it’s time to move on, it’s time to get going

time to move on SOM.jpg

I have been dreading writing this blog post that I didn’t think I had to write until Monday evening. I don’t think I will be able to get this right. But I’m going to try.

tom petty RIP.jpg

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had just finished their 40th anniversary tour, playing their last show on September 25th at the Hollywood Bowl. At this point in my life, I wasn’t really following much of what they were doing as a band. I knew that they had played Wrigley Field in Chicago this summer, and I had kind of wanted to see that show, just because of the historic venue. They had played Tampa in May but I was out of town. I didn’t even know there had been a couple of albums of unreleased music that had been released in 2015.

The only time I saw them was at the United Center in 2008–and that was enough. It was a bucket list concert for sure, and it was a lot of fun. I went with a friend that I used to sing with–a singer-songwriter who played guitar and piano. It was like a big ole sing-a-long.

On the heels of one of the worst massacres in history, when I read that Tom Petty had had a massive heart attack, I was in disbelief. Could there be even more loss today?

He’s 5 years younger than my father and two years younger than my mother. I’m almost as old as his band (I’ll be celebrating my 40th year of life this year). Heart attack? I didn’t think of him as a hard-livin’ man anymore. He was chillin’ in Malibu.

Then Twitter killed him, via the LAPD and CBS News who had erroneously confirmed his death. But TMZ had said that his family had removed life support and that he was clinging to life. After what TMZ had done with bungling the news of Li’l Wayne, I wasn’t trusting them. So I’m angry, but then hoping he’d miraculous pull through.

But eventually, Tom Petty did pass. He was another part of my childhood and adulthood unexpectedly stripped away from me and so many other people.

And just like Prince, he still had some music left in him. I didn’t know there was going to be more music from the Wildflowers session that was going to be released–and who knows what else.

I learned a lot about Tom Petty this past week. Although I’m an erstwhile musician and singer, and I’m an avid lover of music, I’ve never really cared that much about musical artists’ personal lives. I only seem to care when they were gone, which is probably why I love musical documentaries. I watched a four-hour documentary on Netflix, Runnin’ Down a Dream. It was really great to have a better sense of him and his bandmates. But I didn’t need it to appreciate their music as is.

I read most of the obits and tributes I could stand. Some were stupid and clearly written by people who didn’t do their homework (not even worth noting). But most were pretty laudatory, as they should be. I loved reading what my friends had to say about how much his music meant to them.

Petty was a gifted singer-songwriter who wrote for the underdog because he was one. I think Petty was an everyman for a lot of Americans. He was able to capture that American type of restlessness and drive to do better, to be better, to transcend one’s problems and station in life. His songs also have a sense of place that is easily accessible, even if you’d never been in the San Bernardino Valley or in an Indiana town on an Indiana night.

He was also the guy that hipsters and indie rockers aspire to but maybe will never become–because it’s really hard to do. You’ll never hear any of his songs on commercials. He assiduously fought record companies to be paid fairly and to keep record costs affordable. From the documentary and all the articles I’ve read, I learned a lot about Petty’s sense of fairness, his struggles with drugs, his depression after his divorce, his deep sense of loyalty, his championing of the marginalized.

My favorite tribute/obit was from The Bitter Southerner (what a great name for a publication!) because it wasn’t completely fawning–although he more than deserves it. It showed a bit of his Libra double-edginess (which, fighting with lawyers and record companies is pretty Libra already). It was a fuller portrait of a musical legend. The not-so-shiny parts made his shiny parts even brighter in comparison.

My Twitter friend, Bearded Stoner, and I have been kind of mourning online together. I kept sending him tributes that I thought he’d find interesting. It’s been helpful for me to have someone who gets it, as we’re both Southerners. It’s made this grief a little more bearable, especially since what I haven’t been doing is listening to a bunch of his music. It’s too painful still.

And it’s not to say that “Yankees” don’t get Tom Petty either. That’s the beauty and genius of writing great music is that if you’re really good, then it’s not just about the musicianship–it’s about everything. But it’s just different, in my opinion, if you grew up in the South and listened to him, since Petty was from Central Florida (Gainesville, which is just 80 minutes up the I-75 from me) which is pretty rednecky and Southern (well, certain pockets are). The only regret I have is not being able to see him and the Heartbreakers play with the Black Crowes–a band from Marietta, Georgia. I probably would have lost my shit, since I loved that band, too, for very roots rock/Southern reasons.

Even beyond what the album Wildflowers meant to me and other memories of his music, like singing “I Won’t Back Down” in church, what matters to me most in the wake of his untimely passing is me living here. And maybe this is where the blog post should truly start.

Tom Petty inadvertently welcomed me to Central Florida when I moved down here five years ago. I was in the middle of a terrible move with a disreputable moving company. I had to stay with my cousin and his family for two weeks as I waited for my things to bump their way down the East Coast.

The first full day I was here was a Monday, and everyone had gone to work or school. I was watching some cable channel and they were showing Tom Petty, I believe, in some high school gym or auditorium in Gainesville. There was a show back in 2006 when he and the Heartbreakers went to University of Florida, but I don’t think that was it. This seemed to be more of an intimate show. He was really happy to be back. Watching that show, while I was waiting for my new life to start, I felt like he personally welcomed me home.

Even though the next few years were humiliating and gut-wrenching, playing any Tom Petty music, especially the album Wildflowers, made me feel like I belonged here, even if it was just for a few minutes. Besides the warm weather and having access to beaches, this being his home turf was the only thing I could take pride in. Even Wildflowers reminded me of those few good minutes I had with my friends in my youth group while it was hell living at home.

Tom Petty, with or without the Heartbreakers, had been part of the soundtrack of my life for at least 25 years of my 40 years of living. In particular, the wisdom from the song, “The Waiting Is the Hardest Part,” is something I’ve championed over and over. It was something I constantly would quote–partly as a pacifier for my own impatience, and partly as a way of commiserating with others, “I get it. Waiting sucks.”

Yet with Petty’s passing, it definitely makes it even clearer that it’s time to move on from Central Florida. Waiting for something decent and good to happen here is not what I’m destined for. It’s a weird and eerie coincidence and a strange bookend that I never expected, but it is definitely a sign that I will take to heart.

There is a magic and a beauty about living in the South, even with its bloody history. Some of that magic and beauty left last Monday night…

I’ll leave you with a song, “Walls (Circus),” that I was obsessed with right before Tom Petty passed. I don’t know if that was some omen, or just that with better headphones, I could appreciate the brilliance of this song. For me, it’s the background vocals of Lindsey Buckingham that make it so wonderful. The song is also definitely emblematic of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers mantra: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” because I immediately just get stuck in the chorus in a beautiful earworm loop.

I know that Tom Petty knows how much he was loved by his family, friends, and fans, but I didn’t know how much I cared about him as a person until he was gone. It’s a cliche that no one wants to find themselves in, but it seems to be part of the human condition to not be able to fully appreciate someone until something like death, or close to it, happens. I hope he was able to feel the love from all over the world streaming into his hospital room in Santa Monica as he transitioned.

Thank you, Tom, for sharing your gifts with us.

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Just Enough Light

light dave barry SOMDuring Christmastime, I drove back to my hometown of Birmingham, AL. Maybe I shouldn’t call it my hometown. I have four hometowns now. I was born in OKC, then lived in Nashville for three years, then moved to Nashville when I was newly eight years old on December 30, 1985. I have no idea why I remember that date so clearly. I left for college when I was almost 19 and lived in Chicago for almost 15 years. Hometown is a loaded word.

The drive was pretty boring in the beginning–well, in comparison to the rest of the drive. The skies were leaden grey and flat, which actually made the barren trees and landscape more beautiful to me for some reason. I should say that the drive was without incident until it started to pour about 30 minutes away from Tallahassee, where I was going to have dinner with some friends.

Floridian rain is something I had grown accustomed to living in Orlando for over two years now. It’s more like a monsoon, rain coming down in blinding sheets, with windshield wipers whipping vigorously, almost to no avail. For it to be raining so hard during the winter was strange. Usually this type of rain came in the summer, during the afternoon. The overhead signs said that Leon County was under a tornado watch. Not much I could do about that. I had dinner and caught up with my friends and I called my mom to let her know I was about 5 hours away. I really should have left earlier but I wanted to pray at church and talk to the associate minister before coming. Christmastime for me, especially as an adult, has always been fraught with drama and separation. This was the first time in my adult life that I was actually looking forward to going home, which says more about my time here in Mickey Mouse Land than it does about Sweet Home Alabama. I prayed so that there would be peace and harmony. But leaving town at around 2:30pm, even with gaining an hour in central time, was probably not the smartest decision.

I left the restaurant, aided by Google Maps, which lead me to a police blockage. The windy, dark streets of this hilly town were flooded. I went through a flooded intersection, again, against my better judgment, and made it back on the I-10 to join the 231. Rain is still assaulting my vision, but at least the I-10 was well lit.

The 231 which took me over the Florida-Alabama border, was more like a major street than a highway. I turned on my high beams because I couldn’t see much at all. There was one point where my high beams gave me just enough light to see another bend in the road, but the rest of the road was obscured in darkness. And I was angry about it, as if I could do anything about it. My hands ached as I was white-knuckling this drive. I fumed as the Google Maps’ estimated arrival time go from 11:45pm to 12:15am. I couldn’t drive any faster than 60mph, which honestly might have been too fast.

The darkness, the wetness, the length of the drive–these were all conditions that combined into a state of being that I didn’t want to be in: on the way. I wanted to already be at my mom’s place, asleep, to have stopped moving.

My life during and after grad school has been a similar journey. When I saw that my high beams didn’t illuminate miles ahead, maybe just 100 feet, I realized that I had been viewing my life in this way.

Right now, I’m on a stormy journey. I’m underemployed, stuck in a housing situation where I’ve been mistreated and taken advantage of, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. My life seemed to have an illuminated path, miles and miles ahead. When I chose to go to grad school, I didn’t really know what would happen next after graduation. I was OK with that when I had a crappy-but-at-least-it-paid-something job. But I was let go in July. That was six months ago today.

Since then, I left an emotionally abusive housing situation, was homeless for about two months (airbnb + staying at a friend’s house), and now I’m here, with another yet another uncomfortable housing situation. I am a tutor without any students, a part-time grant writer waiting to get paid for work that I did in November, and soon-to-be adjunct prof for one class. If all of those things were actually active, I’d be OK. But I don’t know what happens next. Should I move back home to Birmingham? Should I look into moving into LA again?

I’ve always known what would happen next–or so I thought. Medicine was supposed to be a clear path. But then I realized a few years ago that I wasn’t that great at college science. The dream changed. Died. Transformed.

As much as I am a planner, a Capricorn, a firstborn, fiercely independent in all ways, this stretch of the journey has been annoying. But on that road in Southern Alabama, I realized that I am never meant to know the whole way, even with GPS, even with my high beams on. While I was driving, I kind of laughed to myself that I would assume that my high beams would illuminate more of the road than they were designed to.

So then, it comes down to trust. Trust in my ability to drive my car. Trust that I can follow a path. Trust that the light given is enough for this stretch of the journey. Maybe even trust in the Universe to protect and guide me through these dark badlands (of my life). That’s always been a tough one, though, because the badlands seem to have stretched all throughout my life, even when I didn’t know it.

In helping my mother downsize stuff in her home, we came across my father’s financial documents. My father is somewhere in Atlanta, bipolar and unmedicated. Some of the things we came across were shut off notices from the electric company (my mom never knew), old checks he never cashed, an article about him in the newspaper about possible fraud when I was in junior high (neither my mom nor I knew about it), and evidence that he could have possibly saved the house from foreclosure. His unraveling mind, plus his unwillingness to seek help for his condition, put us at risk. I learned so much that night that just floored me.

One could say that my mom’s fervent prayers, along with her friends’ prayers, kept us safe. For now, that’s what I’ll go along with, even though another part of me wants to go off the road and say that trusting someone who was clearly insane was also putting us at risk. But that’s a whole other convo about emotional abuse that belongs in another post or a book.

One thing that having the whole road illuminated can do is have me mentally check out. I already know what will happen. I don’t have to be as alert. I can multi-task. I can rest my brain for a bit. That isn’t necessarily bad. It’s not to say that the journey would be any less harrowing or difficult. It just means that I can prepare for what’s ahead, have a bit more (perceived) control over my circumstances. That’s what medicine would have given me: a train track to stay on and keep on until I reached the destination of Doctorland.

But that’s not the road I’m on anymore.

I’m already in the weeds now, but this is all to say I can only trust in the light that I am given, to drive down the road that I’m on, and I cannot curse the darkness anymore. I can say that this stretch of the journey has been scary, infuriating, painful, disempowering, and lonely. But I’m still driving, to some place called home (not heaven). I’m just not sure where that is just yet. And I can only go as fast as I’m going now.

But I have just enough light for the next stretch of the journey, and all I can do is wish myself Godspeed and keep going.

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Woo fucking woo

spirituality SOMWell, here I am, and there you are. Hello.

About a month or so ago, I drafted a post that was detailing how I came from stubborn apathetic agnosticism to yucking it up in what I call WooWooLand (or more like woowooland). It was turning into a long, meandering essay. I’ll work on that for another time. I’m pretty sure this will turn into a long, meandering essay anyway.

The past 18+ months have been brutal. Over two years ago, I left Chi-town for O-town: the land of Mickey Mouse, tourists that are perpetually lost and can’t drive, tons of South Florida replants, speeders, car wrecks, more Rebel flag sightings that I can count, scary domestic violence reports on local news, lots of  scary, blinding rain, and my dream community that never appeared. Oh, and beaches.

I was drowning in culture shock, of how monochrome everything was, of how really different I was, especially racially. How is it at age 34, coming from Bombingham and Chicago, that race was so much more in my face, beating me around, making me feel less than human? How was that even possible? And then being a grad student, my finances went into a black hole pretty quickly after my first year because I didn’t have stipend support from my fellowship. After many, many, many job searches, I couldn’t find anything. A job found me in August, with its shitty pay and less than desirable work culture. By December, I had to give up my apartment and live in a house with a classmate of mine.

Simultaneously, I had been exploring personal growth/New Age/woo woo shit. I needed support and I wasn’t getting it from anyone except my therapist. I wish I had journaled that experience because it was strange, trying on all these programs that promoted positive thinking and tried to empower people. I look forward to writing about how privilege enables so much of this to happen, and also how it’s so much related to the prosperity gospel that I had run away from when I moved to Chicago from Birmingham. But those experiences and insights will be for another post.

Somehow, I made it through grad school, living with a gazillion people that didn’t really know me but knew each other really well, having a really weird energetic stand-off of a confusing romantic sort with a classmate (I don’t even know if I can write about that, because I still don’t get what happened), turning my part-time job into a full-time job, my thesis advisor pulling the plug on my thesis defense at the last minute, switching thesis advisors and bringing on a new committee member, paying for the summer term, successfully defending my thesis, losing my awful job because my integrity couldn’t stand it, finding a new place to live, losing that place because with whom I was living was mentally unstable and emotionally abusive, getting part-time work for a company in LA, and then setting off on a month-long odyssey around town through airbnb while trying to stay off the streets.

Somewhere inside of me, there is a trashheap of emotions that I’ll eventually need to sort through and identify and then discard again. I’m leaving so much out, like how I didn’t really get along with my classmates, which broke my expectations’ heart, but those are the main lowlights.

A growing silence from people I knew, loved, and cared about tried to choke my humanity and my dignity. It’s still there, but it doesn’t have its grubby hands on my neck any longer. I just accept it and soon it will be

My therapist from school basically kept me alive. I played with suicidal ideation like a cat would play with a dead mouse, just bat it around knowing that things had been unbearable, unlivable, untenable. Life could not go on this way, but hell, I’m resilient, more than most, and I will keep on resilienting, even if I am tired of resilienting.

As I thrust my hands into the fertile earth of a new spirituality, my sessions with my therapist became more about energy and astrology and my intuition and what I felt the Universe was asking me to do (trust, trust, and then trust some more). She told me to check out this metaphysical bookshop near the end of our time together, which lead me to three women doing three different readings, all involving angels. The second woman told me to go to the church that I am attending now, which is Christian, but a different type of woo woo than, say, a charismatic or Pentecostal church would be. Can you say past-life regression? Without choking on the term? Not sure yet, wow, this is pretty fucking woo woo, shit.

But it fits. It really fits. And I don’t have to try. I’m in a church that accepts and embraces everyone. Yes, everyone.

Fast forwarding a bit, I’m at a friend’s house, through church, through a book study that was being held here. They are letting me stay until the end of this month. I sang at church last Sunday. I just had a really good phone interview for a grant writing position at a place that is aligned with my job experience. It was also strange because a woman that I will probably live with, she works in the same field and we had been talking about it two days prior. Strange, or by design, I feel so much more encouraged about my life.

I stupidly look at friends who are 10 years my junior, having seemingly fabulous lives, jobs, loves, families, or at least all the fabulosity that they are allowing through social media. It’s been soul-crushing, because they most likely will not have had to face homelessness twice in a year, or wonder what the point is of listing someone’s name as an emergency contact, or really go through it like I did. It’s stupid to compare, since we all are on different journeys.

One phrase that has stuck with me during my spiritual fumbling around in the dark is this: I am not going through this for nothing: this humiliation, this abandonment, this stripping of things and people and places that I have clearly used to define myself. Who am I outside of a permanent address, a decent credit score, a life partner, a family of my own, a job that helps me fulfill my life purpose and supports me financially, friends, out of all of these things that I want, let alone need.

Let me sound like the spiritual snobs I hate. Maybe all of us are asked, are invited, to answer this question, maybe more than once.  A lot of us will decline the invitation, skim the surface like a speedboat, and then die. And that will be it. Some of us will accept the invitation and dive deep to answer the question. Some of us, circumstantially, will almost be forced to answer the question.

Who am I?

I didn’t set out to have this question asked or answered. I came down here to write a memoir, learn to write better and then enjoy Florida. And I’ve done all of those things, just not in the mathematical-shortest-distance-between-two-points sort of way.

Usually, no one sets out to answer this question. You are invited to answer it. After a year of excruciating inquiry, I can say that I am not my job, relationship status, number of friends, church, amount of money in my bank account (which is currently red). I’m not as stripped of my race, gender, and sexual orientation (yet), but I am stripped, like a beat of piece of furniture, waiting to be refinished.

I can honestly say that if my shit time in O-town hadn’t occurred, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t have grown. I’m still be skimming the surface, avoiding the depths, the depths of racism, sexism, class privilege, the things that hamper the lives of millions and millions of people everyday, including my own. The depths of my secret people pleasing masked as severe avoidance. The depths of my depths.

Am I grateful yet? Not fully, not really? The bounty of this fierce harvest has not yet yielded. But it will. I got to the place of being grateful for having a safe place to sleep every night, even if it involved an early police visit (not me, for someone else), of having food to eat, of being clothed. Everything got really present, is really present. I don’t know where I will spend Thanksgiving. I don’t know when I’ll go up to Alabama for Christmas. I don’t even know what’s happening tomorrow besides 4 loads of laundry. And I don’t really care, nor have the time and space to care. The present is all I have.

Cliche, cliche, cliche.

Can’t really get that from everything being as I want it. When everything goes to shit, what do you do?

Well, you get on that woo woo shit, go deeper in it, look at the synchronicities–was that really just a coincidence? You’re seeing 44 and 2:22 and 1:11 on the clock all the time, and 8’s are following you around and you have a lot of private tarot readings with yourself and see what the Universe is saying you should know right now. You keep letting go of all those pesky expectations  you had about your time here, you embrace the people that have been put in your life as fellow travelers and teachers. You hope you’re able to thank those hard ass teachers later, even if you can’t right now.

You finally get to that place of incessant gratitude because you suck at being a self-sufficient adult. You can only be grateful for eating a Hot Pocket, relishing all that hot gooey cheese and cholesterol. You can only be grateful for the apples that your airbnb host gives you as you travel back into town, back to your friends’ house, friends who were concerned about your whereabouts, friends that invited you to stay with them. Even still, you can only be grateful that you got to even experience the green, rolling hills of Lake County, these steep hills of Florida that remind you of home, that call for your return.

You can only be grateful.

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