Monday, May 24, 2010

Late Bloomer

There has been a wisteria next to our driveway since we moved into this house, growing around a big gum tree. In the ten years we have lived here, it has never once bloomed. Not even a little. For several years, we tried everything that anyone suggested to get the thing to flower. We fed it, we starved it, we disturbed the roots, we cut it back. Nothing.

Eventually we gave up. We decided it was never going to bloom. I intended to dig it up, but have not ever quite gotten around to it. It continued to grow, and every year it continued not to flower.

Then this Spring, just before Easter, for no apparent reason, I noticed a single bloom hanging over the driveway. When I told The Wife, her response was, "Shut up!" She stopped whatever it was she was doing to come see. You would have thought I had found a pot of gold, or the face of Jesus in an oil stain, seeing how excited we were. It was kind of stupid.

Today I turn -- well, older. A little more than twenty years ago, on my thirty-somethingth birthday, I was served divorce papers. It was also my ninth wedding anniversary. At that point in my life, I had accumulated about a hundred credit hours toward no particular major at a series of ever less distinguished colleges and universities. I lived in a strange town, far from friends or family. I had a crappy one bedroom apartment that I couldn't afford, and a new job that I kind of hated. I was ending my third career in twelve years.

In short, I had less than no money, no prospects, and a seven year old Subaru station wagon with a slow leak in the right rear tire. I had failed at nearly everything I tried. My life was over, and I had a lot of sad, lonely years ahead of me. I was destined to end up selling cheap suits at Men's Wearhouse.* I had made a few new friends, and they were about all that was keeping me afloat.

Today, I have been married for more than ten years to a woman who is not crazy, and in fact makes me laugh almost every day. She will undoubtedly buy me a great birthday present and then worry that it is not good enough. I have two college degrees in a field I love. We live in a big, comfortable old house, and most mornings I drive three miles down the prettiest road in town to one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, where I have ideas for a living. I still find plenty to complain about, but most of it is meaningless. My life is unbelievably sweet.

I hear people talk occasionally about how unsatisfied they are with their lives at 26 or 30, and I find this both humorous and sad. Humorous, because I know how young that is, and how much it can change. Sad, because I know that some of them will give up. A few will even be overwhelmed with despair, and cut the journey short.

Life can change in an instant. Whether lovestruck, lightning-struck, car-struck or hit with a realization, we all have moments on which our whole existence pivots, and takes a new direction. If things are good, savor every blessed moment. If you're waiting for things to improve, well, waiting serves a purpose, too.

In the end, we never know when the first bloom will appear. All we can do is wait, and grow, and try to believe that it will happen.

* I guarantee it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On truthiness

One good thing about having a blog with few readers is that I have been able to pretty much count on no one I know seeing what I write, and in turn not being offended by it. The only person from my 4-D world who has known about this blog from the beginning is The Wobbler, and the statute of limitations may not have expired on many of the stories I would tell about him, so he doesn't show up in my posts that often.

Over time, more friends and colleagues have discovered my blog, and I think one or two of them still read it. Since I have no imagination, I am more or less forced to write about people I know (or used to know) and things that have happened, setting up the possibility that someone is going to read a story in which they played a significant role. The awkwardness could be amplified by the fact that my posts may be more "based on historical events" than actually true.

My father firmly believed that one should never let inconvenient facts stand in the way of a good story, though he never would have admitted it. I feel somewhat honor bound to carry on that tradition. Plus, my memory is fading fast, so many of the events from my life have big gaps in them. It is possible that there is a pensieve in the house somewhere, but if there is, I have stored within it the memory of where I keep it.

So if you read a story here that seems very much like something that happened to you, but without the fairies and gunfire, let me just apologize in advance and assure you that it's nothing personal. And by nothing personal, I mean I will try to remember not to use your real name. I will also do my best not to reveal any dark secrets. In other words, if I write about it, be assured that I've already told all of our mutual friends.

And if there are stories you know you would rather not have published on the interwebs (possibly with pictures), then you should probably let me know. Because otherwise, you know it's just a matter of time before I write about that one time when we were all at that place with those people and that thing happened.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Damn Right, I've Got the Blues!

Last night, Buddy Guy played a benefit concert at the Pointe Coupee Civic Center to a hometown crowd of a few hundred people. We were able to score some VIP tickets from a friend connected to the show, and I watched the 90 minute performance from the center of the second row. I still have a big smile stuck to my face, despite exceeding the maximum recommended number of beers for a Sunday night.

Those of you who have seen Buddy Guy live are already jealous. I cannot remember ever seeing a better show. And if you haven't been paying attention, I've seen a lot of concerts.

If you don't know his work, don't feel left out. He has never really been a household name. But Buddy Guy is a man who inspired a generation of electric guitar gods, and changed modern music forever. Jimi Hendrix would sometimes cancel his own shows to go see Buddy Guy play. Eric Clapton called him, "by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive." Stevie Ray Vaughan used to say that without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughan. He simply does things with an electric guitar that you wouldn't think are possible. He played a medley at the end of the show that included selections from Clapton, Hendrix, and others, and he mimicked each of their styles effortlessly. And he can sing!

 I didn't really expect that much when I committed to go. After all, the man is 73 years old, and I've seen the Cream reunion videos. It was also held in a place that is basically a gymnasium with a stage at the end, similar to hotel ballrooms where one often eats rubber chicken in uncomfortable chairs and listens to boring motivational speeches. Or wedding toasts. I assumed it would be somewhat nostalgic, and a moderate amount of fun, and he would probably sit for a good part of the show. I thought he might even play by himself.

OH MY EFFING GEE*, was I wrong! He ripped through an hour and a half of blues, rock, soul, and genre-defying pieces with so much energy, and showmanship, and jaw-dropping skill that it was over before we could even really catch our collective breath.  Not only did he not sit, we didn't spend much time in our seats, either.

He played the guitar behind his back.

He played the guitar with a drumstick.

He played the guitar with a towel.

He played the guitar lying on a speaker, fingering with the towel.

He played the guitar with his FRACKING TEETH!

Which is all fun and fine and we've all seen it, except for the fact that you couldn't tell by listening that he was playing behind his back, or with a drumstick, or with a towel, or with his fracking teeth. It sounded like someone really talented playing the guitar.  Seriously. For reals. We kept looking at the band guitarist to make sure he wasn't picking up the slack. He wasn't.

The band was outstanding. I would probably pay to see them, even without Buddy Guy. Not as much, but still.

At one point, he strolled around on the floor, singing, and playing, and letting us know what his Momma told him. He passed close enough for me to push him over, but I didn't, partially because the big guy following him would probably have smacked me across the head with the big police flashlight he was carrying.

And oh, what he does to the women, no matter what age or ethnicity. I was keeping a close eye on the wife at the reception after the show, where he signed autographs and took pictures with people for well over an hour. Buddy seemed to enjoy the attention from the girls, despite being visibly drained from the show. Also, it was probably past his bedtime.

One side note of the "let this be a lesson to you" variety. Buddy Guy was born in Pointe Coupee Parish and left home when he was 19. He said that in the intervening half century, no one had ever asked him to come back home to play. All it took to make it happen was one spunky little lady without the sense to know that someone like that would never come to a place like this. She called, he said yes, and then she had to figure out how to pull it all together.

Oh, one more lesson. This opportunity did not come through any of my old show business friends. With one exception, none of them have done anything music-related for me since I left the business. This particular opportunity came from a friend I met in graduate school, who owns a business in the area. So stay in school kids, and maybe take some science. Someday you might get to meet Ludacris. Or Fifty Cent. Or whatever random crap-of-the-month you damned kids listen to these days.

Buddy's skills are apparent on his records and DVD's, but it compares to his live shows about like a picture of a baguette compares to the smell of baking bread. If you've ever liked blues, or soul, or electric guitars, you need to see Buddy Guy, before this unique American treasure disappears forever. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

* Sorry to have to pull out the interweb abbreviation curses, but sometimes nothing else will do.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On being alone

A few days ago, my brother sent me the transcript of a speech delivered to the cadets at West Point by William Deresiewicz, an old and somewhat crusty book critic who likes to flip the occasional metaphorical bird at the literary establishment. It's an interesting, if somewhat rambling discourse, with the gist being that true leadership requires (among other things) introspection, focused concentration, sustained reading, and friendship of the meaningful conversations kind.  All of these activities he says are related to solitude, which is not so much being alone as being able to be present within oneself.* He reserves a few of his tastiest jabs for those who seem to confuse leadership with ambition.

As I get older I run across more people who are semi-permanently on their own. A few are widows, more are divorced, and some just never really managed to pair up for whatever reason. Some have kids at home. A few have parents living with them, or requiring daily care. But one thing they practically all share is a sort of apartness, a combined self-reliance, independence, and seeming ability to live a little more in the moment than those of us who are more permanently entangled.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I have almost always enjoyed being alone is that those are some of my favorite personal traits. I mean, I love people, and no one is more ready to pile a bunch of people into his house or dance stupid in a bar than this guy. But I also like it when the people go away for a while. My favorite days at work are the ones I spend alone in my lab, and the only people I talk to are the baristas at the coffee bar in the bookstore.

I especially like solitude in nature. I can spend hours sitting by a creek or on top of a bluff, studying the infinite variety of trees, leaves, and rocks, listening to the wind and watching the little animals do their little animal things. If you put me somewhere I can hike, I will keep going out until I am too sore to walk. And maybe a short walk after that.

One exception to this love affair with myself occurred immediately after my first marriage split up. I kept finding myself in my crappy little apartment full of hand me down furniture, increasingly desperate to talk to someone on the phone, or to go somewhere that other people would be. They didn't have this fancy Internet thing back then, so there was no YouTube or Facebook to keep me company. Besides, the ex took the computer, so I couldn't even go on Prodigy® and do whatever you were supposed to do on Prodigy®.

I can still remember the moment -- it was a Sunday evening about three weeks after I moved into the apartment -- when I reached for the phone and thought, "Wait. If you are sitting alone and you can't stand the company, then something is terribly wrong." I put the phone down and started working on my self. I only made it a couple of hours that night, but it got better over time.

Someone said once that love is the uncomfortable realization that there is someone in the world besides oneself who is really real. I think it's also the process of surrendering the apartness. Some people think you're not really in love until two people have more or less completely fused to share one life. Many of the more experienced** people I know are a little more circumspect, and generally try to find a balance between "me" and "us".

In the end, that's something that each of us has to decide for ourselves. Which of course, requires solitude.

*I may have added that last part.

** I mean old, not slutty. Not that the two are mutually exclusive.