Sep 16 2013

Music Monday: Patti Smith

2d946c9aI had the indescribable pleasure of seeing Patti Smith perform this past week at a cool event called Station to Station – a traveling art installation featuring concerts, art and artisans choo-chooing its way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Unlike my usual m.o., I actually came to Patti through her look first, her writing second and her music third. It seems I’ve always unconsciously knocked off her iconic androgynous style – flat chested, no hips, her tomboy look always worked for me. Still does. I wear many different things, but I am most myself in a pair of Chucks and jeans. That’s what I wear when I want to be free. Or invisible. Or invincible. I was a total nerd and stole a white oxford from Saint James and basically wore the black ribbon outfit pictured above (also the cover of her Horses album). Felt like a goofball and also, a million bucks.

A few years ago I read her quiet gem of a memoir, Just Kids. It’s about her friendship/love with Robert Mapplethorpe, and I must admit it shook me. These people were so extremely outside of my experience growing up – basically finding no other way to live than to completely mesh life and art, so that one bled into the other until they were indistinguishable and often deeply painful. I read it again with the ladies of my book club, the second time leaving me free to concentrate on her words and how she delicately strung them together like the beaded necklaces she and Robert used to wear. Her writing is so beautiful, tender, strong and honest – really just a way to describe her too.

She took the stage with her son, Jackson. (Don’t even get me started on the awesomeness of watching a mom and her boy make music together). She was soon joined by Gary Louris, Mark Mallman and a few other local musicians. She pretended not to know their names, but she did of course. They were utterly and obviously in her thrall – grown men, accomplished musicians, full-fledged rockers just happy and jazzed to be on stage with her. It’s not often, in this society, that a woman of that age gets to command that much respect and adoration. It was inspiring to say the least.

She is simply bad ass. But she’s also delicate and her voice sounds unexpectedly young and sweet. I think that she has lived so authentically her whole life, that she’s one of those people you can see into. She’s complex, she’s a thinker and a creator, but she’s very very clear about who she is and what she is. When you can see and feel someone with that immediacy, their art goes straight to your heart. There are no layers – no artifice – no attitude. Nothing to get in the way and distort the art. She very simply gave us the gift of herself without a lot of fanfare. And that is her power.

She dedicated this song to all of our “loves” and to her love, the late Fred Sonic Smith. Talk about a swooning moment. Top five, people.

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Sep 9 2013

Happy (belated) Birthday to Saint James

santiandmomIn the spirit of catching up one bite at a time, I just want to go back a couple weeks and wish my boy a happy 13th birthday. The birthday post is kind of a state of the union address, is it not?

Someday I might peruse back and read that the summer Saint James became a teenager, he would still get excited every time he saw the great blue heron in the pond near his school. I’d be happy to remember that he was, as ever, still into creatures and critters of every kind, spending time outdoors either kicking a ball or neck craned towards the ground, searching for something alive.

I would remember that he was crazy for soccer and approached every team he played on with an open heart and a willingness to give absolutely everything to his coach, his boys and the game. I might like to read that he felt the big wins and losses with equal intensity, and that he fought back tears like a champ. But I saw them.

I might chuckle at our obsession with the suspenseful, slightly inappropriate, tween show, Pretty Little Liars, and the sneaky, winking face he use to make to tantalize me to watch with him. Only dipping in for every 3rd to 4th episode, I got a detailed play-by-play of what I missed – more words that I normally heard out of Saint James, he had an earnest interest in keeping me caught up. It was our thing – and he laughed at me when I screamed. That show is some scary shit.

When I read back, I’ll know that as of age 13, his hand was still smaller than mine when we pressed them together. We both think the tips of his fingers will reach mine by Christmas. We’ll see.

I might be reminded that a couple days after his birthday, on my birthday, we were¬†a tumble of bodies and blankets at Music and Movies at the bandshell when my people started agitating to put our “plan” into effect. And by “our plan” I mean “their plan.” They had decided August 23rd, my birthday, was when we would take a dark night swim. The heat wave had given way to a cool breeze and fatigue and gravity would have made it all too easy to try to talk them out of it. But since it’s generally better to choose YES, we went.

The lake was quiet and still and there was a huge, waning harvest moon hanging in the sky. Everyone stayed within the buoys except for Saint James and me. We ventured out together, as we do, silent except for the occasional look at the city! look at the moon! We swam and swam, easy strokes and pounding hearts, the water and the night sky the same impossible black, thrilling at the tiny lights on shore and the unthinkable depths below.

And then I heard it. Otters, mom? Otters. Saint James’ favorite animal for many years, otters swim on their backs and hold hands. Ya, let’s do otters. We flipped onto our backs and held hands in the dark. He’s a thin boy, Saint James, and floating doesn’t come easy. Fill your lungs buddy.

We floated in silence for no more than a minute, but it was a minute that held wrapped tightly within it thirteen years of my heart’s longings and loves for this kid. It was a minute where I was fully able to feel my blessing in real time, as opposed to in retrospect. It was a minute that will stay with me always.

Thank you for otters, Saint James. And happy birthday, kid.


Sep 5 2013

Tiny Floating

tinyfloatingI love lakes. I just do. So many people prefer oceans, or (egads) swimming pools, but to me nothing beats a cool, deep lake. I like that the water is sweet. I like that it holds mysteries. I like that lakes are alive, yet contain nothing that can actually eat me. Lakes are safe, but they are dark – and something about that floats my boat.

August had me returning to the lake every day. Multiple times a day. After a summer spent at the pool, I’m over its artificial blue waters and right angles – the chlorine, the bodies. Something about the late summer light makes me yearn for nature and its wild edges. I crave the inky black water and the cloud streaked sky. Morning, noon and best of all, night, the lake is different and completely gorgeous each time.

I’ve always been one to swim out way far – searching for the middle – possibly the area where I go tiny dancing. On vacation I would eye a distant rock island for days until one day I made a break for it with Saint James. We don’t swim fast, we don’t swim freestyle. A simple, head out of the water breast stroke allows us to talk and go for days. He’s always been my deep swim companion and we’d turn, panting and proud, to see our people, impossibly small and worriedly standing with hands on hips on the shore.

This August, through the heatwave, the middle of Lake Harriet became my parlor of sorts and I brought anyone who was game. Dash, Supergirl, book club ladies. I wanted to share the MIDDLE, because the middle is better than the edges.

It occurs to me that what draws me back again and again is the same exact feeling that I get from crunching my way out onto the white expanse in the wintertime. It’s found territory – a place where your body isn’t necessarily supposed to be. I love being where I’m not supposed to be.

Floating on my back, with planes flying overhead or the moon hanging like a swinging bulb, the water lapping at my temples – this is the physical sensation of summer that I am choosing for myself this year. This is what I will think about when the snow flies and the lake is frozen to land. I will imagine those waters holding my body afloat, limbs splayed and eyelids heavy, a sacred offering to the sun.


Sep 2 2013

Music Monday: Mumford and Sons

As far as the banjo revolution goes, I’d consider myself a moderate fan. It’s not my go-to music, but I enjoy it out in the sun, with a beer in my hand or alone in my kitchen while I cook. For a while anyway.

I have always liked Mumford and Sons, but man, they blew up so quick and huge that it’s hard not to want to escape them from time to time. That’s why this self-mocking video for ‘Hopeless Wanderer’ is such a brilliant move. The Mumford boys do not appear – instead you get Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helmes and Will Forte, hamming it up in gnarly beards and dusty amish-wear.

It’s great and just enough to make me want to hang in there with Mumford. Any band with a sense of humor about themselves and a clue about where they fit in the world is alright by me.

Happy Labor Day and enjoy.

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Sep 1 2013

Crappy Family Time

treeshotDoes crappy family time still count as quality family time? I sure hope so, because as of late, I feel like we’ve concocted more than our fair share of it. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. It’s when you really want to do something fun as a family and it feels doomed at the word GO. At least one person is being a pill, at least two people are fighting with each other, at least one person is crying or whining, at least one person has sunscreen in her eye, at least one parent is yelling about gratitude and at least one Croc is missing.

People don’t talk about crappy family time because mainly, you want to forget all about it. It’s pathetically easy to believe that other families don’t experience crappy family time – that your own family is the only family comprised of malcontents, drama queens and feeble brats who act like riding a bike around the chain of lakes is a cruel and unusual punishment. For my own sanity, I have to believe we all have crappy family time sometimes, and if I’m wrong, well then, you must be feeling really great about yourselves right about now.

By no means do I mean to imply that I am a blameless observer of crappy family time – some of my least proud parenting moments have happened within the framework of fun and togetherness. This is how it tends to go: I will play Julie McCoy, spawn an idea, quickly research a bit on line and announce it to the brood only to be met with resistance or worse yet, complete apathy. I will soldier on and run around making preparations, while I alternately bark orders for readiness and rattle off enticing reasons said outing will be just! so! terrific! Except that in lieu of smiling eager beavers, I get a pack of surly rabbits who refuse to come easily. And inevitably, I lose my cool and before we have even left the house, I have yelled at everyone and am left asking myself a simple yet crushing question: why bother?

Really, I’d like to know. Why bother?

Because sometimes, you finally shove off, pulling a black cloud behind you like it’s tethered to everyone’s bike seat and someone (I’m not naming names) will start in on the whining from the get go and others will bike ahead and you will spend a good 20 minutes fuming and pondering the question, and then you will find a way to dig really really deep and say something funny, something encouraging and a couple tethers on that cloud will snap, and your shoulders will relax and you’ll keep going, steadily pedaling your way into the light.

The truth is, crappy family time usually turns itself around. Notwithstanding all the annoyance and grief, if you push through, it eventually dissipates, sometimes in imperceptible increments, sometimes all at once. The moods lift, the complaints soften and you get into a groove so that by the time you’re rolling back home you feel happy, tired and like, maybe, you accomplished something. Together.

That’s why we bother.

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