Saturday, May 26, 2012

In a Bind. Way Behind.

The Who aren't worried
about bears.
 You may have noticed a marked lack of striking by the big mouth these days... Well, it's only because I am pretty much working my large round derriere off... (If only that were possible!) Because of the way I am, it has caused my mind to do things like sing, "There's ain't no bears in there," when I'm walking into my office, and think repeatedly of the line from the Charlie Daniels Band, "He was in a bind and he was way behind..."

Best Charlie Daniels line ever:
"Chicken in the bread pan picking out dough."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, I am so so so thankful for the work. I truly enjoy it, and this time last year my business was pretty much in the crapper, despite retaining a couple of very good and faithful clients. So, again... thankful. Grateful. Thrilled. Also, tired. But it's a good tired.

Anyway, all that was just to let you know ... This big mouth will be doing a bit less striking for a while. It doesn't mean I don't love you... just that I'm whittling away at my giant posterior via work.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Blog Vegas

A savage journey 
into "new journalism"
Whenever I hit “publish” on a new post, I heave a big sigh of relief. It’s not exactly a breeze coming up with new ideas to chew over. No... Sometimes they come quickly, tumbling over each other like puppies... More often, though, I have to pull them kicking and screaming out of my... hat. And when they do come... well, some ideas are good, and some are just kind of meh. Sometimes my brain just seems kinda empty. Well, not empty so much as full of crap no one wants to hear about: making mental to-do lists, thinking about what I’m going to wear, snatches of song lyrics, daydreams, menu plans, flash prayers, hopes, dreams, complaints... Yet this is the kind of brain that occasionally produces a blog that people may actually read. Freaky, no?

Nathan Arizona had a
 raison d'etre. So do I!

So... if it’s so hard, why do I keep doing it? I am a firm believer in “if you no longer enjoy doing something (unless it’s a vital duty, of course)... then STOP doing it. Like when I used to go to a gym and began to hate it. At first I thought, “But I’m paying for it!” But then I realized that i didn’t have to be miserable AND pay for it! I could just eat my gym fees and enjoy myself exercising at home! So I guess I could carry this blog workout to a similar conclusion, but the truth is, I do get a bang out of writing it... even if it IS hard sometimes. 

Hunter S. Thompson,
new journalist...
Another blogger I love, my friend Ginny, posed the “Why am I doing this” question in her blog just today! Also freaky, right? Her point was, why blog if there’s already a bunch of great blogs to read - all written by women who are MUCH more together than we seem to be... Also a good point.

As I told Ginny, I’d much rather read about someone who is a similar mess than someone who is canning their own preserves and raising kiss-ass children. I'm hoping you would to! If not, you can always tune into one of those Martha Stewarts instead of us! 

...sometimes played in the
movies by Johnny Depp
I also wonder sometimes if blogging is just plain self serving navel gazing. Maybe it is. But I hope it’s also fun and honest and at least a little entertaining for the reader. Most of all, I hope it points to my sweet and gracious God. ‘Cos He's my raison d’etre. (Pronounce it: “raisin detter” like Nathan Arizona does in Raising Arizona)

Plus, it’s actually the fulfillment of an old secret longing. See, when I was in college and had to pick a major, my mom was all, “I’ll pay for four years, then you have to get a job.” This (reasonable) ultimatum doesn’t exactly scream “English major,” does it? Literature was my passion, but as I also had a lot of encouragement from writing teachers, I pursued journalism. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that my personality doesn’t exactly lend itself to inserting myself into newsmaking situations and badgering people with questions. Yeah... that’s not me at all. 

Anyway, even way back when in J-school, I envisioned writing in a completely different way than your basic third-person / lead-followed-by-inverted-pyramid arrangement. I am completely able to WRITE that way, but, as I mentioned, the reporting aspect doesn’t suit my temperament. Additionally, even though the writing style serves an important purpose, I find it a little dry. I long to bust out of its straight jacket in favor of a much looser, whimsical style... kind of like what they call(ed) "new journalism," back in the day.

Tom Wolfe,
new journalist...
Yep, I love how guys like the late Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe string words and thoughts together. Thing is, I am not likely to travel with “my attorney” (unless you mean my husband Tom) across the desert with a trunk full of illegal substances to cover the Mint 400 race. Nor am I going to have the opportunity to go “furthur” on a bus full of acid-dropping merry pranksters. But I do have my own brand of adventures... in life, faith and in my own head. Because that’s a magical mystery tour unto itself. Who needs to drop acid to entertain surreal thoughts?! 

tried to take us "FURTHUR"
According to Wikipedia the following are features of “New Journalism” as practiced by those guys: subjectivism, activism, emphasis on form, emphasizing “truth” over “facts,” saturation reporting (the writer is as much part of his story as is the subject)... to name a few. It’s not unlike my blog-style, is it? It’s exactly how I imagined communicating with whoever would give my words the time of day. I wanted to write in a breezy, conversational style... giving my own voice to whimsical reflections on pop culture, human nature and eternal truth. I guess the closest thing to this that I could imagine at the time was being a columnist. Now it’s called blogging, and anyone can do it. They just have to want to. And as difficult as it is sometimes, I do want to. So here’s MY new journalism - dig it deeply!

Monday, May 7, 2012

When I'm 64

Will I be wearing this
when I'm 64?
In just a month I and my big mouth will be... gasp... FIFTY YEARS OLD!! What’s up with that?! Do I like it or hate it...?! Or some of each...?? Yeah, that’s it – some of each. 

For instance, despite occasional hiccups, I just get happier every year... the more years I live... well, you get the picture. Also, I’m getting closer and closer to heaven. Yes, sweet, sweet rest in the Everlasting Arms will be mine someday. I have no death wish whatsoever, but I am kinda looking forward to being where there is no more sorrow, no more night!

On the other hand, the aging process pretty much sucks. My body is falling apart... psoriasis, torn muscles, perimenopause, an addled brain, failing memory, high cholesterol... not to mention the more superficial changes: liver spots, wrinkles, skin tags, grey hairs... I’m a bit vain, so the decline in my already mediocre looks is kinda painful... especially with the focus the media put on beauty. My own upbringing involved a great emphasis on appearance, so that kind of thing does tend to stick out in my mind.

... or this?
If you know me, you will doubtless say, “what?” Because I don’t wear makeup, I don’t diet, I have a great head of shaggy hair, and am just generally kind of sloppy. You’d think that a person who thinks about appearances much would make some attempt at tarting herself up. But... nah. I’m too lazy, and, frankly, don’t have the time.

I am not interested in wearing makeup or dieting or any of the more radical youth extenders like Botox or plastic surgery, but I have always been interested in fashion. Well, not fashion in the sense of what is on the runway or being sold in stores... but style. Personal style. So one of the biggest questions I have as I grow old is... what do I wear? Both now and when I am truly elderly...? Occasionally I think, someday I’m going to have to start dressing my age... My next thought is, “Nah...” Like Simon Doonan, whom I’ve quoted before, “I loathe the idea of growing old gracefully. I fully intend to grow old eccentrically and dramatically. Brace yourselves!”

... or this?
So my “style” continues to be a mixture of basic and whimsical pieces in a mixture of styles: punk, preppy, hippie, vintage, quirky, athletic... I value comfort, but also love to catch eyes. I will wear my Catskill Mountain Moccasin boots with just about any outfit. They are comfortable, and being custom made, they are unique. They recall another time, which, as a history buff, I am all for. Other times, I like to channel my inner Joey Ramone and sport black Chuck Taylors. With a frilly dress. Because that’s me. 

How 'bout this?
But how will this look when I’m fifty? I’m guessing it won’t look much different than it does now, since fifty is just around the corner for me! So if it’s going to look ridiculous, it already does. And how will it look when I’m 60? 70? 80? You know what? From what I hear, the older you get, the less you care. (Of course, those who say this never met my mother!) In any case, if this turns out to be true for me, I might look ridiculous, but my concern will decrease proportionately. 

My other silly, superficial question is this: should I dye my hair? Right now that shaggy mop of hair is a nice chestnutty brown, with only the occasional grey hair popping up, and even then you have to look really carefully to see it. I always have a little debate with myself when I see one - to pull or not to pull? But what about when I start to really go grey? Will I look like an old hippie woman? Should I braid it to minimize the impact on the eye? Should I finally give myself a shorter, more becoming cut? Should I dye it and look weird with a wrinkly face but no grey? Maybe this, too, will be something I am unconcerned about. That would be nice. 

Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away!
So there you have it. It seems that my goal as I age is not to work harder on my appearance, but to care less, while continuing to have fun with my own personal style. Of course this only addresses the superficial aspects that trouble me. But that’s the kind of crap I think about. And, really, the other stuff doesn’t bother me. I’m honestly looking forward to my old age unfolding before me, growing old with my husband and friends, watching my child grow up... getting to know God more and more as I am buoyed higher and higher toward heaven by God’s eternal grace.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Big Picture

As the spring semester draws to a close in this university town, teachers and students alike are having to make crucial choices about how they will use the tiny bit of time left them as they prepare for exams. I say teachers because I know firsthand from my friend Grace that the end of a semester brings an inevitable flurry (fury?) of grading, exam-writing and paperwork.

The other day when I asked how her work was coming along, she said, “I’m leaf-by-niggling.” Now, from the word, “niggling,” you can probably tell this means that she is paying too much attention to details... but the “leaf-by” part is a reference to a story called Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien about a painter who was attempting to paint a forest, but was hindered by his tendency to spend way too much time on each individual leaf. Now, as a guy who created a whole different world, complete with its own mythology, races of people and complete languages, it’s easy to see how Tolkien may have gotten bogged down in the details of Middle Earth... 

Me? I’m more a Big Picture gal, and Grace depends on me to say, “Back up and look at the forest.” As a graphic designer, it would certainly behoove me to spend more time on the details - just ask my clients! And I do try. It’s just not my natural way, so my attempts sometimes fall short. Likewise, sometimes Grace will tell ME to slow down and focus on some important detail I may have overlooked. We balance each other out that way, fortunately.

J.R.R. Tolkien –
master niggler
When I was thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that God paints both the Big and small pictures. He made the universe and designed a lovely plan for salvation, but He also made each tiny piece. He is behind the scenes keeping the world spinning, but also catching sparrows that fall and knowing the number of hairs on every head. I know some people have a more hands-off view of God, but that’s not what it says in His book. 

For us, I guess it’s both good and bad news... I mean, if He’s watching our every move, then it matters to Him how we move through our days one scene at a time... how we treat each soul we encounter... with love and kindness? Or with irritation and scorn? Even though He's aware of every detail, He's not directing it. We get to chose how we'll behave. For me - it's some of each, sadly. On the plus side, He’s also taking care of us in small ways – so that we don’t have so much to worry about. Here’s what Jesus said about that:

Jesus came to preach the
good news to the poor.
“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

To fit our analogy, God’s out there painting every tiny detail on every tiny leaf so I don’t have to worry about them. Instead, I’m supposed to be focusing on Him – the Painter – and His Kingdom. This is the actual Big Picture.

First of all, as a mom, it's kind of my job to see to the meals and clothes and all... But I guess it doesn't have to dominate my attention... (Consider the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10: "As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary,( who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”/ “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”) Which, I take to mean: Simplify so you have time for what's really important.

Secondly, as a person who lives a fairly comfortable life in a wealthy country, it is easy for me to put my worries about food, etc., aside... but what about of the world’s truly poor people who don't know where their next meal is coming from? Why isn’t God painting THEIR leaves? I wish I knew. Maybe it’s all part of God’s big picture... for US to help and serve the poor – to help them paint their leaves, as it were. Maybe that's one way we participate in God’s work in the world, His Big Picture.

His brother James had a lot
to say about the poor too.
The book of James says a lot about the poor... He says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” This little blurb goes with some other stuff about how faith and deeds should go together. Now, our good deeds don’t SAVE us, but if we don’t do them, then we’re not very useful are we? Maybe faith is the Big Picture and deeds are the small picture?

Anyway... both James and Jesus held the poor in high regard. James also said, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” And Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Now, if I read this right, it’s clear that the poor have a spiritual advantage over the rich. Jesus also mentions that if we’ve fed or clothed others, we have done so for Him... That’s Big Picture stuff, that is!

The "Sermon on the Mount" has a lot
of tips about both the big and
small pictures.
I have to say, I am not good at serving the poor. If a special thing is going on - like a food drive, the shoebox thing they do at Christmas, I’ll participate... But systematically, not so much. I’m afraid I wouldn’t even know where to begin to build this kind of regular generosity into my already full-to-bursting schedule. And I know that politically, there are different views of how helping the poor is best accomplished... but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about my own personal involvement in building God’s kingdom... painting the leaves on God’s great Big Picture... 

I like to think that this "painting leaves" also broadens out to helping "your neighbor." That is, the person that is in front of you. Jesus chastises the Pharisees at one point for not taking care of their aging parents. And we should take care of our kids, of course... our actual neighbors, our co-workers... And I also think that "the poor" includes "the poor in spirit"... If we're working on God's big painting, we'll share our prayers and love with  those who haven't been given the mental or spiritual resources to help themselves... whether temporarily or permanently... I hope this stuff counts because, even though I'm not always good at that stuff either, it does cross my path more often.

And now you are getting a crazy glimpse into this crazy, peri-menopausal mind of mine... I start thinking about exam time and Tolkien and which size picture we tend to paint or should be painting and I work my way around to some kind of social justice meanderings... Bet you’re glad you’re not inside MY head about now...! The funny thing is, I'm actually kind of leaf-by-niggling this post! I can't seem to be satisfied with the flow of thoughts and how I'm expressing them, (and rightly so, you're probably thinking...!) so I keep going back over them... but if i want to hit the "publish" button, at some point I am going to have to, if you'll excuse the scatological reference, "pinch it off." How about now?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Music. Moments. Memories. Funnel Cake.

Doc and Merle Watson
back in the day

This year marks the ... twelfth? Merlefest that Tom and I have attended together...? What’s Merlefest you say? It’s a four-day bluegrass/roots music festival that busts out every April in North Wilkesboro, NC. 

Doc, more recently
I love the music. We’ve seen so many fantastic acts... but I also appreciate having four days during which I don’t have to work, cook, pick up toys, nag about homework... I also get to be outdoors, spend time with my boys and eat funnel cakes. It’s also a great place to people-watch. It draws a broad array of festival goers: older, conservative country music fans, parents with kids, young Dead heads following the jam bands... You see, now that Jerry Garcia’s gone, they all follow bands like Donna the Buffalo and the Waybacks... both frequent guests at Merlefest.

Scythian with Scottish
legend Dougie MacLean
Some background: Doc Watson is an amazing flat-picking guitar player with deep, resonating voice. Long ago he used to play with his son Merle... until Merle was killed in a tragic tractor accident. Doc was devasted, but soldiered on, eventually founding Merlefest to honor the memory of his late son. The proceeds benefit North Wilkes Community College, where the shindig is held. Other local non-profits boost their treasuries by manning the food booths. 

Jim Lauderdale
With acts playing on more than ten stages at the same time, there’s so much music of all styles going on that it’ll make your head spin.  It’s really hard to choose what to listen to, frankly: traditional country, alt country, honky-tonk, “jam band” style, celtic, pure bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, folk, gospel, singer-songwriter... And it’s not just obscure stuff that only certain people know. Well, there’s a lot of that, but there’s famous stuff too. We’ve seen Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Linda Ronstadt... And besides the music, there’s stuff for kids to do, a place to buy CDs of the stuff you hear, crafts vendors and lots of greasy good food. 

One of our new Amy
Campbell originals
So, the slogan the Merlefest folks have come up with is "Merlefest: Music. Moments. Memories." And over the years, I’ve amassed a nice little store of memories had at this, our favorite weekend of the year. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

1. Romance: The first year we attended, we were just dating. Tom was kissing me goodnight at the door of my hotel room and I literally fell asleep on my feet mid-kiss. It honestly had nothing to do with his kissing prowess... Merlefest is just that tiring.

Emmylou Harris
sings like an angel.
2. The kindness of strangers: Against my better judgment, I actually went to Merlefest pretty close to my due date when I was carrying Bill. My bag was checked by a local man who gave me his cell phone number so that he could call one of the town’s two OB-GYNs should something untoward happen. And day in and day out, women insisted that I move to the front of every bathroom line. If you’ve been pregnant, you’ll know what a huge blessing that was. Fortunately for all involved, Bill waited a good two days after Merlefest to break my water...! I’m reasonably sure all the walking and stair climbing I did helped speed his emergence.

One year I met
Jerry Douglas...
3. Being a hippie mama: Folks at the festival think nothing of a mom whipping her breast out to feed a fussy child. So when Bill was little, I wasn’t exactly popping them out, but I did enjoy a sense of freedom I’d not previously imagined.

4. Meeting musicians: One year I made a particular effort. If I saw one loose (ie. not on stage,) I would sidle up and ask them to take a photo with me. I met two of my perennial favorites - John Cowan and Jerry Douglas. They probably hate when people do that unless they’re hot chicks, but I didn’t let that stop me!

... and John Cowan!
5. Other brushes with fame: Tom and I were watching Guy Clark play when I heard a sweet little harmony in my left ear... you see, Emmylou Harris was standing right next to me on the grass in front of the Americana Stage. Oh heavenly day! And thumbing through CD’s that same year at the now-missing County Sales trailer, I realised that I was standing behind Doc Watson. Not sure how he could tell what was what, though, him being blind and all...

Bill's demeanor at
previous Merlefests.
6. Discovering new acts: New to me, anyway. Many of the musicians you see at Merlefest return again and again. I see Jim Lauderdale and John Cowan play at least once each year. I also read over the descriptions of less familiar acts and will take in a few new acts that sound interesting. The year we saw Daryl Scott perform a solo set, Tom and I were both surprised and impressed with his rich voice and well-written songs. Last year I plunked myself down in front of a group of fabulous young musicians called Scythian, a D.C. band that plays Celtic and Gypsy music. Rollicking good fun, I tell you... impossible not to dance to. And one year I found Great Big Sea... a group of Nova Scotia lads playing sea shanties and original tunes in that vein. I love those unexpected pleasures.

Elvis Costello
at Merlefest
7. Very good surprises: After years of hauling around a whiny, sometimes carsick kid, this year’s trip was completely different. First of all, we have mastered the art of administering Dramamine. And second... other than a couple of trips to the crafts tent, Bill sat and listened to the music with pleasure and without complaint. Even when it was really cold (Saturday) or really hot (Sunday.) Of course, letting him play Angry Birds on my iPhone didn’t hurt!

I don't have to tell you
what this is...!
8. New friends: This year we got to meet my brother and sister-in-law’s friend Amy, an artist who had a booth in the vendors area. We were also pleased to bring a couple of pieces of her funky folk art home with us. Now we just have to find a place to hang it...

9. Old friends: Sometimes I get to see people from far and wide... my high school chemistry teacher, my sister's best friend from home, people I met the previous year... It's like a family reunion, it is!

10. Album Hour: Every year a group called the Waybacks plays an entire rock album from start to finish... with both rock and bluegrass instruments. It's not always stellar, but sometimes... it just is... Like when they did the Beatles Abbey Road and Elvis Costello joined them for She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.

11. Funnel Cake.