Things that changed

Two things happened this week.

On Saturday, I went to a 40,000+ person punk rock festival and became a fan of everyone.

The Monday before, I lost my job.

In between sifting through the memories and impressions from the show, I’m thinking of what punk rock means. Going my own way. Rejecting the rules, rigidity and corporate do-the-regular-thing—that’s punk rock.

Well. I got rejected by the corporate world, even though at the moment they kicked me out I would have been happy to stay.

I am going my own way now.

I’m thinking of the movie School of Rock. It’s silly and its true:

One great rock show can change the world.

I went to this rock show because job that kicked me out had already given me free tickets. It was the last parting gift.

The music, the energy, the fans and the whole experience made me want to do bigger better more exciting things.

Every band I saw was excellent, and I didn’t see enough of them. These musicians had done the work. They suffered as they pushed to get better at their craft.

I am willing to bet…that just like the loser hero of in School of Rock, they were kicked out of a band or two. Like I’ve been kicked out of a job or two.

It hurts, but it’s not the end of the story. I’m ready to see what else is out there, get a new set list and find a new gig.

I have a sense of the sounds, of the energy I’m looking for.

When I was at the stage, getting pushed and pummelled in the sea of humanity that wanted to get to the action, to get close to the music I had to keep my feet under me. It was scary. It was dangerous.

It was so exciting! It was the most punk rock I’ve ever seen.

So this finding a new gig part, I can say this rock concert changed my world about that.

It’s left me with a new view on my world and what I want. As I’m looking I can repeat the prayer from the movie: 

God of Rock, thank you for this chance to kick ass. We are your humble servants. Please give us the power to blow people’s minds with our high voltage rock. In your name, we pray. Amen.

There is still time

“…and they had all kinds of different music..”

“What kind of music did the teacher band play?”

It had been a high school event called Battle of the bands. A lot of different bands I had never heard of were playing, and somewhere at the end there was a band composed of teachers. Her music teacher was part of it.

“I don’t know. I mean, there were a lot of teachers in the band and I didn’t stay around to hear that much of it. “

“You didn’t stay around to hear your teacher? How could you miss his performance? He probably was looking forward to his moment.”

“Mother, I don’t think so. I mean, he plays the trumpet. What kind of band uses of trumpet?”

“How can you say that? You know a lot of bands that use trumpets. You were in Jazz band in Junior high. Your teacher probably has been looking forward to this day for months. He was going to do his OWN music, and perform. How do you know this wasn’t his dream before he became a music teacher?”

She stared at me.

“Right now, he is at home, thinking of how much he loved performing.”

“Mother, that can’t be true. He has little kids.”

“That’s exactly what I mean. His kids are trying to sleep, and he is holding his trumpet, feeling and remembering. He can’t play because of them, he has to put it aside.

But tonight, on this night…The night he played his own music, he feels it.

I can see him, taking his trumpet outside. HE has to go far away, down the block to sit on the swings at the park, in the dark. He’s playing his trumpet right now…blowing his heart and soul out on this night of nights…”


“You are completely wrong. Your imagination is not what is happening.”

“I don’t think so…Your teacher has dreams too.”

“I’m going to bed,” She flounced away to the bathroom.

I smiled at her, and in sympathy to my imagined horn player alone with his dreams in the dark.


It was night, but there was still time. I went over to my computer to use the last few minutes of the day to work on a chapter in my book draft.

Participation prize

There is a saying:

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

I spent the last year playing a very serious game of fighting cancer. I won. 

The prize felt very stupid—

I get to stay alive. That’s serious. 

But also ridiculous. I WON that prize. Should I have to win it every day?

Apparently I did have to win it back.

Making progress towards my goals is a big deal to me. I am always thinking of the next achievement I’m striving for.

The treading water fight for life from cancer was not very satisfying. I was happy to have my martial arts to make progress on.

Not many people have a black belt. I am going to get one.

I tried to find out how many blackbelts there are. It’s not so easy to find out.

What’s it for? A lot of people get to the rank of black belt, dust off their hands and call it done.

The true experts say that the black belt is just the beginning.

But it took me years of practice every day to get this far. How can it be the beginning? I know I’m not that good. I have so much further to go. It would be a shame to take that movement literacy and not do anything more.

In that way, it’s like winning the prize in the cancer fight. I win the right to keep going.

I have the right. Will I exercise it?

I didn’t notice that life was hard when I didn’t have to fight for it.

I didn’t notice much about fighting until I started my black belt journey.

The cancer stuff was not what I expected, but I did it. Life goes on.

The fight goes on.

I plan to use what I learned and what I earned to keep going and earn more prizes.

not in my mind

I didn’t make it to the class on Monday, but did make it last night. I wanted to do my best at the class. I’m almost a black  belt, but I was sick and tired and sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I look like at 80 year old running around the dojo. But I’m here and the stumbling run was the best I could do.

This wasn’t how I wanted to show up, but I was showing up and that would have to be enough.

Last Wednesday I got to work, stomach cramping and head ringing. I was doing a meeting and let slip that I wasn’t feeling great. My co-worker said,  “oh, maybe you should take it easy.”

If I let beign miserable stop me I’d never do anything.

And then the misery came in for real. I had a tough week. I spent my days and nights close to the bathroom with the strength of a noodle.

I couldn’t let that continue. Saturday night me and a friend had tickets for a music festival.

She was excited too. Duran Duran were headlining and she’d been wanting to see them forever.

I had imagined myself, dressed in my best 80s gear—Maybe even pink hair!—as I heard the band that meant glamour when I was my daughter’s age. I would storm the stage, jump up and down screaming and dancing

I wanted it,  hungry for it.

Yeah, like a wolf.

Would my medically induced sickness keep me from it? Everything in me pushed back. I had to find a way.

The day came. I put on some comfortable clothes, with just a dash of flash

I took a nap, took Imodium and made my way. I trusted my friend, we walked slow and I got to hear the music. I went over to a fence so I could lean against it. 

It was not like I imagined. But I still got to have it.

Like my class. This is who I am today. I’ll be a black belt, hoping I will not be ill on the testing day. I’ll do what I can with what I’ve got. 

My black belt journey doesn’t look like Jackie Chan. In my mind I can do amazing tumbles and spinning kicks.


In my mind I can flaunt pink hair and jump and scream to the music.

My body today can show up. It will have to do. I’m still here and proud of it.

Time Out

If an artist wanted to make art using time as the material, the obvious thing is music. Time is the pillar that holds music up.

I’ve been writing about both music and time.  

Time is not as stable as I had thought. The metronome my daughter, the  classical violinist, uses is very rigid. More regular than reality.

Art that inspired me shows a different perspective. Sometimes that is a yank back into the rigid. And sometimes it tears down the walls of expectation.

My musical culture is made of fours. Quarter notes and 4/4. The familiar but surprise variation is the three quarter tim. One two three one two three…waltz with me. You know it, right?

A different familiar.

 Can something completely new—not following the pattern and the usual—can it still be beautiful? Or would it be unsettling?

Jazz famously pulled music into new shapes. Dave Brubeck and his quartet created an album Time Out in 1959. He intended to try different time signatures, after traveling around Eurasia. 

He didn’t expect much from it, nor did Columbia records. 

So he and his quartet created this exploring album, with an extraordinary result. This album, taking a risk with not a lot of expectation became the best selling jazz album ever. Wrapping the mind around the wrong way, a new way of making music, the whole album had strange time signatures.

Take five proves the delight, the surprise…if no one told me it was in 5/4 I wouldn’t have noticed. But it is very catchy and even though it goes on forever it doesn’t feel repetitive to me.

Composed by his saxophonist Paul Desmond, Take five reached number 2 on the billboard charts.

I might be the only one who feels the attraction for the odd thing I’m trying to create.

Or I might not.

I still want to create.

Time for me

I have this hope that time will be a stable thing. I want to be solid and unchanging, like a good chair that I use every day.

It’s not just the chair though. There are a lot of players in the field of time. The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes and at the end of of a week comes the weekend. The end of rhe week is still part of the week, but it feels like a different world. It’s a marker that sets it apart and then launches the next week strong.

Until it doesn’t.

This weekend wasn’t a weekend, because I worked Saturday and Sunday. I was out in the desert for the country music festival. I slept out there, woke up at dawn and drove home to start my day. My work day.

I got messed up and distracted from what day was what. I was not as tired as last time, which might have made me evern more distracted.

There are rungs, like a ladder or a set of monkey bars that I swing off. These habit make the rhythm and the shape of my life. This weekly wonder has been part of that shape, one that is really important to me.

I make a point of it. For more than a decade now, it’s been what I do. 

I am an artist and a writer. That’s what I want to be.

But am I a writer if I don’t write? I better write.

Just like that riddle about the tree falling in the forest, if I write and no one reads it did it really count?

I don’t want to have to find out.I want tokeep my habit of writing in public.

The thoughts in my head almost every week include “no one would notice if I didn’t do this. It doesn’t matter.”

But it matters to me enough that I keep doing it.

I’m grateful to my readers –to you!—for sustaining my desire to be and my identity as a writer.

This is something we are doing together.

Back to the now

If this past year was a jump into a future I haven’t had yet—being 80 when I’m only 50—I thought I was trying to get out of the future and into the present.

When the cancer crisis pushed me out of the biggest event of my new job last year, I had to accept that I would have to wait to experience Coachella, the biggest music festival in America. I walked into the spectacle last weekend. In my mind  I’d be joining the life in the present that I’d skipped the track on last year.

I’m not a fan, or a customer of the festival. Of course I’m a fan, but in this case I’m a worker ant, moving the pieces to put the art puzzle together. My ant eyes could only see so much. Still- I looked through a wormhole—a tear in the fabric of my universe

The sensation of time doesn’t follow any laws. 

The stages, the clothes, the images and the music exploded my mind. 

Was I in a warped and fabulous future? was I so out of step with culture that the current moment was unrecognizable?

Maybe it wasn’t the moment, maybe it was myself that I didn’t recognize.

The reporting on this year’s festival declared it was a celebration of 90s music. Time warp to 30 years past. When am I again?

As the worker in this temporary carnival, I had access to the back lot. All the workers came through the mess tent—catering is what they call it in the entertainment biz. Care was taken to make it pleasant. Big speakers played songs for people as they ate.

I expected a playlist of songs from the performers that were scheduled for the festival. What I got was the hits of the 80s 90s and …nothing from today.

Which edge is the cutting one?

While I was fretting that I was out of step, the trend is moving back in time. It’s not that the latest music isn’t appreciated by the newest generation. But music from 30-50 years back is also popular. When the festival organizers picked No Doubt and other 90s acts, they were tapping into a real impulse.

Cover songs and retro originals are popular right now. Comfort culture perhaps? The streaming stats show that GenZ is a big consumer of 2000s music. More and more cover tunes come up in my media

The stagecraft at Coachella is new, but I am familiar with how music is being used and spread.

The way music is discovered and consumed has to do with the many ways it can be delivered. Background music used by content creators is moving toward nostalgic styles of royalty free music. 

This has happened before. There was a ASCAP strike in 1942. Musicians had to play songs that were public domain (royalty free) while things were beign worked out. That was the big band jazz era. They ended up finding songs from decades past that kept them working. The jazz standard “As Time goes by” was from that time. 

It’s new if it’s new to me. It’s also new if I am seeing it in a way I never have before.

New perspectives were pushed on me. Here I’m seeing new angles on thingd I’ve known for a long time.

Big

This is rare. I make sure to write this essay every week. I’ve blogged for 22 years and sent out  this weekly wonder email for more than ten years. 

It’s part of my identity. I never missed it during my chemo treatments, and I am fairly certain I didn’t miss it anytime before.

And yet.

I have two hours to write something, and I’m not even sure what it will be.

I’ve been waking up and trying to get back to …normal?

This makes me think of what we were all saying during the COVID lockdowns: the new normal.

I spent this weekend working the Coachella festival event. Before I got this job, I would never have aspired to go to this event. It seemed like something that was too high above me.

But then I got a job at the company that puts it on. I was very thrilling with anticipation. Especially  to see the technical side, which is even more exclusive. I could hardly wait to get there.

Until I was surprised with cancer news. Surgery was scheduled last year on the very first day.

No Coachella 2023 for me.

It’s been quite a year. I had the festival on my mind as I tracked my appointments and timed when I would have my strength back to experience the festival.

What I didn’t properly account for what how depleted I would be the day after.

The entire weekend I was at the festival and was knock flat by so many things. What an event!

And the next few days I could barely function. This is the wednesday after, I realized I forgot to write this essay.

My mind was so full, and so physically exhausted that I couldn’t tease out the thread of a profound thought to explore.

Gravity has increased for me so that I couldn’t get out of bed.  I had so many experiences—sights, sounds, feelings and sensation—that I’m still exploring.

My world got so small—in COVID and then again last year. This festival reminded me of how big and beautiful the world can be, and that I’m invited to be part of it.

habit forming

I’ve always been a systems person. Some people think of it as habits. I have systems and I work them consistently—even when I was very little. It makes sense to me, and I like getting things done that way.

But a year ago, I was shaking as I looked into the future of a big surgery. Then all the things that came after that. All the things that I put my body through.

In ways I never had before, I let go of anything that wasn’t necessary. It took all I had to do the basics. The minimum took all I had.

Old habits fell away.

And now I’m coming up from the depths. I’m still not sure which way is up.

I had to take an online class for work, so I chose one on time management. An easy basic that I could do without thinking about it.

Until I was hearing the systems the teacher was pushing. I knew all this!
This was basic, stuff I was already and expert at.

Except.

I realized I’d lost my expertise. I’d put these skills down on the side of this road.

Can I pick it up again? Am I ready?

Questions must be asked.

Last week I walked a labyrinth. I’ve talked before about the joy I have in walking the twisted meditative path I find in a labyrinth.  Last time I walked one was before this cancer journey.

And this time, I went into the labyrinth and walked layers of time. While in the present, I remembered who I was the first time I walked it. I remembered the push and the urgency I felt, the drive to get THERE.

What is there has changed significantly. The surroundings have added so much to the way. 

I am thinking, these new old habits are changed too. I’m seeing how things fit together, now that I’ve experienced a different way of attacking my basics. 

New systems could replace automatic habits. 

Transformation

A marvelous part of my home is the gentle sunshine. Plants grow because we water them. Grass and flowers, vines and trees have a cycle I have watched for decades

My home in Alaska had plants, but not ones that we planted. The trees and shrubs came with. They self-planted and grew and watered themselves from the melted snow left behind over the summer.                      

Los Angeles County doesn’t leave water behind. We have watering systems.

And we have fruit trees we’ve planted. Citrus in particular, and I can see trees in neighbors yards and even my own. When they are in season, bright bulging fruit hang on the branches.

It’s still miraculous to me. Fruit trees were an impossible mystery to my young self.

Now I grow several different kinds. That means I have miracles within reach.

My orange tree is blossoming. It is covered with white buds, with a very few opened up into flowers that waft an extraordinary perfume.

I was there last season, when the blossoms came in. Then the petals fell and the tiny hard green spheres remained to swell all summer. Those that hung on to the tree became the succulent fruit for eating.

I look forward to those fruits. I talk to the tree and anticipate what kind of crop I will get each year.

I was there when the tree was planted. It was a slip of a tree, about 3 feet tall. Not a baby.

Not a seed.

I have grown plants from seeds. I think of cilantro seeds I’ve put in the ground. The tiny hard balls can sprout and grow into the leaves I like to put in my food.

It take a week or two…Or more…for those seeds to sprout. They come up in a two leaf combo, a little like arching rabbit ears. I didn’t expect that, because the harvested cilantro plants don’t look like that. The leaves look totally different. The first time I saw this sprout I pulled it because I thought it was a weed.

It didn’t look like I thought it would. I ruined the work I’d done in the intentional planting of the seeds because I thought I knew better.

I know they are miracles. An ordinary common miracle, and a miracle nonetheless. It speaks to me as I long for great things. I have ideas, dreams and desires. 

I’m trying to make progress toward those things. And I get in my way and ruin the progress. Hard as I try, I can’t know how everything will come out along the way. I have to leave room for what will come.

There are a lot of transformations between the seeds and the fruit.