familiar although I knew I had never seen her before. But I knew right away who she was. She looked too much like her mother to disguise the fact. It was the daughter of the woman I admire most at work. About a year ago the daughter was in a serious car accident from which she suffered head injuries and was in a coma for several weeks. That she looked so healthy and full of life was a comforting sight. After speaking with her mother she left and the mother turned to me with a smile. I asked her how her daughter was doing. "She's doing well," mother beamed proudly. "I used to say she was 15 going on 21, now I say she's 15 going on 13. I guess that isn't entirely bad," she said equal parts proud and with her typical humor.

The week concluded with me walking away from my job and now facing the difficulty of finding another. The psyche was a bit shaken. But after a wonderful dinner with one who after a similar stressful situation has come out with deserved opportunities and has returned to herself (a wonderful sight for sore eyes) I know that things will somehow work out. They somehow always do if you keep what is important in mind.

Monday, August 17, 1998

Cool Tall Vulnerable and Luscious

Liz Phair seems like the kind of woman you could take a road trip to a city like Brainerd with, pass a sign on the highway that says, "LOCAL HONEY" and as you state the inevitably self defining but equally annoying, "We must stop and see how Connie Stevens is doing..." she would react perfectly (which means either giving you the skunk eye, or giggling appreciatively). In other words she seems like the type of person who is ever skeptical but in a fun way.

Her third full length CD, whitechocolatespaceegg is full of songs just like that, shared moments in familiar and intimate language with snippets of insight, intrigue and humor. This was a much anticipated CD from an artist who, since the last time we heard from her, has gotten married and had her first child. I bought the CD on my way to Brainerd for a conference. Though it was great hearing her familiar voice singing new songs amongst the roar of semi's and road construction, it wasn't exactly ideal traveling music. It isn't the type of music you are going to instinctively bob your head to, but rather the type of music where you want to listen to the lyrics carefully. None of the songs on the CD stand out like her best earlier work, songs like Fuck and Run, Divorce Song, and Supernova. Where those songs were immediately familiar and unique at the same time, the best songs on whitechocolatespaceegg are quieter, not as brash or enigmatic.

It occurred to me on my way to Brainerd that most of us have defining moments in our lives that become the standard for all else that follows. For many its high school or college, for some its their wedding day or birth of a child. For Phair it seems to be all those things with the added professional challenge of having everything she does compared with her still startling and masterful debut, Exile in Guyville. That unfortunately is unfair because the standard that CD set would be hard for anyone to match.

Still Phair's songs since Exile have been consistently filled with esoteric moments of rewarding introspection and insight. She is one of the few writers who can walk the fine line between getting the listener to wonder "what does that mean?" while at the same time intuitively feeling what is being expressed. The best songs on whitechocolatespaceegg sound almost improvised, written in a stream of consciousness, yet casually communicative style. One moment she can share a line that seems deeply personal, "And it goes around in circles; one night is lovely, the next is brutal. And you and I are in way over our heads with this one..." The next defuses the intensity with her droll humor, "It's nice to be liked but it's better by far to get paid..."

Much has been made about the six month delay in the release of the CD along with the four credited producers. There is a lack of focus, connection between the songs as if those involved had different goals in mind. Yet having heard demo versions of the songs and the original recording that was rejected by the studio, I must say the finished product works on a level that wasn't present in earlier versions. My favorite song is Ride which begins with childlike lullaby lyrics about getting home drunk and depressed. The song paraphrases a familiar prayer, "And if I die before I wake, I hope the Lord won't hesitate to pluck my coffin from the ground. He need not heed the neighbors now..." And concludes with a different type of prayer about the biology of an inebriated state of mind reflecting on the fragile mortality of life, "I get a ride 98.5. Positive T-Cell, regeneration..." It is the kind of song that Phair remains one of the few who can pull off- simple in its message, personal in its images, universal in its ultimate message.

Another highlight is Girls Room which is a sly look at girls locker room talk. "And we hear Terry says that Tricia's OK but she ought to learn to shave her bikini line better..." And Polyester Bride (which she nervously but admirably performed on last Wednesday's Late Show with David Letterman) where she openly wonders about the price of fame and how she has gotten to where she now (somewhat reluctantly) is. It is wonderful song about a conversation with Henry the local bartender. "You're lucky to be alive. You're lucky to be drinking here for free cause I'm a sucker for your lucky, pretty eyes."

Much has happened between this CD and the last. The success of Lilith Fair, the trend in the industry where female singer/songwriters are now recognized as creating much of the best music has left Phair in a unique position. She'll never attain the popularity of Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morissette, or the acclaim of Ani Difranco or Tori Amos yet she remains one of the few artists whose songs continue to reveal more with each listen.

Monday, August 10, 1998

Long Term Purpose

I'm not the type of guy who usually likes to water his lawn (with his sprinkler that is). Somehow I view that as Mother Nature's job and I'm not paying a penny more than I have to on my water bill. Still last Saturday as I crunched my way across my backyard lawn and noticed it was a severe shade of brush fire brown, I decided it was time for me to do a little outdoor sprinkling for the first time this summer.

I ran my sprinkler all morning and afternoon. As it so often goes, that night we had showers and it pretty much has rained off and on all week. On the one hand the rain is a good thing taking care of a problem much better than I ever could. But I took it as some cruel irony and being punished for not paying enough attention. It's been so wet now I have to worry about the mushrooms springing up around the yard. There are probably several lessons to be learned here. One of which is to know when to show a little patience and let things come to you. Another is to do a little research (in this case listening to the weather forecast) to find out if there is anything you should know before you take action. One other lesson is it really doesn't take much to return things back to normal. After a week of rain my lawn is its usual shade of healthy weed green.

Later on in the week I was on my way down to St. Cloud for a day's training. The night before I had a nightmare, the kind where you wake up shaken and never quite get to sleep again. Something about silence. So as I prepared for the morning I was groggy and somehow more alert than usual. It was gray and sprinkling outside and it was one of those mornings where the temptation, the thought of staying on the road and driving right by my destination to keep on going crossed my mind. I was judging my estimated time of arrival in St. Cloud by the ninety minute tape of all my current favorite songs I had made the day before. It seemed like I had been driving forever when I reached the halfway point and I had to flip the tape over.

I don't know what was more depressing, the drab blue billboard that read it was a monument to the 100,000 babies killed every year by abortions or the big glitzy Grand Casino sign right after it advertising the upcoming Billy Ray Cyrus show. Ever get the feeling that there is a whole wide world going on out there that you really don't know anything about? You can get so used to your normal drive to work, the normal events of your routine that you never stop and think there are a trillion other lives going on at the same time. Still it was comforting for some unknown reason when I neared St. Cloud and passed a sign indicating I was near by Silver Creek/Hasty. Yes indeed, one knows one has hit the big time when one drives by Hasty.

My drive home was a bit more hectic than the leisurely drive down. I had a softball game that I was needed at in a mere ninety minutes. I did something a little beyond cruising to make it on time. To my surprise I played a pretty damn good game and we won, clinching first place. And for anyone who thinks softball is merely an excuse to drink beer, once again this evening beautifully demonstrated the metaphorical qualities of the sport. You can hit a ball as hard as you can and if it is right at someone you have not succeeded. You can dink one off the handle of your bat and it might just be in the right spot to create all sorts of havoc. In softball it isn't always a matter of being good. Often it's just as important to be lucky.

I returned to the office feeling more energized, all trained and raring to go to show off all my new gained knowledge. Early in the morning there wasn't a lot of activity going on as few of us were in the office. I was deep in thought and walking toward the back room when I dropped my pen. An angel appeared and handed it back to me. It was one of those dreamy symbolic moments of clarity and grace answering some clumsiness and routine awkwardness. I'm not even sure it really ever happened but it sure feels like it did. Congratulations roller bladers!

Monday, August 3, 1998

Jenni Cam on the Dave Show

I know you are all watching. I can just feel it. But for any of you who missed this past week's episode of my life (sponsored by America Online!) I'll recap things for you. And if it really is not true that all of life is a stage, and if it turns out that no one is really watching, I'll be the first to say that some of my truly finest moments occur when I'm alone and thus sadly go unnoticed. I'm talking specifically about my twenty minute drive to and from work.

When I took a job in Stillwater two years ago one of my biggest concerns was the distance of the commute. In less than six short months I doubled the mileage I put on my car. And never having been one to enjoy the art of driving in the first place, the time spent on the road was not exactly appreciated. I soon realized I had to change my way of thinking, and my driving philosophy if I was to continue on in this particular position. And the change actually was easily attained- it merely happened by realizing that it isn't a race or a competition out there- the only goal is to reach your destination safely and in one piece. Now I actually take pride in the fact that I'm one of the few out there that abides by the posted speed limit. I try my best not to let the truly annoying behavior of many of the drivers out there to irritate me. If someone cuts me off, fails to signal, leaves their signal on for two miles, tailgates, or generally drives in an aggressive manner, I just let them pass on by and smile innocently. It also helps to have a good car stereo. I love to sing along to my collection of music. Besides the shower I sound best in the small confines of my car. And what is endlessly amusing is I will change the lyrics to the song playing on my car stereo to fit my driving situation. I ad lib such clever things as, "What the hell are you doing?" and "Geez your driving sucks..." to the tune of any numerous Dylan songs.

On this particular day I left my house at my normal time (6:45) and drove down Hwy 36 to Hwy 35 to Hwy 694 headed due east. Just about the time I passed the exit to White Bear Avenue I remembered I left my security card to enter the office back home. Because I'm such a dedicated public servant I usually arrive at work 45 minutes before most of my co-workers. I didn't want to have to sit in the lobby waiting for someone to arrive. So I did what I didn't want to do- I turned around and went back home. The best thing about my drive to work is all the heavy traffic is headed the other direction. Unfortunately on this morning I had to join this godawful traffic flow. Curses.

But the day went well. As I got home I had all but enough energy to fix dinner. It has also been a bit of a trying period in this department since my parents are on vacation in Seattle. Usually they make sure to stock my refrigerator because they don't want to see their youngest child starve to death. But I've been on my own for the past two weeks. I asked my friend for advice and she told me to go grocery shopping (even less enjoyed than driving) and to make sure to make a list before I scrambled through the experience. So I did, all the while drooling over the thought of my meal, venison steaks provided by my Quién Mas Sabé. On my list I had "salad fixings" which I thought would nicely compliment the steaks. I got home with the lettuce, with the peppers, with the mushrooms, only to discover I had no salad dressings. Damn. Nonetheless the steaks lightly peppered with Jalepeno pepper and grilled outside turned out perfect. Man those boys were tasty. I dearly loved 'em.

Properly fed my next project for the night was to caulk my bathtub. And I'm proud of the outcome which doesn't really look like some amateur performed the project. I discovered the perfect caulking music to be John Prine's Sweet Revenge, don't ask me why. Yet I was reminded that for every action in life there are reactions. Because I caulked my bathtub, I ended up burning my chest. Go figure: I read the instructions on the caulk which said to let dry for at least 36 hours. So I did it over the weekend when I knew my parents were out of town and I could use their shower. But because I look quite frightful in the morning before my shower I bypassed my weekly treat of a Cafe Latté from the coffee shop across the street. Instead I pulled out the french press my sister gave me for Christmas. The last time I washed it, the plunger part came apart and I wasn't exactly sure how to put it back together. Turns out I didn't do it correctly. After pouring the boiling water into the container, I pushed down on the press and boiling water squirted out all over the place but mostly on my t-shirt. Ouch.

Then I tried out my new batting stance in my softball game- an exaggerated Ricky Henderson type crouch to try to make them pitch the ball to me low. It was a crucial point in the ball game and the pitcher had just walked a couple guys. I come up with the bases loaded and he throws me two borderline pitches that the umpire calls balls. The pitcher goes ballistic, "How can I pitch to this guy?" he screams at the umpire. They bring in a new pitcher and I rap a line drive hit to left. I'm a ballerina on the ball field my friend says.