Archive | April 2013

Ok,That Was the Wrong Chord

Played guitar in front of people on Saturday.

Two friends and I did a passable rendition of the Jack Johnson song, ‘Constellations’, with three guitars (two six strings, and a 12), four quick minutes and some seriously awesome nervousness.

We practiced on Wednesday nights, running through the song three or four times, then spending another hour or two hammering out covers. Lots of halting starts and stops, but occasionally we would get through an Eagles song, or maybe something from Springsteen. At first I was a bit put out by the whole process. I have always firmly believed I was happier playing original music than trying to copy someone else (who is most likely five to ten times the musician I am).  The first few weeks, I would try to encourage some experimentation. They weren’t very interested. Then a strange thing happened. I didn’t lose my love or desire for original music, but I discovered I really enjoy playing songs that I recognize, that others know. The last practice session, when we worked through and finally played and sang ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ by The Who, I had chills.

On Saturday afternoon, the three of us met to make sure the vocals didn’t drown out the guitars (sound check, yeah that’s the word). Travis sang the first verse. Sid had the second. On the chorus, the two of them blended so well, I chose not to join in. The two times we ran through the song were the best we had ever played it. You know what that means…

Lots of silly acts and a few seriously good ones preceded us. Finally, dressed in green pants, deep blue shirt and electric blue shoes (that really, almost matched my guitar), I found myself seated, waiting for Sid to count us in.

One and two and tap tap…Oh hell, the second chord isn’t C major fingering (capo on the first fret).Ok, I say in my head, stay where you’re at, for two measures then D major finger position. Whew. No one really will notice. Wait, Travis should be singing by now. I look over and the microphone is down around his navel. Sid stops playing, and rather than realize he is just tightening the mic stand, I also stop playing. Lucky, Travis keeps going. 

The microphone back in position and WOW! Travis can really sing. I finally stop thinking and just play. My fingers move in muscle memory and I am really enjoying this. I nail the first chorus without a single muted note. Sid pounds out a little solo riff then sings the second verse and I smile. Two more times through the chorus and a final slow G major and we are done. We stand, give half bows and we are off stage. 

I laugh as I tell the others about my mistakes. Sid says he messed up the words and missed a note or three on his riff. Travis shakes his head about the microphone stand. All of us are happy. We can’t wait to do it again.

I am not the least bit disappointed with myself for the early error. If anything, being able to recover and then play near flawlessly for the rest of the song, made me grateful for the mistake. Knowing I can fight through, not collapse or quit is a good realization. It was such a pleasant nervous energy  before we started playing. I forgot how much I liked how that felt. I think I need to feel it again…

and again.

What I see

stuffThis is my desk. Sheryl’s is in the background. We share this office but I have to admit, I took the better position. She has the better desk. It seems a fair trade.

I spend a large portion of my day here. Almost everything I have blogged or written in the last year and a half has been worked through on this laptop, at this desk.

I filled the space with things I thought I wouldn’t mind seeing everyday. Some things are useful, like pens in mugs, a pad of paper, and a compressed air duster (dog hair in the keyboard cannot be tolerated).

Some things (An engraved rock memento from a friend and a family photo from a decade ago) are there to remind me of what is important, to keep me grounded and help me maintain focus.

A few other things are temporary and change from time to time. There is the book I am currently reading, a few CD’s (recent purchases), and a cup of some beverage or other. The laptop contains my entire music collection which grows at a consistent rate. Music is a constant at this desk and a good pair of headphones (they were on my ears when I took this picture, but you can see the cable) allows me to work at odd hours when others in the house may be sleeping, or need quiet.

Other things were not originally on the desk, but made their way there. A print of a mixed media piece by an artist I like sits just to the left of my laptop. A photo of girl in a devil cape, with horns and a pitchfork, most likely a Halloween costume, her eyes scratched out with black pen, placed in a drawing of a grove of trees leading to a sunlit meadow.  I bought it from her website about a year ago. It reminds me of the fragility of innocence, how quickly we all move from one phase of life to another. I have placed a playing card in the right corner of this image. On the card is the image of a skeleton with a halo. Interpret that the way you want. I am still unsure what I want it to mean.

On the far right is a painting created by my sister in law. I asked her to paint it. I picked the colors, and let her create whatever she felt needed creating. I think she worries I don’t like it or that it is not what I wanted or expected. Truth-I just wanted something she painted. I loved her style. She could have painted some dirt and a rock and I would have been thrilled by it. There is another painting of hers on top of a CD shelf behind the desk. I am starting my own collection.

Though I see these things every day, I do not take them for granted. I am acutely aware of them. It is just stuff, but carefully calculated stuff. It all has a purpose, whether practical, functional or inspirational.

I am finishing this post, listening to Arcade Fire, and looking out the window at the sun filled back yard. I can see the blossoms on the trees. The dog wanders around the planter boxes, sniffing at the scent of birds and cats.  It is part of why I chose this particular spot in the room. I  am looking again at all the things in front of me.  Life is good.

 

 

Rite of Passage

With no hesitation, Claire ran to the edge and jumped. Plummeting twenty six feet to the cerulean surface (a reflection off the sky), toes pointed down, like her father had taught her. “From this height it shouldn’t be too painful to go in flat footed, but higher distances can break your ankles. Hard to swim with busted ankles.” The water was cooler than she remembered, and the bubbles forming around her as she continued down reminded her of swimming in soda. Everything like her memory of this place.

Her descent slowed, almost motionless, then up, up towards the shimmer of the surface, like breaking though sugar glass. He would be so proud. Not one second of delay. She remembered so many times standing up on that cliff, looking down at the water that seemed to zoom in and out, like a cheap movie effect, making her dizzy, sweaty, almost wishing she’d pass out and just fall. Then it would be over. So patient, her father standing behind her, calm, speaking in a low, even voice. “Count to three, silently, slowly in your head, then throw yourself off.” One (in her head). Two minutes. Two (she mouthed the word). One minute. Three. It was never as terrifying as she imagined.

She couldn’t help a small, self satisfied smile, but this wasn’t the time for congratulations. He was still following her and though he was quite dimwitted, it wouldn’t take long before he figured she had jumped. He would be determined, a better, stronger and faster swimmer. He would catch her then kill her. Whatever lead she had now would not be enough if she lingered. Looking back towards the top of the cliff, she kicked with her unbroken ankles and swam towards the opposite shore.

You be Quiet, I Decide

This is not a story about my bed, but the bed plays its part.

Our first bed was a hand-me-down, queen size waterbed. I can admit, I really liked it. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer and the waves soothed me. We tossed its crumbling frame into a dumpster at our second apartment.

The next bed was a full size given to us in our first year of marriage. Sheryl’s parents had kept it for us as we had no room for it.  The mattress must have been close to 20 years old, with springs pressing through and tiny rips in the fabric near the corners. This was our bed when I worked graveyards at UPS. We rarely spent a night together in those days and a small bed suited us fine. When I left UPS, I needed something larger.

The California King was a slightly worn (it had been dragged across a warehouse floor, scuffing the fabric and leaving a deep dirt stain on one side), as is model purchased at Granite Furniture’s friends and family sale. It filled the entire bedroom, wall to door.

Everything falls apart. Things break down.

We bought our current bed last summer. Sized down to a queen, it looks more natural in our bedroom. It is very comfortable, but after years of unlimited room, I am still figuring out how to sleep on it.

last night, after staying up watching Craig Ferguson, I slid in beside Sheryl, and tried to fall asleep. Starting on my back, arms across my chest, coffin like, I began my breathing, shutting off my thoughts.

My night-time brain had other plans.

The writing of a new story was going well. Thinking about it, I began to see how this could become something longer, interesting, funny and maybe even poignant. I began plotting chapters, scenes, events and phrases. I saw fist fights, foot chases, leaping from buildings, almost a summer blockbuster movie full of action.

Spies. Lots of spies in this story. Forgetting how this usually ends up, I let myself float along in half conscious threads, seeing where they might go. Then things began to turn. “That won’t work.” I heard my night-time brain say. Then it got vicious “You’re forgetting that you don’t know a damn thing about any of this. You think because you have seen a few movies about spies, you suddenly know enough to write a book containing spies, espionage, murder and intrigue? Look at the scene you were just pondering. Spies don’t act like that. Anyone reading this would pick it apart in seconds.”

My bed was now a lot less comfortable. I tossed three or four times, in and out of fitful thoughts. It was hot, and tossing the blanket and t-shirt aside did little to make it less so. All my cleverness collapsing around me and my night-time brain continuing to beat them down.

Defeated, I knew I was not going to sleep well. Since I am not the one who has to get up at 5 in the morning, I grabbed up a blanket and retreated to the basement to sleep on the sofa.

My dreams were nervous, more disjointed than usual. Schools of fish at my feet and water running out a hole in the side of the pool. I couldn’t save them or myself. The toast was nice.

I heard Sheryl leaving for a morning run just before 6. Up the stairs and into the bedroom I went. The softness of the mattress enveloped me and my night-time brain, certain of its victory, finally shut down.

Three hours later, the radio alarm woke me from darkness.

I love those hours of sleep, when you remember nothing, no sounds, dreams, interruptions, and you really dive into the blackness of sleep. I would take three of those hours over 8 pleasant dream filled ones any night.

I rolled out of bed, laughing. Readers? I don’t have a finished product, let alone anyone to read it. Only my night-time brain could invent not only a reader, but hordes of them who have one purpose-To hate my story.  Glossing over them, the ideas of the night before were not as clever as I thought, but they were not as ridiculous or pathetic as night-time brain made them out to be.

It might still be a great story. I am going to find out.

I looked in the mirror mounted to the dresser and smiled right into the center of my night-time brain. “Know a lot of spies then, do you?”

He had nothing to say.

 

 

Unplugged Again

If I ever need reminders about how much my life has changed over the course of the last 20 years, my last vacation to Cancun clears things up. First, 20 years ago I could not have afforded the trip (hooray for being more financially stable). Second, if the 22 year old Ryan had taken the trip, the fact he was unplugged from most of what was going on in the world would have been normal.

Both Sheryl and I wanted to really be on vacation. This meant we did not pay for international connections for our phones, didn’t bring a laptop, decided we wanted to be away from the distractions of our daily existence. Obviously, this was more meaningful for Sheryl as she is the one with a career and responsibilities far beyond the home. Not checking her email was very difficult for her, and I am a social media fiend. Being offline for even five days was an act of will.

Of course, being unplugged in a place like Cancun isn’t saying much. There are people everywhere and if news needs to be shared, it gets shared, but I was completely unaware of most of what was going on at home. It is interesting to realize how much I have come to rely on access to information, being accessible at all times, everywhere.

UnpluggedThe last time I was completely unplugged was the summer of 2011, when my family spent 5 days at a shared family cabin. We had limited electrical power, but no media connection at all. The first two days were painful as I tried to remember how I lived, what I did before I had all these things to distract or entertain me. By sundown on the second day, I put my phone away to stay in my bag along with the iPod. The silence was wonderful. If not for always feeling completely filthy (reason number 2 why I don’t camp much) I would have been content.

That said, I was giddy driving down the canyon and my devices came back to life.

I don’t think that always being connected is necessarily a negative thing. One thing being unplugged teaches me-I love the world I live in with the conveniences and instant availability of information.

School is completely different then it was for me. I graduated from college in 2000 and even then, few of us used laptops in class and while the internet was very useful, most of us used books and magazines when we wrote papers. My kids will most likely never spend hours at a library, flipping through text after text, trying to find the right article, right sentence to use in their paper. Their experience will be completely different, with different challenges. They will never know how difficult research can be, but they can learn more in less time. The possibilities are endless.

The internet is a fascinating place and sure, you can become addicted and distracted to the point you shut down from real world connections, but there is no reason one has to follow the other. I have mentioned before that just because I enjoy time on social networks, it does not mean I do not interact with friends or family offline. I find that readily available means of communication have made my life much simpler. Any drawbacks I am willing to accept and work with. Sometimes, I imagine how many high school or early college arguments could have been ended in a minute with access to a smart phone and an data plan (if it is on the net, it’s true, right?).  So much wasted breath!

Finding a balance  is key. If I start to feel tied down to devices, I leave them behind for a bit. It may seem silly, but I don’t take my phone at the gym. I take it walking, but only in case of an emergency phone call. Those tiny breaks can go a long way in resetting your life.

Nothing Lacking

Something interesting.

Apparently, being outraged, saddened, angry over events in Boston somehow implies a lack of compassion, frustration over the almost daily bombings in the middle east or elsewhere in the world.

Yes, people are dying every day, some through horribly violent means and yes, those things are equally and often times, more tragic than events surrounding the Boston Marathon. I get it. And if I didn’t, a quick online check and social media would assault (yes, that image is intentional) me with loud (posts can be loud), aggressive, almost condescending messages making sure I got it.

I believe that love and compassion are not exhaustible resources and that my capacity to care for victims of tragedy is not limited by proximity. That said, my connection to the Boston area, to runners, to Americans in general is much stronger than my connection to (let’s face facts here, this is the case) abstract individuals a world away. They cannot be anything but abstract when their existence is mediated by video images, news headlines, words on a page. My sadness and outrage are tempered by distance and connection. I feel sadness over tragic events and wish they could somehow be prevented. I mourn the loss of life, but that mourning is different. This may sound callous, but it is human nature to have more sympathy, more sorrow and more pain when tragedy strikes closer to home.

I guess it is possible for someone to have equal empathy, no matter of connection or proximity, but I question the sincerity of it. The more I learn, the larger I make my circle of connection, might allow me feel similar events with equal distress. It is certainly the case that my feelings over 9/11 were greatly changed by visiting the site, meeting more New Yorkers, but this only confirms a premise-We care most about those closest to us.

Being dismissive of the emotional responses to an event, because people don’t seem to feel the same about other similar events, aren’t as outraged as they “should” be, smacks of arrogance, an imagined superiority. I can’t get behind it, or ignore it.

Not Where I Left it

The case I purchased last year for my iPhone decided to break. I tried using Super Glue but it only held for a few hours. Time to buy a new one. I decided to venture out of the house and go to the Apple store in the hope of a more varied selection.

It seems the Apple store is not where I remember it being. I am very glad I did not go there first, choosing to pick up inner tubes for the bicycle before heading down. I circled, there was no parking, then there was. I walked a bit, waited for the train to pass then wandered  the crosswalk to the outdoor shopping mall, otherwise known as…The Gateway!

It would be a good idea, if not for the large, cosmopolitan, City Creek Center that opened last year just blocks to the east (where I now remember, is where the Apple Store moved). There is little overlap in stores, but for some reason, the poor Gateway has been abandoned. It could be salvaged, made cool again. Start by forbidding automobiles to drive down the center road. It is a bit frustrating and nerve-wracking to have to cross a street full of impatient drivers when you decide to venture across to the Lucky Brand Jeans Store. A second good plan-If the owners have decided to revamp the entire shopping center (rumor says they have), remove the retail stores and change the entire place into restaurant space. People like to eat and having forty options in the same two block area would be forward thinking and well received.

But this story is about my search for the Apple Store, not my fabulous ideas for an outdoor restaurant district. I walked by the Depot (I saw Trampled by Turtles there), then around the corner where the Barnes and Noble rests, down the escalator that stops in front of the Olympic Fountain, turned right and…

Yeah.

Vacant.

At first, I thought I had lost my brain, and the store was never there, but I had walked with Kat through the doors when she had her notebook examined, when she needed her soaked iPhone repaired, when… well, you get the point.

My poor naked phone. It was too slippery without a case, constantly falling off things. It would only be a matter of time and chance before it broke. So, there I was, standing in the cold sunlight outside the now abandoned Apple Store baffled, confused, saddened. Such a disappointment, to have settled for another Speck case from the AT&T Gateway Location. Life, its bigger…yeah.

Once Again

Not that anything I might have to say really matters, but I wanted to comment on the bombings that took place yesterday, mostly for my own need to make some sense of things. So for very selfish reasons, I offer these words. 

Yesterday, two explosions rocked the finishing area of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, including an 8 year old boy, and close to 140 were injured. Several of those lost limbs. Things could have been much worse, though they were plenty bad.

We live in a world of instant information. It takes less than a minute for most incidents like this to go across the world and back, images of broken bodies, blood and carnage, fear, chaos, agony, they were instantly and graphically available. I almost couldn’t look away. News media was instantly demanding answers, as if they were just lying about among the wounded, waiting to be uncovered and read, like clues in a movie.

Cable news networks made things worse, as they usually do, offering a continual slide show of images and video, while pundits rambled on about motive, speculating over and over about who might have done this, how many, might have been involved. Most disturbing to me was a conversation on MSNBC about how this could have been prevented. More security, more surveillance, more restrictions on who was allowed to be near the runners.

More fear, always more fear.

I add my voice to the countless others, many of who were near the incident or at the marathon itself. We choose not to be afraid, choose not to dwell on the negative, but find comfort and solace in focusing on the hundreds of people who were quick to help the injured, despite obvious danger, most likely saving numerous lives. The video shows one thing clearly-Seconds after the blasts, people rushed without hesitation to help. These people were not just emergency personnel. They were regular, everyday people, watching the end of a race one minute, then providing life saving aid the next. There were many others who offered assistance to confused and displaced runners at other places along the race route, offering the use of cell phones to contact loved ones, some giving them clothing right off their backs.

For all the comments about how cold and callous, how detached our culture is becoming, tragedy reveals our capacity for compassion. I find hope in this. It keeps me from wanting to give up.

There will always be those who for whatever messed up reason, wish to cause pain, inspire fear, harm others, but there will always be exponentially more of us to counteract them. I need to remember that.

Without Malice

I tried bargaining for the night off. My first offer came three weeks before. Three straight weekends-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, for one lousy Friday-Saturday combination. “We need you that weekend. It’s the annual case-lot sale. Everyone, and I mean everyone will be here. We need all our front end people running things from the back room.” I was undeterred.

The second offer: a month of Sundays, the absolute worst day for a high school kid like me to work. Especially when the part-time Sunday shift ran 4 to midnight. Getting up for class on Monday would be brutal, but it was the dance, and I was determined to go. “You could offer three months of Sundays and I couldn’t give you that weekend off.” Which was my third offer.

My final offer included the three months of Sundays, Every summer holiday and Christmas Eve the following December. “You wont even work here in December.” Which was true. “The best I can do is let you off at 10 on Friday and 7:30 Saturday.” This made any Friday plans irrelevant, but would allow me to attend the dance. Reluctantly, I agreed.

Friday, they went to the zoo, then hiked up to the living room, sat on the rocks and discarded milk crates and shared stories. Jordan and Samantha kissed for the first time. Drew told Victoria he loved her. Martin preformed his best Monty Python. Summer dragged up the tape player, allowing sunset dancing, which I happened to be very good at. Nina went without me. I cried a little, working that night.

I left the store at exactly 7:30, with boss man Kevin hollering at me, “I’ve changed my mind, you can’t,” but I wasn’t listening. In less than 40 minutes I would pick her up, hopefully in time to meet the others for dinner downtown. The restaurant was Drew’s choice. Alforno’s for pasta, which made Nina a bit nervous, as she was going to wear a white dress. I reassured her that she could eat something without tomato sauce.

In the mirror, fogged from the fastest, too hot shower of my young life, I tried desperately to make my hair lie flat. No amount of product or water could convince it to behave. Time forced me to give up. The shirt I wanted to wear was a wrinkled disaster, the faux tuxedo shirt the only suitable replacement, and the baby blue tie (that matched her eyes) had three small circle stains from an errant cologne spray. Finally assembled with parts plan B C and D, I took a final look in the mirror-Bad hair, three zits, ridiculous shirt, too skinny red tie, and hanger creases on the slacks. At least the black jacket seemed flawless. Perfect.

The parents Citation slid into her driveway at 8:04. I Silenced the sound of Baby Pain on the radio, took three deep breaths and was out the door, walking to her porch. One last feeble attempt to straighten the hair, rub the crease out of the slacks, two embarrassing, too loud knocks (which made my heart jump), then two much softer. I waited.

Mom answered the door, “well hello there, Mitchell. Please do come in.” Smells of tacos or some sort of burrito-like food wafted from the back of the house. I heard the clinking of plates and silverware, slight laughter of siblings, the unmistakable deep baritone of her father. Mercifully he stayed in the kitchen. “She will be right out.” Her mom always treated me well. “Don’t tell her I told you, but she is so excited. She has been ready and watching out the window for the past half hour. Ugh, I shouldn’t have told you that.”

Yes mother of Nina, you should. The thought of Nina’s anticipation making all the effort worth while. Years later, when we wouldn’t recognize each other if we collided face to face on the street, I hold close the image of Nina in her white gown with the amazing lace neck gazing out the window, waiting for me.

She came from the hallway, a suppressed smile on her lips, her short hair slightly curled, diamond studs in her ears, three inch white heels and that dress. She walked up to me, brushed a loose hair off my jacket lapel. “You look amazing.” I said. She stood back and did a tiny half twirl. I took it all in.

“My dad picked it out. He has spectacular taste.” I could not argue otherwise. “Shall we?” She said, putting her hand on my elbow.

“Yes, lets.”

Six From the Pile

Went out music shopping. A few bands I enjoy had new releases and as is usually the case, I came across some stuff I had not expected to buy, but chose not to leave behind. I often wonder what the cashiers think of my music purchases, the chaotic nature of them. There was a time when I would feel silly buying certain music at local music stores, as if the worker would judge me harshly for my choices. Specific example-I wanted to grab the new release from Disturbed (this was a few years back), but I was at Graywhale CD. I actually bought three other discs, then drove to FYE to grab Disturbed. Ugh.

Now, I happily walk to that same counter with some used Bowie, a live John Coltrane  James Taylor and maybe some ABBA or Patsy Cline, if I feel like it. It is all good.

Yesterday I found six discs. An eclectic collection for sure-Jackson Browne, Running on Empty (old school but oh so tasty). Kvelertak, Meir (groovy dirty metal). Genesis, Turn it on Again, The Hits (Radio played Abacab the other day, had to get it). Device, self titled ( vocalist from Disturbed. I have a disease, I swear). Lana Del Rey, Paradise (she sings, I melt). Bryan Adams, Cuts Like  a Knife (have it on vinyl but paid 3$ for a CD version).

Listen to the tracks, find something new (or old) to like (or hate). Expand those horizons. It’s a big wide world of artists to enjoy. Don’t limit yourself.